HC Deb 30 October 2001 vol 373 cc645-6W
Mr. Jim Cunningham

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what further assistance the Government plan to give to those who cannot work owing to disability, health problems, caring duties and difficulties with child care or transport. [10110]

Mr. Nicholas Brown

The Government believe that all those who are unable to work, for whatever reason, should have the opportunity to play as full a part in the community as possible. In "Towards Inclusion", our response to the Disability Rights Task Force, we set out proposals for improving disabled people's lives—whether or not they can work—in areas including education, transport, health and social services. Taken together, these measures will create a much fairer and inclusive society for disabled people.

From April 2001, we introduced a package of changes, providing extra help for disabled people in greatest need. For severely disabled people who cannot work and are receiving Income Support, the Disability Income Guarantee ensures an income of at least £142 a week for a single person aged 25 or over and £186.80 for a couple. It also benefits families on low incomes who are caring for a severely disabled child. In addition, from last April, we increased the disabled child premium in income-related benefits to £30 a week—substantially more than the normal uprating.

Sick or disabled young people who have never been able to work and pay National Insurance contributions will in future be able to receive a higher level of support from access to Incapacity Benefit. Those aged under 20 on 6 April 2001 and receiving Severe Disablement Allowance will transfer to the long-term rate of Incapacity Benefit from April 2002, providing an increase of £27.60 a week at current rates.

We are also introducing changes to the Vaccine Damage Payments Act 1979, by means of a Regulatory Reform Order, to extend significantly the time limit for making a claim, and to reduce the level of disability necessary for a claim to succeed. Those severely disabled people whose claims were previously disallowed for being over the current time limit and under the disability threshold will be able to make a fresh claim.

On 28 February 2001 my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health announced that a National Service Framework would be developed for long-term conditions, and that this would have a particular focus on the needs of people disabled by neurological disease and brain and spinal injuries.

Last year, the Government announced a package of measures to enhance the current social security provision for carers, worth more than £500 million over a three-year period. From April 2001, we increased the carer premium in the income-related benefits by £10 a week above the normal uprating. We also helped those carers who can undertake some work, by increasing the earnings limit in Invalid Care Allowance from £50 to £72 a week: in future the carers' earnings limit will be increased in line with the lower earnings level for National Insurance contributions. We plan to amend the law, by means of a Regulatory Reform Order, to allow people aged 65 and over to claim Invalid Care Allowance, and to extend entitlement for up to eight weeks after the death of the person being cared for.

For those who may have difficulties with child care, the Government have already introduced a new child care tax credit in Working Families Tax Credit, and will continue to help working families meet the costs of child care.

The Government are committed to providing an accessible public transport system in which disabled people will have the same opportunities to travel as everyone else. Accessibility regulations for new trains, buses and coaches have been introduced under Part V of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Similar regulations for taxis are planned. The 10-Year Transport Plan introduced a new commitment to ensuring that access for disabled people is a condition of all new public investment in transport.