Existing claimants will generally have transitional protection and thus no reduced entitlement next April. We are addressing the problem of a very small number of severely disabled people, capable of independent living, who claim after next April. We will be considering a long-term solution once we have the report of Sir Roy Griffiths on his overview of care in the community and the results of the OPCS survey on disability. In the meantime, I am considering how best to find an interim solution with the help of the voluntary sector.
Does the Minister realise that this prevarication on the part of the Government is causing tremendous anxiety among severely disabled people, who stand to lose £50 or even more come next April? That anxiety is manifest in a mass petition that those people are getting up to present to Parliament. How much longer are the severely disabled to be sacrificed on the altar of uncaring Thatcherism?
In the first place, no one is being sacrificed. We have until next April to produce this scheme and there is no prevarication. I am determined that a proper scheme will be produced and I believe that it is more important to get it right than to meet some artificial deadline.
Would my hon. Friend care to look at the length of time that elapses between claimants first putting in a claim and the result of that claim, perhaps after one or two appeals? At the moment the way in which the system works militates against the severely disabled, and it would be in everyone's interest if someone got his finger out.
I am as anxious as anyone, and certainly as anxious as my hon. Friend, to make sure that the procedures are dealt with speedily and completed. I believe that it is more important that we should get the answer right than meet artificial deadlines.
Does the Minister accept that this problem has existed for months and that if he is to introduce an interim solution surely he should be in a position to do so by now? Therefore, can the Minister give a categorical assurance that the interim solution will be in place and effective by 1 April?
It is certainly my clear intention that that should be so. If, by any chance, it were not in effect by 1 April, I would consider the matter carefully to ensure that any subsequent claims were back-dated to 1 April, but I intend to meet the needs of this small group of people in a flexible way by 1 April.
Does the Minister not realise that, since the problem was identified in 1985, a whole variety of solutions have been put forward and that every time they have fallen because of the Government's unwillingness to put in further resources? How do they square that with the claim that these so-called reforms will target help on those in greatest need, when the biggest single losers will be the most severely disabled?
The hon. Lady should give us credit for the extra resources going in next April to cope with the problems of the disabled as a whole. Over £60 million extra is going in to cope with the needs of the disabled. Give us credit for that. There is a small group of people who, because of the complexities of the existing system, will not be dealt with in the same way from April. I am determined to find a solution to that and I hope that I shall have the hon. Lady's support.