Introduction of Disability Living Allowance

Orders of the Day — Disability Living Allowance and Disability Working Allowance Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:30 pm on 7th February 1991.

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Photo of Mr Alf Morris Mr Alf Morris , Manchester Wythenshawe 5:30 pm, 7th February 1991

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 13, leave out from first 'component' to end and insert ',a mobility component and an additional costs component'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

With this, it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 2, in page 1, line 15, leave out from 'to' to end of line 16 and insert 'one or more components'.

No. 3, in page 2, line 2, leave out from 'awarded' to end of line 4 and insert 'more than one component is the aggregate of the appropriate weekly rates for all such components as so determined.

No. 4, in page 2, line 7, at end insert— `37ZAA. Subject to the provisions of this act, a person shall be entitled to the additional costs component of a disability living allowance for any period throughout which because of a physical or mental disability he incurs extra expenditure as a result of:

  1. (i) a need for extra heating;
  2. (ii) the need to follow a special diet;
  3. (iii) the need for help with cleaning, shopping and other domestic work;
  4. (iv) incontinence or other disabilities that cause extra laundry or a need for extra baths;
  5. (v) communication;
  6. (vi) heavy wear and tear on clothing or a significant need for extra or special clothing;
  7. (vii) attendance needs;
  8. (viii) other needs which result in additional expenditure which he would not incur if he was not physically or mentally disabled.'.

Photo of Mr Alf Morris Mr Alf Morris , Manchester Wythenshawe

It is fitting that the first amendments for debate are among the most crucial. That is acknowledged by the Secretary of State for Social Security in his foreword to "The Way Ahead", which identified as the first main need better coverage of assistance with the extra costs of being disabled. Would that the Bill lived up to that laudable aim, and that the Government's legislative performance matched the precepts embodied in the right hon. Gentleman's foreword.

The Bill's failure to meet the broad range of additional costs incurred by the disabled provoked strong and sustained criticism from all the main organisations that represent them. They were led to expect that the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys' findings would pave the way for a comprehensive review of benefits. Disabled people also hoped for full and meaningful consultation between the Government and their own organisations about a workable system to address their unmet needs.

Instead, the Government chose merely to tinker with the existing attendance and mobility allowances and to cobble together, with a public relations flourish, the so-called disability living allowance.

The very title of that allowance is a cruel misnomer, which plays on the aspirations of disabled people for an income on which they can live with some dignity. In fact, it leaves a huge area of unmet need by recognising only the extra costs that arise from attendance or immobility.

Even the attendance and mobility needs of many disabled are met only in part; yet the Government publicly admit that the current savings made by their policies for the sick and disabled should not be seen as "saving money". In an interview published in The Times on 29 September 1990, the Minister for Social Security said that the Government's long-term savings would give his Department "powerful cards to play" with the Treasury. My experience is that to let the Treasury pick one's pockets once is to invite them to pick them again. I have never seen in print a franker admission that the Government's current policies for the sick and disabled will take them into profit.

I make no apology for reminding the House that average earnings have increased by more than 20 per cent. since 1979, whereas disability benefits are only 1 per cent. higher. That is the truth behind the Government's claims to have targeted the disabled for special help.

The disabled incur a wide variety of extra costs, and there are many examples of the magnitude of the unmet need that the Bill will do nothing to redress. Norah is 67 years old. She has complete lesion paraplegia due to an absess on her spine. She lives alone and uses a wheelchair. She has to buy in domestic help and occasional physiotherapy, and pay someone to shop for her. She needs cotton wool, soothing creams, vitamins and disinfectant—but frequently cannot afford to buy them.

Norah also has to meet extra laundry costs due to incontinence and catheter-changing while she is in bed, and because of her use of special creams and medication. Her clothes wear out more quickly, and she needs more clothing because she feels the cold more than others. Because of wear and tear and frequent washing, her bedding must frequently be replaced. Norah is also on a special diet that costs more. Because she spends so much time at home, and needs to keep warm, her fuel costs are high. Needless to say, her phone is a lifeline—but the bills are a worry.

The extra costs that Norah incurs because of her disability are estimated at £108–46 per week. She now has the unenviable task of choosing between two competing necessities. She says I would rather be hungry than cold. That such a disabled person should have to choose between food and warmth is scandalous by any reckoning.

I have dealt at some length with that case because it helps to illustrate the very wide range of extra costs which the amendment seeks to meet. They are costs that some hon. Members and non-disabled people may find it difficult to imagine. Innumerable other examples can be cited. The National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux report the case from Greater Manchester of a 20-year-old disabled women who has to drag her feet because of her disability, and wears her shoes out very quickly. With the £27.40p. she receives on income support she cannot afford to replace them.

Age Concern gave the example of a 65-year-old man receiving attendance allowance. He needs three bags of coal a week, each costing £8, to keep warm. From his attendance allowance of £25.05p, he is left with barely £1 for other costs. He writes: Clothing and footwear are a thing of the past for my wife and me. The Royal National Institute for the Blind cite the example of Mr. Cox, who is registered blind. He spends more than £30 a week on extra costs. They arise from the frequent cleaning of his clothes, due to falls and spillages, and much more than average wear and tear of clothing. Transport costs are also a major problem. Blind people living alone face even higher costs than Mr. Cox as they have to rely more upon paid help.

Deaf Accord say that: Being deaf does not currently entitle you to any benefits and this will not change under the Bill. We believe that there should be an additional costs component to the DLA for deaf and deaf-blind people, this would include the extra costs they incur to overcome their communication problems.

I urge hon. Members who have not done so to read details of the cases documented in briefings from Disability Alliance, the Disablement Income Group, the RNIB, Mencap, the Spastics Society and RADAR, among other organisations, where they will see that the examples that I have used are by no means isolated.

Why, then, have the Government chosen to disregard the overwhelming evidence of hardship among disabled people? Ministers have relied heavily on findings by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys which suggested that the average weekly extra costs of disablement were only £6.10p per week, with no more than half a million people spending more than £15. OPCS researchers have themselves said, however, that respondents estimates of their costs are: Sensitive to the interviewing techniques used. They are not entirely satisfied about the reliability of the figures and advised: Because of all the problems … in obtaining reliable estimates of expenditure, all the results presented in this chapter should be treated with some caution. Far from following that advice, the Government have used the results to make fundamental policy decisions. Ministers brush aside conflicting evidence presented by disability organisations. Using the OPCS reports more carefully than the Government, the Disablement Income Group found that the extra weekly costs of disability were £41.84p. Using their own questionnaire, the figure rose to £65.94p.

The independent living fund also provides irrefutable proof of the Government's very seriously mistaken view of the extra costs of disability. In fact, the independent living fund average weekly payment is £72.

The Government have also chosen to use information from the family expenditure survey in spite of the caution advised by its authors, who say: the evidence for substantial, unavoidable 'costs' of disability, to be met without regard to costs or priorities, is not to be found in research based on expenditure comparisons such as this.

Any calculation of the "true" costs of disability is complicated by the low incomes and often low expectations of disabled people. Many have no opportunity to spend money on items that non-disabled people regard as basic needs. They cannot spend what they do not have. It can be hard even to conceive of spending which for most people is commonplace. One young disabled person with cerebral palsy, who is incontinent and uses a wheelchair, short not of luxuries but of necessities, says: Because I haven't got the money I go without; it's as simple as that. 5.45 pm

The Government should long ago have heeded the advice of the Social Services Select Committee which recommended Ministers to work with disability organisations to conduct and publish research on the actual and potential costs of disability.

Instead, the Government not only misuse the OPCS reports but make further misplaced assumptions. They argue that the existing attendance and mobility allowances make "generous allowance" for the extra costs of disability and that any money not used on attendance or mobility costs can be used for other costs of disabled living. That is deeply resented by disabled people and their organisations. They strongly refute the argument that existing allowances are generous and point out that blind people like Mr. Cox, for example, despite the extra costs, do not qualify for attendance or mobility allowance.

One finding of the OPCS is that digestion disabilities cause the highest extra expenditure, but how can people with such disabilities, who are not entitled to attendance or mobility allowance, use any part of either of them for their extra dietary costs?

In regard to people with high extra dietary costs, I challenged the Government at the Committee stage of the Bill about their misuse of research by Anita MacDonald, chief paediatric dietician at the Children's hospital at Ladywood in Birmingham, when calculating the dietary needs of people with HIV and AIDS and others with long-term disabilities. Her work was used to contradict my submission on Second Reading and in Committee about the extra dietary costs and also the submissions of the Terrence Higgins Trust.

In a letter that I have now received from Anita MacDonald she says: I consider that the information in my paper has been inappropriately used by the DSS against the case made for additional dietary support for people with HIV and AIDS. In fact, I feel very dismayed that the DSS has apparently chosen to use the information quoted in the paper out of context, particularly as I had discussions with an official of the DSS in the Autumn of 1987 … I would be grateful if my paper would not be used against the Terrence Higgins Trust as it is not intended to apply to patients with AIDS and HIV infection, nor can the costings be interpreted as being the average costs of a healthy diet. That is a most serious refutation of ministerial statements, and I hope the Minister will now apologise to the House and address the very serious unmet needs of people with AIDS. The help that they need, and which the amendment would give them, is help to keep them alive. That is what this debate means to them.

This is an important debate also for Mrs. Christine Saltmarshe, a distressed mother whose 19-year-old daughter is severely disabled. As the Minister knows—although he has made no response and I must now recall her letter—she wrote to me in November to say: My daughter was 19 three days ago. She is severely disabled and her problem is epilepsy which is caused by severe food intolerance or allergy. Because of this she is on a very strict and, therefore, expensive diet. When she was 16, in November 1987, she was awarded the whole diet allowance under the Supplementary Benefit rules. In April 1988, when the new system came in, she was given £30 transitional addition, but of course this is being rapidly eroded as her income has been frozen and inflation soars. She got no rise at 18, and now has had a letter from the DSS stating that, in December, the Severe Disablement Allowance will go up by £10 a week, but that she will get nil. I have put in an appeal to a Tribunal, but I know the regulations are against her. I have written to my MP John Major and have had letters back from him and Nicholas Scott expressing sympathy, but saying she can't be helped, because of the regulations. Mrs. Saltmarshe concluded: I wonder if you can tell me where we go from here? I have told the Government that it is simply not good enough for Mrs. Saltmarshe to be informed that her daughter cannot be helped because of the regulations. Ministers have the power to alter regulations. Indeed, the social security changes of April 1988, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) referred, were legislated for by them. The fact that Mrs. Saltmarshe's Member of Parliament is now the Prime Minister makes the replies that she received all the more curious.

I regard the case as one of undoubted, unmerited and unnecessary suffering and hardship, which the Minister and the Prime Minister can bring to an end by accepting the amendments. As they know, Mrs. Saltmarshe's daughter is but one of the more than 1 million disabled losers from the social security changes of April 1988 which the amendments seek to undo.

In further support of the amendments, I emphasise that the OPCS survey was conducted before the cuts imposed in April 1988. The importance of the amendments was reflected in Standing Committee where they had support from both sides of the Committee. The vote was initially tied until, in keeping with precedent, the Chair's casting vote was given to the Bill as drafted.

The Minister has suggested that a costs allowance would involve complexity. Yet his new disabled living allowance introduces 11 new permutations of benefits. What could be more bewilderingly complex for disabled people? Simplicity is important but so, too, is meeting need. In "The Way Ahead" the Government set themselves four objectives, including improving the structure of benefits to bring it more into line with the needs of disabled people and giving more to those most in need.

Our proposal for a cost component is completely in line with those objectives. It has the support of the Disability Benefits Consortium, an umbrella group representing all the major disability organisations, including the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People, the Disability Alliance, the Disablement Income Group, RADAR, the RNIB, the Spastics Society and Age Concern. It also has the support of people in all parties and is eminently deserving of the backing of the House. After all, the House has irrefutable proof from victims of the social security cuts of April 1988 that even many severely disabled people are being made to go hungry by the loss of benefits on which they so crucially depend.

Photo of Sir David Price Sir David Price , Eastleigh

I am sure that the whole House is grateful to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) for bringing to the Floor of the House the whole problem of the extra costs of disability. As the House will know, the ninth report of the old Social Services Select Committee considered disability in relation to care in the community. A section of that report dealt with the cost of disability. I can be mercifully brief, because all the evidence is in our report. It struck the Committee that the Government rested their case on the OPCS reports. Surprisingly enough, we received a great deal of evidence that the OPCS estimates of the extra cost were not correct.

This is not the occasion to go into methodology. Certainly, no one disputes the integrity of the OPCS. If we had time, I could describe some of the reasons why the methodology was inappropriate and why the range was too wide. I give the House just one quotation from Mr. Ian Bruce, the director-general of the Royal National Institute for the Blind: so many disabled people have low incomes, if you say to them: 'How much more money do you spend on things because you are disabled?', they may never have had the opportunity to spend the money to start with … A lot of blind people do not go out very much because they cannot afford taxis. Now if you ask them how much extra they spend on travel or transport, they might say not very much but that is because they have never had the money to do it". The phrase: they have never had the money to do it is important.

We made a recommendation as a result of our study, and the right hon. Gentleman quoted it. We asked for more research. In our report, we quoted the set of figures given to us by the OPCS, taking category 3 to category 10 of disability. We also took the figures provided by the Disablement Income Group. There is not a minor but a substantial and marked variation between the two sets of figures. I am not saying that one or other is correct, but there is sufficient disparity to worry the House.

Our recommendation was: the Government conduct and publish ongoing research on the actual and potential costs of disability, and—this is important— in conjunction with organisations representing disabled people, to inform future policy decisions about assistance for disabled people. I wish briefly to put three proposals to the House and to my right hon. Friend the Minister. First, can we have general agreement that the OPCS figures—which were referred to in the Select Committee report and several other reports—on the estimated extra costs of disability should not be taken by the Government or the House as the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

Secondly, we should carry out more research along the lines of the Select Committee recommendation, and the Government should implement proposals based on it. Thirdly, research should lead to a permanent on-going survey of the extra costs of disability, involving, on the Government side, the OPCS and possibly some appropriate academics, and the voluntary organisations which are in day-to-day touch with the more severe cases. I suggest that that on-going survey should be the basis for future determination of the rates of disability living allowance and should be used in all further calculations of upratings and readjustments, as the case may be.

I draw an analogy with the cost of living index, which is determined by surveys of family expenditure and is more or less accepted across the House. It is a fair way of determining the effect of inflation on ordinary people's incomes. A similar system should be adopted in future for determining the extra cost of living with a disability.

My proposal is modest. It does not involve doing anything in the Bill today or during its future stages, but it would help the people to whom I talk in the disability organisations to feel that the Government have a commitment to do what they ask in the future. If my right hon. Friend rejects that proposal entirely, on what basis will future upratings of allowances be made?

My proposal is so modest that I am astonished at my moderation on a cold night. I hope that, as always, my right hon. Friend will find my logic devastating.

6 pm

Photo of Mr Jack Ashley Mr Jack Ashley , Stoke-on-Trent South

I endorse what the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price) has just said. There has been a great outcry among disabled people about the lack of provision for the extra costs of disablement. We have had a great deal of information from fervent researchers. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to them. They contribute so much to our speeches.

Diana Sutton has done so much for the all-party disablement group and has been helpful on this issue. Mary Holland has also been helpful, as has Peter Large, whose work is of enormous benefit. I will not go so far as to say that those people write Members' speeches, but they certainly help a very great deal. If I may be forgiven for introducing a personal note, I would refer to my wife, Pauline, who makes a major contribution to my work. Sometimes I feel like a spare part. The fact is that we receive a mass of information about these problems.

I do not see how the Government can retain the name that this Bill carries. It simply is not possible to have a genuine disability allowance with only two components and with vital costs excluded. Exclusion of these costs makes a mockery of the legislation. I suggest to the Minister that the Bill might be renamed the Exclusion of Vital Allowances Bill. That would be far more appropriate. A costs allowance should be included. There is anecdotal and statistical evidence from organisations for the disabled, there is statistical evidence from the OPCS, and there is common sense. In the Standing Committee, the amendment had all-party support. There was a tied vote, and the Chairman voted for retention of the status quo.

Many people were surprised when the Minister implied that those receiving mobility allowance could spend it on something else. He knows that that is nonsense. He knows that what is allowed does not cover even the costs for which it is intended. How then could it be used to cover other costs? I suspect that disabled people will think that the Minister is living in Alice's Wonderland.

They are concerned about such comments, but they are even more concerned that their requirements are not being met. They are living in deficit, and they are very anxious about that. They receive no help to meet those special costs, and naturally, as a result, they are suffering hardship. The Minister speaks of favouring coherent structures. I go along with that, but we must not have coherent structures at the expense of justice. Making provision for the extra costs of disability would indeed be providing justice.

Those, like most hon. Members, who have their faculties and adequate income do not appreciate what a burden these extra costs impose. I should like to conclude by spelling out some of them, though not in actual cash terms. I know that this has been done before, but I shall take 30 seconds to do it again.

Handicapped people, especially handicapped children, cause excessive wear to their clothes; those who are incontinent need extra washing; those with stomach complaints and associated disabilities need special diets; those who are immobile—the very severely crippled—need extra warmth; deaf people—not myself, so this is not special pleading—need expensive communication aids; those whose bodies are frail are incapable of "do it yourself". Actually, as I am pretty ham-fisted, I am incapable of "do it yourself" anyway, so I get my wife to do the jobs.

Disabled people who cannot do such jobs have to pay to have them done. They also find it difficult to do shopping. All these things, although they may sound simple, are profoundly important. I hope that the Minister will take account of this argument and think again.

Photo of Mr Peter Thurnham Mr Peter Thurnham , Bolton North East

I want to speak on amendment No. 4, which deals with the extra cost component. I believe that its wording is exactly the same as that of amendment No. 6 in the Standing Committee, on which we had a very good debate. We have had another good debate today, and I welcome the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price), who speaks from such experience, as well as that of the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), whom I congratulate on the very good work that he does for the all-party group. The right hon. Gentleman does a great deal to ensure that that group promotes the cause of the disabled.

It is very important that we should recognise the extra costs that disability involves. From personal experience, I can say that there is great validity in all the points that have been raised in the debate on this amendment. I am thinking of such things as the need for extra heating and for special diets. People who are mentally handicapped tend to want to eat only certain kinds of food. It can be quite difficult and expensive to get them to change their habits. Certainly, my household gets through a large number of Kit-Kats as an inducement to our son Steven, following the meal, to go upstairs and start the next stage of the day's routine.

People who are disabled may need help with shopping, cleaning and other domestic duties, and there are such problems as incontinence. When we were on holiday abroad, our son refused for a whole month to go to the lavatory, and we had to buy incontinence aids.

So far as communication costs are concerned, I am not quite sure what is involved in our case, because Steven, while he likes to listen on the telephone, seems to be struck dumb. Then there is heavy wear and tear on clothing. Very often, disabled people have feet of different sizes, so two pairs of shoes have to be bought, and two shoes thrown away.

Attendance needs are one of the most important aspects of this matter. The home help care that we are offered amounts to just three hours a week during holiday periods. When one considers that care is necessary 24 hours a day, seven days a week, that is very little.

My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) said on one occasion that she thought that friends and neighbours would be very keen to help. That is not our experience. Indeed, one's friends and neighbours tend to shun one. I think they are frightened of what might be involved. One is glad to have such help on occasions, but I do not think that friends and neighbours are desperately anxious to rush in. Many people are frightened of mental handicap, and others may be worried about the possibility of being drawn into a commitment that might prove too burdensome.

I have no doubt that, in my constituency, families who are struggling to look after children—many of them, indeed, not now children but adults, and many of them profoundly mentally handicapped—constitute one of the greatest areas of unmet need. Such people do not get the help and respite care that they require, and it is not readily supplied by friends and neighbours.

The amendment ends with a reference to "other needs". Of course, there are very many other needs. We have found it necessary to get a powered wheelchair because my wife has difficulty pushing the ordinary one uphill. I was absolutely staggered at the cost. The price of an ordinary wheelchair is £130, and it can be supplied through the social services, but an indoor/outdoor powered wheelchair costs over £1,500, and is only now being considered as something that should be provided by the social services. So the extra cost is very substantial.

As has been said, we had quite a surprising vote in the Standing Committee. It was the hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mr. Hogg) who came out with the result that left the Government in control of the position. I should like to remind my right hon. Friend the Minister of the words that he himself used in that debate. I listened to them very carefully. On the first day of the Committee's deliberations, he said: The hon. Member for Caernarfon will remember our previous debates, especially those about children under the age of two. Having resisted amendments in support of that for two successive years, I was not prepared to go through that experience again and we introduced the change. Who knows what might flow from our discussions on the Bill, but not today!"—[Official Report, Standing Committee E, 6 December 1990; c. 26.] The Minister went on to say that I could make up my own mind. Having been given what I interpreted as a tiny inducement, I was carried away and decided to express my personal view when it came to the vote. I did not foresee that we should end up with a tied vote, so it was an interesting result.

Photo of Mr Alf Morris Mr Alf Morris , Manchester Wythenshawe

The hon. Gentleman's support in that tied vote in Committee was not only widely remarked upon but was also appreciated. It was not just his vote. As the House heard tonight, the hon. Gentleman has deep personal experience of the realities of life for families with disabled children. In my view, it was a very important contribution.

Photo of Mr Peter Thurnham Mr Peter Thurnham , Bolton North East

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I thank him in turn for the way in which he led the Opposition in Committee. It was a very constructive debate all the way through the Committee proceedings and the right hon. Gentleman's own contributions were excellently put. Again, he has spoken very well today, and I thank him for his contribution to the debate.

The right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South said that he thought that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People was living in Alice's Wonderland. I am almost inclined to agree with him. The figures show that, compared with what used to be spent on disabled people, spending is approaching "Alice in Wonderland"—although, of course, a lot more money is needed.

Expenditure on disabled people was about £10 million a day when the Government came to power, in today's money terms. We have increased that spending at the rate of £1 million a day every year that the Government have been in power. We are now, therefore, spending over £20 million a day on disabled people. I very much look forward to another decade in which we yet again double our expenditure in real terms on disabled people. My right hon. Friend is to be congratulated on helping to bring about this large increase in spending.

We might not yet be in "Alice in Wonderland", but I think that we can look forward to something far more like Wonderland than anything that we enjoyed when the Opposition were in power. They do not have the ability to manage the economy well enough to produce the wealth that can be spent on the disabled.

I very much support my right hon. Friend's management of the Government's programme of spending on disabled people. The Bill will bring about the spending of another £1 million a day on them. The Government have an excellent record. Therefore, I am pleased to support the Bill.

Photo of Mr David Bellotti Mr David Bellotti , Eastbourne

I join those who congratulated the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) on his first appearance at the Dispatch Box. I wish him well for the future.

Last Friday, I visited Hazel Court school in my constituency for the first time. It caters for young people with severe learning difficulties. As they grow older, they will benefit from the provisions of the Bill. The school has a high reputation for pioneering work in sensory education. Schools such as Hazel Court are to be found throughout the country. The Bill is important to the work of those teachers. They, supported by the parents and other people in the community, will enable us in partnership to deliver the programmes that are so needed.

Many of the children at that school suffer from severe brain damage, which leads to many of them having no sense of danger. Severe brain damage can also lead to hyperactivity. They need intensive help for much of the time. Additional money would go a long way towards helping parents to cope with difficulties over travel, health, welfare, eating, shopping and clothing. The rest of us do not experience those difficulties.

The additional allowance would also help those who cannot walk properly. In the past they have not always been able to benefit from additional allowances. Those who need to be regularly bathed or who face extra laundry and clothing costs as a result of their special needs would also be helped by the additional allowance.

During the short time that I have been a Member of Parliament, a few cases have been brought to my attention. I am not convinced that to date the Government have done all they could to help those with special needs. We have all had superb support from the voluntary organisations in briefing us for these debates, but I should prefer to refer to a case in my constituency.

A lady, Mrs. Ager, suffers from an obvious mobility difficulty. She applied to Norcross in Blackpool for a mobility allowance. She was turned down. Arthritis Care, a voluntary organisation, provided her with superb back-up and support. The medical evidence that she has provided cannot be questioned, so she intends to take her case to appeal.

6.15 pm

Mrs. Ager received a letter from Blackpool which said that her file could not be found. She came to see me in my surgery—with tremendous difficulty, because of her disability. As a new Member of Parliament, I was staggered that the letter from Blackpool she showed me was a circular letter. Obviously, many letters have been prepared to send out to people, claiming that their files have been lost and that no progress can be made with their appeals. I ask the Minister to ensure that local authorities or Government Departments do not send circular letters to people saying that their files have been lost. It is three and a half weeks since I wrote to Blackpool, and I have not yet received a reply.

It would be extremely helpful if carers received an additional allowance. Many hundreds of thousands of people are caring for others. They will be doubly penalised unless an additional allowance is made available to them. Many of them give up earning their own living in order to care for someone else. Unless the person who is disabled is able to claim the maximum allowance and the additional costs incurred, the person who has given up earning his or her living in order to care for someone else will be unable to benefit from the family income that is available to the disabled person.

That will lead to a double penalty for many people who care for others and for the many others who are in partnership with local and central Government. Without the help of such wonderful voluntary organisations as Mencap, Age Concern and the Spastics Society, both local and central Government would have very much more to do.

I was intrigued by the reference to index-linking by the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price). My mind went back to the beginning of our debates, when the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) referred to local authorities. About a year ago, appearing as a local government representative before a Select Committee, I suggested that the money that is available ought to be ring-fenced. The view expressed about local authorities by the hon. Member for Exeter might be somewhat better if the money available could be ring-fenced. That would meet the objective. If we also adopted the suggestion of the hon. Member for Eastleigh, that the money should be index-linked, I am sure that every local authority would be able to meet all its future responsibilities.

There is no moral justification for introducing any age limits on any matter. It seems ridiculous and immoral that someone who might lose a leg and become immobile at the age of 66 should be treated differently from someone who loses a leg at 64 or 59. The immobility is the same. Our task must always be to see that those who have special needs can enjoy the maximum quality of life, similar to those of us who do not have special needs. I hope that, as the Bill proceeds, that will be one of the matters that the Minister will bear in mind.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley , Eltham

Clause 1 seems to be almost a Bill in itself and I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister of State and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary who have had to persuade colleagues that this is a shortish Bill. My reason for saying that is that, although I share the concern for the carers as well as for those for whom they care, I wish to ask whether my right hon. Friend would have power under this or some other legislation to make additional payments for additional costs if the Government chose, after negotiation with the Treasury, to do that. I do not necessarily expect a reply today, but perhaps my right hon. Friend will reply by letter and place a copy in the Library. Do we require the introduction of an amendment such as amendment No. 4 to allow the Minister to have that power? This issue may become more relevant when the Bill is considered in another place. Although I am prepared to listen to what my right hon. Friend has to say today, some hon. Members will want to know whether the additional costs provision could be met in another way if the amendment were unsuccessful.

My second question is whether my right hon. Friend is willing to give an assurance to the House that if further and more direct evidence on additional costs is introduced and considered alongside the OPCS evidence—I am not casting aspersions on the OPCS, which works professionally—the Government will consider it. Obviously, they may not be willing to accept it immediately, but will they have an open mind? At the moment, we may be relying too much on the OPCS evidence.

Even if the amendment were passed tonight or in another place, or was introduced by the Government, I do not believe that it is rational to expect to meet all the additional costs that disabilities may bring with them. It is important to concentrate on the most significant and obvious. I accept that one person in 10 in this country has a disability, but I do not think that it is practical to have files on so many of us. We need to ask to whom we can give the greatest help at any one time. I am not saying that we should make a decision in 1991 and then forget about it, because I hope that, as we resume growth, we will see a doubling or quadrupling of our help for those with special needs as part of the social market economy, on which there is growing agreement across the House. We want to create the wealth and ensure that we use as much of it as possible to bring the greatest help to those whose needs should be recognised just as much as those who have company cars or big mortgages.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Scott Mr Nicholas Scott , Chelsea

I have sympathy with the closing remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley). Since coming to office we have increased expenditure on the long-term sick and disabled by more than 120 per cent. It is a record of which we can be proud. However, as my hon. Friend said, that still leaves us with difficult choices about priorities.

I welcome the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Bellotti) to our deliberations on disability and hope that he will continue to take an interest. He said that he does not like the age limit of 65 as it applies to mobility allowance. It would cost about £2 billion to abolish that age limit. I do not know whether he would accord such a priority to that, but it would involve massive expenditure. We have sought to reinforce a philosophical justification in the Bill for concentrating help on and giving priority to those who are congenitally disabled or disabled early in life and do not have an opportunity to build up contributory benefits, savings or occupational pensions in the same way as those who have had a full working life and who encounter mobility or other difficulties in their old age. We have to make choices all the time.

Photo of Mr Peter Thurnham Mr Peter Thurnham , Bolton North East

Does my right hon. Friend accept that there is unfairness in that one in 10 children with cerebral palsy can obtain an average of nearly £1 million in damages if it can be proved that the cerebral palsy was caused by the doctor at delivery, when the other nine out of 10 get nothing except what can be provided through the benefits system?

Photo of Mr Nicholas Scott Mr Nicholas Scott , Chelsea

I do not want to enter into that debate. Essentially, it is not a matter for me. There is a capricious element in some medical settlements that many people find disturbing. I do not wish to pursue that argument. I feel that the House wants to come to a conclusion fairly rapidly on this set of amendments. If I am tolerably brief, it will be through no discourtesy to the House but because we thoroughly covered this ground in Committee and I do not wish to weary hon. Members.

Whatever shortcomings the OPCS survey may have, it was the most thorough piece of work that has ever been done in this country on the extent, nature and circumstances of disabled people and we have largely, though not exclusively, to rest on its findings. It was followed up by the family expenditure survey, which tended to reinforce the findings of the OPCS. Of course, we will continue to research and monitor the situation and ensure that the new benefits that we are introducing in the Bill meet the needs of those who really need help.

If I am honest with the House, I should say that I will be surprised if we get matters right first time. We are introducing two new benefits that substantially extend the help available and bring, with associated measures, extra help to some 850,000 people who suffer from disabilities of one sort or another. We will have to research and monitor the impact of all this and see whether we need to make any adjustments.

The hon. Member for Eastbourne spoke about the service that we provide for the disabled. We are anxious to improve that. When we looked at the Department of Social Security's delivery of service, we recognised that it was frequently not of the standard that we would want. We have taken substantial steps to improve that, not least through the operational strategy, at a cost of about £1·7 billion for the computerisation of our service and the dispersal of jobs outside London to provide a more sustained commitment. We have a rapid turnover of staff in London and that makes life difficult. The error rate has come down, the speed of service has improved and the new assessment and adjudication procedures have been widely welcomed. I want us to build on that.

The OPCS showed that attendance allowance and mobility allowance were effectively targeted on those who had extra costs. The right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) mentioned mobility allowance in particular. It is worth saying that the Government have not just uprated mobility allowance in terms of inflation, but one year provided a substantial increase over and above inflation and removed the allowance from tax, which was a great help to a substantial number of people.

Many people spend their attendance allowance and mobility allowance not just on coping with their care or mobility needs but on a whole range of other needs. As I pointed out in Committee, of those disabled adults under the age of 65 who are in receipt of attendance allowance, more have needs which relate to disabilities such as continence, intellectual functioning, consciousness, communication and behaviour than have personal care needs. So the benefits have a much wider cover than we normally assume. As I have already indicated, we will need to flesh out in due course the findings of the OPCS and not rest exclusively on them or treat them as a bible. There will be more research, and we will have an on-going survey on whether the benefits are meeting the needs of the people who have them.

A point was made about the use by the Department of Mrs. Anita MacDonald's research. I have often referred to the study as evidence of the cost of a high-protein, high-calorie diet, which is recommended for AIDS patients in particular. The research is in the public domain, and people can make their own judgment about what Mrs. MacDonald says. I shall certainly respect her wishes about the treatment of her research in future if she is upset by the use that we have made of it.

6.30 pm

Our policy on provision through income support for extra costs such as special diets does not rest on Mrs. MacDonald's single piece of research, although, as I said, I have quoted it from time to time, as have other Ministers. The supplementary benefits system of providing for the extra cost did not work. The people who got extra help were the ones who knew their way around the system rather than those who needed help.

The income support approach, which delivers a significant amount of money—the disability premium is currently £15·40 for a single person—is a more effective way of getting help to the long-term sick and disabled to cover extra costs. The premium is paid on top of the basic rate of income support, which already covers the cost of a normal, healthy diet, which is usually recommended for those with HIV infection. Those who develop full-blown AIDS from the HIV infection are immediately entitled to the higher rate attendance allowance of £37·55 a week. They get that immediately, without having to serve the usual six-month waiting period, which will become three months when we introduce the new benefits.

In essence, the ideas which we are developing for the disability living allowance, based on moving away from the use of medical assessments towards the concept of self-assessment by claimants, mean that it will be a better targeted benefit which will be more extensive than those it replaces. I accept that we will need a doctor's input into some of the judgments, but as far as possible we want to depend on self-assessment. That will be a substantial improvement.

Over the Government's period of office, the take-up of attendance allowance has multiplied by a factor of three, and the take-up of mobility allowance by a factor of six. The two new benefits will be better than those which they replace. We will monitor their implementation carefully. Because of the points I have made about attendance allowance and mobility allowance, I cannot commend the amendments to the House.

Photo of Mr Alf Morris Mr Alf Morris , Manchester Wythenshawe

We divided in Committee on the amendments because of the extent of strong feeling in the country about their purpose. We do so again on the Floor of the House, for the same reason.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 132, Noes 231.

Division No. 61][6.33 pm
AYES
Abbott, Ms DianeIngram, Adam
Adams, Mrs. Irene (Paisley, N.)Johnston, Sir Russell
Allen, GrahamKennedy, Charles
Anderson, DonaldKilfedder, James
Archer, Rt Hon PeterKinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Armstrong, HilaryLeighton, Ron
Ashley, Rt Hon JackLivingstone, Ken
Ashton, JoeLloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Loyden, Eddie
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)McAllion, John
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)McAvoy, Thomas
Barron, KevinMacdonald, Calum A.
Battle, JohnMcFall, John
Beckett, MargaretMcKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Beggs, RoyMcKelvey, William
Bellotti, DavidMcLeish, Henry
Benn, Rt Hon TonyMcMaster, Gordon
Benton, JosephMcWilliam, John
Bidwell, SydneyMadden, Max
Blair, TonyMahon, Mrs Alice
Bray, Dr JeremyMarshall, David (Shettleston)
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)Meacher, Michael
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)Meale, Alan
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)Michael, Alun
Buckley, George J.Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Campbell-Savours, D. N.Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)Morgan, Rhodri
Clwyd, Mrs AnnMorris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Cohen, HarryMowlam, Marjorie
Corbyn, JeremyOakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Cox, TomOrme, Rt Hon Stanley
Crowther, StanOwen, Rt Hon Dr David
Cryer, BobPatchett, Terry
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)Prescott, John
Dixon, DonPrimarolo, Dawn
Dobson, FrankQuin, Ms Joyce
Doran, FrankRees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Dunnachie, JimmyReid, Dr John
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs GwynethRichardson, Jo
Fearn, RonaldRooney, Terence
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)Ruddock, Joan
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelSalmond, Alex
Foster, DerekSedgemore, Brian
Foulkes, GeorgeSheerman, Barry
Fraser, JohnSheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Fyfe, MariaShort, Clare
Garrett, John (Norwich South)Skinner, Dennis
Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
George, BruceSmith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Golding, Mrs LlinSmith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Graham, ThomasSmyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)Spearing, Nigel
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Grocott, BruceThompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Hardy, PeterTurner, Dennis
Haynes, FrankWallace, James
Heal, Mrs SylviaWareing, Robert N.
Hinchliffe, DavidWigley, Dafydd
Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall)Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Hood, JimmyWilson, Brian
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)Winnick, David
Hughes, John (Coventry NE)Wise, Mrs Audrey
Worthington, TonyTellers for the Ayes:
Wray, JimmyMr. Ken Eastham and
Mr. Martyn Jones.
NOES
Adley, RobertGoodlad, Alastair
Aitken, JonathanGorman, Mrs Teresa
Alexander, RichardGorst, John
Alison, Rt Hon MichaelGrant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Allason, RupertGreenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Amos, AlanGreenway, John (Ryedale)
Arbuthnot, JamesGregory, Conal
Ashby, DavidGriffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Aspinwall, JackGrist, Ian
Atkinson, DavidGround, Patrick
Baldry, TonyHague, William
Batiste, SpencerHamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)
Bellingham, HenryHamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Bendall, VivianHampson, Dr Keith
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Bevan, David GilroyHargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir PeterHarris, David
Body, Sir RichardHawkins, Christopher
Bonsor, Sir NicholasHayes, Jerry
Boscawen, Hon RobertHayward, Robert
Boswell, TimHeathcoat-Amory, David
Bottomley, PeterHicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Bowis, JohnHolt, Richard
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir RhodesHordern, Sir Peter
Braine, Rt Hon Sir BernardHowarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Bright, GrahamHowarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterHowe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Browne, John (Winchester)Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Buck, Sir AntonyHunt, David (Wirral W)
Burns, SimonHunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Butler, ChrisHunter, Andrew
Carlisle, John, (Luton N)Irvine, Michael
Carrington, MatthewJack, Michael
Carttiss, MichaelJackson, Robert
Cash, WilliamJanman, Tim
Chapman, SydneyJessel, Toby
Chope, ChristopherJohnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Clark, Rt Hon Sir WilliamJones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Cormack, PatrickKing, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Cran, JamesKirkhope, Timothy
Critchley, JulianKnight, Greg (Derby North)
Currie, Mrs EdwinaKnight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)Knowles, Michael
Davis, David (Boothferry)Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Day, StephenLawrence, Ivan
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesLennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Dover, DenLilley, Peter
Dunn, BobLloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Durant, Sir AnthonyLord, Michael
Dykes, HughMcCrindle, Sir Robert
Eggar, TimMacGregor, Rt Hon John
Emery, Sir PeterMacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Evennett, DavidMaclean, David
Fallon, MichaelMcLoughlin, Patrick
Favell, TonyMalins, Humfrey
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)Mans, Keith
Finsberg, Sir GeoffreyMaples, John
Fishburn, John DudleyMarland, Paul
Fookes, Dame JanetMarshall, John (Hendon S)
Forman, NigelMarshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Forth, EricMawhinney, Dr Brian
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir NormanMayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Fox, Sir MarcusMeyer, Sir Anthony
Freeman, RogerMiller, Sir Hal
French, DouglasMitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Gale, RogerMoate, Roger
Gardiner, Sir GeorgeMorrison, Sir Charles
Gill, ChristopherMoss, Malcolm
Glyn, Dr Sir AlanNeale, Sir Gerrard
Goodhart, Sir PhilipNelson, Anthony
Neubert, Sir MichaelStewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Newton, Rt Hon TonyStewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N)
Nicholls, PatrickSummerson, Hugo
Nicholson, David (Taunton)Tapsell, Sir Peter
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Norris, SteveTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Onslow, Rt Hon CranleyTaylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Oppenheim, PhillipTebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Paice, JamesTemple-Morris, Peter
Patten, Rt Hon JohnThompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Pawsey, JamesThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Porter, Barry (Wirral S)Thorne, Neil
Porter, David (Waveney)Thurnham, Peter
Portillo, MichaelTownend, John (Bridlington)
Powell, William (Corby)Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Price, Sir DavidTracey, Richard
Raffan, KeithTrippier, David
Raison, Rt Hon Sir TimothyTwinn, Dr Ian
Redwood, JohnVaughan, Sir Gerard
Rhodes James, RobertViggers, Peter
Rossi, Sir HughWaldegrave, Rt Hon William
Rost, PeterWaller, Gary
Rowe, AndrewWard, John
Rumbold, Rt Hon Mrs AngelaWarren, Kenneth
Ryder, Rt Hon RichardWatts, John
Sackville, Hon TomWells, Bowen
Scott, Rt Hon NicholasWheeler, Sir John
Shaw, David (Dover)Whitney, Ray
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')Widdecombe, Ann
Shelton, Sir WilliamWiggin, Jerry
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)Wilkinson, John
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)Wilshire, David
Shersby, MichaelWinterton, Mrs Ann
Sims, RogerWolfson, Mark
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)Wood, Timothy
Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)Woodcock, Dr. Mike
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)Yeo, Tim
Squire, RobinYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Stanbrook, Ivor
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir JohnTellers for the Noes:
Steen, AnthonyMr. Nicholas Baker and
Stern, MichaelMr. Irvine Patrick.
Stevens, Lewis

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Mr Dafydd Wigley Mr Dafydd Wigley Leader and Party President, Plaid Cymru 6:45 pm, 7th February 1991

I beg to move amendment No. 13, in page 4, line 34, after 'physical', insert 'or mental'.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

With this, it will be convenient to consider the following amendments: No. 14, in page 4, line 36, after 'or', insert— '(aa) is suffering from severe mental handicap and from severe behavioural problems such that he is unable without physical control by another person to walk to any intended or required destination while out of doors; or'.

No. 12, in page 4, line 39, after 'doors,' insert 'to walk to any intended or required destination on unfamiliar terrain'.

No. 24, in page 4, line 41, at end insert 'or(c) he is a double amputee.'. No. 15, in page 5, line 6, after '(1)(a)', insert ', (aa)'.

No. 16, in page 5, line 21, after '(1)(a)', insert', (aa)'.

No. 17, in page 5, line 39, after '(1)(a)', insert 'or (1)(aa)'.

Photo of Mr Dafydd Wigley Mr Dafydd Wigley Leader and Party President, Plaid Cymru

I wish to speak to amendment No. 13 and the other amendments linked with it, particularly amendment No. 14, which deals with the nub of the arguments that we had in Committee and which, unless resolved now, will certainly continue.

In paragraph 37ZC, two groups are defined as beneficiaries of the mobility component of disability living allowance—a person suffering from physical disablement such that he is either unable to walk or virtually unable walk", which is the current definition of mobility allowance, or he is able to walk but is so severely disabled physically or mentally"— and I emphasise "or mentally"— that to take advantage of the faculty out of doors he requires guidance or supervision from another person most of the time.

Amendment No. 14 introduces a third category. We believe that there is a danger of those two definitions not meeting the campaign objectives that have been put to successive Ministers in charge of disability, or not achieving what the Government either say that they want to do or pretend that they want to do. I shall be charitable and suggest that the Minister genuinely wants to help the group about whom we are most concerned but has not succeeded in achieving the right wording. If he rejects the amendment and makes no commitment, I shall think differently.

Amendment No. 14 adds a third definition—a person who is suffering from severe mental handicap and from severe behavioural problems such that he is unable without physical control by another person to walk to any intended or required destination while out of doors. We are considering severely mentally handicapped people who have severe behavioural problems and need more than guidance—they need physical control. When I was talking to my wife about the fact that I would be here and not in the Purcell room listening to her, she recalled taking our two boys, then aged six or seven, to be tested for entitlement to mobility allowance. She recalled the doctors asking them questions, which was absolutely pointless. The doctors told them to do this or do that, but they did not understand because they were mentally handicapped to an extent that made it impossible.

The general ground rules on physically handicapped people and even on moderately mentally handicapped people go out of the window when a handicap is so profound that children, or indeed adults, not only cannot walk in an intended direction but cannot respond to guidance and need physical control. In some circumstances, that physical control can be a tall order indeed and can be a considerable imposition on those who have to take responsibility for it.

The purpose of the amendment is to extend the higher rate of the mobility component of DLA to people who have severe mobility problems as a result of severe mental handicap and behavioural problems. The Government propose to introduce a lower-rate mobility component with the intention of helping people with less severe mobility problems, but the conditions for the lower rate are currently worded in such a way that those most likely to qualify are people with difficulties that are equally severe to those of people who are entitled to the higher rate. The only difference is the cause or origin of the individual's disability. In other words, people with physical disabilities would be likely to get the higher rate, while people with mobility problems stemming mainly or solely from very challenging behaviour or from mental handicap would be likely to get only the lower rate. I thought that the whole thrust of Government thinking in recent years had been to move away from the cause or origin towards what the impact would be.

The amendment seeks to ensure that people in both categories have an equal chance of getting the higher rate. At one time, severely mentally handicapped people who could walk, but not with intention and not without control, could get the higher rate. There was then a sequence of case law, challenges, appeals and disputes, and the Department challenged certain rulings. Eventually, mentally handicapped people who used to get the benefit found themselves not getting it.

I am told by the Spastics Society that, during his time as Minister with responsibility for disabled people, the Prime Minister approved the extension subject to verification by the then Department of Health and Social Security of the estimate of the small numbers likely to benefit. The Minister will probably recall that time, and there is probably some record of it in the Department. The Government have never produced any evidence against the low estimate made by the Spastics Society, by Mencap and by others in the Mobility Allowance Campaign. The creation of a far lower rate of mobility component, apparently with that small group of claimants in mind—perhaps the Minister will clarify that—is a backward step in Government thinking compared with what the Prime Minister said a few years ago. It is not the advance that the Government make it out to be. These people do not have less severe difficulties, but different ones. The new lower-rate component should be reserved for people with genuinely less severe disabilities.

The Government have consistently argued that the extension would bring in too many people and would cost too much, despite ample evidence to the contrary. In Committee, the Minister quoted the figures provided by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, which suggested that 150,000 adults and children have severe behavioural problems and would, therefore, be likely to qualify for the DLA mobility component on those grounds. The Government are trying to shock us by using such huge figures. The Minister has used the figures as a bludgeon to clobber the case for helping the far smaller group of the severely mentally handicapped and those who suffer behavioural problems who should be entitled to the higher rate of mobility allowance.

The Government have never been able to refute the estimate of 8,000 to 9,000 potentially successful claimants made by Mencap and by the Mobility Allowance Campaign. The Spastics Society says that it considers that this figure, based on two research projects, which happen to have been undertaken in Wales, and on the analysis of the 1971 White Paper, which is entitled "Better Services for the Mentally Handicapped", is the most reliable that we have. That is the belief of most of the disablement organisations.

The Government have overestimated the number of potentially successful claimants before. Their estimate of the number of blind-deaf people who would qualify for mobility allowance was about seven times the number who got it. The Spastics Society considered the 150,000 to be a gross and totally misleading estimate. The Minister has, either accidentially or deliberately, confused the two needy groups.

The Minister sent me a letter because in Committee I said that the argument seemed to be at cross purposes with ours. The Minister appeared to acknowledge that when he said: If I may tackle 'head-on' the point you made in Committee about the startling discrepancy between our figures and those produced by Mencap … you were right to say we are talking at cross purposes. Their estimate of numbers derives … from the 1971 paper 'Better Services for the Mentally Handicapped'. That paper, based on three fairly small scale local surveys, was concerned specifically with estimating the numbers of severely mentally handicapped people. My estimate is of people with mental handicap or illness, resulting in behaviour disorder of a type which necessitates physical guidance when walking. These are two different issues. Indeed, they may be two different issues and that is why we need the amendment.

In referring to that small group, Mencap is talking about people with severe mental handicap who need physical control. The Minister is talking about people with mental handicap—he does not refer to "severe" mental handicap—and people with mental illness who need guidance. He does not use the word "control". Those are two separate groups. Given proper treatment and support, people with a mental illness can be cured; people with a mental handicap cannot. That is one example of the differentiation.

There are two groups. One is a fairly large group of about 150,000 people who need help. The Minister has used the additional cost that they face as one of the justifications in defining the group. The smaller group of 9,000 or 10,000 to whom Mencap has referred and whom the 1971 survey revealed certainly need the top level of mobility allowance.

Challenges face families whose members suffer a mental handicap and who have behavioural problems, to the extent that they cannot be controlled without physical control and who cannot go anywhere because they may go off in the wrong direction. They may be able to walk, but it is not a meaningful activity for them. The support that those families need is as great as the support that is needed by a family with a member who cannot physically walk. Such families equally need taxis to take them around. They cannot take the disabled member of the family on the bus or on the train without having somebody to be a minder —at the best. Sometimes it is not practically possible to do that.

We have two groups. Both are needy, but the Bill has failed to address itself to the long-running argument, which we put to the Minister and to his predecessors, about the needs of severely mentally handicapped people with profound behavioural problems. The smaller group, which contains far fewer than 150,000 people, undoubtedly needs a high level of assistance.

In formulating his letter, the Minister has recognised that there are two different arguments. If he is honest with the House, he will say tonight that the Bill meets one argument, but not the other. I hope that, if not tonight at a later stage, he can give an undertaking to produce a further amendment that will meet the justifiable needs of the small group of 9,000 or 10,000 profoundly mentally handicapped people with behavioural problems who should be getting mobility allowance at the higher rate.

Photo of Mr John Hannam Mr John Hannam , Exeter

I give a few words of support for the speech of the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley). The amendment represents part of the campaign that has been waged for many years by the all-party disablement group. Success was achieved for the deaf-blind with the extension of the mobility allowance to them a year or so ago. However, that left open the whole problem of those who should now be brought within the mobility allowance, especially the mentally handicapped and those who suffer from a lack of orientation when they move away from their familiar surroundings.

I support the amendments, but I pick out amendment No. 12, which deals specifically with the problem of the blind or the partially sighted. The Royal National Institute for the Blind supports the amendment as a solution to a problem that should not exist, as even my right hon. Friend the Minister would agree.

The test for the mobility component should be made more effective for blind and partially sighted people who lose their independent mobility if they try to walk on unfamiliar terrain. Amendment No. 12 would ensure that those who are unable to orientate outside their normal surroundings would be able to claim the new mobility component.

As drafted, the Bill is far from clear on that point. I do not believe, from the statements made by the Minister in Committee, that he is opposed in principle to this group of people receiving the benefit. The simple remedy is to get the correct formulation of the criteria to ensure that this group—I refer particularly to the blind and partially sighted—is covered. If the Bill could be amended in the way that amendment 12 suggests, it would include a new definition which would resolve a problem which it is generally agreed should not exist.

7 pm

Photo of Mr Jack Ashley Mr Jack Ashley , Stoke-on-Trent South

The House will have been moved and impressed by the speech of the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), who spoke from direct personal experience. I support him and the group of amendments because they address some serious problems concerning disabled people, especially those mentally handicapped people who are discriminated against. The nub of the problem is that we discriminate against the mentally handicapped. The physically disabled and the deaf-blind, but not the mentally handicapped, are eligible for mobility allowance.

As chairman of the all-party disablement group, I was delighted with the success of the campaign which the group, including the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam), launched on behalf of deaf-blind people. But by eliminating one anomaly, we created another, and we must deal with it. We believe that we are being logical and reasonable in urging the Minister to examine the new anomaly of the failure to cope with the problems of severely mentally handicapped people.

We tend to assume that the mobility needs of mentally handicapped people are inevitably less than those of other disabled people, but such an assumption is nonsense. Their mobility needs are just as great, and the pressure on parents is phenomenal. I need not add, in that context, to the remarks of the hon. Member for Caernarfon.

In Committee, the Minister said that the new lower rate was intended for those who could use public transport. I do not believe that anyone assumes that severely mentally handicapped people can use public transport. I have not had as many dealings with mentally disabled people as with the physically disabled, but I know of a case in my constituency, a boy aged 15, which came into this category. I was surprised when his father brought him to my advice bureau. The boy was fighting, battling, scratching himself and trying to throw himself through the window and door. The battle to restrain that young boy, who was gravely mentally handicapped, was enormous. He could not be left alone. We must provide for people of that type, a small group who are severely mentally handicapped.

I am referring not to people who need only guidance, but to severely mentally handicapped people. I hope that the Minister will heed what was said by the hon. Member for Caernarfon in an eloquent speech, by the hon. Member for Exeter and by myself. Something must be done for this group of people, and I believe that the Minister will do his best.

Photo of Mr Harry Barnes Mr Harry Barnes , North East Derbyshire

Amendment No. 24, which stands in my name, asks for automatic mobility allowance, or for what is now the mobility component to be made available automatically to double amputees.

The Minister may say in response that what I seek is unnecessary because in the offing are regulations which will cover this group of people. I take it that the regulations will be made under the Bill. The Secretary of State said in an uprating statement on 24 October 1990 that the provision would be effective from April 1991. Why should that be done by way of regulation? If such a provision is necessary, why not say so on the face of the Bill and allow for it in the primary legislation?

It is vital to discuss the issue of automatic mobility allowance for double amputees in the current circumstances, when we face a serious land battle in the Gulf, resulting in greater numbers of unfortunate people begining to enter the category of which I am speaking.

Several cases of double amputees have been highlighted recently. I am sure that those cases have had an impact on the Department and have put pressure on Ministers to introduce the suggested new regulations. Among the cases that have been highlighted are those of Sergeant Andrew Mudd and Mrs. Sandra Stone.

A constituent of mine, Melvyn Wall, of Delves road, Killamarsh, north Derbyshire, had a foot amputated initially. Shortly afterwards he needed one leg amputated below the knee, and then a second leg amputated below the knee. From January 1988 he was in receipt of mobility allowance. That lasted until January 1990, at which date he was subject to the normal tests for mobility allowance, having by that time been supplied with artificial legs. The mobility allowance was withdrawn, although there have been a number of appeals in the case.

I can best make the case by allowing the amputees to speak for themselves. For example, Melvyn Wall was reported in The Star, a Sheffield newspaper, on 13 January 1990 as having said: I don't understand why they give you false legs if they don't want you to walk with them. In another article in the same paper, on 2 May 1990, he was reported as having said: I can't walk any further than a few yards in the heat we are having at the moment before it gets too much for me, so I just don't know how they can say I am fit enough to walk. I imagine that in the present bad weather he is having even more difficulty in moving about. If he was tested in the conditions that we have today rather than in the heat of last year, a different verdict might have been presented by the doctors.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Scott Mr Nicholas Scott , Chelsea

I accept that in the past there have been difficulties with some of the assessments, not least because the doctor who examines a patient can take only a snapshot of what the patient can do on a certain day. We are moving much more to self-assessment—perhaps with a general practitioner, a carer or a physiotherapist to support the patient's description of his condition—because we want to get away from the state of affairs which the hon. Gentleman described and make it easier for people to claim for their overall position rather than for what they can do on a particular day.

Photo of Mr Harry Barnes Mr Harry Barnes , North East Derbyshire

That is admirable and I agree that there should be a self-assessment provision which can be checked by others rather than having an unfortunate snapshot. Melvyn Wall was moved by the district council from a house on a hillside, where it was difficult for him to move about, to a single bungalow pensioner's accommodation with a bus stop at the end of the street and opposite a newsagent and food shop. He could then wait until the shop was empty to go out and do his shopping because he experienced great difficulty if he had to stand and wait in a queue. He was the type of person who would try hard to overcome the difficulties with which he was faced. It seemed that he was then penalised for making progress.

I hope that we are moving away from penalising people in that way, and that there will be categories so that people such as double amputees, who permanently require assistance, will be granted mobility allowances.

I shall conclude with a slightly longer quotation from a letter from Ken Hewitt, secretary of the Sheffield Area Limbless Association. I might give slightly different nuances to the points made in his letter, but it expresses the feelings of someone who has lost limbs and describes the problems faced by his association's member, Melvyn Wall. The letter that he wrote to the Daily Express, which had previously given much publicity to the staff sergeant Mudd case, states: Our member Mr. Melvyn Wall, was adjudged 'able to walk without sufficient difficulty' therefore the Allowance could not be paid and the application must therefore fail, this being written on the form received informing him of the decision. Two questions must arise from that. Firstly, the adjudicators are mostly people not having suffered amputation, and with due respect to their professional skill and integrity, there is no possible way they are able to judge what being without legs actually means. It is our view that observing the condition can in no way qualify anyone to appreciate what it actually means in terms of 'living'. The psychological trauma of the loss is sufficiently damaging without the problems arising from actually being in that condition, and the two together create a situation that simply cannot be imagined by anyone not experiencing it themselves. Secondly, what is 'sufficient difficulty' and by what yardstick is it measured. Does the simple fact that someone has decided, against all the odds, that they will walk again, overcoming the pain, difficulty, and problems it may mean, to be as others, a standing upright, walking upright, human being, not count for anything, taking into account where they started from. The fact that that same person could have simply sat and accepted, and chose not to, that that was their life from now on, vegetating in a chair and no one blaming them for so doing, and therefore being given the allowance at a cost to the Exchequer surely has to play some part in this if only to ensure concentration on amputation instead of what they have achieved in spite of it. That their personal guts, pride, and will to succeed should be rewarded by having the allowance taken away is ridiculous and a slur on our compassion as a nation. I appreciate that there is a mood in the House in response to those feelings and sentiments. Why cannot we cover the subject in the Bill rather than in regulations?

Photo of Graham Allen Graham Allen Shadow Minister (Social Security) 7:15 pm, 7th February 1991

I thank those right hon. and hon. Members who so generously welcomed me to the Dispatch Box this afternoon, and particularly the Minister of State for paying a brief but welcome tribute to my cricketing ability. I am here as the balance to the hard-headed and tough approach of my hon. Friends the Members for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) and for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short). I am the smoothie, the "poor man's Nick Scott" of the Labour team. Unless our good humour continues, I may be forced to reveal the number of runs that the Minister scored in that self-same cricket match. I give him due warning about that.

Photo of Graham Allen Graham Allen Shadow Minister (Social Security)

It will be all the sweeter for having waited.

I also thank the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security for her welcome. She said that she and I may have some confrontations—I hope not. Yesterday, we spoke on television together about cold-weather payments. As both of us were kept in ignorance of the Prime Minister's intentions today, we would do better to work as a partnership, not to be confrontational, because then we may progress further.

I am pleased to support the amendment of someone who is my hon. Friend on this issue, and I hope many others—the Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley). We have drawn sympathy from an unexpected source referred to by the hon. Member for Caernarfon—the former Minister for Social Security and Disabled People, now the Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major). An authoritative source, the Spastics Society, stated: In his time as Minister for Social Security and the Disabled, John Major, himself, approved this extension subject to verification by the DHSS of the estimate of the small numbers likely to benefit.

We must refer to the numbers game later. Apparently, that statement was made to the all-party disablement group on 24 March 1987. Today, I wrote to the Prime Minister to ask about the watch he was now keeping on that pledge and what progress he felt had been made on it in the intervening three years. I await his reply to that—as I awaited his reply to my question on cold-weather payments—with great interest.

If carried, amendment No. 14 would mean that the upper rate of the mobility component of the disability living allowance would be paid to a person who cannot walk to an intended destination without control. "Control" is the operative word in those circumstances. The word is not "guidance" or "supervision", for which I believe the Bill concedes the lower rate, subject to interpretation by the relevant organisations, but "control".

To win the intellectual argument for the amendment, if not to win the vote in the Lobbies, we must answer two key questions. First, can the need for control justify a higher rate of mobility allowance? Secondly, if it can justify the higher rate, how should we seek to reassure the Government that it will not hurt them in public expenditure terms by as much as they fear?

Being the gentle member of the triplets—although I see that we are now joined by our fourth member—and being the one to take the softly, softly approach, it is my intention to try to win over the Government with that argument and reassure them rather than bludgeon them with too many facts and statistics. I want to reassure them that the higher rate will not prove as painful as they fear. I hope that the Minister of State will listen to my arguments with an open mind.

The argument that someone needing control, with all the implications of severe behavioural difficulties, has been put far more eloquently than I dare to try. It has been made by the hon. Members for Caernarfon and for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) and others with far more experience, sometimes personal experience, of such matters. The case has also been expertly made by noble Lords in the other place.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale—to the best of my knowledge, no relation—talked some sense, from great experience, when speaking about one individual. He described the case of a man of 19 who was severely mentally handicapped. He suffered from asthma and epilepsy and tended to run out into the road without being able to hear people calling him back. He often needed two people to manage him out of doors, and he was likely either to sit down and refuse to move or to grab at passers-by.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale also referred to cases of other people who were likely to lie down screaming, to rush out into the middle of traffic or to attack fellow passengers. In the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarfon, such people need control, not guidance. That is the crux of the argument in trying to convince the Government that such people must be on the appropriate level of mobility allowance.

The central point at issue is less about the principle, which in a slightly more open atmosphere we could all agree on, than about the numbers involved. Those numbers obviously have fantastic consequences for public expenditure. I do not lightly dismiss that. The numbers game is central to the argument. Let us try to determine the real figure. Mencap states that a 1971 White Paper, "Better Services for the Mentally Handicapped", takes the view that 8,000 to 9,000 people fall into this category, which includes many people who are aggressive, destructive or over-active, and those who inflict self-injury.

In the past, the Government have estimated that as many as 250,000 people are involved, but they now seem to have settled on 150,000 as being in the B1, B2 and B3 categories, which the Government take as implying the need for some sort of control. It is difficult to bridge the gap between 8,000 or 9,000 and 150,000 who could potentially claim the benefit. Put in crude terms, if the Government's fears about the number are justified, it would cost an extra £150 million to upgrade those people from lower to upper grades. If Mencap is correct, it would cost the Government just £8 million.

It is a difficult decision, one of many difficult decisions facing the Secretary of State and his team. I understand the Government's caution, but I hope that, in getting sucked into this numbers game, the Minister of State will entertain other considerations in trying to arrive at an accurate figure.

First, the Government can take some heart from their poor record in forecasting the number of people who may take up or be entitled to benefit. As has been said, the deaf-blind who may qualify for the higher rate of mobility allowance have been overestimated by Government forecasters by 700 per cent. That may not necessarily be appropriate to the matter that we are debating, but it merits some caution about stating that 150,000 people would automatically receive this benefit.

Secondly, let us look more closely at the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys data and analyse whether 150,000 people would take up the benefit. The OPCS figure includes those who are already outside the qualifying age limits. It includes those who are already receiving mobility allowance, due perhaps to physical disability, and many people whose behaviour does not cause mobility problems and those who would not claim. It also includes those who, for one reason or another, may not ultimately be deemed suitable for an award by the relevant authority. While the Government are right to err on the side of caution, they are wrong to overestimate, double-count and exaggerate.

If the Government cannot accept the amendment, they should consider two reasonable, and hopefully inexpensive, steps to help to facilitate examination of this important question in another place. First, they should publish all the unpublished evidence, statistics and assumptions, so that further representations can be made to enable people to arrive at an accurate and agreed figure. Let us see whether the various interested bodies, including the Spastics Society, Mencap and the Government, can reach a consensus.

The Minister of State wrote a long letter to each member of the Committee. I accept that in all good faith the Minister is seeking some middle ground, so that everyone can agree upon a number and make some progress. Will he therefore ensure that all data and assumptions are made available for all interested people who wish to help him in his difficult task?

Will the Government undertake that, if such a reconciliation is impossible because people are determined to stick to their own interpretation of figures—I hope that that will not be the case—they will seek to establish an immediate and urgent independent study? That study would determine the real number at the earliest possible moment, and that will give us common ground on which to take these matters forward. Those are modest requests, and I hope that the Minister of State can accept them and produce some extremely advantageous life enhancement for those whom the debate is about.

Finally, amendment No. 12 is about being able to walk to an intended destination, and it includes a qualification about unfamiliar terrain. That is obviously relevant to blind people. While people may be capable of walking, that ability can be rendered totally useless unless they can reach their required destination. The classic example was given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythensnawe (Mr. Morris), who said that a blind person seeking to post a letter in the letter box at the end of the road can often do so by habit or memory. That blind person seeking to post the letter in the next letter box in the district has great difficulty, because, although he is physically capable of walking, he cannot surmount the obstacles of unfamiliar terrain.

It is vital for the judgment about a person's mobility to be tested on unfamiliar terrain, so that independent walking ability rather than walking from memory is tested. That is the objective of amendment No. 12, and the RNIB understands that the Government are not opposed to that objective. Accepting the amendment would easily clarify the matter. I hope that the Minister of State will feel able to accept it. If he is unable to accept the amendment tabled by the members of the all-party disability group, I hope that he will take away the two issues that I left on the table and try to ensure that we talk about the real needs of the people I spoke about, rather than about the impractical problem of the numbers game. Let us try to resolve that in the short term, so that we can all do the long-term job for those people who depend on us.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Scott Mr Nicholas Scott , Chelsea

I thank the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) and again congratulate him on the eminently reasonable way in which he has put his case. However, I cannot accept the amendments, and I hope that I can explain why.

Some play has been made in the debate with what has been called the error in calculating the number of deaf-blind people who might be entitled to benefit. That was not our calculation. We took advice from SENSE. I am convinced that the figures are right, but the difficulty at the moment is that we are not reaching the deaf-blind who should be entitled to mobility allowance in the way that we planned. We are having discussions with SENSE. We have looked at the assessment procedures for this benefit and shall launch a publicity campaign to make it much more widely known. I hope that we will be able to achieve better coverage than we have so far.

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that, in essence, what we are concerned about here is an assessment of numbers and whether it is possible to devise a way of ring-fencing the 8,000 to 9,000 people of whom Mencap spoke. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made that commitment. I inherited my job from him, although I do not intend to inherit his present job. As a slightly amusing aside in view of our cricketing analogies earlier, I remember turning up to take over his private office, and he said, "You've got a first-class private office here, Nick. They always know the test score." The staff have other qualities too, as it turned out, but that one was rather pleasant.

I acknowledge that that undertaking was given, and I am on record as giving an undertaking to do my best to find a way of defining those 8,000 to 9,000 people. I have had meetings with Mencap to try to do that, and officials have tried to find a formula. I am genuinely unhappy that it has not been possible so far to define such a test. The issue will not go away, but I cannot accept the amendment tonight.

Photo of Mr Dafydd Wigley Mr Dafydd Wigley Leader and Party President, Plaid Cymru 7:30 pm, 7th February 1991

So that we can be sure what we are disagreeing about—we may even be able to agree what we agree about—is the Minister saying that he accepts that the basis of the two figures is different; that there is a broader figure of 150,000 which may be appropriate to the lower level of mobility allowance and a smaller figure of perhaps 10,000 with greater needs, and that, if it were possible to ring-fence and define those 10,000, the Government would be much more amenable and willing to act on commitments that have already been given?

Photo of Mr Nicholas Scott Mr Nicholas Scott , Chelsea

I have searched anxiously for a test that would deliver the sort of result which Mencap was forecasting. It was not a cosmetic exercise. I do not want to go through all the arguments in my letter, because it has been placed in the Library and hon. Members have had a chance to read and analyse it. Questions 13 and 14 in the OPCS survey ask: Do you often have outbursts of temper at other people with little cause? Do you get so upset that you injure yourself or hit other people? The figures in that group alone came to some 40,000, which is very much in excess of the group that Mencap is talking about.

I cannot recommend that the House accept the amendment. I happily admit that the 150,000 lower rate qualifiers with a need for physical control arising from mental disability include many people who are mentally ill as well. But we are still nowhere near defining the 8,000 or 9,000 mentally handicapped people about whom Mencap is concerned.

If hon. Members wish, I am happy to go into greater detail. I will look again at the figures and arguments in my letter to see whether they need fleshing out, and whether I can give further information to those who have contributed to the debate. However, I regret that I cannot be sufficiently encouraging today to say that I am in prospect of being able to devise a test that will enable us effectively to ring-fence that group.

I can be a bit more encouraging about amendment No. 12, although I cannot accept it. I was rather hoping that I might be able to table an amendment in order to achieve the effect intended, but I do not want to do so until I am sure that I have it right and that amending the Bill is the best way to achieve our common purpose—that a person who can go by himself to the local corner shop because he is familiar with the journey but needs help to go anywhere else should receive benefit. We all agree on that. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) and others for pointing out by way of amendment that the Bill as it stands may not have achieved that purpose. We are studying the matter carefully. We want to devise an abstract test of what a claimant's mobility would be like when he was on unfamiliar terrain. That is not the easiest thing in the world, but we are determined to do it. I hope that, on the basis that we are determined to achieve that, it will not be necessary to press the amendment today. I hope that hon. Members will accept my undertaking that we will in due course table an amendment to bring about the desired result.

Photo of Graham Allen Graham Allen Shadow Minister (Social Security)

Will the Minister undertake to look again at my proposal regarding the publication of all data relating to the OPCS study? Will he also undertake to write to me after considering the proposal that there be an independent study should there be a failure to agree the numbers involved?

Photo of Mr Nicholas Scott Mr Nicholas Scott , Chelsea

As I said, I shall see whether I can flesh out the arguments in my original letter. I am not sure that an independent study would necessarily be the right thing, but I am prepared to continue discussions with the disability organisations and have another crack at it, but I am not particularly confident about our ability to do so, because we have already tried hard.

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) talked about safeguarding entitlement to the higher rate of mobility component for double leg amputees, which is dealt with in amendment No. 24. He acknowledged that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, in his uprating statement, announced that the regulations will be amended from April this year to put the entitlement of those people beyond doubt.

The hon. Gentleman asked why that should not be put on the face of the Bill rather than he done by regulation. There are two reasons. First, regulations would take effect in April, whereas the Bill will not receive Royal Assent until after that. Therefore, we can do things more quickly through regulations. Secondly, in general, as I have learnt to my cost in three and a half years, although we have considerably simplified the social security system, it is still enormously complex. If provisions are seen to have faults, it is easier to adjust them by secondary rather than primary legislation.

I hope for those reasons, particularly because we can move more speedily on double leg amputees than would otherwise be the case, that hon. Members will feel that that is the right way to proceed.

Photo of Mr Dafydd Wigley Mr Dafydd Wigley Leader and Party President, Plaid Cymru

I am grateful to the Minister for his response, particularly for his acknowledgement of the case put forward in amendment No. 12 and that he is actively looking at ways forward, possibly by way of an amendment in another place or any other way which can be devised. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) in whose name that amendment stands, and all of us in the all-party disablement group, are glad to hear that. We are also glad to hear his commitment in relation to other amendments.

The Minister seemed to accept the general thrust of the argument regarding the 10,000 severely mentally handicapped with acute behavioural problems, but at the end of his comments he dealt with the figures in a way that could be misleading. He referred to questions 13 and 14 in the survey: Do you often have outbursts of temper at other people with little cause? Do you get so upset that you injure yourself or hit other people? In his letter, he says that the figure for that group alone is about 40,000. He compared that figure with Mencap's figure of 10,000.

But those two groups are not comparable. The group defined by questions 13 and 14 is much broader. It may well come to 40,000, but if the Minister thinks about the matter, I think that he will concede that there is a smaller group, whether it be 8,000, 10,000 or 12,000, which can be defined in terms of the IQ test of 50—an accepted definition for severe mental handicap—and in terms of behavioural problems. Let us say that we do not argue as to a group of between 40,000 and 150,000 on the one hand, and a group of 10,000 on the other, and that we accept the Minister's comments, which provided a ray of hope. If we can ring-fence those 10,000 people, there may be a basis for action.

The Minister spoke of the commitment made by the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) in the all-party group, and added that he himself had given a similar assurance. I believe that I was at one of the meetings at which the Minister did so. We can welcome the low disability allowance for people who otherwise would not receive anything, and I am certain that the 150,000 beneficiaries involved will be glad to receive it. However, there remains the problem of defining and ring-fencing the smaller number involved.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Scott Mr Nicholas Scott , Chelsea

That smaller group must be stipulated in such a way that the definition can be applied by adjudication officers throughout the country. It may be that the hon. Gentleman and I could, with help, define the individuals concerned. However, it will be a more complicated exercise to devise terms that local offices can effectively implement.

Photo of Mr Dafydd Wigley Mr Dafydd Wigley Leader and Party President, Plaid Cymru

The Minister and I both know where the group starts, but we are not sure where it ends—and that could be the difficulty for local offices. The challenge before us is to draw up a workable definition that is as watertight as it can be, although there is usually some blurring around the edges. If that can be done, and if the Government can retain the will that they had in 1987 to devise a solution, that will provide a chink of light. On that basis, I am happy to withdraw the amendment, in the conviction that we shall return to it. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I beg to move amendment No. 5, in page 6, leave out lines 32 to 46.

This amendment is central to the Bill, because it aims to extend entitlement to all components of the disability living allowance to those who become eligible after the age of 65. In other words, it will remove the age bar at the crucial threshold of 65.

Under the Bill, those who become disabled after 65 will be entitled to the existing attendance allowance, but will receive no help with the costs of mobility. Nor will they qualify for the lower £10 rate of the attendance component. The Bill as drafted will not only reinforce a number of existing anomalies, but introduce new ones. A person who becomes disabled, for example, at age 63 could be entitled to £26·25p mobility component, plus the £10 care component—which he or she would retain for life. However, a person who happened to suffer a road accident at age 66, and who had identical care and mobility needs, would receive nothing. How can the Government justify that inequality?

It was argued repeatedly by Ministers in Committee that the OPCS survey showed that almost 70 per cent. of disabled adults are over the age of 60, and that the severity of disability increases in line with age. Almost half those having the most severe disabilities are aged over 75, yet the Bill would exclude the very people who need help most. Those over 65 are already unfairly excluded from receiving mobility allowance, and the Bill will further discriminate against older people with disabilities by denying them the new lower rate of DLA.

7.45 pm

It is pure hypocrisy to introduce a disability Bill and then deliberately exclude the group within the population containing 70 per cent. of that legislation's potential beneficiaries. The Government claim that they cannot afford to include that additional category. The Under-Secretary of State said that it would cost £2 billion to extend mobility allowance to the over-65s, but there are good reasons for thinking that that figure is grossly exaggerated. I do not expect the hon. Lady to describe the precise method of calculation, although perhaps she will, but the figure of £2 billion seems to presume that well over half those aged 65 with moderate or severe disabilities would qualify. Considering how difficult it is to become eligible for benefit, that assumption is wildly excessive. The cost of removing the age bar, as the amendment suggests, would be far less than the Government pretend. I suppose that one must be realistic and not expect the Government to take the leap all in one, but the absence of any phasing-in provision is something that we strongly deplore.

The Government also like to argue that disablement is an integral part of the aging process, that older people with disabilities such as impairment of their sight or hearing are not really disabled because those conditions are just a part of growing old and therefore do not need to be addressed. I remind the House that the OPCS survey found that only 35 per cent.—slightly more than one in three—of people over 60 were disabled. Therefore, the majority of pensioners are free from disability—and those conditions that afflict the remainder cannot be dismissed as the natural consequences of old age.

Also in Committee, the Under-Secretary of State argued that the average income and expenditure of disabled persons is not much different from those of the non-disabled, and the OPCS survey was called in evidence in that regard. The Government argued that there was little need to help disabled pensioners meet the costs of their condition. That is a fallacy. People cannot spend what they do not have, and older disabled people on low incomes struggling to meet normal living expenses may not have the money to buy disability-related items. That is far and away the most likely explanation for the small difference in income between disabled and non-disabled pensioners.

Ministers resorted to yet more casuistry in Committee, when they asserted that pensioners had enjoyed large increases in average incomes, and that it is better to target the young disabled person, who has not had the chance to build up savings and a pension. Again, most disabled persons are to be found among older pensioners, who have also been excluded from the state earnings-related pension scheme and from the gradual build-up of occupational and personal pensions. That group is clearly in need of extra help, which has not been enjoyed by some pensioners over the past decade.

The majority of pensioners are on very low incomes. Any right hon. or hon. Member who tried to live on a pensioner's average income would rapidly discover the truth of that. Most pensioners rely on state benefits for at least three quarters of their income. It is impossible for older people to meet adequately the extra costs of disability on top of normal basic living expenses with such extremely low incomes. It is not true to say that disabled pensioners have higher incomes than younger disabled people, despite what the Minister said in Committee. The OPCS survey found the reverse. The income of a disabled single pensioner was 12 per cent. less than that of a younger disabled person. That is another reason why older disabled people need help.

The last argument that Ministers used in Committee was the most disreputable of all. They said that the over-65s will be no worse off than they are at present. But they will be worse off as a result of the Bill, because those with milder disabilities will not be entitled to the lower rate of disability living allowance. It is quite unfair and wrong to establish a principle of paying a lower rate for younger disabled groups but to exclude older groups for whom it would be most relevant. However, what is much more important and what we really object to is the fact that the Government are descending to the type of argument which says that so long as the over-65s are no worse off it is OK. Even if that were true—which it is not—if that is the sum of 11 years of Tory Government, and the pinnacle of a major review of disability benefits after half a dozen OPCS surveys and a decade of waiting, it is not unfair to say that nothing so clearly reveals the shallowness of the Government's commitment to the disabled.

The Government response to the commitment is a touchstone of their attitude to the disabled. If they accept that commitment, we shall strongly welcome it, but if they reject it everyone will know that their rhetoric of a policy of community care, of providing the fullest and most independent life for elderly and disabled people, is exactly that—mere rhetoric and no more.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe , Maidstone

We have had a very constructive debate and I was sorry to note a more destructive tone of argument near the end of the speech by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher)—an argument which was aimed less at the specific amendment under discussion and more at a general, and not at all convincing, indictment of the Government's policy towards the elderly. However, when speaking to the amendment, the hon. Member made some valid points which deserve to be answered in some detail arid which might throw light on the Government's intentions with regard to the cut-off limit at 65.

First, when we said that no pensioner would be worse off, we were at pains to stress that we were not taking anything away. We have drawn up a Bill which extends a range of benefits to people who did not hitherto qualify. In doing so we had to decide where we would target the thrust of those additional resources and extra benefits. We did not say that we would take away from the elderly to give to younger people. We said that we would concentrate the thrust on younger people. That was decided not on a mere whim, but on the results of the survey, which clearly showed that there was a large and unmet need among younger disabled people.

However, the hon. Member for Oldham, West was right that there is an analogy between the young person who is congenitally disabled, or was disabled early in his working life, who has not been able to build up the advantages of an occupational pension, and the older pensioner who retired before occupational pensions were as prevalent as they are today—thanks mainly to the Government's encouragement—and who was unable to make provision for old age in the same way as younger pensioners, if I may describe them as such, do.

Because we recognised that analogy, we recently concentrated £200 million of resources on income support for the poorer pensioner. We acknowledged that there was a need which had to be met. Although I do not want to broaden the argument unduly, I must say that that is a better use of resources, and a more intelligent way to give help to the elderly, than an across-the-board increase in all state pensions regardless of need. Albeit through a different route, we have been trying to tackle the very problems that the hon. Member for Oldham, West mentioned. We have also tackled them through disability measures.

For example, mobility allowance was not even designed to be payable after the age of 65, never mind people qualifying for it. We have consistently extended the upper limit at which qualification would continue, so that no beneficiary has ever reached it. Right from the beginning, we said that there would not be an upper limit for DLA, so that once a person qualifies for it he will keep it.

During this argument we should not overlook people on attendance allowance. There is no third rate of attendance allowance. If we were to do what the hon. Member for Oldham, West suggests and allow people who are already over 65 to qualify for the third rate, it would not iron out an anomaly but would introduce a new one, because it would give rights to those on DLA which were not extended to those on attendance allowance.

The hon. Gentleman challenged me on the issue of costs, which I shall go into in some detail. The Opposition are looking for a figure, and in Committee we produced the figure of £2 billion. Previously, the figure quoted for the cost of extending help with mobility costs to people aged over 65 was more than £1 billion, but that was based on figures and numbers dating from the mid-1980s and was without the benefit of the OPCS survey. It showed that up to 1·5 million people—that figure was not dreamed up by the Department but was shown in the survey—aged over 65 might meet the qualifying conditions. However, there are considerable difficulties in making such estimates and I would be the first to agree with the hon. Gentleman that one cannot just assume that it would be 1·5 million. The Government's projection is, therefore, based on a lower figure. We estimate that it could be nearer 1·35 million people, which would produce the cost of £2 billion what we quoted. We did not make an exact science of that, but if it is the order of cost concerned, we have to ask ourselves whether that would be the best use of resources.

I stress to the hon. Member for Oldham, West that we take nothing away. To do what he suggests would create a further anomaly in respect of those on attendance allowance. We have chosen other routes to concentrate help on the poorer pensioner, whom he rightly identified, and whom we do not deny for one moment. We have tried to establish the best place to target our resources—the place of the largest unmet need. We have used the results of an independent survey and have not dreamed up the figures for ourselves. We have tried to come up with a Bill that vastly extends—as indeed it does—the range of benefits available to people who are not eligible at present, and we have tried to recognise a degree of sophistication of different needs within disability that was not recognised in the all-or-nothing policy before. By extending DLA without an upper limit of 65—once a person has qualified for it—and by doing the same through progressive stages with mobility allowance, we have again recognised and tried to benefit the older pensioner. Therefore, I ask the House to resist the amendment.

8 pm

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

With the leave of the House, I speak again to the amendment. I recognise that the Minister, who is fairly new to the job, showed considerable skill in arguing a case which is indefensible. She did it as well as could probably be done. However, the argument is not satisfactory. First, she talked about concentrating the thrust of extra expenditure where it is most needed—on the younger disabled. She called as witness the OPCS survey. As I said in my opening remarks, the OPCS survey shows that on average older disabled persons have a 12 per cent. lower income than younger disabled people. If the Government wish to concentrate on those in greatest need, the older disabled need the extra expenditure most.

The problem for the Government, which the hon. Lady conveniently skirted round, is purely that of cost. There are far more older disabled—70 per cent. of disabled people are over 60. If the Government concentrated expenditure where the need is greatest—on the older disabled—it would cost a great deal more. The Minister should be more honest and say that the Government are prepared to spend only a small amount and therefore they have determined the group on that basis, not on the basis of need.

Secondly, the Minister tried to protect the Government's flank by saying that the Government had given assistance to pensioners. She rolled out again the £200 million given to poorer pensioners on income support. It is somewhat brass-necked of a Minister—I am sure that the Secretary of State knows this perfectly well —to quote that figure, which was a figleaf to protect the Government's nakedness when the former Chancellor of the Exchequer made it clear on "News at One" that he proposed to means-test pensions. Not to put too fine a point on it, all hell broke loose and the Government quickly came forward with what might be called the Lawson embarrassment bonus—the £200 million. I am sure that pensioners are glad to receive it. I am pleased that the Government found another £200 million. But to make a virtue of what was a fiasco is a skill which even the Minister does not yet have.

Thirdly, the Minister talked about anomalies. She suggested that it would be anomalous to enable pensioners to have the lower £10 rate. She suggested that it would produce an anomaly because it did not extend to mobility allowance. I do not suggest that there must be an exact symmetry of structure between the parts of the overall allowance. If pensioners were asked whether they would like to qualify for the new lower rate or whether it worried them that it would be slightly out of symmetry with the mobility allowance, there is not much doubt about how they would reply.

In the end the argument comes down to cost. I listened carefully to the Minister. She quoted a cost of £1 billion, which I thought was the figure for 1990, but which she said referred to the mid-1980s. She said that 1·5 million persons over 65 might meet the qualifying conditions, but that the Government's best estimate was one and a third million and that it was not an exact science. I simply repeat what I said earlier. I should be amazed if the figure was anywhere near the Government's estimate, considering how difficult it is for people to qualify for the allowance. The numbers who can claim mobility allowance are remarkably low. I am sure that, like me, the Minister has had people coming to her surgeries complaining bitterly about the difficulties of obtaining mobility allowance.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe , Maidstone

The hon. Gentleman consistently says that he has difficulty believing the figures. But the figures are the result of an independent survey done on a scientific basis, based on people who might meet the qualifying conditions, which we have further reduced, even before we reach a cost of £2 billion. Leaving aside his disbelief and his feeling that the figures must be wrong, what is his independent evidence that they are wrong?

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The Minister knows perfectly well that the Opposition do not have an army of civil servants. Nor do they have the vast resources of the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys. Of course, I have no independent survey. She knows that perfectly well. Indeed, the Government's only source is the OPCS survey. We are not talking about the figures in the OPCS survey as though they were definitive in terms of entitlement. Entitlement is based on a judgment of the factual evidence from the survey about the levels of entitlement. That is rather a different question.

I am forced to accept that we shall not persuade the Government to make any significant improvement for elderly disabled people. I am sorry that the Minister took such exception to my remarks at the end of my speech. It is tragic that, after 10 years of waiting and half a dozen OPCS surveys, the mountains have been in labour and brought forth a mouse. That is not an unfair description of what has happened. Elderly disabled people expected better of the Government and their decision is disappointing. I still hope, bearing in mind the proximity of the next election, that the Government will be prepared to think again. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.