Disability Benefits for the Elderly

Part of Opposition Day — [1st allotted day] – in the House of Commons at 3:33 pm on 8th December 2009.

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Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Secretary of State for Health 3:33 pm, 8th December 2009

I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman has provided that confirmation and that he has referred to the cross-party nature of the support for his early-day motion, which is represented by all parties in the House. Because it relates to benefits, which are a United Kingdom matter, Members other than those from England alone have had occasion to sign it.

For some years we have made it clear that we need a consensus about how we can achieve sustainable and high-quality social care for the longer term. We have had years in which reports have come and gone, including the royal commission on long-term care, the long-term care charter, the Wanless report, which was produced for the King's Fund, and the Green Paper, which was published in July. As I made clear to the Secretary of State at this Dispatch Box when he made a statement accompanying the Green Paper on 14 July, I am quite clear that I do not regard the Green Paper as providing a sufficient range of options on the basis of which we can take forward the future of long-term care and, in particular, the funding of it.

On page 15 of the Green Paper, the Government said:

"In developing the new system, we think there is a case for drawing some funding streams together to enable us to deliver the new and better care and support system we want to create. We think we should consider integrating some elements of disability benefits, for example Attendance Allowance, to create a new offer for individuals with care and support needs."

When the Green Paper was published, it asked people a number of questions-Members will no doubt recall the questions that were set out in chapter 7-but none of them asked whether the organisations and individuals responding to the Green Paper thought that it was a good idea to transfer attendance allowance and other disability benefits into the funding of the national care service.

I do not know whether a Minister or the Secretary of State wants to let us know about this, but on the face of it, the implication of using attendance allowance as an example of disability benefits-in the plural-in the Green Paper is that other benefits would also be included. We have assumed, as have others, including disability organisations generally, that it would be wholly discriminatory and perverse for the attendance allowance to be withdrawn and incorporated into the funding of the national care service, and for that not to be the case in relation to disability living allowance for those beyond the age of 65. I will continue on the basis that we are essentially talking about those two benefits for that purpose, unless Ministers were to tell us otherwise.

With the exception of the "pay for yourself" option, each option in the Green Paper implies the integration of those disability benefits into the funding of the national care service. Notwithstanding the fact that the Green Paper did not ask a specific question about this, we know that many organisations and individuals who responded highlighted the implication that is set out in the Green Paper and responded to it. I therefore invite the Secretary of State to tell us what proportion of the Green Paper responses received up to 12 November supported incorporating attendance allowance and disability living allowance into the national care service. I wonder whether Ministers know the answer to that. [ Interruption. ] Apparently not.

Let me help Ministers on this subject. On the Downing street website, as we now know, there are opportunities to petition the Government on the subject, and 24,000 people have now signed such a petition-the sixth most popular petition on the Prime Minister's website-expressing their opposition to the proposal. The Disability Alliance asked its members whether they supported the proposal to absorb attendance allowance into care budgets, and 93 per cent. said that they did not. The Parkinson's Disease Society asked the same question, and 95 per cent. were opposed. Carers UK asked the same question, and 96 per cent. were opposed.

Age UK, which incorporates Age Concern and Help the Aged, said in response to the Green Paper:

"We oppose funding the National Care Service from Attendance Allowance...We do not feel that the proposals will provide a system that sufficiently replicates the very important role that Attendance Allowance plays in promoting independence."

I note from the debate on the Queen's Speech in another place that the Minister, when challenged on who supported the options in the Green Paper, quoted Carers UK in a general sense, but not its response to the Green Paper that stated:

"We are concerned and against the proposal to take Attendance Allowance and place it into local care budgets. We believe that this will disenfranchise and impoverish carers and their families."

The Parkinson's Disease Society said in response to the Green Paper that

"our findings warn the Government that scrapping Attendance Allowance and other disability benefits could be detrimental to the independence of people with Parkinson's."

Macmillan Cancer Support said that

"we are strongly opposed to the proposal...to merge the Attendance Allowance funding stream with current social care funding streams to pay for the new National Care Service."

It is important for us to recognise why these organisations feel so strongly about this. The arguments against using this mechanism for funding the care service are compelling, not least because attendance allowance and disability living allowance were not introduced simply to pay for the costs of personal care. They were intended to compensate for the high living costs associated with disability, and not simply to provide for specific care needs.

The White Paper that introduced disability living allowance stated clearly that it was for

"better coverage of assistance with the extra costs of being disabled".

There are also costs that are distinct from, and additional to, social care needs, as described in the Green Paper. That is precisely why disability living allowance and attendance allowance payments have never been calculated on the basis of what is required to provide for social care needs. Rather, they have been calculated on the basis of what might add to the overall cost of disability. They were never intended to provide enough to pay for a professional care service, and it would be wrong to take them as being designed for that purpose. If Ministers were to proceed in the direction indicated in the Green Paper, it would constitute a fundamental change in the purpose and definition of disability benefits.

There is ample evidence of the costs that those benefits go to meet, and they go far beyond being strictly associated with the costs of social care. The Green Paper describes the kind of personal needs involved. They include washing, help with eating and toileting, and so on, but what is provided for and supported by disability benefits goes far beyond that. The benefits are not just spent on direct care services; they have had a big impact on people's lives. They pay for additional heating costs, different diets, and a whole range of support for informal and family carers.

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