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 think the hon. Gentleman is right that people are concerned about that, and I am glad that he also signed the early-day motion, which makes an important point. I do not know why the Government should think that our argument is just about those currently in receipt of attendance allowance and disability living allowance, as we are debating what should be the long-term future of social care. The Green Paper was not about what is going to happen in the next six months, but about what ought to happen in the longer term. I am looking to find out what should happen in the long term for obvious reasons. I am making clear on behalf of my party our belief that the continuation of disability benefits, such as attendance allowance and disability living allowance in their current form, will give current recipients of such benefits and those who will be recipients in the future an opportunity, on a non-means-tested basis, to gain access to cash benefits that will enable them to buy a wide range of services such as informal care, family care, support for travel and support for house improvements on the basis of their own personal choice and control.

I find it astonishing that today is the day on which the Department for Work and Pensions chose to publish a document relating to other disability benefits, entitled "Making choice and control a reality for disabled people". It is clear from that document that the reason the Government did not include attendance allowance, for example, in the "right to control" policy is that it is already a cash benefit. People receiving a cash benefit gain personalisation and choice, but if a Government were to withdraw direct access to that cash benefit and distribute it through the national care service, by definition they would create a lack of personalisation.

I have always considered that to be an agreed common objective. It has been our objective since the 2006 White Paper, and the Government have also moved in the direction of direct payments and personal budgets for social care. More recently, they have moved in the direction that we urged them to follow, which included access to some aspects of health care as part of an overall personal budget. The point is that the budget is a cash budget, and there is an issue over how it should work.

On page 102 of the Green Paper, the Government say:

"We know that disability benefits such as Attendance Allowance are highly valued by the people who receive them, and that they give people control over how they spend their money to meet their care and support needs. However, we also recognise that there are inconsistencies of approach between disability benefits and social care within the current system. This is because the social care and disability benefits systems have developed in isolation from each other and these two largest portions of government care and support expenditure are being allocated on different bases. This can lead to inconsistent and unfair outcomes."

To me, the issue seems perfectly straightforward. If there are two sources of support for people and if one relates to social care and is means-tested while the other is based on an assessment of need, is not means-tested and is in cash form, and if there are inconsistencies between the two in relation to the assessment, what is the answer? The answer is to adopt a common process applying to both the assessment of need for the disability benefits and the assessment of need for access to social care. The answer is not to abolish the cash benefits and combine them in a single system. The Government have said-and it is in the amendment-that there should be a single assessment process; I hope they mean that, as we have agreed, there should be a common assessment process.

On 14 July, in response to the Secretary of State's announcement of a Green Paper, I said to him-I apologise for quoting myself- [Interruption.] It was right then, and it is right now. I said:

"I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will agree that we need national standards-some consistency of assessment. We have long argued for that, and of course there needs to be central Government support, but we do not need a nationalised social care service."-[ Hansard, 14 July 2009; Vol. 496, c. 160.]

That seems to me utterly consistent with the view-which the Government have apparently supported, in rhetoric-that there should be personalisation, that whenever possible there should be cash budgets over which people have more control, and that abolishing access to disability benefits would be a retrograde step.

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