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 not ashamed. We are doing the job that the Government should have done, which is to get out there and explain to people what is in the Green Paper. What is shameful is publishing a Green Paper, at the heart of which is the major proposal of the abolition of cash benefits and their incorporation into funding a care service. The Government are happy to put out a proposal that states, "Would it be a good idea if the Government were to pay a quarter to a third of your care costs upfront?" and people say, "Yeah, that would be a good thing. That would be very nice, thank you." What the Government do not tell them is that, in the process, if they are in receipt of disability benefits, they will lose those benefits in order to pay for it. That is a completely different debate. Fortunately, we have organisations such as Age UK, Carers UK and the Parkinson's Disease Society who went out-we did not do it-and said, "Have you seen what is in the middle of this Green Paper?" They argued against it.

If Roger Berry and the Secretary of State want to put a stop to this now, they simply have to vote for the motion. Then the House will have spoken. There are a range of issues, including the impact on the overall income of pensioners. Some 40 per cent. of all attendance allowance recipients would be living below the Department for Work and Pensions poverty threshold if their disability benefits were removed. As for taking away a cash benefit and providing a care service instead, Ministers talk about equivalent support but they do not talk about equivalent support for future recipients. If the benefits were to be taken away and replaced by the care service, there would be a serious potential impact on the disposable income of many pensioners. Those issues are not explored in the Green Paper. There is no economic modelling associated with the Green Paper and no understanding of what the overall impact on people's disposable incomes would be. There is no evidence about the relationship, in detail, between disability benefit recipients and those who would be the recipients of the national care service so that we can understand the implications for poverty and well being. I am afraid that that simply is not good enough.

The Government's response has been first to deny that they are going to do that, then to get angry and now to engage in abuse. It is like when someone cuts you up when you are driving and then swears at you; first, we get injury from the Government and then insults. It is no good Ministers blaming people's anxieties on us. The organisations that represent disabled people have been at least as voluble as we have been in making this point and in urging the Government to change their policy. We have been clear about the policy that we pursue, but we question whether the Government will be clear. Scrapping disability benefits to pay for the national care service would be a serious mistake and a retrograde step. It would undermine personalisation and control for care users, which they say they are in favour of, and it would undermine family and informal care as opposed to formal and council-arranged care. Members of the House who have followed the consultation on the Green Paper have the right to say no to that. Ministers should accept the motion and move on. That would not be such a big retreat after all the retreats that we have seen in recent months. I say to the Secretary of State, "Just do it. It will only be only painful for today, and tomorrow you will be in a better place as a result." I urge Members on both sides of the House to help the Government to get off this hook. I commend the motion to the House.

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