Disability Benefits for the Elderly

Part of Opposition Day — [1st allotted day] – in the House of Commons at 4:06 pm on 8th December 2009.

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Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham The Secretary of State for Health 4:06 pm, 8th December 2009

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The point that the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire seems to have missed is that we have said all along that cash payments will be part of the new system. I said in response to my right hon. Friend Mrs. McGuire a moment ago that in recent years, we have begun to see a merging of the local authority support system and benefits, with the introduction of direct payments. That is a trend that we want to continue. It is not about giving people's benefits to councils, as the press releases accuse us of. People in the care system are already getting used to getting cash budgets, and the number of people receiving them has risen by 28.9 per cent. over the past year. Including carers, 115,000 people have received them, and our reforms will take the process further. Let me be clear: we will reform disability benefits only if we are certain that the new system can better support the needs of older and disabled people.

The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire is often good at taking a big position without any reference to what other people in his party say. His whole thesis today was to raise the spectre of the loss of benefits, and he gave the idea that any reform of benefits means somebody losing out and that we cannot possibly raise these issues without trying to cut support. However, I have before me a speech that Mr. Cameron made in Scotland on Monday 16 October 2006. It was a long and, I may say, quite good speech about how to provide better support to disabled people in the long term. I shall come to the crux of it, because it is important that the House hears the right hon. Gentleman's peroration. He said:

"So there are the problems in the benefits system. It is too complex. It does not incentivise work sufficiently. And it relies too much on large government agencies...Our policy review is examining the option of a radical simplification of the benefits package for disabled people. I welcome the principle of Individual Budgets. But I'd like to go much further."

It is unbelievable-he was giving exactly the same argument that we have been mounting, which underpins our Green Paper. [Interruption.] Hear me out, there is more. He went on to back us up even further, saying:

"Instead of the half-dozen different benefits a disabled person can receive-each with its different conditions and its own application form"- [Interruption.]

They are not listening now, are they? He said that

"we should be moving towards a single assessment process, and perhaps even a single benefit."

There it is in black and white, in a speech, the same thing that we are talking about-the simplification of the support system, perhaps through a single benefit. Yet the Conservatives have brought the motion before the House today because, three years on from that, it suits their purposes to issue press releases and frighten disabled and older people up and down the country.

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