Disability Benefits for the Elderly

Part of Opposition Day — [1st allotted day] – in the House of Commons at 4:45 pm on 8th December 2009.

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Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 4:45 pm, 8th December 2009

I share my hon. Friend's hope, but I am slightly torn. We are always glad when Members from other parties sign our early-day motions, and the last thing we want is to discourage them from doing so in the future. I take my hon. Friend's point that there is nothing in the motion with which they should have a problem. I was not planning to make a partisan point, but this reminds me that, as of yesterday, when I realised what motion had been tabled for today, I checked to see how many Conservative Members had signed the early-day motion. At that stage, the number was 16. Given the primary importance of the subject, I was rather startled to find that the early-day motion had been signed by only 16 of them-including the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire and Mrs. May, who presumably knew that this debate was coming. That was rather a surprise. I agree with my hon. Friend, however, that there is nothing in the motion that Labour Members should have any difficulty with.

The key points are that we, corporately-to put it generously-should cease as of now to cause alarm to 2.4 million disabled people, and that the message goes out that their benefits and their rights are protected and will remain intact. By all means, let us have a mature debate about the future, but in our judgment, attendance allowance and DLA will continue to have a specific role to play in the system, by meeting the additional costs that those of us who are fortunate enough not to be disabled do not have. Those costs are incurred regardless of means and those benefits should therefore have a long-term role in the system. Any attempt to make the system more means-tested discourages those who have worked hard and saved hard, and penalises those who have become disabled through no fault of their own. That is the wrong direction to go in.

I hope that this debate will be helpful in placing on the record the reasons why current recipients need not be alarmed, while also allowing us to encourage the Government to think again about the threats to those benefits whose purpose is to meet additional costs that are not met elsewhere in the system and should always be met in any future system.

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