Disability Benefits for the Elderly

Part of Opposition Day — [1st allotted day] – in the House of Commons at 5:37 pm on 8th December 2009.

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Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Opposition Whip (Commons), Deputy Chair, Conservative Party 5:37 pm, 8th December 2009

I must admit that if I had been the Secretary of State this morning, I would have ensured that "no cash losers" was written in pretty clear terms, so that we would not have had these exchanges about what an equivalent amount of support means. The door was left wide open, and I suspect that it has been closed at a very late stage during the course of the day. However, we may get further information about that later.

There is concern about why the change is being made. We know about the difficulties in the amounts of money involved, but then we come to a point raised in the letter from my constituent and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood. It is how services are provided that matters. One reader of Disability Now wrote:

"The Government seems upset that it doesn't know or control how we're using the money, so it wants to give it to councils so everyone can see who gets what and for what."

That concern about the personal element being taken away is widespread, and the fear is that if the Government do not control it, they do not like it.

Neil Bateman, a welfare rights specialist, has written about the discrepancy in the numbers of those who receive social care and those who receive allowances. That can be interpreted in different ways, but he asked:

"Then what about the numbers? In England, 1.26 million people receive social care services, but 3.82 million receive AA/DLA. Are the proponents of transferring" those allowances

"really suggesting that over two and half million people would lose these benefits? Would care services be expanded threefold to provide services instead? Fat chance."

He is picking up on that dilemma. It looks as though there is a gap somewhere, and even from what the Secretary has said today, we are not sure how it is going to be closed.

I shall conclude with one last point. The Minister and Steve Webb, who speaks for the Liberal Democrats, asked whether we know where the benefit money is currently applied, which is very important. I maintain that the Department for Work and Pensions does not know, but it ought to before making changes. I say that because of an excellent DWP working paper-working paper 58 of this year-in which a researcher is given this task:

"A research plan is proposed at the end which looks towards a large-scale survey starting in about two years' time...which will provide some answers to the questions at issue".

The planned research programme will look at how disability benefits are spent and used, which is precisely the information people need before introducing a Green Paper, and certainly before a White Paper. The proposal is for three major studies, which is exactly what colleagues have been discussing today. It states:

"Understanding Society is a general purpose panel survey covering 40,000 households...The survey is likely to offer a crude scale of impairment, adequate income and deprivation data, and a wide range of social participation indicators, without focusing on issues of special relevance to disabled people."

That will be supplemented by a

"longitudinal disability survey...a highly specialised disability survey based on screening of an initial sample of 50,000 individuals."

The document goes on to state:

"The Policy Studies Institute has been commissioned by DWP to develop a methodology for measuring take-up of DLA and AA."

It is intended that two of those surveys will start next year, but for the third, which looks at take-up of DLA and AA,

"There is no current timetable".

If the Department acknowledges that it needs and wants information on how those allowances are spent, why do we not have it before working out a new way to subsume them into a benefit? I maintain that this is perhaps not the right time to do that. It is certainly not the right time to worry those who are going to come on to the benefit about its future. That may not be the right way to use it.

I return to how I started, and the letter from my constituent and what Nick Scott said. Giving individual people with disabilities the power to choose gives them the sense that they can do exactly what everyone else can do, without having to make major changes and without being supplicants and dependent on someone else. If a national care service in any way replaces that sense of individual power with the sense that something is being given to people with disabilities, however well intentioned that is, we will be missing something. We will be losing what Nick and the hon. Member for Kingswood have always fought for and what we care about. The Minister could begin to clarify the matter this evening, but I suspect that he will have to go some distance to convince those who are rightly concerned about a possible change for the worse in the way this ratchet has been working for so long.

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