Disability Benefits for the Elderly

Part of Opposition Day — [1st allotted day] – in the House of Commons at 6:31 pm on 8th December 2009.

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Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 6:31 pm, 8th December 2009

No, I will not give way again. You got it wrong the first time.

What did we hear today from the Secretary of State? As my hon. Friend Alistair Burt said, he effectively said "Read my lips-no cash losers". Some might think that that was all well and good, but there is a problem for the Government. What the Secretary of State-who still has not turned up for the winding-up speeches-said today is not compatible with the amendment that his party tabled to our motion this morning. It is actually closer to our motion than to the amendment. It is also contradicted on a number of occasions by his own Green Paper.

There are three options on page 95 of the Green Paper, which the Government say are their favoured options. They are the partnership model, the insurance model and the comprehensive model. They all use disability benefits to extend care to those who do not get it now. The Secretary of State's saying today that there would effectively be no cash losers rules out all the Government's preferred options in the Green Paper.

On page 61, the Green Paper talks about extending the system so that everyone gets some help. It says that

"we want to consider the different ways in which this could be funded, including through integrating funding from the social care and benefits systems."

That is incompatible with giving everyone who currently gets those benefits the same amount of cash as they are getting now, so that there would be no cash losers.

On page 98, the Green Paper states:

"We want to use the money that is in the system to make sure that everyone who qualifies for care and support will get some help with paying for their care."

However, if care is to be extended to those who do not currently get it, the money will have to come from within the system, which means that it will have to come from those disability benefits. If the Secretary of State is now ruling out touching those benefits, he is ruling out this proposal in the Green Paper. Given that some people are not getting care at the moment, the costs will have to go up. If there are to be no cash losers, that will simply not add up.

On page 103, the Green Paper refers to the King's Fund report, and says that

"if the social care system were able to mostly meet the care needs of people who may currently only be supported through the disability benefits system, there would be less need for some of these benefits, and there might be a case for integrating some disability benefits such as Attendance Allowance into the care and support system."

That is exactly what the Government were proposing, but it is not what the Secretary of State said this afternoon.

On page 104, the Green Paper says:

"We can use the taxpayers' money that is already in the system to provide everyone with some care."

As my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire pointed out, page 109 of the Green Paper makes it clear that there will be more people getting social care funding under the national care service than at present. According to the Green Paper, the only place that the money can come from is those disability benefits, as the Government have ruled out funding the increased spending from taxation, which I know is the favoured system of hon. Member for Kingswood.

So the Secretary of State cannot have it both ways. If there are to be no cash losers, this Green Paper is not worth the paper it is printed on. Page 114-Members, especially Labour Members, will be pleased to know that this is the last quote-states:

"The state would put in existing funding from taxes which are used for social care and any disability benefits that were integrated, and would use this to support the costs of everyone's care."

That is not about ensuring that there are no cash losers, or that people could have the money and spend how they wanted to, on supporting their independence and choice; it is about using the money to support the cost of everyone's care. That is clear. None of the preferred options can be reconciled with what the Secretary of State said this afternoon.

My right hon. Friend Mrs. May, the shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, asked an important question. If it is true that there are to be no cash losers, and that people will be able to keep the money, will they be able to spend it as they choose-as they can now-on supporting their independence and choice and enabling them to live the life that they want to live? The Secretary of State, who still is not here, could not-or would not-answer that question. So will the Minister tell us whether people will be able to spend that money as freely as they can now?

The Secretary of State made a point of quoting my right hon. Friend Mr. Cameron, and he was quite right. We support what the Government want to do on extending personalisation. Indeed, the Welfare Reform Bill allows social care funding to be integrated into the right to control only because we pressed for that in this House, although we were opposed by the Government- [ Interruption. ] The Secretary of State has finally joined us. Conservatives in the other place, together with Liberal Democrats and Cross-Bench peers, put together a majority which meant that the Government were forced to table their own amendments, with cross-party support, to do the opposite of what they were going to do when the Bill was in Committee in this House. If anyone looks at the record, they can see that that is exactly right; it is very clear.

The question for the Minister to answer is why until today the Government were sticking to the line that people would be given "an equivalent level of support", which is what it says in the Government amendment, and only now that the Secretary of State effectively said, "Read my lips-no cash losers." As I have comprehensively demonstrated, what the Secretary of State said this afternoon cannot be reconciled with what is in his social care Green Paper; he has effectively holed it below the water line. The Minister needs to answer those questions. He may not wish to answer the Opposition, but he needs to answer his own colleagues, particularly those who signed early-day motion 1. He also needs to answer respected Members of all parties and all those organisations outside the House that are very concerned about the Government's plans. Will he set out just what Government policy now is-what it was this morning, what it was at 4.06 pm when the Secretary of State appeared to change it from the Dispatch Box, which I would like the Minister to confirm, and what it is now? I commend the motion to the House; we look forward with interest to hearing the Minister's defence.

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