Clause 51 — Period of entitlement to contributory allowance

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 1:45 pm on 1st February 2012.

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Photo of Jennifer Willott Jennifer Willott Liberal Democrat, Cardiff Central 1:45 pm, 1st February 2012

There needs to be some stability, so that people know what to expect. One of the problems with putting that type of provision in regulations is that it becomes very difficult for people to know what they can expect. That creates uncertainty, which makes it more difficult for people to cope.

To return to the point made by Harriett Baldwin about people with deteriorating conditions, I welcome the concession that the Government made in the Lords. It is important that people with MS, motor neurone disease, Parkinson’s and so on get ongoing support when they really need it. That is definitely a step forward.

I still have some concerns about work incentives and the means test. A person does not get means-tested ESA if their partner has a low level of income. If the partner worked 24 hours a week on the minimum wage, that would be a household income of £145 a week. However, as people would get increased housing benefit, council tax benefit and so on, the drop in income for that household when the sick or disabled person no longer received ESA would be significantly less than the scare stories are leading people to believe. I also appreciate that when universal credit is introduced, that will be far less of an issue, because the income disregard for households in which there is someone with a disability will be set much higher, at £140 a week. In the future, under universal credit, a household with an income of £140 a week will get the whole of their income and the full universal credit on top of that, so this is mainly an issue for the 18 months between the introduction of the policy that we are discussing and the introduction of the universal credit in October 2013.

I would be grateful if the Minister, if he gets the chance to sum up at the end of the debate, would say whether anything can be done to bridge that gap. For example, we could look at making sure that people in that category are among the first to be moved on to universal credit, so that we can ensure that the period in which they lose out on income is as short as possible. In addition, the DWP impact assessment says that it is likely to cost £30 million in increased benefit payments as the partners of those affected leave work. I would be grateful if the Minister could consider whether there is anything that could be done to reduce that amount of money by considering the effect on such households.

Finally, the debate has been getting quite heated on the subject of young disabled people. I understand that there is a lot of concern about this group, because they are particularly vulnerable, but there has been a good deal of rhetoric—not least today—about the Government taking away those individuals’ whole income. We have heard suggestions that people will not get anything at all, but it has been made clear today that the means test will not take into account parents’ income once the disabled or sick young person reaches the age of 18 or 19. Despite the best efforts of those on the Opposition Front Bench to muddy the waters, it is quite clear that the means test will only take into account that individual’s circumstances. The parents’ savings and income will not be taken into account and that is why nine out of 10 of the people affected will still receive income-related ESA. That is a crucial message for people who are concerned about this move. The vast majority of people will not lose their benefits, despite the negative messages we have heard, which are creating fear that is unnecessary and worrying.