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My Lords, I welcome this debate on the impact of the comprehensive spending review. For the benefit of new Members of the House, I should say that my noble friend Lady Wilkins will assist me when I run out of breath, as agreed by the usual channels.
There is so much to debate, so I have decided to speak to one area only: where disabled people are being asked to pay a price that far outstrips the potential saving to the Exchequer. I know that my noble friend Lord Low will later cover other new financial policies that will affect for good or bad the lives of disabled people. Let me be clear from the outset that I do not deny the need to address the deficit in part through cuts in public spending. It is in everyone's interests, including society's poorest and most disabled, that the books balance. However, to face reality, we must understand reality. Doing so requires us to recognise the full implications of cuts to people in their everyday lives. Only then can we make sensible choices, not just for the individuals who are directly affected but in the public interest.
That is why I have decided to concentrate today on what some may think is a small and insignificant cut to independent living services for disabled people but which has the most disproportionately devastating consequences for their lives. First, before I say what it is, I declare an interest as someone who receives public care and support services targeted by the CSR. I am also a trustee of the National Centre for Independent Living and chair of the Government's Right to Control advisory group. In fact, I often give expert advice to the Minister on disability matters.
A Government proposal under the heading "Welfare Reform" is to,
"remove the mobility component of Disability Living Allowance for people in residential care, where such costs are"- supposedly-
"already met from public funds, saving £135 million by 2014-15".
To claim DLA, you must be under 65 at the time of the claim. The Government estimate that this cut will affect 58,000 disabled young people and working-age adults.
This proposal is seriously flawed for four reasons. First, it will have negative and costly effects on disabled people's health and well-being, their ability to develop social and community networks and their capacity to move on from residential care to be, as the Government want, independent, participating citizens, not dependants. Secondly, it conflicts with the Government's policies for personalisation, independent living and encouraging disabled people to gain or retain employment. Thirdly, it is based on a misunderstanding of the purpose of modern residential care and the potential of disabled people living there. Fourthly, it is incompatible with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
I am sure we all agree that people living in care homes today are full citizens. We should therefore expect and want them to exercise their human and civil rights and to contribute to civil society like everyone else. Residential care homes are no longer, or should not be, places to hide people away in or to deny them opportunities the rest of us take for granted: independence, choice, access to public life and maybe, for those who can, eventually the possibility of work and independence. Residential care homes are not intended to be prisons. We all enjoy activities outside our homes. It should be no different for those living in residential care homes.
Since the CSR announcement on this DLA saving, disability organisations have been receiving alarmed calls from people desperate at the prospect of losing this entitlement to hard-won independence. Last week RADAR heard from Patricia King. Her son and daughter-in-law are both disabled and live in residential care. Without the mobility component, they will no longer be able to visit the doctor, dentist, bank, church, library or shops, let alone relatives and friends. The proposed changes will remove over 45 per cent of her son's total allowances and over 69 per cent of his wife's. Neither the local authority nor the care home is in a financial position to offer free transport as part of its service to the residents. Patricia King, rightly in my view, calls this a cruel cut. She says:
"Some politicians are accepting a 5% cut, but would they accept a 45% or 69% cut to the money that buys them their personal freedoms?".
The DWP argues that the measure would bring care-home residents into line with hospital in-patients, who lose access to the benefit on the same basis. However, the comparison is false. People of working age living in care homes are not in the same position as patients in hospital. In hospital, you are sick and therefore do not need an allowance to go out. Residential care is disabled people's home and the base from which they go out to engage in education, training, work, leisure, travel, family and social contact. For many, it is a stepping stone to living independently in the community. Noble Lords may know that care-home residents must surrender almost all their income to support the cost of their care. They are allowed to retain only about £22 a week for personal expenses, so a basic mobility scooter-a mobility aid often bought with DLA finance-costing about £1,500 is out of reach without the DLA mobility component of £49.85 a week. Removing that component takes away over two-thirds of the care-home resident's income. It makes Britain's most severely disabled people the group who lose most from the CSR; it literally removes their mobility.
At this point, Baroness Campbell of Surbiton resumed.
Could this House consider, even for a moment, denying me my electric wheelchair or the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, his scooter? I am sure noble Lords would be outraged and would defend our right to contribute to the work of the House. I do not accept that the national finances are such that we should now deny people living in care homes the same rights. To be clear, the DLA mobility component helps residents to maintain contact with families and friends, access the big society as a volunteer, participate in leisure and fitness activities and be active members of their local community. Such activities promote physical and mental well-being. They help to sustain one's sense of identity and prevent the loss of confidence and the low morale often associated with depression. The proposed modest savings in DLA are likely to be outweighed by increased demands on the NHS and the costs linked to preventing severely disabled people joining society. It makes neither moral nor financial sense.
I am deeply concerned that this cut in spending was not subject to a disability, equality and human rights impact assessment, that it was not discussed with those of us who have had years of experience of advising Governments on disability matters, and that the Treasury failed to run it by its own expert department, the Office for Disability Issues, which found out about the policy on the morning of the CSR announcement. I hope the Minister will explain that to me.
The big fair society can be achieved only if support structures are there to enable disabled people to play their part. Otherwise, we will go back to a time when most disabled people were caught in a culture of dependency with no alternative but to beg for charity or to be jolly grateful for what they got. This fills me with dread. I am sorry that if this debate continues beyond 10 o'clock, I will not be here or, if I am, I will be bedding down on the Back Bench. I have to be home as my CSR-dependent support service dictates my moves. Please think again on this very small cut that illustrates where we are heading.