Clause 83

Part of Welfare Reform Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 7:30 pm on 10th May 2011.

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Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 7:30 pm, 10th May 2011

Can the hon. Gentleman bear with me, as he might want to come back again as I refer to certain criteria? I was just about to finish reading the response I received from the Minister about the review. She continued:

“When the work is complete we will make a final decision on the way forward. We have no plans to publish the findings of this work.”—[Official Report, 9 May 2011; Vol. 527, c. 1003W.]

That was a very disappointing response, given that she knows about the parliamentary as well as the public interest in the review. The fact that the review, the outcomes of which are so monumental to so many people and have stirred up such controversy, will not be published really begs many questions. Today, we are calling for full disclosure of the review, much of which will be shaped on what the Minister actually says in response to the amendment. I am assuming that the Government will go ahead, as they planned, although there are many inconsistencies. However, perhaps the hon. Lady can explain why we have had to fight for such things.

Let me put on the record the Opposition’s resistance to the cut. I have been asked to do so, and feel obliged to do so on behalf of many charities that have campaigned against it. Charities are campaigning against the changes, warning that they are fundamentally unfair, target the most vulnerable people in the country and will mean people becoming

“prisoners in their own homes”.

Such credible and respected charities would not use such phrases lightly. Richard Hawkes, the chief executive of Scope, the publisher of “Disability Now”, said:

“The government position has varied massively and this leads to fear and anxiety in the minds of disabled people and their families. If the Prime Minister’s comments mean that the government is going to withdraw that clause, that would be very welcome, but DWP have confirmed that that is not the government’s intention.

The assault on the most vulnerable is characterised by the callous removal”— the words of the chief executive of Scope, not mine—

“of the mobility component of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for people living in residential care, which will simply increase dependency and mean many people will literally become prisoners in their own homes.”

Mark Goldring, the chief executive of Mencap, said:

“The removal of the DLA mobility component and the squeezing of local authority budgets, which help fund residential care homes, is a double blow for people with a learning disability. They rely on this money to access the community and live a fulfilled life. Through this cut the government is targeting some of society’s most vulnerable people who cannot always fight for their rights themselves. It also suggests that the government does not believe that people in residential care who receive DLA are entitled to live independently.”

Again, people will be aware of the comparison with hospitals, which was particularly provocative. Mark Goldring continued:

“This cut will take us back to the days when people were left in care homes with just four walls for company and will undo decades of progress. Mencap is calling for the government to urgently review this proposal and prevent this devastating blow to some of the UK’s most vulnerable people.”

In its submission to the consultation on reform to DLA, the Social Security Advisory Committee argued that the proposal to remove the mobility component should not go ahead, arguing that it would substantially reduce the independence of disabled people who are being cared for in residential accommodation. It stated:

“We consider that the proposal to remove the mobility component from people in residential care should not go ahead. This measure will substantially reduce the independence of disabled people who are being cared for in residential accommodation, which goes against the stated aim of the reform of DLA to support disabled people to lead independent and active lives.”

The Minister will know that a large group of influential charities from the disability and social care sector have produced a report on the Government’s proposal to scrap the DLA mobility component. The report highlights the fact that at different times the Government have used eight different arguments, which have shifted to justify this one cut. The report outlines why each argument is deeply flawed:

“We are particularly concerned about the Government’s continuing shift in rationale for this cut and the lack of supporting evidence.

1. The responsibility for mobility/transport costs should be met by the care home provider

2. DLA mobility is being misused and needs reforming

3. DLA mobility is being used to purchase wheelchairs when this cost should be met by the NHS Wheelchair Service

4. The change will align the rules for people living in residential care with people in hospital

5. There is an overlap in transport provision for disabled people. Schemes such as dial-a-ride provide for the transport needs of individuals with a disability

6. Local authorities should be assessing and meeting personal mobility needs

7. Local authorities’ contracts with care homes should cover personal mobility needs

8. People in NHS funded residential care do not receive DLA mobility”.

One person has given substantial, powerful evidence, which I wanted to quote in full, Mr Gray, but I will not because he has asked us not to go into it in depth. It is a substantial part of the argument, so I will briefly quote the end, if I may. I will not go through the substance of it, but may I state for the record that the gentleman’s name is Vincent Greenwood? His memorandum on behalf of his son stated:

“Simon Greenwood is aged 30, is severely learning disabled with a mental age of less than 2 years. Simon is also autistic.”

It is a powerful illustration of why the use of the mobility component adds enormously to the quality of his son’s life. He concluded:

“The evidence given…shows how important the mobility allowance is to my son’s life and the ability of his care home to give all residents as full and independent a life as possible. I also believe most care homes have alternative but equally effective arrangements. I hope I am mistaken but my fear is that the Government are in danger of confusing complexity with disorder and believing a problem to exist where it does not. Therefore I urge the Committee to ensure that the Bill and associated Regulations do not have the effect of removing the mobility component of PIP from severely disabled people in care homes.”

I have a few comments from the Liberal Democrat spring conference. My intended targets for those comments are not with us this afternoon, but I will read them out for the record, because they do in some way aid our understanding of the strength of feeling. At their spring conference earlier this year, the Liberal Democrats tabled a motion to highlight their strong opposition to cut DLA mobility from those in residential care homes. I will shorten the quotes, Mr Gray, in line with your instruction.

“Conference regrets the recent decision to remove the mobility component of the new Personal Independence Payment…from people in residential care and from children in residential schools with effect from October 2012…The outcome of the cut for adults is not in accord with the principle of fairness because it affects the poorest recipients and allows those people who pay for their own care to retain the Mobility Component.”

The motion was successfully passed by the Liberal Democrat party and I hope, when it comes to a vote, that their Members will bear that in mind.

In conclusion, this element of the Government’s proposals has been subject to great controversy and has been heavily criticised. The goalposts have changed significantly over the past four months: first, there was the issue of double funding; then there was overlap and chaos, and everything we heard in the oral evidence sessions showed that there was no shred of evidence for that; and then there was the review and the real concerns about how it has been conducted.

In fact, some people would have us believe that no cut is taking place at all. If that is so, why are we having to deal with this provision in the Bill and why is that saving still flagged up in the Red Book? Unless the Minister makes another announcement today, which would stretch credibility a bit far, that is my understanding. If there is no cut, supporting the amendment to make that clear should not pose any difficulty. I have heard Committee members welcome the review in the sense that there will no longer be a cut and that the benefit will still be protected for disabled people. If they believe that to be the case, they should categorically support the amendment, which would send a strong signal. The removal of the clause from the Bill would also have the advantage of reassuring people such as Mr Greenwood, who are so worried.

If there are inconsistencies, the Government should sort them out with the proper authorities—the care homes and local authorities—but they should not make disabled people the victims of those inconsistencies and of any overlaps in the system. If we care about the evidence that we have all received, the only option is to support the amendment. It would categorically protect the interests of those living in residential homes and ensure that they receive the benefits to which they are entitled, because they receive precious few benefits and they need them.