|Previous Section||Home Page|
"( ) In section 37A of the principal Act (mobility allowance) at the end of subsection (1) insert or is deaf and blind or is suffering from severe mental handicap such that he is either unable to walk or virtually unable to do so without physical control by another person'.
( ) In subsection (2) of that section leave out physical'."
May I warmly welcome the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) to the Opposition Front Bench. He gave us a tough time in Committee. I imagine that he will do the same in his new position. Nevertheless, we warmly welcome him.
I am conscious of the fact that there will be some disappointment not only on the Opposition Benches but on the Conservative side that the Government disagree with the Lords amendment. Some of my hon. Friends have taken a keen interest in the question of a mobility allowance for the two groups who are covered by the Lords amendment. Potential beneficiaries outside the House have been watching the proceedings carefully. Campaigning organisations, not least Sense, the National Deaf Blind Helpers League and Mencap, have also been watching them with great care.
In what I hope will be a brief opening of the debate I hope to do three things--first, to say something about the background to the mobility allowance, secondly, to say why I believe that it would not be appropriate for the House to agree to the Lords amendment and, thirdly, to consider the way ahead.
The mobility allowance has been a conspicious success since it was introduced by the Opposition in 1975. It replaced the old trike scheme but, unlike the trike scheme, it was made available for the first time to severely disabled people with mobility difficulties, whether or not they were able to drive. They were given a cash allowance that they could spend as they wished, either on a motor car or on other ways of broadening their horizons or enhancing their lives.
When the scheme was introduced the criteria were largely those that governed the trike scheme. The same criteria apply now, although case law has to a certain extent modified them. I repeat that the mobility allowance has been a great success. The growth in the number of recipients of this benefit has been impressive. Since the Government came to office, the number in receipt of mobility allowance has increased from 95,000 to 580,000. That number is steadily rising. The increase is due to three separate factors. First, the age limit has been changed. When the scheme was first introduced the age limit was 65, then it was increased to 75, and it will rise to 80 when the Bill receives Royal Assent. That has increased the number of beneficiaries by 140,000.
Mr. Kennedy : The increase in the age threshold from 75 to 80 is to be welcomed. However, a postman in the Isle of Skye who came to see me revealed a general problem with the mobility allowance. All too often people do not realise
Column 462that such an allowance exists and that they are eligible. By the age of 65 they cannot apply for the allowance. This constituent reached the age of 65 and then realised that the allowance would be of assistance to him in a remote rural area. However, because of his age he found that he could not receive the allowance. Is the Department trying to heighten awareness of the existence of the allowance, in particular of the age after which people will be unable to apply for it, even though the age of eligibility for the award is now as high as 80?
Mr. Scott : My second point was going to be about awareness of mobility allowance, which has increased dramatically. The more people who get it, the more other people know about it and are therefore encouraged to come forward. That is an important factor in the more than fivefold increase in take-up of this benefit over the past 10 years. In practice, people can apply up to the age of 66, as long as the condition existed before their 65th birthday. There is a 12-month period during which applications for the benefit can be made. The third factor is the development of case law over the years since the mobility allowance was introduced. Anyone who has followed it knows that case law has sometimes taken three steps forward and two back in terms of being generous or more restrictive over the intervening period. The overall move has been in a more generous direction.
A combination of three decisions has made an important and constructive move forward. The first was the Edmunds decision and the subsequent regulations introduced by the then Labour Government following the 1978 decision about the criteria to be applied to those who were virtually unable to walk. Then, in 1986, the tribunal of commissioners, following the Lees case, made a decision on the way in which involuntary interruptions in the ability to walk could, dependent on their frequency, amount to a virtual inability to walk. There was also a series of unreported cases, which nevertheless form the body of case law, about the extent to which people who are deaf-blind and suffer from balance difficulties which lead to their needing physical support can also be entitled to the allowance. In three significant respects there has been some easement in the original conditions because of the development of case law.
Mr. Scott : I could not do so without a much more careful analysis. Cases are decided and then the appeal tribunals and the decision-making process--in practice, independent adjudicating authorities--make decisions about the eligibility of individuals which would not necessarily be recorded as flowing from a particular case that had been decided. It is clear that each of those aspects has had a not insignificant impact on decision making.
The House may say, "We have made all those improvements, so why not accept the Lords amendment?" [ Hon. Members :-- "Why not?"] I shall explain why I feel that at this time it is not appropriate to accept the amendment which their Lordships have sent back to us. I am aware of, and have been impressed by, the case that has been made by Sense, the National Deaf Blind Helpers
Column 463League and Mencap. A number of my predecessors have met deputations from those organisations and have been sympathetic to their suggestions.
This is not an easy problem to solve. Anyone who has studied the debates in another place will realise how difficult it all is. One of the most important features of the debate in another place was the gulf between the estimates by the Government and by the disability organisations of the numbers that might benefit from the amendment. I should explain why and how the Government came to their estimate, which they derived from the data of the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys. It should be made clear that the relevant data are not separately set out in any of the published OPCS reports. They were derived from a computer analysis by the Department of the data tapes, which are a part of the OPCS survey.
The survey data are divided between 13 different broad areas of disability- -such as locomotion, personal care, continence, seeing and hearing. Within each of those areas the OPCS reseachers have constructed a scale of severity. All that is explained in the first of the OPCS reports with which all those who study these matters will be familiar.
The aim of the Department's computer analysis of the data was to see how many people had disabilities of the type and severity such that there would be a strong presumption that they would need to be accompanied outdoors and in public, even to the extent of physical control.
Perhaps I could at this stage to interpret "physical control" as used in the amendment. It is the extent to which any parent would go in holding firmly on to a child that he or she was controlling.
Mr. Scott : Therefore, the computer analysis counted the number of people who were at the top of the severity scale for behavioural disability, for disability of intellectual functioning and for communication disability and at the top of a scale which measured liability to and severity of fits causing loss of consciousness.
Mr. Scott : I hope that the hon. Gentleman, however well he has dined, will listen carefully to the argument. It is a serious matter, which causes great anxiety to the individuals concerned and all those who care for them--I count myself in that company.
What it means in practice is that people who scored at the top of those various scales were liable to behavioural disturbance to such a degree that they might hit other people or injure themselves, were intellectually incapable of most of the very simple tasks that we take for granted in everyday life, were liable to frequent unpredictable fits and could neither understand nor be understood in communication even with people who knew them well.
The computer analysis was designed to eliminate double counting of people who might suffer from more than one of those disabilities. It also eliminated those whose multiple disability extended also to locomotion to an extent that they might in any case qualify for a mobility
Column 464allowance. The result is an estimate of 125,000 people in the age range 16 to 65 who would need to be accompanied in public and outdoors to the extent of physical control.
The proposers of the amendments say--of course I believe them, and I have met them and discussed their analysis--that they are not aiming at anything like such a large group. I understand that their estimate is derived from studies of the incidence of mental handicap reported in the 1971 White Paper, "Better Services for the Mentally Handicapped". The overall incidence of severe mental handicap--which was then broadly defined as an IQ of less than 50--was reported there as about 120,000, people in total, although with an increasing rate of survival.
Within the total of 120,000, however, the proposers of the amendment say that they are aiming at a smaller group--those with behavioural difficulties requiring constant supervision. However, that is not what the amendment actually says. It says something quite different. The proposers estimate that group to consist of 4,400 people. I am not sure whether that number includes people in hospitals and residential homes, who are, of course, entitled to a mobility allowance without any time limit.
Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South) : Leaving aside the difference in the figures--I accept his point--the Minister has just told the House that 125,000 people are affected. If the House does not approve the amendment, what help will be offered to those 125,000 people?
Mr. Scott : I shall come to that in what I want to say, because I want to deal seriously with the matter. They may, of course, be entitled to disability benefits other than the mobility allowance as a result of their incapacity. The attendance allowance and various other allowances could be available to them. However, we are now talking specifically about the mobility allowance, which was--I remind the House--introduced quite specifically as a replacement for the trike scheme, which was for people who were unable or virtually unable to walk. The question must be whether mobility allowance is the appropriate benefit for that particular group of people who suffer from those disabilities, or only for some of them. That is the question we must address in due course and which it would be inappropriate to address in the context of the Lords amendment. I am saying in essence that I do not believe that with the best will in the world any statutory formula based on the Lords amendment could be limited to the numbers that those who support the amendment quote. The data of the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys show, by contrast, a large number who might qualify not for other disability allowances, but specifically for mobility allowance, if we were to pass the amendment. I emphasise the word "might". I am not saying that 125,000 would necessarily benefit if we were to pass the amendment. I am saying that there is a huge disparity between the estimate we have genuinely tried to make about the possible beneficiaries and the other figure. We arrived at a figure of 125,000, whereas those who urge the amendment have put forward a figure of about 8,000. That is a huge discrepancy. Even if our computer analysis is 100 per cent. out, we are still talking about 60,000 gainers rather than 8,000.
Column 46511.30 pm
Mr. Scott : It matters in terms of money. [Interruption.] Yes. It matters in terms of ensuring that mobility allowance is targeted on those who have real mobility disability and not disability across the spectrum, in which case other benefits may be more appropriate.
Mr. Harry Ewing : I am grateful to the Minister. I have resisted asking him to give way for a few minutes because I simply could not make up my mind whether his insult to me about however well I had dined was deliberate and in character for him. I am prepared to be generous to him and say that it was not in character. I have known the Minister for a long time, and I regard that remark as being very insulting.
When the Minister talks about the measurement of whether someone qualifies for mobility allowance, he seems to ignore the stringent tests through which an applicant for mobility allowance is put. I will mention the case of one constituent, who will forgive me for mentioning him. He is Mr. Charles MacKay of Slamannan who, to prove his need for mobility allowance-- which he was refused--was made to walk on Renfield street in Glasgow in the view of hundreds of people. I was going to say thousands of people, but I will be moderate and say hundreds. He had to suffer the shame of being made to walk in front of so many people and then he was refused mobility allowance. It is an insult to the 125,000 people about whom the Minister is talking to suggest that somehow they can get mobility allowance easily. It is not easy and the Minister should understand that. I do not ask him to withdraw his insulting remark about me personally, because that is a matter for him, but he should think carefully about those who are entitled to mobility allowance and do not get it.
Mr. Scott : I apologise to the hon. Gentleman that I reacted in that way. It was so uncharacteristic of him to harangue me from a sedentary position that I am afraid that I over-reacted. I withdraw my remark.
The hon. Gentleman's comment about the difficulty of qualifying for mobility allowance is hardly borne out by the fact that we have moved from about 100,000 to nearly 600,000 during the 10 years of this Government. Many more people are qualifying. I do not believe that the number of those who are qualified has increased sixfold in that time, but the number of those receiving the benefit has done so, as a result of the factors I announced at the beginning. If the hon. Gentleman wants to write to me particularly about the case of his constituent, I will, of course, ensure that it is drawn to the attention of those responsible for these matters, who make the independent decisions.
I am not necessarily saying that our figures are accurate ; I am merely saying that there is a clear body of evidence to suggest that the figures advanced by those who persuaded their Lordships to vote for the amendment represent a gross underestimate of those who would qualify if the amendment were passed. I hope that they will look carefully at the analysis of the OPCS data that I have described. The information is now lodged in the archives of the Economic and Social Research Council in Essex. It is available to bona fide researchers and if those who promoted the amendment would like to send people to look at the information on that basis, I am happy to make it available. Alternatively, I am prepared to make a
Column 466suitably qualified member of staff of the Department available to discuss with them the basis of our findings and to see whether we can reconcile the two positions. I repeat that at the moment there is a profound disparity in the calculations of those who tabled the amendment in the other place and the Government's serious attempt to calculate the numbers who might be entitled.
Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby) : Surely the entitlement of people to mobility allowance should not rest on the numbers involved and the fact that it will cost more money. The Minister seems to be saying that there is an alternative to mobility allowance for those thousands of people whose numbers were underestimated in another place. Will the Minister kindly tell the House what he has in mind that might relieve the difficulties and in some cases the real poverty of people who are blind and deaf and who, having had their expectations raised, are now faced with the Government throttling attempts to give them the very aid that they were expecting?
Mr. Scott : I say with great respect to the hon. Gentleman, whom I greatly admire, that I do not need lessons in concern for those who are deaf-blind. Since I assumed my responsibilities, the Government have spent rather more than £1 million specifically to help the deaf-blind and to improve the provision that we make for them. I am most conscious of their needs and I am anxious to ensure that their concerns are met.
Having said that, I am trying to resist an attempt to use mobility allowance for a purpose other than that for which it was introduced, as other benefits may be more appropriate for some of those who would be included were the benefit increased.
Setting aside the deaf-blind, there may be people who have suffered from mental handicap and who may have behavioural difficulties that may need constant supervision. It is going a bit far, however, to say that a person who can walk but who needs some sort of physical control--such as having to have his hand held--because of some other problem necessarily falls into the category of qualifying for mobility allowance. That was not the reason for introducing mobility allowance. I shall not quote from former holders of my office who are now in opposition and who took a firm view before we had a change of Government in 1979.
I hope that I can convince the House that we face a real dilemma. I know that a number of my hon. Friends feel very keenly about the matter--as, indeed, do I--and I want to talk a bit about the way ahead as I see it. On Monday, the last of the OPCS reports was published and all the supporting data tapes are now in the ESRC archives. They are available to those who want to inspect and analyse them. In due course I shall explain how we shall proceed on a wider front. I have already invited comments on each of the reports as they have been published, and I shall seek to balance the conflicting claims of listening carefully to the representations made to me about the reports and the future of benefits for disabled people and of the need not unduly to delay action. Meanwhile, I hope that I can persuade the House that change in mobility allowance ahead of the wider consideration and of the magnitude that I have suggested might be involved--
Column 467were not complete. He said that once they were complete and published he would make a statement on a number of the
representations that we put to him in Committee. One such representation related to the payment of the attendance allowance to the parents of severely disabled children under the age of two. We have heard nothing from the Minister and I wonder whether it would be appropriate for him now to give us some suggestion about when he hopes to make an announcement on that matter.
Mr. Scott : I cannot, not least because I want to decide on the way forward in the round. As I said in Committee and previously, that may depend on the rate of progress that we are able to make overall. Some matters might be decided against a faster track than the generality.
Mr. Scott : This is a serious matter. We are talking about the largest survey ever conducted in this country, possibly in the world, of the extent and nature of disability and the financial circumstances of disabled people. We must look at that survey carefully and make a serious attempt to frame a pattern of disability benefits that will endure for a considerable time. We must do that in a serious and considered way. I recognise that we might have to address some urgent matters more quickly, but until we decide how quickly we shall deal with the whole disability package, it is difficult to say what we shall do with the other cases. I cannot go further than that.
Mr. Scott : The hon. Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) supported a Government who conducted a much more limited survey of the disabled which excluded children and large numbers of other disabled people from it. That survey did not approach the situation with the seriousness that we have done.
Mr. Corbyn rose--
The largest survey of the disabled in this country has just been conducted. In the light of all the results we must assess what changes might be necessary in the pattern of benefit and what priority should be accorded to those changes. No doubt some changes may have to be postponed, but, in those circumstances, it would be little short of folly to rush through a potentially major change without properly considering all the issues and their implications for the system.
In those circumstances, it would be wrong to accept the amendment made in the other place and I ask for it to be reversed.
Mr. John Battle (Leeds, West) : It is worth reminding ourselves that it was not until the Amendment Paper was printed that we learnt of the Government's intention to reverse the Lords amendment. In the House of Lords there have been other rebuffs to the Government over the Water Bill, the Electricity Bill and the Companies Bill. The Government have reversed some of those amendments, but at least they publicly declared their intention to do so. Perhaps there has been no notice from the Government today because the
Column 468Minister is too embarrassed to attract attention to the Government's reversal of the Lords amendment on access to mobility allowance.
I understand that, yesterday, the Prime Minister spoke to Conservative peers. Perhaps she humoured them and said that it did not matter what happened in the other place as she could always reverse anything with her supportive vote in this House. That should not be the Government's attitude tonight.
The amendment deals with the existing regulations covering entitlement to mobility allowance and its purpose is to ensure that the regulations cover people with a severe mental handicap and those who may be deaf and blind.
From my experience as a Member of Parliament, I know that the people who are caused the greatest difficulty and heartache are those who go through the processes for applying for mobility allowance. They genuinely believe that they are entitled to it--on the face of it, that may be correct--but they must go through a series of medical appeals and tribunals. The judgments of those tribunals are based on many inconsistent legal rulings stretching back in 10 years of case law. Many of us know of people with profound mental handicap who lack the necessary co-ordination and who need continuous assistance with their walking. Those people must go through the process of medical appeals and tribunals before they have access to the weekly mobility payments. As the Minister reminded us, the primary legislation was set out in 1975. Since that time there has been a bewildering jungle of case law as social security commissioners have considered the need for assistance for people virtually unable to walk.
The Minister referred to this being a case of three steps forward and one back. There has clearly been a lack of consistency in the decisions that have been made and Ministers should have ended any confusion about whether applications could be made in the first place. People have felt a deep sense of injustice when their claims have failed and have seemed to depend solely upon the decision of the commissioner. If the commission decisions were favourable at the time they put in their applications, their cases might have been more favourably assessed than if they had submitted them when commission decisions were unfavourable.
Mr. Scott : When Lord Ennals and the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) introduced the mobility allowance, they were at great pains to make it clear that the decisions should be made by independent authorities. That was the basis upon which the mobility allowance was introduced and it has been maintained on that basis. In the intervening period, case law has provided a more sensible framework within which those adjudicating authorities could make their decisions. I cannot stand behind every decision that they make, but the case law now gives them a much clearer framework than they had when the mobility allowance was introduced.
Mr. Battle : I do not want the Minister to get the impression that I am challenging the independence of the commissioners, but the framework is in a bit of a shambles. In 1983 some people who needed support made successful claims, but shortly afterwards another commissioner argued that under the mobility allowance regulations the inability to walk was restricted to the
Column 469physical inability to move the legs and that any other problems were irrelevant. That decision was upheld in the other place in 1985. The Minister referred to the tribunal decision that followed the Lees case in 1986. The complexity of case law has reached the point at which, to say the least, it is extremely difficult for ordinary claimants or those looking after them to know whether they meet the requirements of mobility allowance regulations. They have become a difficult maze of benefit provision. People need legal advice and representation to stand any chance of receiving mobility allowance. I accept that, as the Minister said in Committee, the Government are in principle committed to ending the legal wrangling and to codify case law by amending primary legislation. We are suggesting that the Minister takes the opportunity to do that by withdrawing the Government's motion to disagree with the Lords amendment which will ensure access to mobility allowance to a specific group of blind, deaf and severely mentally handicapped people.
In the debate in the other place, Lord Skelmersdale said : "On the matter of mobility allowance for the deaf/blind and the mentally handicapped I cannot stress too strongly"--
Lord Skelmersdale emphasised that he could not stress too strongly that the Government wanted to act and were willing to act, yet were waiting for still further analysis to explore the data in more detail. Now the Government argue that the computer data tapes are available.
The Minister's figures were interesting because he suggested that 125,000 people might be included by the amendment. The number seems to go up by the week because the figure in the other place a week ago was 100,000. An increase of 25,000 in a week certainly points to a discrepancy in the figures.
The Government seem to have given what could be described as a gross overestimate of the figures and have done that deliberately to undermine the amendment. We should seriously question the Minister's statement about the figures. There is surely not a huge discrepancy with the figures presented by the National Deaf-Blind and Rubella Association. It estimates that 3,200 deaf-blind people are entitled to the benefit. Before the debate started, I understood that that figure was not in question.
The careful Mencap analysis suggested that, at most, 4,404 people with severe mental handicap would be entitled to the benefit. That gives a total of 7,604. Even in the Mencap figure there was an acknowledgement that not everyone in that group would fulfil the age criteria. The answer to the question about discrepancy that the Minister put to the House lies not in the accuracy of the analysis of Mencap and the National Deaf-Blind and Rubella Association. It lies in the Government's rather crude use of the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys data.
The OPCS data fail to define the very target group that we are talking about--people with a mental handicap to whom the amendment specifically refers. The figures in the OPCS data include people suffering from mental illness, but any of us dealing with social policy are well aware of a crucial distinction between people who are mentally
Column 470handicapped and those who suffer from mental illness. That distinction is built into the wording of the amendment.
The Government seem to have gone for rather simplistic arithmetic. They have indiscriminately and insensitively added together a few of the OPCS categories. The Government account seems to have taken the most severe categories of disability from volume 1 using the two top scoring grades with communication difficulties, the two top scoring grades for behaviour, the top scoring grade for intellectual functioning and the top scoring grade for consciousness. However, there has been absolutely no cross- referencing in that analysis of diagnosis or of the cause of disability. The Government have simply made a judgment and I am tempted to say that in practice the computer analysis is really a guesstimate of the number of people who would need to be included. The 13 categories of people with locomotion disability in the OPCS survey do not include those who
"cannot walk without continuous physical control by another person".
There is no method of extraction from the OPCS tables or the data tapes that would enable the Government to distinguish between people who suffer from autism, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease or epilepsy. They must all be included in the 125,000 that the Minister has mentioned in an attempt to mislead us.
I suggest that the OPCS survey-questionnaire was not even designed to collect the specific information about the severely handicapped people referred to in the amendment. It is impossible to know from the OPCS data how many people have a mental handicap and require continuous physical assistance with walking. The target group in the amendment cannot possibly be disaggregated from the four categories. The data are not specific to the target group in the amendment which does not include all those who have a mental handicap. The Government have simply added together the four broad categories. They have then subtracted people over the age of 65 and have arrived at a rough guesstimate in an attempt to undermine the amendment. Grossing up the figures in that way simply adds up to a gross argument--an attempt to unleash floodgate fears and to suggest that there will be a great financial burden if the House accepts the Lords amendment. It seems that the Government are addicted to calculation by averages. How many times do we hear of the average wage? The figures are rarely worked through in detail.
During the debate on child benefit, the Secretary of State, who is not with us now, claimed that 70 per cent. of recipients of child benefit are on above-average earnings. I took the trouble to check that assertion with the statisticians in the Library. They could not substantiate it. The figure was corrected when I tabled another parliamentary question. Three times recently I have received follow-up replies that correct the original. It seems that the real figures are hard to get from the Government, and not least the Department of Social Security. The Government seem unable to face up to the real figures. They want to hazard a guess and correct it when press interest has moved on. The Department of Social Security is rapidly becoming the most questionable in regard to basic arithmetic.
The Minister in another place said that the Government are wanting, willing and waiting. We are entitled to ask, "Waiting for what and for how long?" The OPCS work
Column 471has been done and published. The data tapes have been available for some time. When the Minister last spoke on this issue, he had to say, as he said tonight, that they cannot do it now. In Committee, on 19 January, he told us :
"there are not many months to go until July."
We are now at the end of July and we are entitled to see some sign of action. He continued :
"We shall then have an unprecedented wealth of information."--[ Official Report, Standing Committee F, 19 January 1989 ; c. 67.] We are becoming involved in the absurdity of waiting for Godot on this issue. We have been waiting six months. Lord Skelmersdale said that the Government were embarking on a voyage of discovery. In March 1987, the Minister promised a survey on the matter. We have already had a major revamping of the social security system known as the Fowler review. It was promised then that work to tackle disability would be set in train.
If the Government are suggesting, yet again, that we should set out on uncharted waters, 7,600 people who we estimate should have mobility allowance will be literally left waiting. Unlike the Government on their voyage of discovery, they will go nowhere. How long will they wait? Will they have to wait for a full Bill on disability? There is no sign of one next Session. Will we have to await inclusion of the necessary resources in the Budget? That would push the issue at least two years into the future.
The blind-deaf and the severely mentally handicapped who cannot get about without assistance do not deserve the Government's deliberate dallying and their playing of the crude numbers game. All that is needed is a straightening out of existing social security law. Why do we not use the Lords amendment as an opportunity to fine-tune primary legislation, and to clarify entitlement to mobility allowance for a specific group of people who really are in need? I am tempted to invite any Tory Members who are still thinking of voting against the Lords amendments to close their eyes, put their hands over their ears and try not to cross the road outside, but to find their way into the Lobby to vote against the motion. I urge the House not to vote against the Lords amendment.
Mr. John Hannam (Exeter) : I regret the Government's rejection of this much-needed Lords amendment, which would provide financial support to help some 3,200 blind-deaf people and 4,400 severely mentally handicapped people. The amendment does not introduce a new concept, nor extend the mobility allowance to a large group of people. The numbers that I have quoted are the real numbers, based on a careful analysis of the White Paper of 1971. Some deaf-blind and mentally handicapped people with severe mobility or behavioural difficulties receive the mobility allowance, but only after making several appeals, and others have had the allowance refused on reapplication when there has been no basic change in their circumstances. The guidelines are operated differently by different panels of professionals.
Let me quote a case as an illustration, and one that the DSS knows all about. It involves a woman aged 33 with poor dexterity who cannot be left alone for a minute because of danger to herself and those around her. She cannot have a relationship with anyone other than her mother. She cannot walk about without continuous
Column 472physical assistance and control, has an awkward gait, and cannot get up or down stairs. She cannot communicate verbally, and only grunts, and she understands only food, toys and simple commands, such as no and yes. She is a typical example of someone with a severe mental handicap, who, even on the Department's assessment, was proved to be eligible for the mobility allowance. However, she has been refused by two medical appeal tribunals, despite a successful appeal on a point of law to the social security commissioners.
My right hon. Friend and the Minister in the other place have recently spoken of the figure of 100,000 who would benefit by this amendment, and said that it is based on an analysis of data from the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys. The figure is so much at variance with all the previously agreed figures, which were all around the 8,000 to 10,000 level, and which were discussed at the various meetings between the all-party disablement group and various successor Ministers responsible for disablement matters that we have been in touch with the Department to find out the basis for the new vast total. The Department had carried out what it called a secondary analysis of the OPCS data tapes, but was not able to give any figures, or even a reliable method of calculating the people in the group defined clearly in the amendment. The person should suffer "from severe mental handicap such that he is either unable to walk or virtually unable to do so without physical control by another person".
The OPCS survey, which has been used by my right hon. Friend and the Department of Social Security, has included the general term "mental illness", Alzheimer's disease, brain tumour and other behaviour disturbances. It has also used scales for consciousness, which include epilepsy, Parkinson's disease and other conditions. The data did not include the need to be accompanied. Curiously, the 13 categories of locomotion disability in the OPCS's first report do not include the definition
"unable to walk without physical control by another person." The researchers in the OPCS and the ESRC data archives at Essex university were unable to produce figures or even a reliable method of calculating the people in our target group. I have to challenge the convenient guesstimate figures which have appeared from the Department. I prefer the unchallengeable analysis of Mencap and of the 1971 White Paper, "Better Services for the Mentally Handicapped", which revealed that there would be about 4,400 possible claimants under the proposed amendment. We are talking of those with severe mental illness and behavioural difficulties requiring constant supervision.
That could amount to the need to hold a hand. The amendment does not refer to constant supervision or physical support, which were the previous criteria. We have to judge the number of people who might be eligible against the exact wording of the amendment, and not that of the 1971 concept which their Lordships now ignore.