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Disability Benefits

3.30 pm

The Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Tony Newton) : With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement about the Government's proposals for developing and improving the system of social security benefits for disabled people.

As the House is aware, at the time when major areas of social security were reviewed between 1983 and 1985, we commissioned the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys to carry out the most thorough and comprehensive study ever undertaken of disability in Great Britain. The aim was to provide information on which to base a review of benefits in this field. Six reports were published between September 1988 and July 1989.

In October, when I announced a number of initial steps following the reports, I said that we would come forward in due course with a wider range of proposals to improve the balance and structure of the system. That wider response to the OPCS reports is contained in the paper, "The Way Ahead : Benefits for Disabled People" which my right hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for the disabled and I are laying before the House today. In formulating it, we have taken account of the many comments and suggestions that we have received, and of the very valuable report on this subject published by the Social Security Advisory Committee in 1988.

Before outlining our proposals, I should briefly remind the House of some of the main features of the OPCS surveys. The threshold for defining disability was deliberately set low, with the result that it includes people who are well able to participate in normal daily activities and who are not dependent on disability benefits or services. They found that, in general, the gap in income between disabled and non-disabled people was much greater for those under pension age. They also found, again in general, that for those in receipt of the existing mobility and attendance allowances, the value of the benefits was greater than the average extra costs that the survey identified.

In the light of that, we see three main strategic needs. One is to improve, for those of working age and below, the coverage of help with the extra costs that disability can bring. A second is to improve the balance of benefits available to those disabled people who are unable to work, in particular to do more for those who are disabled from birth or early in life. The third is to help those disabled people who can and wish to work by making it easier for them to keep or take up jobs.

Our proposals address those objectives with a programme for action in three main phases.

First, we shall shortly take the legislative or other action necessary to implement the initial package of improvements within the existing benefit structure that I announced in October. The House will recall that those changes included increasing in real terms the disability premiums in income support and housing benefit ; raising premiums for disabled children to the adult rate ; extending attendance allowance to disabled babies under two and to terminally ill people without any waiting period ; extending mobility allowance to people who are both deaf and blind ; improving incentives to rehabilitation for employment ; and introducing a £10 carers' premium into income

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support and housing benefit for those receiving invalid care allowance. We intend that those changes should mostly be in place by April, and all by October.

Secondly, the forthcoming Social Security Bill will contain measures to enhance the benefits of severely disabled people who were never able to work or who were disabled early in life, while at the same time ensuring a better balanced and more sustainable overall structure of income replacement benefits for incapacity, taking account of the encouraging growth of occupational provision in this field.

From the latter part of this year, we shall introduce an age-related addition to the non-contributory severe disablement allowance, at the same rates as the present additions paid with contributory invalidity benefit. This will mean up to £10 a week extra for some 250,000 severely disabled people. Also from the latter part of this year, while protecting existing entitlements, we shall end new entitlements to what are known as reduced earnings allowances in the industrial injuries scheme, thus removing an overlap with entitlement to the main invalidity benefit.

From April 1991, again while fully protecting rights and entitlements built up before that time, we shall end the accrual of new rights to the earnings -related additions to invalidity benefit. The build-up of these rights, which would otherwise go on well into the next century would, we believe, have inhibited the growth of occupational provision, constrained the Government's ability to help those most in need, and further widened the gap between those disabled people who have been able to work and those who have not.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : Cuts.

Mr. Speaker : Order.

Mr. Newton : The third phase of our programme will be to bring forward further legislation at the earliest practicable opportunity to provide for two new benefits which we aim to have in place by April 1992. One will be a disability allowance with two elements, directed respectively at the care needs and at the mobility needs of disabled people of working age and below. The care element will have three rates, of which the upper two will match the rates of the present attendance allowance. The mobility element will have two rates, of which the upper one will match the existing mobility allowance. The new lower rates of each element will give extra help to about 150,000 people in each case. Attendance allowance will remain for those over retirement age.

The other new benefit will be a disability employment credit, to promote disabled people's independence by supporting those who are in work or who would like to work and could, but whose earning capacity is low. Thus it will respond to the widely perceived need for what has often been called a partial incapacity benefit. Much detailed work will be required, particularly for this third stage. In carrying it out, we will of course take account of comments made by disabled people's organisations and others.

These proposals build in a practical and constructive way on the achievements of 10 years in which the coverage of benefits for the long- term sick and disabled has massively increased and expenditure has correspondingly doubled in real terms. While ensuring a sustainable foundation for disability benefits into the next century, including the continued growth of occupational provision,

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they will bring extra help to some 850,000 people in the next few years at a net cost of some £300 million in 1993. This is new money, which was agreed in the 1989 public expenditure survey. The extra provision for the first three years, beginning in 1990- 91, has been included in the totals for my Department published in the Autumn Statement. These extra amounts are £84 million in 1990-91 ; £138 million in 1991-92 ; and £213 million in 1992-93.

Together with the proposals for improved community care announced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health in November, and the consultative document that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Employment will shortly publish on his review of training and employment services for disabled people, this improved structure of disability benefits reflects our firm commitment to improving the quality of life for Britain's disabled people.

Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West) : Is the Secretary of State aware that an improvement in disability benefits is desperately needed in Britain and is to be welcomed, but that, after 10 years of waiting, today's announcement falls far short of a comprehensive disability income, which is the real answer?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that seven out of eight disabled people are left completely outside his statement today, and that for the remaining one in eight who are covered, virtually all the extra money that he speaks of will be met by savings or clawbacks on other benefits, so that almost none is net new money for the social security system?

Specifically, with regard to the package of measures that the right hon. Gentleman announced in October and repeated today, will he confirm that the £100 million cost is largely accounted for by the almost equivalent £80 million cut in statutory sick pay? Will he not recognise that it is frankly not acceptable to transfer money from one group of claimants to another?

Secondly, with regard to the age-related addition to the severe disablement allowance, the right hon. Gentleman said that it meant up to £10 a week for 250,000 disabled people. Will he confirm that the cost of that is entirely covered by the loss of other benefits, income support and housing benefit, so that there is no net extra income for those very disabled people?

Thirdly, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we welcome the new disability allowance, although it largely subsumes the existing mobility and attendance allowances? But will he confirm that only one in 40 disabled people will be eligible and that, once again, one third of the cost will be clawed back by cuts in other benefits? Fourthly, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the new disability employment credit is also extremely limited and that only one in 30 disabled people of working age will be eligible? Will he also confirm that, yet again, the whole of the cost will be covered by savings from other benefits, so that this is merely a transfer within the social security system? Will he also confirm that this will be an income-related benefit, so that it will confine disabled people to low-paid jobs?

Those are the supposed gains in the statement. It also contains two significant losses for disabled people. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his ending the build-up of new rights to the earnings-related addition to invalidity benefit is a huge retrograde step for disabled people? Is he aware that the extent of their losses is made clear by the

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fact that the Government, as a result of the cut that he has announced today, will save no less than £350 million by 1998? Therefore, the significance of today's announcement is that it creates, for the first time, a two-nation approach to disablement. Two thirds of all disabled people--that is, those who are 60 and over--are to be treated as second-class citizens, and the massive cuts in invalidity pensions, amounting to £350 million a year, are a promise of poverty for the elderly disabled.

Secondly, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his ending today the reduced earnings allowance amounts to a further major cut in the industrial injuries scheme, which has already been decimated under the Government? Will he confirm that the cut will amount to no less than£40 million by 1992-93?

The Opposition welcome any genuine improvement in benefits for disabled people, but today's announcement, with its distorting mirrors of clawbacks, of savings of other benefits and of transfers between claimants within the social security system, is, regrettably, more political rhetoric and hype than real substance.

Mr. Newton : In six or seven years of facing the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) across the Floor of the House, and even with a good deal of experience of his usual reaction to my statements on such matters, I have rarely heard a less generous response to a substantial package of improvements for long-term sick and disabled people.

I hope to achieve a degree of agreement with the hon. Gentleman, but I suggest that it is common ground even with many outside this House who press for extensions additional to those that I have announced that his figures on the number of disabled who will benefit from the changes relate to the OPCS survey statistics, which constitute quite a low threshold for the starting point. In fact, the Disablement Income Group has indicated that it is too low a threshold for assessing disability. No one has seriously suggested that changes to the system could respond in the way that the hon. Gentleman implied to the needs of all the disabled covered by the survey. Against that background, I turn to the questions asked of me by the hon. Member. I can categorically tell him that it is not the case that the extensions do not represent net new money. My statement referred to a build-up of expenditure over the next three or four years of £300 million of new money by 1993-94 in benefit improvements. As to the age- related addition to the severe disablement allowance, of course there will be some offsets--and I emphasise the word "some"--in income-related benefit, but the net increase in expenditure for about 250,000 people will, when the change takes full effect, be about £50 million.

Similarly, although it is correct to say that many of the people receiving the new disability employment credit will be less dependent on unemployment benefit, I regard that change as a net gain for everyone--including the disabled, who will be helped to be partly employed rather than be trapped and wholly dependent on unemployment benefit.

As to the earnings-related addition to invalidity benefit and the reduced earnings allowance--the second of which, we consider, considerably overlaps with the provision of ordinary invalidity benefit that the same beneficiaries receive--if left unchanged, the existing provision would build up very large entitlements in the next century, which

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would have made it far more difficult for me to announce increases now that would go on top of them in the next century. Despite the fact that the measures I have announced are balanced in such a way as to create a sustainable structure in the next century, there will be a net increase in spending beyond that previously planned in every remaining year of the present century.

Sir George Young (Ealing, Acton) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that his announcement of new benefits for the disabled amounting to £300 million in three years' time will be warmly welcomed by those campaigning for a squarer deal for the disabled? The OPCS report identified two problems for the disabled : first, their incomes are less than average ; secondly, because of their disability, their expenditure is higher than average. My right hon. Friend's statement will do much to fill that gap, particularly in respect of those in work and the less well off.

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the new benefits will be easier to claim and speedily paid, using, where possible, common methods of assessment? Can he confirm also that they will be disregarded for the purposes of housing benefit, so that the disabled may enjoy those extra benefits to the full? Will my right hon. Friend consult the voluntary organisations on his new measures, and take the opportunity to abolish the age limit for mobility allowance?

Mr. Newton : I cannot, I am afraid, hold out much prospect of hope to my hon. Friend on the last issue that he raised. In answer to his earlier points as I have already said, during the longer-term third phase of our programme, on which detailed work will need to be done, we shall seek and will be ready to take account of the comments of organisations for the disabled.

My hon. Friend mentioned housing benefits. I envisage that the new disability allowance would be disregarded as he suggests. One of our aims in introducing a common waiting period and system of adjudication is to eliminate some of the present unhappy tangles between the attendance and mobility allowances, and to simplify the way that claimants make their claims.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) : Would it be right for voters outside the Chamber to draw the conclusion that there is almost nothing in the package for carers? If so, how does that square with the Government's policy on community care and strengthening the family? Am I right to think that the only carers who will benefit are those on invalid care allowance who also claim income support or housing benefit? Can the Minister tell us how many tens of thousands of carers, among the millions in the country, will benefit from his statement today?

Mr. Newton : The hon. Gentleman is not entirely right to suggest that the needs of carers are overlooked in my statement. He referred to the proposed introduction of a carers' premium into income support, which will benefit a significant number of carers. He failed to mention that the extension of attendance allowance to disabled babies and to the terminally ill, without a waiting period, will carry an automatic extension of invalid care allowance to carers in those two fields, who would not be entitled to it at present. The number of carers who will benefit from the extensions of attendance allowance to which I have just referred is

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difficult to estimate because it depends whether or not somebody is staying at home to look after the person in question. Data are not sufficient for me to give him a specific figure. My recollection is that the number of people benefiting from the carers' premium is approximately 30,000.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) : I am sure that the House will warmly welcome my right hon. Friend's statement, because any net increase in resources for the disabled is surely something that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House should warmly welcome. However, will he accept that it is difficult for some of us to judge how many people will gain from his announcement this afternoon, because we have not had the opportunity to look in detail at the statistics, as he has done?

Will my right hon. Friend take on board the valid point that has just been made by the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), who chairs the Select Committee on Social Services with considerable distinction, that we are concerned that those who care for the disabled should not lose in any way? We know that carers sacrifice a great deal because of the devotion they give, and it is wrong not to ensure that they have an enhanced standard of life.

Mr. Newton : Of course I recognise what my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) have said. Incidentally, I can confirm that the number of people who benefit from the carers' premium is of the order of 30,000. We have sought to recognise the needs of carers in my announcements of last October and today. It is also important to recognise that carers need a greater awareness and recognition of what they do and they need greater support from the services provided. I think that my hon. Friend will agree with me on that, and it is very much the focus of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health's paper on community care.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire) : Is the Secretary of State aware that, although the statement is welcome as far as it goes, it seems that the emphasis is on disabled people who are in work? There is concern that the needs of those people beyond pensionable age will be ignored, and if that is the case, it is deeply to be regretted. There is widespread worry that there will not be adequate consultation. The Social Security Advisory Committee has made it clear that this is a unique opportunity to get a model for the future, and I hope that we seize that opportunity and consult properly with disabled groups. With a budget of £62 billion, an increase of £300 million over three years for 6 million disabled people and carers is a less than adequate response.

Mr. Newton : I have already commented on the numbers involved, against the background of the relatively low threshold used for the OPCS surveys, and I shall not repeat myself.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the Social Security Advisory Committee. I should perhaps remind him that the committee also felt that, in regard to additional resources, people who had been born handicapped or disabled--or who had become so early in their lives--should be given priority, and I believe that that view is widely shared. Let me also remind him that, as I said in my statement, expenditure on the long-term sick and disabled

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has already doubled in real terms since the Government came to office, and is expected to rise by a further £4 billion in real terms by the end of the century.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster) : I welcome my right hon. Friend's excellent statement, with the news of an additional £300 million for 850,000 disabled people, and reject utterly the mean-spirited response of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher). I particularly welcome the disability employment credit, which will enable many people who at present cannot afford to work to do so--and to feel that they are taking a full part in the life of this world, as is their right.

Mr. Newton : I am grateful for what my hon. Friend has said, and entirely agree with her. Let me add, however--I especially wish to say this in the presence of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Employment--that one of the merits of my statement is that it ties in with proposals that will shortly be presented by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, aimed at helping disabled people to find and keep work. The two sets of proposals go together.

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South) : I welcome the proposals, but I do not think that the Secretary of State should complain about a less than generous response from the Opposition, as the proposals themselves are less than generous.

The £300 million that the right hon. Gentleman has given to disabled people compares very badly with the £23 billion in tax cuts given to top earners. What we really require is a comprehensive disability income scheme that includes the 4.2 million pensioners who will not be helped by the proposals, most of whom rely on invalidity benefit. That benefit has increased by less than 1 per cent. during the decade in which the Government have been in power, while average male earnings have risen by 37.5 per cent. Where is the justice in that?

Mr. Newton : May I correct one point? Is it not the case that people over retirement age are generally dependent on invalidity benefit, although they may sometimes retain it for five years after retirement. They are normally dependent on pension provision, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not mind my reminding him that the average total net incomes of pensioners in general have risen rapidly as a result of the policies that we have pursued.

Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood) : Average.

Mr. Newton : Average, yes : I have never tried to run away from that fact. I have also emphasised, however, that, with the increases in income support premiums--most recently, those paid in October--we have given significant extra help to the least well-off pensioners, including many disabled pensioners, who have not benefited from some other trend.

Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton) : Will my right hon. Friend contrast the sour carping of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) with the record of the Government of whom the hon. Gentleman was a member? Is he aware of the wide welcome, in the House and elsewhere, for the extra money that will help hundreds of thousands of disabled people? We particularly welcome the help enabling those who wish to work to do so, especially in areas where employment is tight ; and I

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personally give a particular welcome to the disregard for housing benefit. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House how the independent living fund is now working?

Mr. Newton : The independent living fund--for which my right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security, who has responsibility for the disabled, deserves great credit--is doing very well, and is helping many severely disabled people.

As we have said in the paper published today, in the light of proposed changes in the general arrangements for community care in 1991, it is probably appropriate to expect new cases--who might otherwise qualify for the independent living fund--to look to the arrangements announced in the White Paper on care in the community from that date onwards. We intend, however, to discuss carefully with local authorities any question of a handover or changeover of existing cases, and to discuss with the fund's trustees and with the Disablement Income Group in England and DIG Scotland the possible need for a supplementary scheme to deal with the requirements of a small number of very severely disabled people.

Ms. Mildred Gordon (Bow and Poplar) : What does the Minister propose to do about providing an allowance for the millions of carers who are not entitled to the invalidity care allowance but who are unable to continue with full-time jobs if they are properly to take care of their invalid spouse or relatives? Where will the money come from to fund the rehabilitation and the transfer of severely disabled people from hospitals to the community? Who will pay for the training of community carers? Will there be a national wage agreement, according to whose terms the carers will be paid?

Mr. Newton : I think that the hon. Lady is aware that the latter point is primarily for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health. He has made it clear that he will be giving close attention to the resource implications of the proposed change in the policy structure, which is to take place in April 1991. I am sure that he will look carefully at what the hon. Lady has said. As for carers, when I replied to the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), I said that the package as a whole contains important improvements for many carers. Just as important is the fact that their needs should be properly taken into account under the care in the community arrangements.

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East) : Does my right hon. Friend accept that this welcome statement is further evidence of the Government's commitment to increasing expenditure on the long-term sick and disabled every year? In real terms, the average increase is 70 per cent. greater than that which was given by the Labour party when it was in power. Should not the spokesman for the Opposition, the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), concentrate on helping to make the consultation period a fruitful one, so that those who are disabled and who want to work are given every encouragement to get back into work?

Mr. Newton : I am sure that we shall have the benefit of the suggestions and comments of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) and we will take proper account of them. My hon. Friend was right when he said that the average real increase in expenditure on benefits for

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the long-term sick and disabled has been substantially greater under this Government than it was under the Labour Government.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon) : While we welcome any additional funds, does the Secretary of State realise that we may not necessarily accept the way that they are distributed among different groups? Will he confirm that he has still been unable to find any way of providing a mobility allowance for mentally handicapped people? Will he confirm that some people who will be eligible for the mobility element within the new disability allowance previously had the benefit of the full mobility allowance? If part of the allowance is to be at a lower rate, some people will receive a lower mobility allowance than would otherwise have been the case.

Mr. Newton : No intention is expressed in the document to bring about a change in the present mobility allowance rules in the way that the hon. Gentleman fears. However, I have already said that there is a great deal of detailed work to be done in drawing up the common adjudication and assessment mechanisms for the new disability allowance.

I do not want the hon. Gentleman to form the impression that we intend to bring about what he suggested in the latter part of his question ; nor was he right to suggest that we have not yet found a way of extending mobility help to severely mentally handicapped people. We expect many of the severely mentally handicapped, about whom there has been long argument in both Houses of Parliament, to be included among the groups who benefit from the lower rate of mobility component that is included in the new disability allowance.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East) : As the Secretary of State has made significant progress in providing for the elderly and the disabled, would he be willing to make a special study and direct his enthusiasm towards the waiting time for securing benefit and the complexity of the forms that people have to fill up? Is he aware of the huge frustration that is felt by many disabled people because of the long time they have to wait before they receive benefit? Would he be willing to make a special study and direct his attention towards reducing waiting times and the complexity of form filling?

Mr. Newton : I am tempted to say that the short answer is yes, but I had better make it clear what I mean by that. We intend carefully to review the adjudication and assessment mechanisms for the mobility and care components of the new disability allowance with a view to overcoming precisely those complexities and delays which understandably cause concern to my hon. Friend's constituents and to mine. That will involve careful study and looking at the comments of the disability organisations and others. I am hopeful that we can make real progress on that front.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East) : How is it that the Secretary of State can give us the financial costs of package, yet he seems unable to tell us the exact numbers of people who will gain or lose benefit? Does the Secretary of State have the figures but is afraid to give them, or is he so badly briefed that he simply does not have the figures?

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The Secretary of State will not be surprised to know that, as one of the ministerial team in the last Labour Government who introduced the mobility allowance, I have retained a continuing interest in it. Can he confirm that, as a result of his statement today, the mobility allowance will be frozen at its present level to bring more people into the scheme at a much lower level, or do the Government intend to increase the present level of mobility allowance?

Finally, may I take advantage of having the Secretary of State at the Dispatch Box, not unfairly, I hope, to ask him to instruct his junior colleague the Under-Secretary of State for Social Security, who unfortunately has left the Treasury Bench for a moment, to answer the question that was transferred to her on 7 December--

Mr. Speaker : Order. That is well beyond the scope of the statement.

Mr. Newton : I will nevertheless bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman said. There is certainly no intention to cease uprating the mobility allowance in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggested. As he will no doubt be aware, the mobility allowance is among those benefits that have been increased substantially in real terms--quite apart from having been made tax free--under the present

Administration. As for the numbers, regrettably I was not able to lay my hands on the exact figure that the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) wanted when he asked for it, but I extracted the right figure from my mind and confirmed it in my reply to the following question. Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. Speaker : Order. I have to have regard for the subsequent business which is an important Second Reading debate which is interrupted at 7 o clock for opposed private business, so I shall call three hon. Members from each side, and then, I am afraid, we must move on.

Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport) : Can my right hon. Friend say how many disabled people he expects will be able to work? Certainly, in my experience and I suppose that of most right hon. and hon. Members, disabled people want to lead lives as normal as possible, which includes not only looking after themselves but making a contribution to society. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that his announcement will be quite as welcome as the abolition of the dreaded earnings rule for pensioners.

Mr. Newton : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We must all remember that a great many disabled people already work happily and successfully. The problem is that those who may be able to work only part time may fear the consequences if they work at all of losing, for example, the whole of their invalidity benefit. That is the problem that we are seeking to address. Our present estimate--although, for a variety of reasons, estimates are difficult to make--is that, initially at last, about 50,000 people will benefit from the disability employment credit.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray) : The Secretary of State has repeatedly emphasised the fact that he seeks to simplify adjudication and assessment procedures for those who apply for mobility and carers' allowances. Can he tell us what time limit he is placing on those discussions and how he will ensure that all interested parties are involved? Is he prepared to draw up a diary of negotiations to

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publish in the Official Report or to place in the Library, so that we all know exactly the background against which we are operating?

Mr. Newton : I am hesitant--indeed, I am not quite willing--to offer negotiation, partly because I am extremely anxious to make rapid progress. I indicate in the paper that we hope to introduce the disability allowance, which would entail sorting out the adjudication and assessment procedures, from April 1992. That will entail primary legislation, which I have said, in words traditional in the House, will be introduced at the earliest practicable moment. That is probably the best clue that I can give the hon. Lady at present.

Mr. John Bowis (Battersea) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that disabled people, on whose behalf we speak, will welcome the new measures, the new money, and the renewed commitment to putting them high on our list of public spending priorities? Will he accept that, while they particularly welcome the employment measures that he is introducing, they will look for training along with them? Will he talk to our right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department of Employment to ensure that organisations such as the Share Community can look forward and plan ahead each year with confidence, knowing for certain how many disabled people they will be able to train?

Mr. Newton : I thank my hon. Friend for his earlier remarks. I have a messenger ready to hand for the latter part of his remarks, which will certainly fall on receptive ears. The consultative paper that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Employment will publish shortly will be concerned not only with employment services in the narrow sense for disabled people, but with improving the training opportunities available to them.

Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr) : Will the Secretary of State accept that it would be helpful if hon. Members knew the gross figures from which he arrived at the net figure of £300 million, so that we do not bandy figures? Two figures must be available to enable us to judge on the one hand how much extra money is available and on the other what is being taken away to arrive at the figure of £300 million.

May I ask one question about the mobility allowance, about which I am not clear? Has the right hon. Gentleman changed the age limits for applying for mobility allowance?

Mr. Newton indicated dissent.

Mr. Rooker : If that is not the case, will we still be left with two classes of pensioners--those who can obtain mobility allowance before retirement, who can therefore keep it, and those who become immobile after retirement, who suffer exactly the same immobility but have no chance of receiving the allowance? If the right hon. Gentleman has not done that, why has he not taken the opportunity to increase mobility allowance or the opportunity for our elderly citizens to receive it?

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Mr. Newton : There is no proposal at present to extend new entitlements to mobility allowance--which, technically, in some circumstances, would be at 66--but we have said that we intend to extend the provisions that enable people who receive it before they retire to keep it. The reason why I did not feel it right to do so--especially against the background of the expressed preference of the Social Security Advisory Committee for giving priority to people who are disabled early in life or from birth--is simply that the costs would be very high indeed and it would make it much more difficult to do some of the other things that need to be done.

On the hon Gentleman's initial question, the pattern of the figures--there is a different build-up on the different proposals that I have outlined-- makes it difficult to give one figure. In so far as I can help the hon. Gentleman, for the net figure of £300 million that I quoted for 1993- 94, the gross figure would probably be about £500 million.

Mr. Jim Lester (Broxtowe) : May I press my right hon. Friend most strongly to keep a careful eye on the independent living fund, which has already been mentioned and which has been a most successful innovation? All those, including the Disablement Income Group particularly, who have found it very supportive indeed would be wary of moves to change it, unless we were positive that the change would be better than the fund, which is working now.

Mr. Newton : I referred to this in an earlier answer and there is a paragraph on it, to which we gave careful consideration, in the "Way Ahead" document which has been published today. I acknowledge what my hon. Friend has said, but within the new community care arrangements it would look odd to be trying to run two parallel systems of meeting the needs of this group of people. There may be a small group for whom supplementary provision over and above the community care arrangements will be required, and that is one of the matters that we shall consider.

Mr. Meacher : Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm--he did not mention this in his statement, but it confirms my point about its limited coverage--that the number of carers who will receive the carers' premium is on average about 50 per constituency, which is minuscule and pathetic? Will he confirm, as against the £300 million figure that he keeps mentioning, that there has been a cut of £80 million in statutory sick pay ; that there has been a cut of £175 million through the freezing of child benefit ; and that there will be a cut of £350 million from the ending of the earnings-related addition to invalidity benefit? Therefore, will the right hon. Gentleman now accept that, for those reasons, the statement represents almost no net extra money put into the social security system for disabled people?

Mr. Newton : I sought to respond to the hon. Gentleman at the outset. I can only repeat plainly what I said. The net result of the measure announced in the statement in respect of long-term sick and disabled people is a net increase in expenditure, in 1993-94, of £300 million, over and above present plans and for every remaining year of this century. I should have thought that he would have the grace to welcome that.

Column 955

Points of Order

4.15 pm

Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, Central and Royston) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have noticed in recent weeks that it has become more difficult to hear Back Benchers when they speak in the House. I wonder whether the story that I have heard is correct. Is it the case that, because of the sound that television cameras need, there has been some damping down of the microphones? If so, I should like you to know that I, for one, should like them to be turned up a little. I can hear Ministers, but I cannot hear questions from Back Benchers.

Mr. Speaker : I am aware that the microphones are of a certain age. If the House decides to make permanent the televising of our proceedings, we may have new microphones. I note what the hon. Member said, and I shall look into it.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : I hope--

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