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Column 947Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Twinn, Dr Ian
Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Waddington, Rt Hon David
Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)
Walters, Sir Dennis
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Wheeler, Sir John
Winterton, Mrs Ann
Woodcock, Dr. Mike
Young, Sir George (Acton)
Tellers for the Noes :
Mr. Stephen Dorrell and
Mr. Irvine Patnick.
Question accordingly negatived.
Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.
Mr. Speaker forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.
Resolved, That this House congratulates Her Majesty's Government on its coherent programme for securing lasting improvements in standards in schools through its policies for the National Curriculum, assessment and testing, for increased parental choice, and for greater autonomy for schools ; notes the increased expenditure since 1979 of over 40 per cent. in real terms per pupil ; contrasts these reforms with the neglect of relevant education policies by the last Labour Government and the absence of any constructive alternative proposals by Opposition spokesmen ; notes that the requirements of the National Curriculum, building on the successful introduction of GCSE examinations, enjoy widespread support in the education system ; and welcomes the enthusiasm with which governors, teachers and parents are seizing the opportunity to exercise more choice and greater autonomy in the management of their schools.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I seek your guidance? I understand that the normal convention of the House is that, when a Member of the House visits another Member's constituency, he should inform him in advance. It has come to my notice that the Secretary of State for Health has been in my constituency today, although he gave me no notice. He has been at the headquarters of the Northumbria ambulance brigade, where he has been making a propaganda film that puts his side of the ambulance dispute, using vehicles and equipment--
Mr. Clelland : My point of order is this, Mr. Speaker : is it in order for the Secretary of State for Health to visit my constituency without giving me notice to make a propaganda film to support his side of the ambulance dispute?
Mr. Speaker : I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister. Once again, I appeal for brief speeches from both the Front Benches and the Back Benches, as a great many right hon. and hon. Members wish to take part in the debate.
Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe) : I beg to move, That this House notes the disturbing findings of the surveys of disability in Great Britain by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, which reveal that 6.5 million people are significantly disabled and that there exists a totally unacceptable gap in income levels, employment and other opportunities between them and non-disabled people ; endorses the Disability Benefits Consortium's description of the Ministerial statement of 10th January as a disgraceful response to the poverty uncovered by the Government's own surveys of the needs of disabled people ; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government urgently to respond to the Consortium's call for an open, comprehensive and independent review of benefits. This House is often at its best in debating the problems and needs of people with disabilities. I have no doubt that, as in so many previous such debates, we shall hear concerned and constructive speeches from all parts of the House. There is now, however, a divide in this policy area that goes much deeper than any in our previous debates. Simply to act in good faith to Britain's 6.5 million disabled people and their organisations, with which we consult often and in detail, we for our part must reflect tonight not just their anguish but also the anger and despair with which they view the Government's proposals in the White Paper "The Way Ahead--Benefits for Disabled People".
Our motion supports the justified criticisms of the Government's proposals from the Disability Benefits Consortium, which speaks for more than 250 organisations of and for disabled people, including all their main national organisations. The DBC's objectives enjoy huge public backing and, if the Government's Whips were taken off, the motion would most certainly be carried tonight.
This debate, like all other debates specifically about disability in the lifetime of this Government, takes place in Opposition time. We shall no doubt hear from the Minister with responsibility for the disabled, as from his Conservative predecessors in the post, how wonderfully well disabled people fare under this Government. That is what the amendment seems to say. Its wording gives the impression that disabled people should be holding street parties in celebration of the Government's beneficence.
Yet so confident are the Government of the truth of the claims they make about their record that they have never once, in 10 years of power, offered parliamentary time for any wide-ranging debate on the problems and needs of disabled people. That this debate is taking place this evening is due to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. It is to him that disabled people owe this opportunity for the presentation of their case against a Government whose serene self-satisfaction is almost as hurtful as some of the cuts they have inflicted.
While the Government pat themselves on the back about extra spending, the organisations of and for disabled people are bitterly critical of the hacking away at entitlements hard won from Governments of both parties between 1945 and 1979. The Disability Alliance has shown that there were over 1 million disabled losers from the
Column 949social security changes in 1988 alone. Worst hit were those most in need, even people for whom incontinence imposes both added stress and higher living costs.
The Government's self-satisfaction also contrasts with The Lancet report of a survey over Christmas which shows that people with mental disabilities
" are living like feral children in the forest of the city, scavenging for garbage and subsisting from charitable hand-outs." As a trustee of Crisis at Christmas, I have been a first-hand witness of this growing army of victims of the collapse of the Government's so-called policies for community care.
The death of Beverley Lewis, whose young life ended in malnutrition and hideous neglect, amid unspeakable squalor, also bears testimony to the huge and growing gap between need and provision. The Minister will know that expert opinion has pointed to the relevance of section 1 (3)( d ) of the Disabled Persons Act 1986 to preventing such tragedies.
Is it not scandalous that sections 1 to 3, and other crucially important parts of that legislation, so ably promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke), still await implementation nearly four years after their enactment? As Mary Holland of MENCAP says :
"Good quality community care is about consultation, representation, assessment, service provision, monitoring and accountability. The 1986 Act embodies these. When will it be implemented in full?" Ministers plead lack of resources for non-implementation. Yet there have been £23 billion worth of tax cuts since 1979, mostly aimed at the fit and fortunate in society. It is thus neither acceptable nor even true for Ministers to say that the money has not been available to implement the Act. The problem has not been, and is not now, one of resources, but of political will and priorities. Nor is it good enough for Ministers to go on trying to give the impression that they have already won substantial extra resources for improving cash benefits for disabled people. The plain truth is that at least 90 per cent. of the extra spending for which they take credit is due not to any improvement in benefits, but to the increased number of people now claiming the attendance allowance, the mobility allowance, the invalid care allowance and other benefits that were introduced before they came to power. Thus in effect they are claiming credit for not having repealed the mobility allowance and other benefits they inherited from previous Governments. Ministers should tell the House what the total current cost without loss of value would be had statutory benefits for disabled people remained as they were in 1979. I invite them to do so tonight. Let them state, for example, the total loss to disabled people who do not work of scrapping the link between wages and prices in uprating their benefits.
Let the Government also admit that the Conservatives have cut the value of the attendance allowance and the invalid care allowance, among many other benefits of importance to disabled people and their families, since they came to power 10 years ago with a promise to "single out" disabled people for special help. Ten years on, most of Britain's 6.5 million disabled people say they have been "singled out" for special hardship.
They are angered by the Government's parrot-like claims that increased benefits for disabled people have almost doubled expenditure in real terms since 1978-79, when in fact the additional spending is almost all brought
Column 950about by the increased number of beneficiaries of allowances that were introduced by previous Governments.
Organisations of and for disabled people argue that the Government's claims are made to mislead the general public into believing that life for their members is getting easier and easier when they know that it is not. Their organisations rightly complain that disabled people--as individuals--are no better off. Indeed, compared with what they received on supplementary benefits, many are poorer in real terms and will become even worse off as their transitional protection loses its value.
The organisations of disabled people were encouraged by ministerial statements to hope that financial hardship among their members would be temporary. They looked forward to the results of the surveys of the OPCS and the review of benefits which they were promised would follow their publication. They felt assured that the Government would consult them before responding to the OPCS's reports, and the total lack of consultation with disabled people about "The Way Ahead" adds insult to the injury of its glaring inadequacies. They have been not just ignored but humiliated by the Government's total indifference to their views.
Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East) rose --
Mr. Morris : I am in some difficulty in that I must refer to a number of policy areas as quickly as possible. I shall help other hon. Members if I proceed quickly. I hope that the hon. Member for Bolton, North -East (Mr. Thurnham) will understand my difficulty and will be called to speak in the debate.
The OPCS's surveys, while they have been criticised for understating the extra costs of disability and were undertaken before the 1988 benefit changes took effect, are much the best picture we have ever had of disability in Great Britain. The six reports show that most disabled people are locked in a financial vice of reduced earnings and increased living costs. They demonstrate that no new policy can succeed unless it tackles the link between disability and poverty, a link which the Government's policies have reinforced. About 4.3 million disabled people rely on state benefits as their main source of income with an average total income of £65.20 per week ; 4.5 million live in households where there are no earners. When the minimal extra costs of disability are taken into account, the gap between the average incomes of disabled and non-disabled people was over £39 per week at 1988 prices.
Unemployment among disabled job seekers is more than twice as high as the current rate among able-bodied people. They are pushed to the back of the dole queue, which is still the longest queue in Britain, and many are made to sit up and beg from the social fund. Only 31 per cent. of all disabled adults of working age are actually working. That compares with 69 per cent. of the population as a whole. The ratio for men is even worse--33 per cent. compared with 78 per cent. Those findings shout of discrimination against disabled workers. The Government's own record, in terms of job offered to disabled people, is among the worst of all employers. The earnings of disabled people who find work are substantially lower than those of non- disabled employees, and the same is true of parents of disabled children.
Column 951Referring to the OPCS's reports, the Social Security Advisory Committee said :
"The Government will not have a better opportunity to reform benefits."
The SSAC went on to say that benefits for disabled people could now be matched closely to their needs, as revealed by the reports, and that :
"This opportunity will almost certainly not be repeated for many years to come and must be grasped."
The Government's reaction to the reports was given on 10 January in "The Way Ahead" which Ian Bruce, director-general of the Royal National Institute for the Blind, who co-chairs the Disability Benefits Consortium, has called a
" disgraceful response to the poverty uncovered by the Government's own surveys of the needs of disabled people." In a fuller statement from the DBC, timed for this debate, the reaction of disabled people to the Government's response is summarised as one of "anger and disbelief".
"The Way Ahead" is the final outcome of a review of benefits from which all but Ministers and civil servants were excluded. The mocking title and gross defects of this backward-looking document have led organisations of and for disabled people to describe it as " the biggest insult disabled people have been subjected to in the past decade".
No new help at all is offered to people over 65 on the basis that "pensioners have experienced a 23 per cent. growth in net incomes in real terms since 1979".
But those are mostly younger pensioners in occupational schemes, not the millions of older and disabled pensioners who have to eke out an existence on state benefits alone. They were fobbed off last October with a tiny increase in means-tested income support. No extra financial help goes to the severely disabled people, young and old alike, who need assistance to live independently in their own homes. Yet anyone with knowledge of their lives knows that the attendance allowance makes only a modest contribution to actual care costs. The Disablement Income Group--DIG--in an authoritative report, has shown that care costs were understated by the OPCS, but the Government took no notice of its report. Nor have they taken any account of the amounts paid for care costs by the independent living fund which, as the Minister must know, are very much higher than current rates of the attendance allowance.
The Government apparently now accept that some help should go to disabled people who can do only part-time or low-paid jobs. But the proposed disablement employment credit is likened to family credit, which bolsters low pay and has a very low take-up rate. It is not the partial incapacity benefit for which disabled people and their organisations have long been pressing and indeed is a nil-cost measure. In fact, as the Minister revealed to me in a parliamentary written answer last Friday, the Government actually expect to save £10 million on their new benefit by 1992-93.
The choice that Ministers have made in proposing the new credit, when combined with proposals from the National Audit Office to persuade doctors to stop providing sick notes, looks very much like an attempt to ensure that disabled people earn their poverty. Without action to introduce a minimum income, to enforce a
Column 952proper employment quota scheme, to outlaw discrimination against disabled people, and radically to improve employment services and training, job opportunities for disabled people will remain the scandal they are today.
Another "generous" new benefit in "The Way Ahead" is an age-related addition to the severe disablement allowance. But the older the disabled person, the less he or she receives. People under 40 will get £10 week, those over 40 an extra £6.20 ; but the over-50s will receive only £3.10 and the over-60s nothing at all.
Ministers claim that the net cost of "The Way Ahead"--billed in advance as a major new deal for the disabled that
"looks forward to the 21st century"
--is £300 million. That compares with tax cuts of £1.9 billion, in a single Budget, for the richest 1 per cent. of taxpayers. Virtually seven out of eight disabled people will get nothing from the Government's proposals. Many will lose and, as we have seen, even severely disabled pensioners are ignored.
To help pay for this "new deal" other benefits will disappear. Savings from benefits that the Government intend to scrap will eventually far outweigh the cost of the pathetically modest new benefits in "The Way Ahead". In fact, the Disability Alliance estimates that the Government will more than break even on their proposals even in the short term. I have never known organisations of and for disabled people to be more united in their criticisms of Government policy. Those organisations include the Royal National Institute for the Blind, the Spastics Society, Mencap, the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People, DIG and Age Concern among hundreds of others.
I know the Minister shares my deep respect, and that of others on both sides of the House, for the judgment, knowledge and fairness of Peter Large of DIG. Very few people are more qualified than him to judge any Government's record or rhetoric on disability. His view of "The Way Ahead" is that it is
"nothing but a narrowing stony ledge"
and he adds that :
"The future promises to be a worrying mess."
As for Ministers' claims about bringing some coherence into cash provision for disabled people, Peter Large's study of the proposals leads him to conclude that ministerial
"talk about a more coherent system of benefits is a sign of delirium."
Those withering criticisms, from one so well qualified to judge the Government's document, should surely now make social security Ministers see the urgency of a total re-think of their proposals. The Government must also recognise the importance of an urgent response from Ministers other than those from the Department of Social Security to the OPCS reports.
Apart from the perfunctory references in the "The Way Ahead" to some other policy areas, the Government's response to the reports from the OPCS has so far come only from social security Ministers. However, important issues are raised by the reports that affect other Departments. Those issues have not been addressed and that points to a disturbing lack of co-ordination in Whitehall.
When will the Department of Employment respond in detail to the reports? With less than a quarter of firms satisyfing their 3 per cent. quota obligations and the
Column 953employment service stating that work with disabled people is of very low priority, will the Department now be enforcing the quota system and expanding the sheltered placement scheme to provide integrated work opportunities at all levels for disabled workers? As suitable housing is the key to independence for large numbers of disabled people, and especially in view of the repeated cuts in provision of specially designed housing for them since 1979, will there be any response to the OPCS reports from the Department of the Environment? The Minister will know of my involvement in the making of the Rating (Disabled Persons) Act 1978, giving rate relief on essential adaptations such as an additional ground-floor bathroom. This relief is now to disappear and Stephen Bradshaw, the director of the Spinal Injuries Association, has sent two examples of the effect. The first is that of Mr. and Mrs. D. Baron, a couple with a severely disabled son who live in St. Austell. After April they will be paying £900 in poll tax, an increase of £756 on their current rates. The second example is that of Mr. and Mrs. J. Sullivan of Thames Ditton, whose son is a paraplegic. They will have to pay £686.89 more after April.
Stephen Bradshaw's letter to me says :
"We are concerned that the new tax, which does not apply to people living in residential homes, runs counter to the Government's proposals for care in the community. With one hand it purports to encourage disabled people to move into the community and with the other it imposes a disincentive."
Are not the cases that he sent me--and countless more could be cited--proof positive of the need for a full and urgent response from the Secretary of State for the Environment to the OPCS reports?
Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East) : Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that there is considerable confusion among disabled people in Newport with regard to the poll tax and the rebate system? He will be aware that the Government have engaged in a £4 million television and newspaper campaign advertising the rebate scheme. However, that has caused much confusion in Newport because the scheme applies only to England and the fact that separate arrangements apply for Wales appears only in tiny print. In Newport people read the national newspapers and they also watch English television and they become confused by what they see and read about the scheme. Surely they have enough to put up with with their disabilities.
Mr. Morris : I am familiar with the effects of the problems that I have been detailing in his constituency as in all parts of Britain. My hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) is aware of my special link with Newport as patron of Action Aid in his area, which does such excellent work for disabled people. I am assured that organisations of disabled people are trying their best to emphasise to the Secretary of State for the Environment that he should respond--having regard in particular to the findings of the OPCS--to the effect of his policies in increasing poverty among disabled people.
What consideration has been given to the reports by the Scottish Office and the Welsh Office? Will they be making any response? Again, will there be a considered response to the reports from the Secretary of State for Education and Science? Is he aware of the mounting concern among disability groups that provisions of the Education Reform Act 1988 will halt further progress towards the integration
Column 954of disabled pupils into mainstream schooling as envisaged by the Education Act 1981? Will self-governing schools be required to make adequate provision for disabled pupils?
The special health needs of disabled people are also important. We now have conclusive facts about the extra calls they, compared with other people, have to make on the National Health Service. A response from the Department of Health to the OPCS reports is made all the more urgent by its legislation on the future of the Health Service and of community care. The Association of Crossroads Care Attendant Schemes argues that, unless adequate funding is made available, carers will remain a low priority for hard-pressed local authorities faced with a growing demand from the increasing numbers of elderly and highly dependent people living in the community. How is the Minister responding? The Government must also know that many local authorities, owing to lack of resources, now have to choose not only which of their discretionary powers to use under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, but even which of their legal duties to fulfil. Is that not cause for deep concern?
In regard to the Department of Health's responsibilities, I take this opportunity also briefly to raise the plight of people who have become infected with AIDS as a result of routine blood transfusions. The House knows that people with haemophilia who contracted the virus in the course of NHS treatment are receiving ex-gratia payments of £20,000 each. It is not enough, but even that inadequate sum is denied to people who become infected by blood transfusions. They have exactly the same claim to compensation and should not be told to seek justice through the courts. Thirteen of them have already died, and others will die before there is any prospect of a court settlement. For them justice, if any, will be posthumous, and that is not justice at all. My calculation of the cost of giving equal treatment to these other victims of a killer disease is £2 million. Is that too much for the Treasury to find in the cause of elementary justice?
In sharp contrast to the Government's indifference to the views of disabled people about their policies, we have held a number of consultative conferences with them. We have made it clear that their claims are among our highest priorities. We are pledged to introduce a comprehensive disability income to meet the extra costs of disabled people of all ages whose disability is assessed at 40 per cent. or more. By that and other measures we shall build on the achievements of the last Labour Government who, by the introduction of four new cash benefits for disabled people, gave unprecedented new help. We shall increase the severe disablement allowance to the full basic invalidity benefit rate for all recipients. We also intend to introduce a carer's benefit, payable at the full basic pension rate, for people who, owing to the care they provide, cannot take paid employment. All that present Ministers plan to do is to reverse the appalling effects of their Social Security Act 1986, which actually cut benefits for carers on income support.
Among our other commitments is one to make discrimination against disabled people illegal. It is a commitment that their organisations see as essential to the achievement of full and equal citizenship for some 14 per cent. of the British people. We could have led the world in outlawing discrimination, as we did in 1970 by legislating on access to buildings, if this Government had acted on the report in 1982 of the Committee on Restrictions Against