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Mr. Nigel Evans : The hon. Gentleman has quoted from a survey. How does he react to the survey of GPs, in which two thirds of them admitted that they had signed people off for sickness benefit who were not sick and were able to work?

Mr. Wicks : I was talking about people with disabilities and unemployment. The hon. Gentleman is talking about another survey. Another survey conducted by the Spastics Society--the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) is obviously interested in surveys--found that employers are six times more likely to turn down a person with disabilities for an interview, even if that person had the same qualifications and experience as a person without disabilities. That survey suggests that, if we believe that those who will be denied benefit as a result of the Bill will easily find work at a time of mass unemployment, we are being naive.

Public policy has long sought to enable those with disabilities to find work. Back in 1944, shortly after the publication of the Beveridge report, an Act of Parliament was passed that stated that employers with more than 20 workers had to have a 3 per cent. quota of employees with disabilities. That was a decent and vintage Act of Parliament. In practice, three quarters of employers have failed to meet that quota and, since 1944, only 10 prosecutions have been brought. That suggests that public policy is not working. At a time when the Government are seeking to restrict the social security benefit entitlement of people with disabilities, another Department of State, the Department of Employment, recently introduced a programme--in June 1993--called access to work. That programme is a move backwards in terms of the ability of people with disabilities to find employment, because four schemes have been wound up as a result of it.

The adaptation of premises and equipment scheme, which provided grants of up to £6,000 to enable workplaces to be adapted to accommodate people with disabilities, has been wound up. Special aids to employment and a personal reader service, which enables sight-impaired people to find employment, have also gone, along with the fares to work scheme.

As a result, and not surprisingly, the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation, RADAR, has commented :

"There is absolutely no evidence that employers will be prepared to pay extra money to retain disabled staff on the contrary, there is extensive evidence that workers tend to lose their jobs when they are disabled."

How can the policy that the Secretary of State has outlined square with that of another Department, which is actively discriminating against people with disabilities entering the

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labour market by withdrawing such useful schemes? We need to examine the impact of two Departments on a particular scheme. The difficulty is that Governments inevitably seek to cut public spending on social security at a time of mass unemployment. They indulge in rhetoric and pursue policies designed to push people into the labour market at the precise time in the economic cycle when jobs are not available. That is what they are seeking to do under the Bill.

It is therefore incumbent on Government to go back to basics of a kind and to try to pursue again policies of full employment, which are vital to many groups, not least those with disabilities. It is only when we begin radically to cut unemployment and provide people with decent jobs--not any old jobs--that people with disabilities and others who suffer from discrimination will have a fairer chance of getting good jobs. So far that has not happened.

A key theme for the future, illustrated by this Bill, will be the following choice : will more and more people become victims of the dependency culture, forced to go on benefits--if not decent invalidity benefits, then income support? That will drive up social security costs and encourage the Government to be mean-minded and introduce mean, and usually means-tested, benefits.

Or will there be another sort of future? Conservative Members have challenged the Opposition to discuss alternatives. The alternatives are clear : instead of a dependency culture we must encourage the active society. We must have public social and employment policies which enable people to be active, drawing more of them into the labour market by means of training schemes, schemes for the disabled, child care support and so on. That is the alternative, but it is not pursued by the Government, who merely encourage dependence on the state.

We need a vigorous employment policy that includes training and positive policies towards people with disabilities. That should replace the negativism that we have heard today--and recently from the Department of Employment. The Government have the cheek to introduce an incapacity for work Bill while showing themselves incapable of providing work for our people.

8.21 pm

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East) : I had some difficulty following the points made by the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Wicks), who appeared to be saying that the Government are cutting social security at a time when unemployment is rising. In fact, unemployment is falling ; the whole point of the review is that social security spending is rising--the very opposite of what the hon. Gentleman said.

I apologise for having left the Chamber for part of the debate, but I took the opportunity to obtain a copy of the report on supported employment initiatives which the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) kindly drew to the attention of the House. I was not aware of it before ; it looks interesting ; I have only had a chance to glance at the summary and conclusions.

The report refers to 1,600 supported employment places, and to the need for much more research into, and understanding of, what can be done. There is a great deal of common ground in this debate in this area--there are many unanswered questions about how we can best help

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people with disabilities to find employment. There is indeed a need for more research and understanding, and for greater awareness by the public, and by public and private employers, of what can be done. The hon. Member for Garscadden tried to say that he would not start from here with a review of social security spending, but it is to the credit of the Secretary of State that he has started from here. There are difficult issues that need dealing with, and my right hon. Friend has dealt with them sensitively.

The consultation paper on the new medical tests lists about 200 organisations that have been consulted, and doubtless more of them will respond before the consultation period expires early next month. I understand that the United Kingdom has one of the worst sickness records and absenteeism rates in the European Community. The number of invalidity beneficiaries has soared from 500,000 to 1,500,000 in the past 15 years, and the cost, which has risen to £6 billion, could rise to £8 billion in 1995-96 if this reform is not put into effect. The Secretary of State is right to bring the Bill to the House. He said that his primary aim is to help people back into work if they are fit for work, and that is what I should like to talk about this evening.

It is vital that businesses and organisations be helped to provide opportunities for people to work, both for people's own fulfilment and for the benefit of society. That is much better than leaving people to live on benefit. It is impossible to assess with a medical test alone whether someone will be able to get a job--Professor Hawking, on any test, would rate as severely disabled, yet he has proved perfectly capable of employing himself, to his own benefit and the benefit of the rest of society.

I have been struck by some of the points made about voluntary workers by the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux. It has pressed strongly for allowing the concession due to take effect in April 1995 to apply now. I do not know whether the Minister can tell me that there is a possibility of allowing the concession to apply now. The argument advanced by NACAB is that the concession would not incur any cost, and it would at least benefit some people. My local paper has reported that some disabled volunteers feel that they cannot volunteer for charitable work at the moment.

The Government are reviewing the disability working allowance at the moment. Before I became a member of it, the Social Security Select Committee reported on the need to look at aspects of the allowance that are not working well--for instance, the poverty trap problem, the disincentive to work, and the high failure rate of claims. It is disappointing that only 3,000 or so people have got jobs with the disability working allowance, given that the Government's own target was 50,000 and that more than that could, in my view, have benefited had its application been wider. After all, 300,000 people with disabilities are thought to be seeking work. Many Opposition Members have pressed for anti-discrimination legislation, but the Government are wise to keep an open mind on that--indeed, to be sceptical about it. A recent report by the TUC--it is undated, but I believe that it came out last autumn--on the number of disabled people working in the public sector highlighted the remarkable fact that many organisations in the public

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sector--30 health authorities and trusts and 12 local authorities in England, Wales and Scotland--employ no registered disabled people at all. The report considers the various sectors of public employment and shows that about 100,000 jobs could be provided for disabled people if the public sector approached the quota of 3 per cent. I query the usefulness of anti-discrimination legislation for the private sector while the public sector--presumably it should set an example and can be given directions--falls so far short itself. Overall, the report shows that only 0.8 per cent. of workers in the public sector are registered disabled. Only the Department of Employment meets the 3 per cent. quota.

Even an organisation such as the BBC, which one might imagine could set a better example, employs only 0.3 per cent. The usual argument is that these organisations employ people who are disabled, but not registered disabled. Given that that probably applies generally, there is a great deal of scope for parts of the public sector to improve--without worrying about legislation for the private sector. The hon. Member for Garscadden said that he has not yet had an opportunity to read all the conclusions of the report. He should certainly study it, and study it in connection with the excellent work done by the Shaw Trust, whose director general, Tim Pape , was in Central Lobby just now--which is why I had to slip out to see him for a prearranged appointment. I have with me the latest--last year's-- annual report of the Shaw trust. The trust was set up 10 or 15 years ago and provides sheltered placement employment for 2,200 people. It provides training for about 1,000 a year and seeks 700 extra placement positions every year.

Despite current employment difficulties, the trust is to be commended for increasing its number of places last year. In the report, Mr. Pape states :

"Within the United Kingdom today, over 300,000 people of working age have some form of disability, and are unemployed. One in four families has someone with a permanent or temporary disability or knows a close friend in that position.

Disability is widespread, yet it is a subject that is still surrounded by misunderstanding and fear.

This lack of understanding is based on a deep-rooted belief that disability means no ability' and that the only suitable response is sympathy and segregation.

More often than not, this kind of well-meaning attitude is the single biggest impediment for people with disabilities.

By focusing on what these people cannot do, to the exclusion of what they can do, society hopelessly overlooks their huge potential for education, training and for work.

Shaw Trust performs a vital role for people with disabilities in the United Kingdom.

Our commitment to them is a commitment to the varied and invaluable abilities which they have to offer.

If a person can work and wants to work, the Trust is dedicated to finding them an opportunity to make the best use of their talents, whatever their disability.

Shaw Trust prepares people for work and ensures that they have the skills and training that they need to realise their full potential." I should be glad to make a copy of that report available to any hon. Member who would like to know more about the trust. When I met Mr. Pape , he gave me the outline of a discussion paper that he is preparing, on which I hope to work with him. It lists two and a half pages of questions, the answers to which will make evident the right way forward to develop employment opportunities for the disabled. The striking fact about the sheltered placement scheme is that it costs less than £5,000 a year to help people to gain

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jobs. Workshop provision through Remploy and workshops elsewhere costs double that--about £10,000 a year per job. If we could redirect the money that is currently devoted to sheltered workshops, we could provide twice as many employment opportunities for the amount that is available.

I support the Bill and I congratulate the Secretary of State and the Minister on tackling difficult issues in a constructive and positive way. I wish the Bill good progress through both Houses. If we have an opportunity to amend it and to provide for volunteers, I hope that amendments will be considered and that there will be a chance to review further the provision for increased sheltered placements and the improved working of the disability working allowance.

8.32 pm

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) : I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on Second Reading of another social security Bill, although the proliferation of such Bills is not at all welcome. They bring bad news and are followed by bad news. I spoke in the debate on the Statutory Sick Pay Bill when the Government rushed it through on an unwise guillotine motion--one of the causes of the breakdown in co- operation between the Government and the Opposition. I am pleased to note that that Bill, which was rushed through with unseemly haste in a day, is now hurtling slowly through the House of Lords.

Mr. Stephen : The hon. Gentleman complains about Bills being guillotined. Is not he shedding crocodile tears because when he and his hon. Friends had time to debate the issues about which they said they were concerned, they wasted it on procedural wrangles?

Mr. Foulkes : That argument does not stand. I am glad that I am not in court being defended by the hon. Gentleman, because if I were, I would feel very vulnerable.

We should prefer much more time to discuss all these measures because, given the opportunity, we could examine them in detail and show where they are wanting. That was evident in the excellent speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr Dewar). I used to sit through debates on the Scottish rate support grant and was constantly amazed by the way in which my hon. Friend mastered the intricate detail in a most fantastic way. He has been suddenly transformed to our Front Bench as the Opposition spokesman on social security, a subject that is even more complicated, if anything can be, than the Scottish rate support grant, and he has mastered it with equal facility. I look forward to the day when he and all other Opposition Members are on the other side of the Chamber and he is dealing with the matter substantively rather than as the shadow spokesman.

I think that the proposal was first leaked in June 1993 in a memorandum from the Secretary of State for Social Security to the Prime Minister. There were all sorts of denials at the time, but, of course, there always are. We were told, "Don't get worried, don't fear, the Government would never think of that kind of thing." But, inevitably, it materialised and here we are again.

There is genuine fear and alarm in my constituency. It is one of our most beautiful constituencies, but it has one of the highest levels of unemployment. Some 5,000 people who were in mining have lost their jobs and are desperately

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looking for alternative work, and it is a calumny, an insult, to suggest that they are not. They are, and many of them are severely handicapped.

It is strange that, again and again, Conservative Members, and especially Ministers, speak about a world recession causing everything. Exactly the same people used to tell us that Thatcherism was so successful that it was being exported all over the world. Perhaps that is why there is a world recession. Everybody has adopted Thatcherism and countries are following Britain down the stank. That is a good Scots word. The English version is down the drain, in purely economic terms.

It ill behoves the hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) and other Conservative Members to talk about world recession as if it did not have its roots here in the Conservative Government. The hon. Member for Shoreham also spoke about saving money by preventing it from going to the wrong people and giving it to the right people. I note that he said, "right people". I cannot see any provision in the Bill for redistributing the money to anybody.

Mr. Gordon McMaster (Paisley, South) : We have heard much rhetoric from the Government about re-targeting resources, but on page 2 of the Bill under the heading "Financial effects of the Bill", it is made absolutely clear that the Bill will produce estimated gross savings of £550 million in 1995-96 and £1,450 million in 1996-97. The Bill has nothing to do with targeting.

Mr. Foulkes : My hon. Friend is absolutely right, but, to be fair, it also says that those will be offset by

"additional expenditure on income support and unemployment benefit of around £135 million in 1995-96 and £265 million in 1996-97." That tells us two things. First, there has been a cover-up on the level of unemployment : there is no doubt about that. Part of this is a consequence of the massaging of the unemployment figures by the Government. We heard from the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes), a retired general practitioner, about the experience of GPs. GPs in my constituency have told me that people have been sent from the Benefits Agency to their doctors to get off unemployment and on to invalidity benefit, to keep the unemployment statistics down. Now they are facing the consequences of their actions.

Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South-East) : Does my Friend not agree that, as a result of Government measures, many people who possibly are in ill health may be made redundant? That will mean another general shake-out of industry as a result of the Bill, because employers will not foot the total bill for sick payment.

Mr. Foulkes : My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and the point that he makes was made in a speech in an earlier debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster) made a point in relation to the money saved. More than £1 billion is to be saved off people who are currently on invalidity benefit. That means that they will be more than £1 billion less well off, or £1 billion poorer. That means that there will be greater poverty. That money will be no longer available for those people. They are not getting money from anywhere else. The theory is that they will be forced into some suitable kind of employment. Could Conservative Members tell me where in Cumnock,

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Auchinleck, Muirkirk, Dalemellington and Rankinston are they going to find that kind of employment? What kind of jobs? There is no McDonald's.

Mr. Stephen : The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is, if a person is fit for work and cannot find it, the proper place for him to be is on the unemployment register, not drawing invalidity benefit.

Mr. Foulkes : We have already taken account of that. We are talking about encouraging people who are invalids and are trying to get some work, who are interested in working. There are people who are interested in working, but where are they? Where can they find work? There is no possibility of employment whatever.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Foulkes : No. The hon Lady is the last person I would want to give way to.

I shall quote, because I need to look at exactly why the number of claims has gone up. A very good study carried out by the Policy Studies Institute says :

"29 per cent of the extra cases have been people over pensionable age, drawing IVB rather than their pension for tax reasons. This increase hardly matters for public expenditure, because they would instantly become pensioners if they lost their IVB.

16 per cent of the extra cases have been due to the increasing number of women in the labour market, paying national insurance contributions, who qualify for IVB if they have to give up work." That is a sensible reason ; new people properly qualify because of a demographic change or a qualitative change in the employment arrangements.

It continues :

"13 per cent of the extra cases may have been due to a gradual increase over the years in the number of disabled people in the relevant age- groups."

That is a fact. There is a real increase in the number of disabled people in the relevant age groups. Are they going to be denied ? Surely even Conservative Members would not suggest that.

"42 per cent. of the extra cases arise from genuine growth in the rate of claiming invalidity benefit among a stable population of disabled people."

In other words, they have become more aware of the invalidity benefit and have taken advantage of that. I do not think that any of those people can be described as undeserving. I do not think that any of them deserves to be squeezed out by the actions of the Government and by the consequences of the Bill.

Invalidity benefit was introduced by a Tory Government in 1971, in the days when Tory Governments were a little more understanding, a little more realistic, a little less harsh, a little less bitter than the present Tory Government. It was brought in to provide income for people who were unable to continue working as a result of long-term sickness or disability. That is an entirely sensible and understandable purpose. We are now getting a new incapacity test that is wrong in principle and unworkable in practice. The principle of it is completely wrong. It does not relate to the reality of the situation and it will be unworkable.

There will be a cut-off point. My hon. Friends have seen cut-off points work in other areas and know the problems that arise when people come just below the level. The

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proposal is unrealistic and unworkable. It is being introduced for disabled people at a time when they are being hammered again and again by the Government.

I know that the Minister, for whom personally I have great respect, sometimes finds it embarrassing to be the Minister for the Disabled. He is forced by the Treasury to save £1 billion here and £1 billion there. It is being imposed at a time when vehicle excise duty exemption is being abolished for disabled passengers, we are getting VAT on fuel, or perhaps we are not. Perhaps tomorrow the eight Members of Parliament who have said that they oppose VAT, the four Members of Parliament--

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. We are certainly not having it tonight.

Mr. Foulkes : I look forward to it tomorrow. If we get the rebels that we are promised, we will not have VAT on fuel. Let us see whether they have the courage of their convictions.

When one is making the test in relation to whether people are capable of work, other factors must enter into it, such as age, work history, educational ability and personal skills. After all, it is not a homogeneous group of people, but a varied group, as I know from my constituency, which has miners with chronic bronchitis and emphysema. All those disabilities come in a mining area, but not necessarily in other areas.

I think that I have made most of my points. I know that some of my hon. Friends want to get in. I find the Bill detestable. I hope that the House will reject it.

Mr. McMaster : Before my hon. Friend concludes, I congratulate him on his splendid speech. I shall be rushing back to the Whips Office to put a gold star on his jotter for it. Can he shed any light on why, in the preparation of the Bill, the Government have made particular provision to deal with councillors' allowances? Why have they singled out councillors? Is it, as we all suspect, another part of the attack on local democracy?

Mr. Foulkes : My hon. Friend is, of course, the Scottish Whip, so I have a particular respect for him. He is also an officer of the all-party disabled group and does an extremely good job, and I am grateful to him. He has made a good point. Like me, he used to be a councillor. Both of us are getting sick and fed up with the attacks on locally elected representatives. My hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) has raised, on a number of occasions, the issue of the growth of quangos as opposed to elected representatives. He has pointed to yet another way in which they are being disadvantaged.

Mr. Nigel Evans : Can the hon. Gentleman say why, over the past 15 years, the health of the nation has improved, yet the number of people claiming invalidity benefit has trebled?

Mr. Foulkes : I do not think that there is evidence that the health of the nation is improving. We have a much older population. I used to work for Age Concern Scotland. I know for a fact that there is a large increase in the number of old people, particularly the very old. There are many more disabled people. I do not think that the health of the population has improved substantially. If more people stopped smoking regularly, we might see a substantial increase.

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Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale) : I am sure that I do not need to remind my hon. Friend, but it was the policy of the Government to take people off the unemployment register and put them on invalidity benefit when they were fibbing the figures on unemployment. It is a little bit rich coming from them that they are now seeking to take from the poor, to punish the poor, the elderly and disabled.

Mr. Foulkes : I hope that at some time in this debate, in the debate on the money resolution, or on some other occasion, my hon. Friend catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. He is a particular expert on Ways and Means resolutions. Those of us who were in on the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill will know that he made an excellent contribution to the Ways and Means resolution. I know that he is good on that as well as on money resolutions.

I am fed up with the way in which the Government treat sick and disabled people like embarrassing statistics. It is about time that they were treated individually, as people ; it is about time that the Government dealt with them properly and sympathetically. The Bill does the opposite.

Only the other day, the Secretary of State for Employment said that Members of Parliament ought to be subject to market testing. I agree. The best kind of market testing, in this instance, is a general election. Let us have a general election now : we shall see how many Conservative Members are returned. I can guarantee that Conservative Members will be found wanting.

8.50 pm

Mr. David Congdon (Croydon, North-East) : The debate began on a thoughtful note, and I am sorry that the speech of the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) deviated from that path. If he cannot even face the fact that the health of the nation has improved dramatically over the past 14 years, there is not much point in his debating this important issue.

Since the general election, there has been a good deal of debate about social security--about the need for reform and the growth in expenditure. I was interested in the failure of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) to mention the Social Justice Commission, which his party set up but which seems to have been buried. That suggests that Labour recognised the need for a reform of the social security system ; but, although the party may recognise the need in principle, in practice it will fight every sensible step towards reform of what has become a complex and costly arrangement. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on launching a review of the system, and on introducing the Bill. It did not come as a surprise ; it was well trailed. One thing, however, did come as a surprise. When I listened to the Chancellor's autumn statement-- his second Budget speech--I thought that we were finally tackling the enormous growth in social security spending, but when I turned to the Red Book I found that, despite the Bill and the other measures outlined in the Budget, the increase in spending would go on inexorably. I stress that I am not taking into account the cyclical side of social security.

In 1988-89, in real terms--excluding cyclical expenditure--social security accounted for £54.6 billion of public spending. Last year, the figure was £61.8 billion ; in the current year, it will rise to £65.2 billion, and by

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1996-97, when the measures in the Bill will have been implemented, it will be £66.7 billion. Those figures in themselves demonstrate the need for change.

I was surprised to hear Opposition Members complain that the Bill would save £1.5 billion. Would they prefer that money to be spent, with taxes becoming ever higher? No ; I suspect that they want spending to increase, while pretending that taxes need not be raised to pay for that increased spending.

Mr. Dewar : I take the hon. Gentleman's point seriously. I accept that the figures require some study, and that the long-term trends must be taken into account. However, it is not a case of our objecting to the saving of £1.5 billion. Most of that money must come out of the pockets of those receiving incapacity benefit ; these changes will almost inevitably result in a cut in those people's income. Does the hon. Gentleman approve of that? How would he feel if he were asked to accept a cut in his very low, almost subsistence wages, to save money for someone else?

Mr. Congdon : The hon. Gentleman should ask himself whether some of the people currently receiving invalidity benefit are strictly entitled to it.

Mr. Dewar : That is not the point.

Mr. Congdon : Yes, it is. What this means is that some people who have played the game fairly, and are unemployed, are receiving unemployment benefit, while others have manipulated the system to ensure that they receive a higher benefit. I can understand that, but I am not prepared to condone it. Labour Members know, from their surgeries and from letters that they have received, that some people have manipulated the system in the way that I have described.

Mr. Dewar : I made it clear that, if the system was being abused, that abuse should be tackled. I also made it clear that I did not think that invalidity benefit, or incapacity benefit, should become a substitute for unemployment benefit. That, however, is a different point from the one that I raised just now.

There is a second string to the Minister's bow : he is deliberately cutting the income of people who are not malingering--people who fully and genuinely pass the incapacity benefit test. They will receive at least £30 or £40 a week less than they would have received under the old system. Does the hon. Gentleman defend that?

Mr. Congdon : I defend the Secretary of State's proposals in the Bill. I do not accept all the figures that the hon. Gentleman has given. I entirely agree that the new benefit should be taxed : other benefits are taxed, after all. The challenge is presented by the need to ensure that resources are better targeted--I know that that is a much-abused word--on those who really need them. One of the ironies of the social security system is the fact that, for every one of the cases reported in the newspapers involving people who receive excessive state benefits, there are several other cases in which not enough help has been provided.

It is a bit rich for hon. Members to attack the Bill as an assault on the disabled and those in need, when the Government are spending well over £80 billion on the welfare state. If what has been done over the past 14 years constitutes an assault on the welfare state, it has been a

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pretty ineffective assault. Although I support the welfare state, I believe that it has become over-complicated and has begun to bring about a regrettable dependency culture. We need to attack that. Let me deal specifically with invalidity benefit. I was very impressed by the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on- Avon (Mr. Howarth) and the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) : I listened to both carefully, and I appreciated what they said about the needs of the disabled. I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to tread carefully, especially on the proposals in the consultation document about medical assessment for incapacity benefit.

It is terribly easy to get something like that wrong, and I am sure that none of us wants to be wondering in a few years what regulations we had passed. Although I understand some of the concerns expressed, I do not accept that the Bill is an attack on the disabled, or that the Government would ever attack the disabled. Indeed, we have a very good record of providing extra support for the disabled--

Mr. McMaster : Clearly, I would argue the contrary on political grounds, but let us leave politics aside for a moment. Why have not the Government asked voluntary organisations and charities such as the Spastics Society, the Disability Alliance and RADAR--the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation--which are adamant that the Government have cut benefits and taken no account of their wishes or of the need for a comprehensive strategy to deal with disability?

Mr. Congdon : I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but I find it very hard to equate it with the fact that, over the past 15 years, benefits to the disabled have increased threefold in real terms to just under £15 billion. I accept that there is always room for improvement, but it would be a little more helpful if some of the lobby groups which genuinely try to represent the interests of the disabled would give credit where credit is due--to the Government. We should then be able to view some of their submissions with greater sympathy.

It is an inescapable fact that there has been an enormous growth in invalidity benefit over the past 14 or 15 years. We have heard that spending has more than doubled in real terms to £6.1 billion in the past 10 years, and that the number receiving it has trebled. Great play has been made of the Library document which analyses a report by the Policy Studies Institute on the cause of the growth. I can accept the part of the report's explanation which refers to those who have reached pensionable age but who are still claiming invalidity benefit. With all due respect, I should have thought that that fact alone was evidence of the need for reform. It is nonsense that people can carry on claiming invalidity benefit once they have reached pensionable age.

I accept what has been said about more women being in the labour market and therefore being able to claim invalidity benefit, but the report states that 42 per cent. of the cases

"arise from genuine growth in the rate of claiming invalidity benefit among a stable population of disabled people."

I stress the second part of that sentence, because I do not fully understand what it means. It appears to be saying that there has been a growth in the numbers claiming invalidity

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