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Westminster Hall

Tuesday 2 November 2004

[Sir Nicholas Winterton in the Chair]

Disability Benefits

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Vernon Coaker.]

9.30 am

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Nicholas Winterton): I    welcome all Members to Westminster on this somewhat dull day, but I suspect that in the order of world affairs it may be an interesting one.

Mr. Roger Berry (Kingswood) (Lab): I am very grateful for the opportunity to start a debate on disability benefits. It is an issue of great importance not only to the 10 million disabled people in this country, but to their families, friends and all of us who, in the words of the Disability Rights Commission, want a society where disabled people can participate fully as equal citizens.

I want to raise three issues. We could spend hours discussing disability benefits—there is a range of incredibly important issues—but the three issues that I   want to focus on are the current debates about incapacity benefit, the recent report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on the additional costs of disability, and age discrimination in the system of disability benefits with particular reference to the disability living allowance. It will not be the first time that that issue has been raised in the House; I hope that it might be the last, but we shall find that out when the Minister makes her winding-up speech. I am delighted that the Minister is here to speak on behalf of the Government today. She is an outstanding Minister for   disabled people, and is widely respected inside the    House and out, particularly among disability organisations.

In recent weeks there has been a spate of hostile media stories about incapacity benefit, which have taken many forms. One group of them has suggested that consideration was being given to cuts in the level of incapacity benefit, or restrictions on eligibility. I was delighted when the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions gave an assurance in the House on 11 October, and I should like to place it on the record again so everyone is clear about it. On 11 October, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Mr. Best) asked the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions for an assurance that the Government had no plans to cut incapacity benefit or rights to it. The Secretary of State replied:

Later he said:

I was delighted when my right hon. Friend made that statement, and I am delighted that that remains the policy of the Government.
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There have been other media stories that have not referred to speculation about the future of IB. Those stories have suggested that incapacity benefit is out of control in some sense. A well-known tabloid had the front-page headline, "Sicknote Britain". I will not name the publication because I do not want to give it any publicity. The "Sicknote Britain" story implied that people can simply pop along to their GP, get signed off and claim incapacity benefit. Every Member knows that they have constituents for whom that description of getting incapacity benefit has no basis in reality. It could not be further from the truth. Many of my constituents—I am sure that this is the case for all hon. and right hon. Members—have enormous difficulty in trying to satisfy a Department for Work and Pensions-approved doctor that they are unable to work because of disability or illness. The most striking thing about the system is that an alarming number of people who are   rejected when they make an incapacity benefit application miraculously find that on appeal they get it back. That does not suggest that those who are assessing people for incapacity benefit are doing so in a way that makes life easy for those people. Indeed, I know from personal experience of my constituents that the system makes it incredibly difficult for many deserving applicants for incapacity benefit.

At Prime Minister's questions, the Leader of the Opposition also asserted that

I obviously had the courtesy to drop him a note to say that I would refer to that. To say that incapacity benefit is out of control is not only nonsense, but arrant nonsense. The number of people in receipt of incapacity benefit has been falling for a decade. It is not only nonsense to support fallacious stories of that kind, but deeply offensive to people who rely on incapacity benefit and who, as I have said, in many cases have to fight very hard to secure that to which they are entitled.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) (UUP): Has the hon. Gentleman discovered that medical examiners are not listening carefully to the clients that they are examining and are ticking off boxes wrongly, and that that is one of the reasons why appeals have been so successful?

Mr. Berry : The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. That is certainly the allegation that has been repeatedly made to me. The fact that such a large proportion of incapacity benefit claimants who have their initial application rejected win on appeal—I think that the figure is close to 50 per cent.—is suggestive to me. But it is not just what I believe is happening; it is what those in the appeal system believe is happening. I would be interested to hear from the Minister how the Department for Work and Pensions plans to address that problem.

The facts are simple. The number of people in receipt of incapacity benefit has fallen by 20 per cent. since 1995. The current number of beneficiaries is fewer than 1.5 million; 10 years ago it was more than 1.8 million. At the same time, as we all appreciate, there has been a huge increase in the number of women entering the labour market, paying national insurance contributions and, therefore, should they be sufficiently ill or disabled not
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to be able to work, having an entitlement to claim. So, there has been a significant and sustained reduction in the number of people in receipt of incapacity benefit at the same time as a growing number of people are entitled to it.

Anybody who believes that incapacity benefit is out of control is more attracted to soundbites and slogans than to the reality of what is going on in our community. People may say that numbers do not matter and that we should be looking at the proportion of the working-age population. That is fine. The proportion of the working-age population in this country in receipt of incapacity benefit has fallen over the past 10 years. Why? It is because, as the Government rightly point out, the number of people flowing into incapacity benefit is falling. It has gone down by about 40 per cent. over the past 10 years, from 1 million on an annual basis to about 600,000. I repeat: let us have no more, please, of this nonsense that incapacity benefit is out of control. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I shall make two final comments about incapacity benefit before I move on. First, fraud is virtually non-existent. People have a legitimate concern that our social security system should be fraud-free. We have a responsibility to chase up people who want fraudulently to claim benefits to which they are not entitled. However, the Office for National Statistics has found that evidence of fraud is virtually insignificant, statistically. The margin of error is less than half of 1 per cent. That is trivial compared with other forms of fraud that occur in our society. Fraud is virtually non-existent, so incapacity benefit is not out of control in that sense either.

Finally, the benefit is not a generous one. On average, it comes to £84.51 a week. I do not know how many hon. or right hon. Members would, if they were sufficiently ill or disabled as to be unable to work, find it easy to survive on £84.51 a week. The benefit is not getting any more generous compared with average earnings. The incapacity benefit payable to a single person qualifying for the long-term rate fell from 17.4 per cent. of average earnings in 1995 to 15.2 per cent. of average earnings in 2003.

Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend say a word about those people who receive incapacity benefit who would like to get into work but who face real difficulties in doing so? First, the reorganisation of the Department for Work and Pensions has taken services away. The second real disadvantage is that some people fear that, if they went to work, they would lose their benefits.

Mr. Berry : My hon. Friend must be psychic. I was about to say that, having demonstrated that incapacity benefit is not the problem that some suggest, there is a problem: many disabled people who are in receipt of incapacity benefit because they are unable to or cannot get work, would like to work. Therefore, I    warmly welcome the Government's initiatives to enable disabled people to get into work. The new deal for disabled people, access to work, and the pathways to work pilots are making real progress.
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As the Department for Work and Pensions announced on 11 October, the results of the pathways to work pilots demonstrate that twice as many incapacity benefit claimants in those areas are finding jobs as are those in other areas. It is a success story. My hon. Friend is right to suggest that the focus on reducing the number of people in receipt of incapacity benefit recognises that many people do not wish to be in receipt of incapacity benefit; they wish to work. The focus on reducing the number of people in receipt of incapacity benefit intends to give support to enable them to do precisely that.

When I think of pathways to work, I think of my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith), the previous Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. I place on record my thanks to him for all that he, together with the Minister, did in promoting the pathways to work pilots. It is the right direction in which to go in enabling disabled people to access the labour market. That is the success that we need to build on. There is, therefore, a powerful case for labour market programmes of that kind.

In the UK, we are spending more on labour market programmes, but compared with the rest of the European Union we spend little. The European Commission says that UK spending on labour market programmes for disabled people is about 0.02 per cent. of GDP. That is less than one fifth of the average for the European Union and way behind the support given in Scandinavian countries.

So, the problem with incapacity benefit is not that it is out of control. One problem is that the amount it pays those who are unable to work is far too low. The other problem is that many people on incapacity benefit      could secure work if the obstacles to employment were removed. We should, therefore, support the Government's efforts to remove those obstacles.

I turn briefly to a report published a couple of weeks ago by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on the additional costs of disability. The report was based on a survey of disabled people who were living in different circumstances and had different types of impairment. To my knowledge it is, to date, the only research of that kind. The report demonstrates beyond doubt that disability benefits are substantially below the income required to ensure a decent standard of living.

Paddy Tipping : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way again. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation report is strong on the extra cost faced by people with a disability. Does he, like me and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, find it rather odd that winter heating allowances are made available to elderly people, but not to people with real and additional needs, such as many people with disabilities? They do not qualify, although their needs are clear.

Mr. Berry : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One additional cost that the Rowntree report identified was heating. It estimated that heating bills are up to one third higher for disabled people than for non-disabled people. I share my hon. Friend's view that it is not fair that the 1.3 million severely disabled people under the age of 60 and not entitled to winter fuel allowances do   not receive support to cover that extra cost. The
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allowance recognises the problem that particular families may have in meeting heating costs. Why it should be people over 60 only who have that problem, I do not know.

Rev. Martin Smyth : I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's giving way. I appreciate also that he is dealing with disability benefits. When we talk about the cost of disability and of those under pensionable age, however, does he acknowledge that England in particular needs to come into line with Northern Ireland and abolish the means-testing of homes fit for children who are disabled?

Mr. Berry : I very much agree. I have long supported the campaign for England to follow Northern Ireland in that respect, and I warmly welcome the intervention.

Early-day motion 108, which I tabled last November, relates to winter fuel payments for severely disabled people. It has 153 cross-party signatures and reflects the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) and myself. I hope that the Minister in her winding-up speech will respond positively to the suggestion that the allowance should be extended to severely disabled people. In terms of a definition, those people on the middle or higher rate of the disability living allowance care component and those on the higher rate of the mobility component fit the bill as those people who need significant additional resources to meet the heating costs arising from their disability.

Overall, the Rowntree report identified that for many disabled people personal assistance was the greatest cost. That includes interpreters for deaf people, support for personal care and so on. Even if that largest cost is left out of consideration and we simply look at other costs, such as food, clothing, transport and housing, according to the report disabled people on benefits are at least £800 a month short of being able to enjoy an acceptable quality of life. Many press reports said that the Rowntree report stated that disabled people are £800 a month short, but that is after the substantial cost of personal assistance has been taken out. If it is included, the figure is much higher.

The shortfall in income has many implications. It must be addressed through environmental improvement, with better access to transport and buildings, and it must be addressed through enhanced service provision, better wages for people who have jobs and improved benefits for those who are unable to work. The first implication of the Rowntree report is that disability benefits are too low. The second conclusion is that current statistics seriously underestimate poverty among disabled people and their families. Government statistics show that 29 per cent.—almost one third—of households with a disabled person are poor, compared with only 17 per cent. of households without a disabled person. The Rowntree report shows that those statistics seriously underestimate the true extent of poverty among disabled people simply because they do not take into account the additional costs of disability.

Therefore, one factor that contributes to poverty and the isolation of disabled people is an ungenerous benefits system. Another is that older disabled people face age discrimination within the benefits system. A few days ago, on 20 October, my hon. Friend the Member
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for Gower (Mr. Caton) briefly raised this issue in his Adjournment debate on disability living allowance, although he focused mainly on the lower age limit for eligibility for the mobility component. He expressed concern, which many hon. Members share, about the inherent age discrimination in our system of disability benefits, particularly disability living allowance, which cannot be claimed after the age of 65 unless an entitlement has already been established before that age. It is a curious system. People who claim and are awarded DLA before their 65th birthday—for example, on their 64th birthday—can carry it forward beyond the age of 65. However, someone who claims and is awarded DLA on the day after their 65th birthday does not get it and is told to rely on the much more limited attendance allowance.

That is a curious feature of a social security system, not least because attendance allowance is, as we all know, an inadequate alternative for many reasons. It does not contain a mobility component, so those aged 65 and over cannot receive help with mobility costs. Many of my constituents, family and friends over the age of 65 have mobility problems that incur significant additional costs, but, unless they have claimed before their 65th birthday, DLA cannot be used to help out. In addition, the DLA mobility component is the gateway to the Motability scheme to provide adapted cars, powered wheelchairs and so on. The age bar on DLA means that the vast majority of disabled older people are denied access to the scheme. In addition, the attendance allowance has no equivalent of the lower rate of care component of DLA, so again the situation is perverse and older people must have greater care needs than younger people to receive help with care costs.

In summary, I believe that the benefits system should be available to provide support on the basis of need, not of age. The current system devalues the role of older people in society. It does not enable them to participate in society to the full and is clearly age-discriminatory. It is hardly surprising that there is a growing campaign to do something about that.

Hon. Members will be aware of the "Mobilise" campaign to end age discrimination in disability benefits. It was launched earlier this year by more than 20 of the most influential organisations in the field of disability and ageing. Those who support this campaign include the Disability Rights Commission, which was set up by the Government to advise them on how to ensure equal opportunities for disabled people, Age Concern, Carers UK, Citizens Advice, Help the Aged, the Royal British Legion, the Royal National Institute of the Blind, and so on.

In March I tabled early-day motion 953 urging the Government to support the aims of the campaign and to end age discrimination in disability benefits. When I logged on at 9 o'clock this morning, I discovered that 234 right hon. and hon. Members have now signed that early-day motion. Of the 2,040-odd early-day motions on the Order Paper, only 16 have more signatures, and this one is moving up the list. I acknowledge and celebrate the fact that the Government are spending an extra £10 billion every year on pensioners in comparison with 1997. I celebrate the fact that almost half that extra money is going to help some of the poorest pensioners. I acknowledge that, inside and outside the House. However, the fact of the matter is that we still have a
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benefit for disabled people that is age-discriminatory and has the bizarre implication that if someone gets their application in a few hours before they are 65, they are all right, but if they do so a few hours afterwards, they are not.

That policy of age discrimination is in stark contrast to the Government's commendable commitment to equality and diversity. They plan to abolish age discrimination at work by 2006, and I say well done to that—great stuff. The national service framework for older people includes a strong statement against age discrimination in health and social care, but if that is wrong in social care, why is it right in the social security system? I simply do not understand that. All disabled people, regardless of age, should receive financial assistance based on their need to participate equally in society.

The Government have an outstanding record on disability issues. We have a Disability Rights Commission and we passed the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001. Loopholes in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 have been plugged, and a new disability discrimination Bill is to be introduced any minute—the Minister will tell us at the end of the debate when that will be. We have the new deal for disabled people, more money for access to work and the pathways to work pilots, and, yes, we have had a number of significant improvements in disability benefits. That is a record of which the Government should be proud, but we need to challenge the nonsense that some people still put forward about incapacity benefit, we need to recognise that disability benefits are too low and we need to tackle age discrimination that denies older disabled people the opportunity fully to participate in society.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) (UUP) rose—

Mr. Deputy Speaker : I am grateful to the Rev. Martin Smyth for rising hesitantly to his feet.

Rev. Martin Smyth : I was waiting, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as I thought that the spokesman for the official Opposition would be called next. As you know, as a humble man I try to keep my place.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : The hon. Gentleman is indeed a humble and reverent man and much respected, but the Front Benchers wind up; they do not open.

9.58 am

Rev. Martin Smyth : I support the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry), with whom I have worked on these issues over the years, and I, too, pay tribute to successive Governments who have improved care and provision for people with disability. However, I learned many years ago that the biggest room in the world is the room for improvement. In that context, I agree with the    arguments on age discrimination, particularly the tendency to minimise the opportunity for elderly people to get out and about. That is one reason why I      wholeheartedly support the hon. Gentleman's argument that those over 65 should also be entitled to mobility allowance.
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However, I want particularly to deal with another aspect of discrimination: in education. This was recently brought to my attention by a family in my constituency. As hon. Members know, we do not have the same opportunity at present to debate such issues in Northern Ireland, so it is important that we raise them in this place.

A young girl with a medical condition that could eventually lead to complete blindness was preparing for further education at the special school in Jordanstown. The education authority was aware of her needs through the reports that were made each year. This year, she moved to the national school for the blind in order to equip herself for her future life. Unfortunately, it seems that the education authority in Belfast did not follow through the reports that were sent to it. As a result, the young girl was turned down for an education grant.

What disturbed me even more was that when I took the matter up with the board and the Minister I was told that no grants were available because the girl was doing an academic course rather than a vocational one. There is discrimination on the grounds of disability and also in respect of future prospects. It is short-sighted to be prepared to equip someone for a vocational job but not in an academic capacity.

I raise the matter in the hope that perhaps somewhere in the labyrinthine pathways of government there will be another examination to determine whether such obstacles to young people who have the potential to develop might be removed, so that they may be enabled to develop and so that eventually young and old might be treated equally in law and in the benefits system.

10.2 am

Paul Holmes (Chesterfield) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) on securing the debate. It is far from the first time that he and I have taken part in such a debate, whether in Westminster Hall, the main Chamber or elsewhere. He made a powerful case on behalf of disabled people, as he has on every occasion on which I have heard him speak. As always, I agree with almost the entirety of his comments.

The hon. Gentleman began by referring to the recent media hype about pushing people off incapacity benefit. According to some newspapers—and, indeed, some politicians—too many people are claiming benefits who do not deserve them and, who are swinging the lead. The Prime Minister has said that many IB claimants were pushed from unemployment into incapacity benefit in the 1980s and early 1990s in order to massage the unemployment figures. That comment has been repeated several times in recent years, and there have been many comments in the media and from politicians about the perceived problem of the number of IB claimants being out of control. In his opening comments, the hon. Gentleman did a good job of demolishing many such arguments and revealing them to be based on nonsense.

I said that I could agree with almost everything that the hon. Gentleman said in his speech, but of course one has to step back briefly from some of his points. I was a little alarmed to hear that he was reassured by the new Secretary of State, who assured Parliament that there were no plans to crack down on IB claimants. I wonder just how much reassurance we can take from the
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wording, "there are no such plans." I remember the 1997   general election, when the then Leader of the Opposition, who was about to become Prime Minister, told the London Evening Standard that he had no plans to introduce tuition fees.

Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con): The hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) was quite right about the exchange in which the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Mr. Best) was involved. He no doubt inadvertently did not go on to read the further exchange between the Minister and I, later in the same series of questions. I asked the Minister specifically whether he would rule out putting time limits on incapacity benefit during this Parliament. The Minister said—I think I am quoting him more or less accurately—that he was not ruling anything in or out at this stage.

Paul Holmes : I agree entirely with that point, which reinforces what I was saying. When the words are, "We have no such plans" we have to consider whether, metaphorically or literally, the rider "at the moment" is there. In 1997 we were told that there were "no such plans" to introduce tuition fees, but four months later we discovered that they were going to be introduced and that free grants for poorer students were to be scrapped. We need to consider the context in which things are said.

Given the amount of coverage that this issue has had, we must have a little sceptical doubt about whether the threats will materialise, or whether they will just be part of election media hype, in which the Prime Minister unfortunately seems to want to play to that particular audience, perhaps to keep a certain newspaper proprietor on side.

Mr. Berry : Will the hon. Gentleman at least acknowledge that no Minister has actually made such a foolish statement as the Leader of the Opposition, who has said that incapacity benefit is out of control?

Paul Holmes : I am in the unusual position of so far being able to agree with everyone, from both sides, although I am sure that that will not last. The Leader of the official Opposition has indeed made rather out-of-control statements about how IB is out of control. We have already heard a very good demolition of that argument, with some good statistics to prove that the underlying facts do not back it up. We have heard the Prime Minister, many in the press and many from the official Opposition recently saying that we need to do something about the runaway problem of IB claimants. I agree with the hon. Member for Kingswood that the problem is not quite as it has been portrayed in the press, and I shall return to that later.

We have heard comments about the difficulty that people seeking to go on to IB have in passing through the necessary gateways. One of those, which several hon. Members have mentioned in previous debates, is the problem that people have in getting past the doctors appointed by the Department for Work and Pensions, or by the privatised contractor that runs part of that system, and in getting those doctors to accept that they are genuinely incapacitated or disabled.

I have previously mentioned examples from Chesterfield, which is a coal-mining area—although there are no pits now—with a long legacy of former
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miners. Many people there have, over many years, gone through the difficult medical process of proving that because of their work in the mines, they suffer from lung disease, vibration white finger and other related illnesses. They have gone through lengthy processes established by the former mineworkers union, the medical system and the Government, including visiting expert medical centres based in Nottingham, and they have established that they are indeed incapacitated. They then go for a quick 20-minute interview with a Government-appointed doctor, who casually ticks off the appropriate boxes on the forms and says, "Oh no, you're fit", or, "You're only 50 per cent. disabled, not 80 per cent."

People come to my surgeries absolutely furious that, having taken two, three or four years to prove their disability with medical experts who specialise in that field, they can then be casually dismissed as all right in 20 minutes, and perhaps have their benefit cut by half because they are told that they are only partially incapacitated. That is often not really a medical assessment at all. A constituent of mine on IB, not a miner this time, was visited by the doctor at home, rather than having to go to an appointment. When the report was submitted, it said that he was not entitled to IB because he had a heavy garage door that was manually operated, which clearly proved that he was able because the car was not parked on the front drive, so it must be inside the garage, whose door the man must be opening and shutting every day. The doctor never asked about or commented on that to the man. In fact, the car was not on the drive because it was an automatic and permanently parked on the road—it was not in the garage, but the doctor had just jumped to an assumption that was nothing to do with medical grounds.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Maria Eagle) : I hope that the hon. Gentleman will report any such incidents that he comes across to the Department, because we now have much more rigorous ways of dealing with inappropriate quality in medical services reports. I advise all hon. Members to ensure that they tell us of such incidents that they come across.

Paul Holmes : I accept the Minister's point. In fact, the case has been dealt with and solved.

To finish the story: that was one of the points that the doctor made as part of a so-called medical assessment. A second point was that the claimant's garden was in immaculate condition so clearly he was not so disabled that he could not go out and do the garden every day. Those two observations had no basis in medical fact. They were not discussed with the claimant at all. The doctor simply went away and wrote them up. When I took the case up, both through the Department and the complaints procedures, we got an apology and the total reversal of the finding.

In that instance, a reversal did occur. However, these are not just isolated cases. They are widespread across the country; they do not just occur in my constituency. The number of successful appeals against rulings by Department for Work and Pensions-appointed doctors has been increasing year on year over the past few years. Depending on the category, the success rate for appeals ranges from something like 46 per cent. to 53 or
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54 per cent. The average is about 50 per cent. That figure has been increasing year by year, as questions that I and other hon. Members have tabled in Parliament have shown. There is clearly a problem, and it is not down to one or two rogue doctors, but down to the whole process, which seems to be designed to trick people and to exclude them from benefits because the problem is seen to be out of control. As a result, people are getting unfair treatment.

We heard about the long-running campaign on winter fuel payments for disabled people. We have debated that a number of times over the past few years and hon. Members were debating it long before I entered Parliament in 2001. This year, there is a motion in Parliament, which many MPs have signed and which was tabled by the hon. Member for Kingswood. Last year, I tabled a similar motion and the year before that it was the hon. Gentleman again. This is a cross-party programme that also gets widespread support across all the disability organisations. Disability Now, in particular, deserves a lot of credit for the way in which it has spearheaded the campaign over the years.

However, every time that Ministers respond we hear nothing of comfort. It is argued that disabled people get various benefits already so those should cover any extra fuel costs that they have. That seems disingenuous. Pensioners, who might be very well off because they have good private pensions—perhaps they are retired MPs, for example—automatically get the winter fuel payment because they have reached the age of 65, whether they need it or not. They receive the payment whether or not they are able-bodied, poor or particularly suffer from the cold. They may well live in an extremely well appointed and centrally heated house and not need the payment at all.

There are other people, below the age of 65, who are disabled and who, because of the nature of that disability, feel the cold much more than many pensioners, yet they are excluded from the extra payment. A disabled person will not be going out to a   place of work, so they have to heat their house 24 hours a day. People at work, in places such as the overheated—in more senses than one—House of Commons, do not need to pay fuel bills for that part of the working week, but a disabled person does not have that advantage. They have to heat their house 24 hours a day, seven days a week and, because of the nature of various disabilities, they will feel the cold much more than other people, including quite a number of pensioners—although the older and frailer pensioners get, the more they need the payment as well.

It seems illogical that although we provide the winter fuel payment to all pensioners automatically—I would not argue against that—we exclude disabled people who might be only 60, 61 or 62, or 30, but who feel the cold in winter to a far greater extent because of their medical condition. This is a long-running campaign. We have debated the issue a number of times and we have still never heard the appropriate Minister give any ground or offer any hope that there will be movement on it.
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Perhaps, in 30 or 40 minutes' time, we shall all be relieved to hear that the Government are going to move on the issue.

We heard an eloquent description of the problems that age barriers present to older disabled people when trying to access certain things that are available to younger disabled people. That is the reverse of the winter fuel situation. Older disabled people may not be able to get carer's allowance or Motability money because they are pensioners and therefore do not qualify. That seems ludicrous. While campaigning, one of the disability organisations pointed out: "If you are going to have a serious motor accident and become disabled, make sure you do it when you are 64, before your 65th birthday, because a few days before your 65th birthday you will qualify for all sorts of assistance for mobility, care and support. Five days after your 65th birthday, you won't qualify because you don't need that support any more because you are an old-age pensioner." There is no logic whatever to that approach.

We need to step back and carry out some more independent assessments of the purpose of the benefit system in relation to a whole range of benefits. I have pointed out that we have not had an up-to-date definition of poverty since William Beveridge produced one in the 1940s. That is 60 years out of date now. When assessing poverty levels in relation to what is required of benefits, and what is to be achieved through them, we need proper, up-to-date assessment of those levels and of the purpose of the benefit. That particularly applies to disabled people who have become pensioners but can no longer get access to things like Motability. There is no logic to that.

Why are we providing care, attendance allowance and Motability allowances to disabled people? It is because they need it due to their condition. Why would they no longer need it when they pass a certain age limit and become classed as a pensioner?

Maria Eagle : The hon. Gentleman just said "attendance allowance". He is well aware that attendance allowance is paid to pensioners, but he suggested that it was not.

Paul Holmes : I accept the correction on that point.

The opening speech touched on one or two points relating to helping people with disability who were claiming IB to get into work. We shall hear from the Minister in half an hour or so a litany of success and good things that the Government have done, and undoubtedly it is true that the Government have a good record of improving the situation of disabled people, as I have acknowledged a number of times before. However, as we heard in the opening comments, although that record is good by European standards and is much better than what happened prior to 1997, there is an awful lot more ground to cover.

For example, we have a new deal programme to help people into work, which covers a range of people from the young to the elderly, disabled and so on. Just 3 per cent. of the new deal budget of three quarters of a billion pounds per year helps one of the groups that needs help most in order to overcome all sorts of barriers to get into work: the disabled. Only 3 per cent. of the total goes to the group that needs help more than any other.
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Maria Eagle : Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that disabled people cannot benefit from all the new deals? The figures show that 180,000 have been helped back to work by all the new deals and only 45,000 by the new deal for disabled people.

Paul Holmes : I am going to develop the point that disabled people often experience a particular range of circumstances that make it hard for them to get back into work. The standard new deal processes applied with short-term targets lead to a rush to get people into work quickly. Personal advisers meet the targets set for them, and there is a strong tendency—well documented by reports from the Department for Work and Pensions, the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee—to go for the superficial opportunities for people who would find work anyway and to ignore the more difficult cases.

We are talking about disabled people, but I have made the same point in other debates about people coming off drugs and alcohol. There are progress2work programmes for those coming off drugs, one of which is being piloted in the Chesterfield area, and I have been to visit it. That pilot is proving quite successful, but it is a limited one. People with low educational attainment, rather than learning disabilities, would be another category to consider. There are various such categories, of which the disabled is probably the largest, where people experience particular problems in getting into work—much more so than the average jobseeker.

Before staff can even consider helping such people to seek work, they have to start further back with personal confidence, life skills and communication skills. I have talked before about a pilot project set up three years ago by the chamber of commerce in Chesterfield. There are many Government replicas of it throughout the country now. The project began working with people who were disabled and may never have worked in their lives. Before it could even think of trying to get those people into a work experience programme or job placement, it had to spend weeks and months on people's life skills and self-confidence, or on tasks such as showing them a computer and how to use it, which is a huge obstacle in the modern labour market for someone aged 50 who has never worked, let alone someone aged 50 from an old manual industry such as mining. Large groups of people, particularly disabled people, face specific problems that the superficial quick-fix approach of the new deal in general has not dealt with. We should target much more of the new deal money to the particularly hard-to-place groups instead of to the groups that, as reports by the Department for Work and Pensions, the   National Audit Office and the Public Account Committee have said repeatedly over the past seven years, will get jobs anyway. The money has not been as well spent as it might have been and there are many examples of that among disabled people.

During the opening speech, we heard some good examples of Government experiments, and all credit to them. The pathways to work experiment is being piloted in half a dozen areas throughout the country, including the Chesterfield and north Derbyshire area. I have talked to the personal advisers who are delivering the scheme, which is not even a year old—it was six months old when I talked to them—and they were full of praise for it. It is an excellent scheme to help disabled people
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to go back to work. There were problems; one was the Government's obsession with imposing sanctions on vulnerable people, such as writing to every disabled person and telling them to come in for a compulsory interview or else. That had a hugely frightening effect on people. The personal advisers that I spoke to said that they know when the letter will arrive, so they ring the recipient the day before and the day after to tell them not to panic or worry about it and that all they have to do is to come in and have a chat. The personal advisers waste a lot of time trying to undo the harm that is done by the standard letter that threatens sanctions if the recipients do not go in for an interview. We have discussed previously the Government's obsession with sanctions, and an increasing number of reports from the Department for Work and Pensions document the problem of sanctions driving people back to crime, drugs and the black economy, and off benefits.

The pathways to work pilot to help disabled people is excellent. It is less than a year old, but is proving to be extremely successful so far and very innovative. However, it is more intensive and the tick-box targets for putting people into sustained jobs quickly cannot be hit because there are so many initial obstacles to overcome. There are particular problems with benefits. The Liberal Democrats have long argued that there should be a partial benefit that recognises that some disabled people will not be able to return to full-time work. Some disabilities come and go, such as multiple sclerosis, and sufferers may be able to work one week but not the next. There should be a partial benefit that recognises that some disabled people want to work—1 million of them say that they do—but want help to enable them to do so. A partial benefits system would allow such a balance.

One obstacle that all the surveys showed was that when disabled people want to return to work they are scared that, having spent so long getting access to benefits, which are not especially generous, they will lose them if they try a job and find that after a month they cannot keep up with it because of their disability, and will again face the problem of trying to get back on to benefits. The Government are making improvements, but that problem is still a major one for disabled people. The pathways to work experiment is helping in some ways and provides support for people going into work, but only for a year. The pilots are not even a year old yet, so we do not know what happens at the end of a year. What will happen to those who lose the temporary support of payments and benefits and must rely entirely on a wage? Experiments in the right direction are paving the way, but there are not enough of them.

If the Government believe in evidence-based policies—they so often say that, but we do not see them materialise—they should look at the success of their own pilots for disabled people and to help ex-drug addicts and so on.

To return to a comment made during the opening speech, there is progress and there are good experiments, but the expenditure on helping people in those categories to get into work could be increased by 500 per cent. and that would only bring us to the European average. We have started down the path and are making improvements, but we are well behind good examples in this area.
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The Shaw Trust is another success story. I have visited two of its projects, and it is the biggest job broker for the   Department for Work and Pensions. It is very successful, dealing with 30,000 people out of 1 million who want work this year alone. That is progress but still a drop in the ocean.

Many projects are being told this year that they are too successful and that they must stop placing disabled people in work. The Shaw Trust has talked to me about that, as has the Groundwork Trust, and the press have documented a whole series of incidents where trusts that are too successful and are outstripping the resources available are being told that they must cut back for the rest of the year and not place any more people. That is so short-sighted, because every disabled person who goes to work saves the Government money in benefits and taxes. Every success story saves the taxpayer money, and it boosts the self-esteem and lifestyle of the person getting back into work. I urge the Minister to look again at what many disabled organisations working in that area are saying. Their budgets are being cut this year because they are too successful at placing people in work.

Maria Eagle : It is absolutely wrong for the hon. Gentleman to suggest that any providers are having their budgets cut.

Paul Holmes : If that is what I said, I will correct it. The trusts are not having their budgets cut; they are having them frozen, because they are outstripping the available money. One can see the short-term logic of that. The Papworth Trust is another, along with the Shaw Trust and the Groundwork Trust, which says that budgets are being frozen, and they cannot all be wrong. I was a head of department in a school, and in any organisation in any year, one has a certain budget that one cannot exceed. In this particular instance, I ask the Minister to look again, because every person who gets into work through such schemes saves the taxpayer money in benefits and taxation. The trusts are a good investment, which saves money over many years. Pilots that are becoming too successful are being told that they will have to lay off staff for the rest of the financial year because they have got too many people into work.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : I call Her Majesty's Opposition spokesman, Mr. Paul Goodman.

10.27 am

Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con): It is a great pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It has been an enjoyable and robust debate. I enjoyed the contribution by the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth), and it is always good to see him. The hon. Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes) was right to say that there are some problems with the Government's contracting arrangements with the Shaw Trust, but he was wrong to say—I think he said this, but the record will reflect it—that there has been no definition of poverty since Beveridge. My recollection is that the Government have a commitment to eradicate child poverty, and there has been considerable debate
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about what eradication might mean. They have three targets for eradicating child poverty. I am not entirely convinced of the merits of one of them, but it is inaccurate to say that the Government have no targets.

Maria Eagle : The hon. Gentleman is quite right. Far from there not being an acceptable definition, as a result of widespread consultation last year we have the three measures to which he refers. The hon. Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes) must have been looking the other way.

Mr. Goodman : The Minister is right on that point. There has been considerable debate about what eradication means, but I will not be sidetracked by a debate on poverty when we are debating disability benefits.

The hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) has a long-standing interest in disability. I prepared for the debate by going back to mug up on the gospel according to Berry. I re-read his speech from 21 May 2003 during the debate on the European year of disabled people. It was one of the first that I read when I took up my appointment as shadow Minister for disabled people. I also re-read his speech on Second Reading of the Carers (Equal Opportunities) Bill on 6 May, which was introduced by his hon. Friend the hon. Member for Aberavon (Dr. Francis) and which with all-party support was passed and became the 2004 Act. During that debate, the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman), argued that the carer's allowance stops when pensioners start to claim the retirement pension because that pension, like the carer's allowance, exists to replace lost income. The hon. Member for Kingswood argued in reply:

When challenged by the hon. Member for Kingswood to name a resource that funds such support, the Minister cited—you might not be surprised to hear this, Mr. Deputy Speaker—attendance allowance. I suspect that neither the hon. Member for Kingswood nor I would be surprised if the Minister advances similar arguments today.

I cited that exchange because it touches on some of   the main points raised by the hon. Member for Kingswood. I enjoyed his speech very much, although I thought that some of his statistics were a little selective. For example, the total number of IB claimants in May 1995 was—

Maria Eagle : Say 1997.

Mr. Goodman : I will say 1997 if the Minister likes. In fact, the 1997 figure would be even more helpful to my case. The number of IB claimants in 1997 was roughly 2,370,000. The figure is now 2,404,000. So I am glad that the Minister brought me from 1995 to 1997.

Mr. Berry : I was not referring to the number of claimants. I was referring to the number of people who benefit from and receive—beneficiaries. According to   the Department for Work and Pensions, in 1995
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the number of incapacity benefit beneficiaries was 1.8   million. The hon. Gentleman, like some of his hon. Friends, should make a clear distinction between claimants, some of whom do not get the benefit, and beneficiaries. I was referring specifically to beneficiaries and was using the Department's statistics, not my own.

Mr. Goodman : I am aware that the hon. Gentleman was referring to beneficiaries and did not for a moment claim that he was not. I was simply pointing out that, by not quoting the claimant figures, he was being somewhat selective with the statistics.

Mr. Berry : I would not press this, but that is a serious accusation. I am being accused of being "selective" in the use of statistics. I specifically referred to incapacity benefit beneficiaries and I specifically quoted the Department for Work and Pension's source. I was not being selective at all.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. Does the hon. Gentleman seek to raise a point of order with me or does he merely seek to intervene on the Opposition spokesman?

Mr. Berry : I was hoping that the hon. Gentleman would do me the courtesy of apologising for the clearly unfounded accusation that I was using statistics selectively.

Mr. Goodman rose—

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Before the hon. Gentleman continues his speech, I can only say that this is a matter of debate. The hon. Member for Kingswood made his point. The hon. Member for Wycombe will now respond.

Mr. Goodman : I think that the hon. Member for Kingswood knows that this is a matter for debate. I was not accusing him of misquoting figures. I merely pointed out that he quoted some figures and not others.

I want to step back from that exchange to consider both the problems and the possibilities that the debate on disability benefits opens up. At one end of the life cycle, more disabled children are surviving. At the other end, more people are living for longer and incurring disabilities as they do so. In between, there is greater consciousness of disability than there was. I will give one striking example of that, which relates directly to disability benefits and was, I believe, the point that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) made in the remarks that the hon. Member for Kingswood quoted.

I discovered by tabling parliamentary questions that, since 1997, the number claiming incapacity benefit on mental health grounds has risen to 718,000. That is a rise of 38 per cent. It is also one quarter of all incapacity benefit claims. Conditions such as stress and depression account for 65 per cent. of all mental health cases. I   believe that there is some element of fraud in the system, although I have no doubt that, as the hon. Gentleman said, it is small. The focus on fraud as part of the debate about incapacity benefit is, to some degree, a red herring. If one studies the figures closely, it seems
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that what is actually happening as part of the tale of incapacity benefit is that there is a rise in mental health claims, which do appear to be out of control. That tells us not that large numbers of people are engaged in fraud but that large numbers of people are enduring mental health problems.

Mr. Berry : Will the hon. Gentleman therefore simply state whether he agrees with his right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition that incapacity benefit is out of control? Is there evidence for that or not?

Mr. Goodman : The hon. Gentleman was not listening to me. It is the rise that is clearly out of control, and it was that to which my right hon. and learned Friend referred. I shall return to incapacity benefit later.

The example in the figures that I gave makes an important point: benefits that are paid to people with disabilities, whether on the objective basis of age or on the more subjective basis of individual assessment, become controversial—perhaps inevitably—as social change gathers pace.

Another example is the current "Mobilise" campaign. I was confident that the hon. Member for Kingswood would refer to it and he duly did so. It is supported by Help the Aged, among others, and aims to remove the upper age limit of 65 for claiming disability living allowance. The campaigners say that older people can now work longer—they are right about that—and that, given social change, the age limit of 65 is outdated as well as discriminatory. In response, Ministers usually say that many benefits contain age rules—child benefit is paid for children, pensions are paid to older people and so on—and that there is no intrinsic reason why the disability living allowance should not have an upper age limit. I anticipate that the Minister may deploy some of those arguments when she speaks in a few moments. Ministers usually do not say that a commitment to remove the upper age limit would have a cost to the public purse and that the Treasury simply would not wear it, at least at present.

I confess to having some sympathy for the dilemma in which Ministers are placed. My party recently launched its largest ever consultation on disability policy. In doing so, we pointed out that 50 per cent. of disabled people have incomes below the poverty line and that there are particular complaints—I have the list here—about non-access to winter fuel payments, which the hon. Member for Kingswood mentioned, the lack of a mobility payment for attendance allowance, the downrating of benefits while disabled people are in hospital and the withdrawal of benefits if they earn income.

Personally, I find the argument about access to winter fuel payments absolutely compelling. It seems curious, to say the least, that a non-disabled person on a relatively high income can obtain the winter fuel payment while a severely disabled person on a low income cannot. This is where my sympathy for the dilemma of Ministers comes in. There is a cost to the taxpayer in meeting human needs and satisfying the demands of the lobbies, but Ministers are aware that there are always more human needs to meet and that the lobbies are never entirely satisfied. Therefore, although
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I am personally sympathetic to the argument, I cannot make a commitment that my right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor has not cleared, any more than the Minister can make a commitment today that her right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has not cleared—news that I suspect will come as no surprise to the hon. Member for Kingswood. However, before I am accused of being soft on Ministers, I should make the following points, without in any way anticipating the response to my party's consultation.

First, the benefits system is too complex. My party is committed to keeping the winter fuel payment, but that payment provides an illustration of how creating a more complex system, sometimes in response to the very demands of lobby groups, which have been mentioned today, creates inconsistencies and injustices.

Secondly, a complex system does not just create systematic inconsistencies. It also intensifies human problems. Disabled people often find it difficult, if not impossible, to fill in long, complex forms and undergo long, complex assessments, even if—as is often not the case—they have family or professional support in claiming. Let me give as an example an elderly Kashmiri woman in my constituency for whom English is not a first language, or who might not speak English at all. Such a person will have immense difficulty accessing the system, and the more complex the system becomes, the more difficult she will find it.

Thirdly, a complex system not only intensifies human problems but is felt by many of those who use it to insult human dignity. We all know from our correspondence that older people feel that they have earned the benefits that they receive, and that means-testing, in particular, insults their dignity. That explains the high non take-up rate of pension credit—the Government themselves anticipate a non take-up rate of a quarter even in 2008.

Finally, I return to incapacity benefit. There is a problem on incapacity benefit in particular that is also a   problem for the Government more generally: the question of who is actually driving policy. When the hon. Member for Kingswood quoted the new Secretary of State, it sounded to me as though he was not saying that the Government had now entirely satisfied him on that point, but that he was still worried that there might be a question of time-limiting future incapacity benefit claimants. The Prime Minister has recently explicitly linked the payment of higher pensions with reducing the incapacity benefit bill. Having ruled out raising taxes to pay for larger pensions, he has said that it is important to reduce the number of people on incapacity benefit because:

The Prime Minister did not directly say that the rules that govern IB will be tightened, or that it might be time-limited in the future, but recent reports have suggested that, and the hon. Member for Kingswood is clearly well aware of it. If I read those reports rightly, I rather think that they have come not from the Minister's Department but, as journalists say in the trade, from sources close to No. 10.

When the Minister replies to the debate, will she say whether the Government have ruled out time-limiting IB and, in particular, ruled out doing so before the next
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election? The hon. Gentleman can then go away entirely satisfied. It would also help him and me if she would say whether the Government have finally ruled out accepting recommendation 17 of the report of the Joint Committee on the draft Disability Bill. We agreed unanimously, even including such well-known drippy   wets as Lord Tebbit, that the Government should consider—I emphasise, only consider—whether eligibility for certain disability benefits should automatically provide coverage for a disabled person under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. That point was agreed by the Committee, on which the hon. Member for Kingswood and I served and on which the Labour party had a majority.

I look forward to the Minister's reply on that and other points.

10.44 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Maria Eagle) : May I first compliment everyone who has taken part in the debate? It has been superb, and quite sharp for so early in the morning. I almost feel as though I do not have to get involved in some of the arguments going on between my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) and the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman), who seem to be quite capable of having a pretty good argument without my intervention. That is enjoyable for me as a Minister to sit and watch, instead of necessarily having to participate.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth), who takes whatever opportunities he can to raise issues that matter a great deal to his constituents, particularly his constituents who are people with disabilities, to use the Northern Ireland phrase. I have noticed that he quite rightly finds every opportunity to do that in the House. He made a point about discrimination in education and referred to a particular constituent. If he wants to provide me with the details, I am happy to take the matter up with my colleagues, the Northern Ireland Ministers, and ensure that they are fully aware of the situation.

I pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood in this field, in which he has an excellent background. He has raised, laser-like, three issues. We could spend all day discussing them, but we have only 15 minutes remaining. I fear that I might not be able to deal with every point raised, but I will do my best to take the most important and I undertake to contact hon. Members by letter about any points that I have inadvertently missed out or have not had time to deal with.

My hon. Friend started his speech with media stories about incapacity benefits. They have been referred to by the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes), who was a little less churlish than he usually is. He must have got out of bed on the right side, and I recommend it to him because it made for a much less tense debate and a friendlier occasion. Those stories have also been mentioned by the hon. Member for Wycombe.

There has been much quotation of the new Secretary of State, which he will be glad to see. I will provide the quotation that people could not quite remember and which the hon. Member for Wycombe raised in an intervention. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of
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State said when challenged further on 11 October that he could not formally rule anything in or out for all time. That is obvious. He went on to say:

That is an important qualification, which I hope provides proper reassurance.

Much as we would like to be in charge of various newspapers, none of us are. I caution hon. Members not to believe too much of what they read in the newspapers. There is often wild speculation that does not necessarily come from any source close to anybody apart from the nearest journalist in the nearest bar. I do not wish to impugn the integrity of journalists, however; they have their job to do as well.

There has been an interesting debate about whether the number of people on incapacity benefit is out of control. I enjoyed hearing the little spat between my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood and the hon. Member for Wycombe, who was valiantly trying to defend the words of the leader of his party. He obviously must do so, but he put a slightly different interpretation on the numbers by talking about the number of people coming on to incapacity benefit who report stress or low-level mental illness. It was an intriguing and valiant attempt to support his leader, because, having looked at the figures, he clearly does not believe that the number of people on incapacity benefit is out of control.

The number of people in work is higher than ever before. We have our highest employment level for 30   years—75 per cent. of the working age population are in work. We have our lowest level of unemployment for the same period and there are 2 million more jobs in the economy. The inflows on to incapacity benefit have gone down by 25 per cent., and more than 90 per cent. of the increase in the number of people on incapacity benefit between 1979 and this year happened between 1979 and 1997. The hon. Gentleman was not in Parliament at the time, but many of his hon. and right   hon. Friends, including his leader, were and they had important jobs, such as running Government employment policy. I hope that puts across my point.

The idea that incapacity benefit is out of control is complete nonsense; I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood on that point. However, that does not take away from the fact that we must help those who wish to get back to work and leave the incapacity benefit roll. We must provide proper, targeted help. In that regard, I was pleased to hear from those who have spoken the widespread support for pathways to work and the initiatives that we are piloting. Even the hon. Member for Chesterfield, who usually looks on the dark side of such things, admitted that some good was coming out of the programme. I was glad to hear that.

Of course, these are early days. Three of the pilots have been going for a year, but the other four have been going for only nine months, so we cannot say what the sustained outcomes will be. The pilot programme costs about £100 million in additional resources. It is very
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exciting to see from the early results that twice as many people are leaving the incapacity benefit rolls in the pilot areas.

Mr. Goodman : Will the Minister give way?

Maria Eagle : I will in a moment, when I have spat out this statistic. I may not have all the statistics, but here is one. In the pilot areas, six times more people are taking up the help that is being offered, and that has to be good.

Mr. Goodman : With reference to the statistics, some of which the Minister recently provided in a written answer to me, when will she be able to tell us how many of the people who have gone into work as a result of   pathways to work have stayed in for longer than 13 weeks?

Maria Eagle : The hon. Gentleman could use his calculator to work out that 13 weeks after they have gone into work we might be able to say whether they are still in work. We need another half year. The hon. Gentleman must remember that for the first three months work-focused interviews were just starting. The help that is then given can vary; for example, eight weeks for the condition management programme. Some people may move into work only after that. Of course, with the return-to-work credit and not as much help, some people go straight into work.

We need at least a year. The pilot programmes are two or two and a half years long. Only at the end of that time will we be able properly to evaluate sustained job outcomes, although we will produce information about how the pilots are working as we go. Qualitative and quantitative evaluations will be produced during the life of the pilots, but only at the end of the period will we be able to evaluate the pilots fully and determine how people do, particularly in respect of sustained job outcomes. Obviously, statistics will be made available as they become available to the Department.

We are certainly excited thus far about the early indications, which appear to be good. We must ensure that we build on this approach in order to help people who get stuck on this benefit. Of the people who come on to it, 90 per cent. wish and expect to go back to work but find that after a year the average length of stay on it is eight years. Clearly, there is a problem that must be tackled, and it is fallacious to argue about whether it involves fraud or some kind of psychological effect.

The hon. Member for Chesterfield said that his constituents have to prove that they are incapacitated and that they cannot do this, that or the other. There is a psychology surrounding this benefit that is not helpful. People have to prove what they cannot do; they have to show others that they really are incapacitated. That is not helpful. We want to tackle those issues because, rather than fraud, that is what keeps people on benefit and prevents them from getting into work.

As hon. Members can tell, I could talk about the issue for some time if induced to do so. However, I should move on, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood raised three issues and I want to say something about all of them. He would expect me to do so. Let us move on to age discrimination, which is how his early-day motion refers to it, in the disability living allowance. I believe
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that he said that the rules were "curious", and the hon. Member for Chesterfield also gave some examples of inconsistencies. Since I became a Social Security Minister, I have discovered that benefit rules always have curious aspects to them. One can consider an individual benefit in itself and think how curious it is, but one should also consider how it fits into the rest of the benefits system and what the rationale is for it. When the disability living allowance was established in 1992, the rationale was to ensure that those who were severely disabled earlier in life received additional help. The research that underlay the work that was done to establish the benefit indicated that people who are disabled earlier in life have tougher outcomes, have more extra costs and find it more difficult to get income. The rationale of the benefit was to try to provide targeted extra help to those who are severely disabled earlier in life.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood and others in the House know, the care and mobility components act as proxies for the extra costs that a disabled person might face in dealing with their disability. I do not think that anybody has ever suggested that the care and mobility components can capture or attempt to capture all those extra costs. I will come on to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report shortly. It is another attempt to capture those costs. The care and mobility components are proxies for the extra costs that severely disabled people face.

Care and mobility are, I argue, good proxies to capture those extra costs. That is certainly the rationale of the benefit. The aim was to provide extra help to people disabled at a younger age because they would—at that time and now, although the situation is improving—have had less chance to work, less chance to save and, therefore, less income available to them. So, the idea was to focus help on people who are disabled at an earlier age. That is why the mobility components are available in DLA but not in attendance allowance.

I acknowledge that, under DLA run-on, those who qualify for DLA aged under 64 may keep the mobility component after they become 65, and that, under DLA cut-off, those who qualify for extra cost-benefit after the age of 65 cannot take advantage of the mobility component. Both of those rules can, I accept, seem curious if considered in isolation, without having in the back of one's mind the rationale of the benefit. Of course it is possible to change the rationale of a benefit, but that is something that ought to be done when considering how the entire benefit operates. It is not something that can be done piecemeal or easily, or something that should be undertaken lightly.
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The hon. Member for Wycombe suggested that I might make some arguments that I have not made, but would have made had he not done so, about the rationale of the benefit. It is not as easy to make these changes as one might think. The hon. Gentleman referred to costs. Of course there would be a huge extra cost if we were to extend the mobility components of DLA into attendance allowance and eligibility for those who qualified after age 65.

We do not have a precise figure about those costs. The figure that was given in parliamentary answers is old and is based on old research. The newer figures must be based on assumptions because, as I have often said to the hon. Member for Chesterfield, it is difficult to know what the take-up of an extra cost benefit such as attendance allowance or disability living allowance will be. One cannot tell. The allowance considers the effect of a disability or condition on the care and mobility needs of an individual. It is difficult to work out what take-up should be. It is easy to work out what take-up of pension credit should be because we know how many pensioners there are and what the income distribution is. It is not so easy to work out what take-up of an extra cost benefit should be. So newer assessments of cost must be based on assumptions rather than on the old research, which is out of date.

Mr. Berry : The argument is that people who require DLA earlier in life should get more support. We would not dream of saying to older parents that their child benefit should be less than that of younger parents on the grounds that they had had the opportunities "to work and save". Is that not the same principle?

Maria Eagle : I am obviously failing to convince my hon. Friend and I am not surprised by that. The rationale of the benefit, when it was formed and now, is to provide extra help to those who are disabled earlier in life in recognition of the fact that it is harder for them to get income in any other way. The mobility components are used as a proxy for that income. That is why the cut-off came about. I do not think that my hon. Friend will be convinced by that argument, but I am trying to explain the rationale, which has not changed. It is difficult to change the rationale of benefits in a piecemeal fashion without causing chaos.

I am running out of time. That measure certainly has a high cost. I acknowledge that. The hon. Member for Wycombe said that, for the same reason, he could not make any promises. There is no doubt about that. I am well aware of the strength of feeling on the part of my hon. Friend and others in the House.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I am afraid that time is up, despite the importance of the subject.
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