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I believe I am right in saying that local authorities make the assessments and therefore they should know, if they make them correctly, who can manage and who cannot. Flexibility is therefore extremely important. Some families will manage, though they may need help if a crisis arises, and other families will not--they may spend the money on the lottery. There should be some flexibility.
Baroness Faithfull: I blame myself for not finding out this information before. Can my noble friend the Minister say, from the work already done by directors of social services--many of whom have already used this method of direct payment, though perhaps not legally--whether or not the provision applies to people with learning difficulties as well as to those with physical disabilities? Also, can she say whether or not the experiment was a success?
Lord Murray of Epping Forest: The Government's proposal to restrict the categories of people available for direct grants, as distinct from enlarging them, is rather puzzling. If the Government are arguing that this is one way of saving money, the provision is understandable, if not totally defensible. But the contrary appears to be the case.
The operation of the Independent Living Fund shows that the cost-effectiveness of people receiving the grants and handling their own money is greater than the provision of services by local authorities. Therefore, first, it will be a money-saving exercise, at least on balance.
Secondly, one of the purposes of giving grants of this sort, apart from providing money with which people can relieve their disability or sustain the way they handle it, is to improve their ability--especially those with mental disabilities--to exercise responsibility; to learn how to live and how to cope; to learn how to do things for themselves. If we can help them in that way and perhaps therapeutically improve their position, even marginally, that is surely a major advantage rather than compelling them to accept services provided by an external authority at the behest of that authority.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: I too must apologise for missing the first few words of the debate; I had hoped to be here earlier. I considered carefully the issue as to whether or not the Government are justified in seeking to phase in the new system and, if so, how it should be done.
Let me say straightaway that I totally support the concept of direct payments wherever that is possible. I derive that opinion from a case many years ago where I was advising the legal association for the disabled. It presented me with the case of a family in West London where the husband had become seriously disabled. The family wrote to the local authority and asked to have a stairlift installed.
The local council sent along its assessment officer who said, "What you really want is a grant for a bedroom, a grant for a bathroom, handholds and ramps" and many other things. The work duly went ahead. Finally, the senior person came along and inspected the house. He said, "This is all extremely satisfactory and the only thing you need now is a stairlift to enable your husband to get up to the top floor". The wife responded, "That is all we asked for in the first place!".
I have no doubt that had the money been directly available to that family, that is what they would have had and the other expenditure would not have been necessary. It is crucial that we realise--as has been said in this Chamber and elsewhere for many years--that by far the best judge of what a family with a member suffering from a handicap needs, is that disabled person or his family. Of course they should be given advice and be made aware of what is available; but the choice should be theirs. Direct payments are a good way of--to repeat the word used several times at Second Reading--"empowering" people. I read the speech of my noble friend both in introducing and in winding-up the debate and some of her comments regarding the actions of individuals who had had the advantage of receiving direct payments were extremely encouraging and heart-warming.
Of course, we would all love this system to spring fully armed out of the breast of Athena and for it to be available to everybody straight away. I may have it wrong--my noble and learned friend Lord Simon is seeking to put me right and will have an opportunity to do so--but the fact is that anyone with experience of the way these systems are introduced knows that that is not realistic. This is an example of where a system needs to be phased in.
The case made for extending the direct payments system to ranges of people who will not be immediately embraced by the scheme--for example, the elderly, people with learning disabilities, families with children and so forth--is strong. I hope that my noble friend can tell the Committee when she replies that the Government are not excluding any of those groups; but that they are hoping to give a greater priority to the physically disabled who are of adult age though have
It is no bad thing to ask local authorities to concentrate their efforts in the first instance on making the direct payments scheme available to that category and, progressively, to others as they gain experience. One must remember that a large number of local authorities have not attempted direct payment before, though some, to their great credit have (it has been said illegally and I do not comment on that); most will be feeling their way and learning how to do it; most will need to become used to the idea of not implementing services themselves but giving people the cash to do it.
I should have thought that it was entirely reasonable to take the power to phase this in. After all, how often have we heard from noble Lords on both sides of the House that pilot schemes and so on would be better than jumping straight away into major reforms? This is not a pilot scheme. This is introducing a scheme by stages. In justifying that I hope that my noble friend will nevertheless be able to reassure the Committee that no group will be excluded--certainly not for all time--but that all groups will be considered in due course and that the advantages of the scheme will be extended to them. If my noble friend is able to tell the Committee that, I think we would be prepared to say that phasing in may be right as a necessary stage in the introduction of something which everyone wants to see.
Baroness Hamwee: In partial answer to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, as he himself recognised, these schemes are perhaps illegally in operation in a number of local authorities. I wonder whether in replying to this group of amendments, which as my noble friend said we on these Benches support, the Minister could assist the Committee with regard to the timetable relating to the consultation document and the regulations. It is a matter for those affected by these proposals--both the payees and the payers--who are not being asked to respond to the consultative document. We should listen to them with regard to the phasing in of pilot schemes and so on.
Many Members of the Committee will have heard from organisations representing affected groups. They have indicated, certainly so far as my mail is concerned, that they would be against any kind of discrimination, if I may use that word perhaps rather more neutrally than it is normally used, or differentiation between the groups. After all, there is a consultative document. Perhaps it is a little paternalistic for the Committee to seek to pre-empt the answers which will be given to the consultation.
At Second Reading I expressed concern about the timing. The noble Lord, Lord Rix, has told the Committee how very recently the consultation document has been received. If it has gone out by fax I daresay that some people do not have very clear copies and cannot yet read it. It would be helpful to know how long the consultation period is to be and when the regulations are likely to be laid. It was with that in mind that I put down an amendment, which comes rather later in the
Baroness Seccombe: My noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding has expressed much more eloquently than I can exactly my feelings. This is an exciting and positive measure which is welcomed by noble Lords on all sides of the House. However, if it is available for all, it may be so popular that social workers will be swallowed up in the administration of such a scheme. Rather than having pilot schemes in different parts of the country, it seems to me that the measures suggested in the Bill are the right way to proceed. I hope that we shall agree to them.
The Earl of Mar and Kellie: I am a little surprised by the encouragement of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, for not discussing Scotland today, especially when I have just flown through the same fog as he did to get here.
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