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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Clause 59 provides improved help for young people disabled early in life. Amendment No. 124A seeks to extend the age limit for access to this new help.

I would like to take the opportunity to explain why we are proposing to make the changes in Clause 59. Severe disablement allowance is currently paid to people who do not qualify for incapacity benefit because they have not paid sufficient contributions. The original philosophy was to help people who never had the opportunity to establish themselves in the insurance scheme--particularly young people disabled at birth or at an early age.

However, SDA does not work. It does not provide many young people with the secure income they need. Because of the low rate at which it is paid, 70 per cent of recipients have to claim income support to top it up, and their SDA is taken into account pound for pound. So SDA does not provide any additional help--which means that it is of least help to those in greatest need. This is why we are reforming the system to increase the benefits that we pay to people born with a disability or who incur a disability early in life and become disabled before the age of 20. As a result of the proposed change, people who are disabled early in life and are therefore unable to qualify for IB will gain by up to £26.40 a week. Some 175,000 people will gain in the long term, many of whom will never work in their lives. They will enjoy far greater security than they have known before.

Our main concern in reforming SDA is to help young disabled people, for the reasons that I have given. This is why the clause provides that, in most cases, people must have become incapable of work and made a claim before they reach the age of 20. However, as your Lordships will know, following consultation, we decided that the age cut-off should be extended to 25 in certain circumstances. We recognise that an age 20 cut-off could penalise young people who go into higher education or training. We therefore intend to prescribe in regulations that young people who go into higher education and training before

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they are 20 can make a claim to benefit up to the age of 25. To qualify, they would need to make a claim within two tax years of leaving their course.

I know that the noble Lord has some concerns that this extension is still not wide enough to cover certain groups. However, we believe that our proposals strike the right balance. The amendment before us seeks to make age 25 the cut-off point for all claims. My Lords, we do not consider that to be justified; we believe that age 20 is a reasonable cut-off point in most cases. To extend it as suggested would run counter to the principle behind our reform since it would not concentrate help on those in greatest need.

By the age of 20, the vast majority of people who do not go into higher education or training will have had the opportunity to build up a contribution record for IB. With any age cut-off, there is the potential for someone to fall foul of the rules, but we believe that such cases will be rare. The noble Lord may be concerned about disabled people who remain in mainstream education beyond the age of 20. However, I hope that I can reassure him that disabled people who are in full-time education of any sort will be able to make a claim at the age of 19, providing they meet the other qualifying conditions. In addition, young disabled people may also be able to qualify between the ages of 16 and 18 if they attend a course specifically designed for disabled students.

We believe that the provisions already in the Bill, together with the commitments we have made regarding the use of the regulation-making powers, provide more than an adequate safeguard for the people whom we wish to help--namely, young disabled people who have not had the opportunity to work and build up a contribution record for IB.

Clause 59 represents a significant step forward in providing a more secure future for young disabled people, and we do not believe at present that there is any justification for extending the provisions further. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will not pursue his amendment tonight.

Lord Rix: I am sorry that my arguments have not persuaded the Minister to accept this amendment. Equally, her arguments have not persuaded me to drop it. However, I do not propose to proceed any further at this hour of the night. I shall return to the matter at Report stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 59 agreed to.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: In order to prove that the last waltz does not last forever, I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

        House adjourned at twenty-six minutes before one o'clock.

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