some default text...

Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Darcy de Knayth: I support this amendment. As the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, said, I expect that the noble Baroness will say that it would be expensive. I can see that it may be expensive and difficult to extend to people who are gradually losing their mobility through increasing age. But surely there is a case to be made for giving mobility assistance to people from 65 to 70 in some circumstances; for example, people who suffer a traumatic injury or amputation at that age. Will the noble Baroness consider certain circumstances in which she might be able to allow it?

Baroness Pitkeathley: I wonder whether the Minister would agree with me that one of the main concerns that many of us have about DLA and attendance allowance is the complexity of claiming and the fact that so many

20 Jul 1999 : Column 848

claims are turned down first time round. Of course this also has an impact on carers whose benefit is passported on the benefits we are discussing. Does the Minister agree that more emphasis needs to be given to encouraging people to claim before they are 65 and to making the claiming process simpler or to providing help with the claiming process? I believe that 40 per cent of claims are turned down first time round. We all know that having been rejected once, many people would be too anxious or nervous to claim again.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I shall deal with the final point first. On a previous amendment we discussed the very real difficulty of seeking to encourage people to increase their claims for DLA/AA. Its complexity lies in the fact that it is based on a diary of their immobility or a diary of their need for care. It has to be, so to speak, bottom up in terms of coming into the system. We are working with local authorities on this matter. As we have said before, we want people to claim the benefits to which they are entitled. If they need those benefits, they should receive them.

I return to the amendment which would increase the upper age limit for DLA to 70 from the current age of 65, or would effectively add the mobility component to attendance allowance. I am a little puzzled by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Higgins. He should perhaps tell the Committee why his party has changed its mind on this issue. During the passage of the Disability Living Allowance and the Disability Working Allowance Bill in 1991--which I took part in, along, I think, with the noble Earl, Lord Russell--when we probed the then government's intentions on precisely this matter, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, stated that DLA was intended to direct help towards younger disabled people of working age and under who had had little or no opportunity to work and save. He said that he would not consider extending it to people over 65 as the cost would be considerable and that that was a relevant consideration in his party's eyes. Therefore I am slightly puzzled at some of the somersaults of the noble Lord as regards the position taken by the previous government a few years back.

Lord Higgins: 1991!

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: That was the position adopted by the previous administration and these points were probed at the time. The position of the then government was made clear.

It might be useful if I relate some of the background to this matter. The higher rate mobility component has its origins in the old invalid vehicle scheme, which was introduced in 1948, although even that replaced a yet earlier scheme for disabled veterans of the Great War. One of the conditions for receipt of an invalid vehicle in 1948 was that the person should be "socially useful". By that definition those who were "socially useless" were those over retirement age. I suspect that, like me, many Members of the Committee are close to being socially useless, or are already socially useless, and would certainly not qualify for a trike.

20 Jul 1999 : Column 849

However, the term "socially useful" highlights a fundamental principle about the mobility component of DLA, which is still as relevant today as in 1948; namely, that it was always intended to help people disabled during their working life. We believe that our priority remains to ensure that help goes to those who need it most, particularly those who have finite resources because they were disabled early in life. Extending the upper age limit for claiming DLA, as this new clause proposes, would cost almost £300 million a year extra, rising to £650 million in the long term. The reason, as the Committee will recognise, is that the vast majority of us will have mobility restrictions as we get older. It is worth reminding ourselves that 49 per cent of all disabled people are over 65. The frailties and restrictions of old age are among the factors that we all make provision for in retirement.

By contrast, many people disabled early in life will face a lifetime of struggle to overcome limited opportunities--and will not have had a lifetime of working to build up savings--and it is at this group that the DLA/mobility component was primarily targeted. In the words of the Royal Commission on Long-Term Care,

    "The experience of disablement will have a different impact on different age groups. For the great majority of older people it is an episode, albeit a painful one, at the end of life, when family ties, employment and other life events have been experienced. Younger people must try to negotiate their lives while disabled and when the vast majority of their peers, who set the standards of normal behaviour, are able-bodied".

Therefore it is right that a degree of priority in allocating scarce resources through extra-costs disability benefits, untaxed and paid regardless of means, should go to younger people with severe disabilities, which is why we are reducing the age from five down to three. However, that does not mean that we do not seek to help elderly people. As I say, half of all disabled people are pensioners, or, to put it another way, as pensioners grow older almost all of them have care and mobility needs. That is why we have taken immediate steps to help pensioners share in the rising prosperity of the nation with the minimum income guarantee and the winter fuel payments, on top of reducing VAT on fuel and scrapping eye test charges. That is why we also make provision for severely disabled people over the age of 65 to acquire attendance allowance, which is paid to 1.3 million people at a cost of £2.7 billion a year.

We are also working with disabled people and their representatives to see whether we can improve on the current structure and gateways for DLA and AA. In particular, we are looking at the possibility of a system based not on care need in the kind of broad brush structure that we have at the moment but on a range of activities of managing life. This work is in its early stages but if it progresses then issues such as those raised by the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, will certainly be taken on board.

I believe that we have made significant progress in the two years since coming to power to ensure that people have financial security in retirement. But to extend DLA in the way proposed by the Opposition--

20 Jul 1999 : Column 850

whatever they may have said when they were in government--does not seem to be sensible against the long-standing policy of targeting help towards those who have the greatest need over the longest period of time. In view of this, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Higgins: I am somewhat astonished by the noble Baroness's reply. I have some difficulty in understanding what winter fuel payments have to do with whether someone of the age of 66, for example, is or is not entitled to a benefit which someone of the age of 63 receives.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: As I said, 49 per cent of all disabled people are over pensionable age and disability increases with age. A very high proportion of pensioners over the age of 75 are disabled; that is associated with their age. Given that generality, we believe the right way to help them is to make sure that they have access to the other benefits I talked about: winter fuel allowance to help with their heating; the minimum income guarantee to help with their diet, and the like. That is the point I was seeking to establish.

Lord Higgins: I will not pursue that point except to say that the extraordinary thing about the winter fuel payment is that it is in contrast to almost everything else the Government are doing; it is not means tested. I understand that some people have been fortunate enough to receive their winter fuel payment last week. If the noble Baroness had checked up, perhaps she would have realised that it is not a good moment to mention winter fuel payment in the middle of July.

Be that as it may, the noble Baroness suggested that our view has changed since 1991. That may be so but, as I pointed out, the whole flow of the argument has been that people are living longer and, therefore, there is some case for raising the age limits. As to what was said in 1991--for which I was not responsible--I am probably totally inconsistent in proposing this in comparison with Mr Disraeli's views on the subject. But we should not go back too far with regard to what previous governments may have done. We would do better to look to the future.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: How far back will the noble Lord take responsibility for the previous government's actions?

Lord Higgins: I think we must look forward, not backwards.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page