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House of Lords

Tuesday, 23rd November 1999.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Blackburn.

Lord Jellicoe of Southampton

The Right Honourable George Patrick John Rushworth Earl Jellicoe, having been created Baron Jellicoe of Southampton, of Southampton in the County of Hampshire, for life, took the oath.

Lord Ganzoni

The Right Honourable John Julian Lord Belstead, having been created Baron Ganzoni, of Ipswich in the County of Suffolk, for life, took the oath.

Independent Living Fund

Lord Ashley of Stoke asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why financial support provided by the independent living fund for care costs of severely disabled people is means tested where there is no means test for other care costs benefits such as disability living allowance.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): My Lords, the independent living fund makes cash payments to enable severely disabled people to live independently in the community rather than face institutional or residential care. We are considering proposals which the trustees of the independent living fund put to us some months ago to provide their clients with greater financial benefit when they take up work.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I welcome the review because to have one set of payments to meet the extra costs of disability, like the disability living allowance, which is not means tested, and simultaneously to have another system of payments like the independent living fund, which is means tested, is illogical. It is also inconsistent and unfair to disabled people. Will this review take account of the fact that a severely disabled person who has a full-time job finds that because the independent living fund is means tested, he or she is just as badly off as if he or she had stayed at home doing nothing and receiving income support? Will my noble friend assure the House that existing cases which are being

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disputed will not be decided under these unfair existing rules but will be kept on hold and decided only when the review is completed?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, my noble friend will know that an existing case which concerns someone who has been faced with this problem is being discussed by my noble friend and my ministerial colleagues. Therefore it would be improper for me to comment on that. My noble friend is right in that the Government are faced with a real problem here because there are two conflicting positions. On the first point, compared with DLA, which may be worth just under £3,000 a year, an independent living fund payment may be worth up to £30,000 a year. It is therefore reasonable to target that on those who need it most. That is one policy. The other policy is that we are anxious to encourage disabled people into work and for them to see financial benefits from going to work. It is precisely because these two policies are not at the moment congruous that we have the review which, I am glad to say, my noble friend welcomes.

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for her reply to the Question, but is it not totally perverse for the independent living fund to make a young severely disabled person, who has to ventilate at night to stay alive, pay £310 a week for his personal care? Is this not a striking case of the independent living fund undermining the independence of a disabled person? Does it not also undermine the Government's widely supported policy of "welfare-to-work" by compelling disabled people now in work to opt instead for "work-to-welfare"?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, that is exactly right. Far from the trustees being grudging about this, they have raised the issue with government. In the introduction to his 6th report as chairman of the trustees, Mr Sydney Shore states,

    "The Government's policy is that disabled people should be encouraged to seek work if they are able to do so. I am conscious that our policies do not provide sufficient incentives for this to happen. We have submitted further proposals to Government to ensure that there are fewer barriers to those who can seek employment. We sincerely hope that we are able to announce new initiatives very shortly."

Therefore the trustees of the ILF have entirely taken on board the point raised by my noble friend.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that if she can find her way through this dilemma which has been pointed out by the noble Lords, Lord Ashley and Lord Morris, and of which she is acutely aware, we shall all owe her and her colleagues a great debt? Will she also take into account when she is considering this matter the impact upon families where the breadwinner may not be disabled and wants to carry on earning in order to care for his or her disabled spouse? We must not have a system which militates against that.

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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I have much sympathy with those comments. I remember someone who had previously been in residential care telling me that, with the aid of ILF, he was now in his own home with a wife and a job. His life had turned around. That is the importance of the ILF. The problem is that the ILF was devised back in the late 1980s as a consequence of the reforms to supplementary benefit and it replaced the old supplementary benefit additions for supportive care for disabled people. It has always had a means-tested history. But, as the noble Lord rightly said, that means-tested history is now at odds with our encouragement for people to move into work and to be better off when they do so. That is precisely why we are having the review.

Lord Addington: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her very constructive approach to this matter. It seems that she is now accepting that there is a problem. A system of tax credits has already been tried out. Can the Minister give assurances that the Government will be trying out other such programmes in order to break the poverty trap, which has evidently been sprung quite accidentally?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, since ILF was established, we have had not only the start of disability living allowance but of DPTC. Part of the Government's job is to "read across", if you like, and to ensure that our policies are consistent. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, is absolutely right, this is one of the avenues that we must explore.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, is the Minister aware that it can be very difficult for disabled people to get good carers? Sometimes they are ripped off by agencies charging huge fees. Will the Government look into the whole process of caring for disabled people?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, the Government are looking at the more general caring issues as part of the remit of the Royal Commission on Ageing and so on. We also have a commitment to work with carers' organisations and to review their situations. There is also the wider issue of registration, whether it be of carers or of childminders, and so on. I shall certainly raise these concerns with the Department of Health, which is responsible for ensuring that carers are of the appropriate standing. The noble Baroness is right to raise this issue because it will become more important as local authorities move towards direct payments. Under this scheme, an individual disabled person, instead of receiving care packages from a local authority, may turn them into cash equivalents, employ his own staff and gain the very welcome, genuine independence which follows. It is an issue for the Government and obviously we are looking at it.

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Passport Agency

2.44 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are taking action with the Passport Agency to ensure that, in the year 2000, delays are avoided of the kind which, in 1999, affected arrangements made by members of the public for holidays abroad.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): My Lords, the United Kingdom Passport Agency is looking to introduce a number of measures that will ensure that the delays experienced in 1999 do not recur in the future. More than 300 extra permanent staff have been and are being recruited, there will be increased capacity to deal with applications, including a major expansion to add 30 per cent more capacity to the agency's Peterborough office, and improvements will be introduced in the customer service offered to customers who apply in person or make telephone inquiries.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that Answer. Does he recall that when I raised this subject in the House on 10th June, I received government replies which were much too optimistic--for example, that any problems would be solved soon? As it has now been admitted that a serious situation over passports arose during the summer, which resulted in many holidays having to be cancelled, has compensation been offered to any of those affected?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, it is regretted that anyone missed a holiday as a consequence of failures within the United Kingdom Passport Agency. In answer to the noble Lord's supplementary question, 510 claims for missed holidays have been received and that is against a background of 5 million passports being issued during the year. Compensation has been paid. Between October 1998 and September 1999, the total amount of compensation paid was £238,000, of which £90,000 related to missed travel dates.

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