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Blind Persons

Volume 927: debated on Tuesday 8 March 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what plans he has to equalise the benefits payable to persons accidentally blinded, as opposed to persons blinded from birth or as a result of disease.

Blind people are eligible for the improved general social security benefits according to their circumstances. The war pensions and industrial injuries schemes also have their part to play in our overall provision of help for disabled people. These schemes have not prevented such advances for sick and disabled people generally as invalidity benefit, attendance allowance, noncontributory invalidity pension, mobility allowance and the new pensions schemes.

Is the Minister aware that, under the regulations laid down in his Department's leaflet NI6, a person blinded at work receives an automatic disablement pension of £25 a week, on top of which he may get extra earnings, and that if a person is blinded as a result of disease or from birth, according to his Department's leaflet SB1 the maximum benefit is £16·95, which is reduced if he has any additional earnings? Is not this grossly unfair between the two classes of blinded people?

I am aware of these differences. The hon. Gentleman recently wrote to me and quoted the figure of £25, which must, I think, be the 100 per cent. industrial disablement pension appropriate to total blindness. The figure of £14·95 which he also quoted in his letter appears to be a supplementary benefit assessment. Without additional details I cannot comment further on that comparison, but I shall be glad to do so if the hon. Gentleman can give me particulars.

What study, if any, is being made of the principle of no fault liability in this context?

The whole question of compensation for personal injury is being considered by the Royal Commission under the chairmanship of Lord Pearson which, I understand, is expected to report later this year.

Does my hon. Friend recollect the Early-Day Motion, supported by 150 Members, in favour of all blind people being made eligible to receive the mobility allowance? Does he also recollect the deputation from the TUC General Council, which met him and my right hon. Friend to stress the importance of all blind people being given this additional benefit in order to assist their mobility? Will he now report to the House the progress that has been made?

I am aware of my hon. Friend's strong feelings on this matter and his consistency in arguing the case. He will be aware that there is strong pressure to extend the age range of beneficiaries as well as to admit new categories, not to mention many other extensions of the mobility allowance scheme. There is an infinity of claims against, regrettably, finite resources. What may be helpful to my hon. Friend is to know that blindness can be one factor among others in deciding the award of mobility allowances.