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Disabled Persons

Volume 929: debated on Tuesday 5 April 1977

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5.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what recent consultations he has had with organisations representing the disabled.

My hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for the disabled is in close and constant touch with organisations representing disabled people. I myself had a meeting earlier this month with representatives of the Central Council for the Disabled and have also recently met the ex-Service organisations concerned with helping the war disabled and representatives of the Queen Elizabeth Foundation. I shall be addressing the annual conference of BLESMA in May and, with my hon. Friend, will be maintaining the closest possible contact with all the voluntary organisations in the disablement field.

What answer does the right hon. Gentleman have for young people newly and severely disabled with no hope of providing a vehicle from their own resources? What chance have they of anything remotely approaching a normal mobile way of life under the right hon. Gentleman's present policy?

I have said that it is our anxiety to ensure that no one is immobilised as a result of the withdrawal of the tricycles. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the number of people who receive that assistance will be increased greatly as a result of the mobility allowance.

With regard to the particular point made by the hon. Gentleman, my reply is that I have been having discussions with the Central Council for the Disabled to examine the possibility of further assistance to recipients of mobility allowance to enable them to use the allowance to purchase a suitable vehicle. The discussions are proceeding. It is too early to make any announcement.

Has my right hon. Friend, or our hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State with responsibility for the disabled, had any discussions with organisations of dentists that are trying to do something for those who are mentally or physically handicapped? Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is a disgraceful blot on the Government's otherwise first-class record that those who are either mentally or physically disabled are not able to get dental treatment under the National Health Service?

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has received a deputation on precisely this subject from my hon. Friend and some of his colleagues. I assure my hon. Friend that we are giving the matter careful consideration.

Has the right hon. Gentleman had discussions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer following his Budget? The imposition of the tax on petrol means that many of the disabled who still have a vehicle will be less mobile than before.

This is a matter about which there is consultation. The mobility allowance will be uprated when we come to November of this year, and it will not be long before I shall announce the uprating figure.

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the criteria for mobility allowance are being applied consistently?

I know that this problem has been worrying my hon. Friend, and I believe that he is in correspondence with our hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State with responsibility for the disabled. If there are ways in which it is thought that we can make the criteria more acceptable, I assure my hon. Friend that we shall do that.

Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied with the operation of the orange dot parking scheme for the disabled?

I think the hon. Gentleman will know that this scheme has recently been extended. Perhaps it would help if I were to write to the hon. Gentleman giving him the full details.

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he plans to introduce further legislation to assist the disabled.

Important advances have been made in legislative provision in recent years. Further improvements are necessary to help disabled people and will be carried through when resources allow. Regulations to extend the non-contributory invalidity pension to disabled housewives from November of this year are now before the National Insurance Advisory Committee. We shall also be making regulations this summer to provide the attendance allowance for foster-parents caring for severely handicapped children.

Is it not clear that the mobility of the disabled will be affected adversely by the increase of 5½p per gallon in petrol tax? Instead of introducing new legislation, is the Minister prepared to listen not only to Liberal Party Members but to those representing the disabled, with a view either to an interim increase in the mobility allowance or to finding a way in which the disabled will not have to pay the additional 5½p?

My right hon. Friend has already commented on that. We appreciate the importance of mobility costs to disabled people. We are in the process of trebling my Department's expenditure on mobility for the disabled. At the same time we have said that we shall increase the mobility allowance, not only in amount but in value, this year. The hon. Member can be assured that his request will be considered carefully.

Does my hon. Friend agree that much can be done for disabled people, particularly those confined to their homes, within the confines of present legislation? Having seen the scheme in Rossendale for decorating the homes of the disabled, will the Minister approach voluntary groups and local authorities in other areas and suggest that they use job creation schemes to ensure that projects such as that in Rossendale are extended to other parts of the country?

I visited my hon. Friend's constituency recently. The Disablement Income Group in that area has, with the help of the job creation scheme, operated a remarkable programme of help for disabled people. I agree that the scheme is one that could be studied with profit in localities throughout the country. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his part in the making of the scheme.

Will the Minister make it clear that the word "disabled" is not confined to people with handicaps and problems of movement but includes people such as the deaf and the blind?

I am aware of the hon. Member's senior office in one of the main organisations helping the blind. I agree with him that people believe that there is such a being as a standard disabled person. It would sometimes help employers to meet their commitments if they realised that we were talking not only of people in wheelchairs but about those who are blind or deaf or who have other severe handicaps.

Will my hon. Friend give a progess report to the House about the modern hearing aid provided privately and perhaps under the National Health Service?

We are making good progress with the new behind-the-ear hearing aid. We estimate that there will be about 1 million beneficiaries of this new provision when the phasing-in programme is complete. As the latest date for which figures are available, 175,000 people in England had received the new aid. The figure for the United Kingdom at 31st December 1976 was 215,000. That is a remarkable achievement for people who are hard of hearing.

Will the Minister reconsider his answers to the Leader of the Scottish National Party and to my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle) about the increase in petrol tax? Is he aware that for seven months disabled drivers must pay the increased cost of petrol because the Liberal Party did not oppose it last night? Is it not time for this to be reconsidered? I know that it may require legislation, but why should disabled drivers have to pay for seven months?

The hon. Member must appreciate that this is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services has already said that we are in consultation. There is nothing that I can add at present, other than to say that it was the present Government who restored the petrol allowance for disabled drivers and who doubled it in 1975.