asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what further representations he has received regarding the extension of the mobility allowance to older persons; and if he will make a statement.
I have had a number of representations about extending the allowance to people over pensionable age. The problem is one of cost. An extra annual sum of the order of £125 million would be required to make the allowance payable beyond pensionable age. Our immediate priority for older people has been to increase the level of retirement pensions, and this has already been done four times in the past three years. Altogether, the improvements to date in pensions and benefits since we took office have cost about £1,500 million.
Will the Minister, who has done so much in this House for the disabled, bear in mind that many of the disabled persons who do not get the benefits of the mobility allowance suffer from regressive illnesses and may never receive any such benefit unless the age category is extended as soon as possible? I appeal to the Minister to do his best as soon as the resources are available to extend the scheme and so enable other disabled people to enjoy these benefits.
We hope to build on the present scheme as soon as we can. No one knows more than my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey) that there is a strong claim on behalf of blind people to be included in the mobility allowance scheme. Unfortunately, we have an infinite number of claims but finite resources.
Is the Minister aware that there is a progressively greater need for the allowance among elderly groups? These people are worse off under the current Government proposals than they were under the previous plan. Will he extend the scheme in some way in order to help these unfortunate people?
I appreciate the problems of elderly people who are disabled. Under the terms of the Social Security (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, we have been able to take some elderly disabled people across retirement age while retaining the benefits of the allowance. I shall bear in mind the points that have been made in this series of questions.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is something rather ridiculous about the present arrangements, which mean that a constituent of mine in his twenties who needs a tricycle to get to work—in all other respects he is self-supporting—cannot have such a vehicle, but that if he were 51 years old he could?
My hon. Friend has put his finger on one of the transitional problems. It is because people are not entitled to a mobility allowance if they are over 50 that they may still apply for vehicles. There is an implication that his constituent is a person who needs extra help to get to and from work, and I shall have the particular case looked at in conjunction with my colleagues at the Department of Employment.
Is the Minister aware that the average weekly travel-to-work payment of the Department of Employment is £9·04? This is nearly double the mobility allowance. Would it not be sensible, in order to release more money for pensioners to receive the mobility allowance, to look at what further mobility allowance might be made to the disabled so that they may be made self-supporting by provision of additional help for travelling to work?
I am in very close contact with my ministerial colleagues at the Department of Employment on this matter. I emphasise that the sum is not less than its parts. Those who want to increase public expenditure in every particular item yet depress it in totality should realise that to govern is to choose. I am arguing for the claims of disabled people. I know the interests of the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) and I am doing everything I can to help disabled people, in consultation with my colleagues.