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Mobility Allowance

Volume 951: debated on Tuesday 13 June 1978

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what estimate he has made of the cost of extending entitlement to mobility allowance to those whose immobility is as a result of medical factors other than physical disability.

If we were to extend the scope of mobility allowance to cover people who can walk but who have other mobility problems, we could not limit the extension to particular disabilities or diagnostic groups. While I cannot give any precise estimate, the cost of such an extension would be very considerable indeed.

Does the Minister accept that many thousands of people suffer from a severe lack of mobility caused by mental illness or mental handicap rather than physical inability to walk? Does he not accept that under the regulations there is an unfair and arbitrary distinction and that it would be much more appropriate if a mobility allowance were available to anyone who could show that his lack of mobility was due to medical factors?

I am aware of this problem. I shall consider the claims of the people referred to by the hon. Gentleman together with all other claims. I must emphasise that we should not be placed in a position of being unable to put right anything which has gone wrong. I would ask Opposition parties not constantly to be campaigning for a reduction in public expenditure while simultaneously asking us to increase all the parts of that expenditure.

Does not my hon. Friend agree that mobility allowance should be payable in all cases where mental condition has resulted in a physical inability to walk? When will he introduce his new regulations, which he promised at the time I raised my constituency case of Mr. Trent Brown, in order to establish this principle quite clearly?

We shall shortly be making regulations to put it beyond doubt that a person unable, or virtually unable, to walk for at least 12 months because of physical disablement is eligible for mobility allowance regardless of the nature of his incapacity. I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for the important part which she has played in this matter.

Does not the term "mobility allowance" continue to be a misnomer when, in fact, there are so many people with physical disadvantages who are not entitled to benefit because of the very tightly drawn terms on which the allowance is presently available'?

It is not a misnomer. The allowance is intended to help people who cannot walk or who virtually cannot walk. It is in the process of helping 100,000 new beneficiaries. We are in the process of increasing five-fold our expenditure on outdoor mobility for the disabled. There are many more claims, and we shall do whatever we can to make further progress.

Will my hon. Friend state how many now benefit from the mobility allowance? What is the total cost of this scheme? Does he realise that the scheme which has been introduced by this Government is deeply appreciated by those disabled people who benefit from it?

At the latest date for which figures are available—5th June 1978–71,142 people were in receipt of mobility allowance. I expect that by the end of 1979 our total expenditure on this new benefit will be £65 million a year. I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for the comment that he made about the importance of this new benefit.