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Disabled People (Benefit Services)

Volume 453: debated on Monday 27 November 2006

17. What Government support is available through the benefits system to people with disabilities; and if he will make a statement. (102912)

Depending on their personal circumstances, disabled people have access to the full range of social security benefits, including disability living allowance and attendance allowance. In 2005-06, disability living allowance and attendance allowance provided more than £12.5 billion towards the extra disability-related costs of almost 4.2 million disabled people.

May I raise an issue affecting many of my constituents who are in part-time education? They have been told that they are ineligible for carer’s allowance because, when their coursework is taken into account, the number of hours that they spend studying is greater than 21. Will the Minister clarify whether the amount of homework done should be taken into account?

It is always difficult, when we lay down criteria for the payment of a benefit, to take into account issues such as those highlighted by my hon. Friend. I have not been asked to consider whether homework hours should be taken into account, but obviously I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to look into the issues that his constituents have raised with him.

On the way in which the benefits system works for people with disabilities, does the Minister agree that one of the biggest problems is the complexity of the system? Does she have any plans to simplify the process by which disabled people claim benefits?

The hon. Gentleman is right to stress that we need to make our benefit application process as friendly as possible to the individual, particularly to those claiming disability living allowance and some other disability-related benefits. We constantly review how we present our application forms and we continue to engage with stakeholders and individuals to ensure that, as well as having the right information at the right point in the process, we act in a way that is sensitive to and properly reflects the individual needs of applicants. I appreciate that there is an issue because the hon. Gentleman and I have discussed it before, so I hope that he and the House accept my reassurance that we are looking into how to simplify the benefits system. The main aim is to get the right benefit to the right person at the right time in a comprehensive and comprehensible way.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a vital role to be played by the voluntary sector, as well as the benefits system, in getting disabled people back to work? Will she join me in congratulating the second chance head injury support unit at Pinderfields hospital? I visited the unit recently and heard the story of a disabled man with a catastrophic head injury who had gone back to work through the permitted work scheme as a chef at the unit. He has progressed to a national vocational qualification in catering at level 2, and is now acting as a learning support mentor for other students with learning disabilities in Leeds. Does my hon. Friend agree that such schemes play a vital part in getting people off benefits and into work?

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the work of that voluntary organisation in her constituency, which reflects the experience of many people across the country, where voluntary organisations work in partnership with Jobcentre Plus and other agencies to deliver tremendously positive outcomes for disabled people. That is why, in our roll-out to pathways, we see a crucial role for the involvement of the voluntary sector.