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Benefit Payments

Volume 481: debated on Monday 20 October 2008

6. How many people with HIV have had their (a) disability living allowance and (b) incapacity benefit reduced or withdrawn in the last 12 months. (227677)

The figures my hon. Friend asks for are not available in that form. However, he may know that we have been conducting a review of disability living allowance cases where the recipient has been in receipt of the benefit for three years or more and was qualified as being terminally ill. That includes some cases where the recipient has HIV/AIDS. As a result of that exercise, I can tell the House that up to the end of September, 1,040 people have had their benefit maintained or increased, 730 people saw their benefit reduced and 510 had it stopped, although these figures are likely to change as a result of any appeal or dispute.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his meteoric rise from having expertise on the Norfolk broads to his work and pensions brief; it is truly awesome. HIV infection leads to a fluctuating health condition for many people in that they can be assessed one week as healthy or otherwise, and the next week as quite the opposite. Will my hon. Friend’s new disability living allowance assessment procedures allow for such flexibility, so that we can have an assurance that the fear many people feel can be dismissed?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing this matter to the attention of the House. He will know that in special rules cases where someone is terminally ill, we ensure that decisions on disability living allowance are given within days rather than weeks. That is for the obvious reason that when someone receives disability living allowance in such circumstances, they are terminally ill. We are reviewing the situation for when people have been in receipt of it for longer than three years, however. The point my hon. Friend makes about fluctuating conditions and diseases such as HIV and AIDS is right. That is why we have consulted with HIV specialists and we are working in partnership with organisations such as the Terrence Higgins Trust, ensuring that our decision makers are fully aware of all the points my hon. Friend has made.

Given the depth of stigma that is still associated with HIV, and in particular the effect it has on an individual’s ability to work, will personal advisers under the new employment support scheme undergo any HIV-specific training for the job?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. Under the new employment support allowance, it is essential that staff have training in a wide range of conditions so that they can assist people back into work. We are certainly aware of that issue. On the wider point about disability living allowance, I am sure my hon. Friend will agree that it is right for us to look at those in receipt of the special award that is implemented at the point when someone is diagnosed as terminally ill. We want to assist people when they have been diagnosed with that condition—we want to assist people with that condition so that they can work and get into work. My hon. Friend is also right to raise the issue of stigma; we need to continue to tackle that as well.

On the question of stigma and people with HIV, surveys show that 44 per cent. of the population would expect to be told if they were working with a colleague who was HIV-positive. Does my hon. Friend recognise that, in finding jobs for people who are HIV-positive, there is a stigma in the work place and it is not just a matter of them wanting a job, but it is also a matter of the employer being prepared to take them on? Under this new scheme, the Minister and his departmental colleagues need to be aware of that.

Many people in society are affected by prejudice and by preconceived ideas about what they are rather than what they can do—disabled people, those with HIV/AIDS or those with a whole range of other conditions. We as a House, as Members of Parliament and as a Government need to ensure that we tackle those preconceived ideas and prejudices to ensure that employers up and down the land appreciate people for what they can do, not what condition they have.