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Disability Benefits

Volume 502: debated on Monday 7 December 2009

4. What plans the Government have for the future of disability living allowance and other disability benefits. (304065)

11. What plans the Government have for the future of disability living allowance and other disability benefits. (304072)

The “Shaping the future of care together” Green Paper set out our vision for a new national care service. There may be a case for bringing together some disability benefits and the adult social care system into a single system, as a better way of providing support to older and disabled people. The Department keeps all our benefits under review.

Many folk in Clacton who have disabilities and whose need is genuine have contacted me to say they are very concerned that they could lose their allowances. Can the Minister guarantee that the deficit will not be fixed on the back of vulnerable people in Clacton who genuinely need these allowances?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s interest in disability benefits. We are, of course, concerned about pensioner disability benefits—both attendance allowance and disability living allowance. As the hon. Gentleman will know, about 1.7 million extra people are going to need social care by 2026, so we do need a new system, but I can assure him that those people who are receiving the affected benefits at the time of reform of the care service nationally will continue to receive the same level of cash support.

I represent the most centenarians in the country, and a huge number of senior citizens in my constituency are greatly concerned about any changes to their allowances. Will the Minister put their minds at rest by saying that the changes to, or even abolition of, the attendance allowance, as referred to in the Green Paper, will not mean that 2.5 million pensioners will be £3,500 a year worse off?

I have given an assurance about the arrangements for existing claimants if we introduce a national care service. Many of the hon. Gentleman’s constituents are currently living to 100, and he will be aware that that number will quadruple in 20 years’ time—and I hope he is among them, and that you are, too, Mr. Speaker. The Wanless report identified that, because of the ageing population profile in this country, we will need an additional £6 billion, so we do need a new system. I have assured the House that existing claimants will continue to receive the same cash levels as before, but I think that everyone recognises that we need a new system, and that is why we are determined to bring forward this debate.

The Government have a good record as far as disabled people are concerned, but does my hon. Friend recognise the genuine anxiety among many disabled people about the Green Paper? It is necessary to reassure them that no one who is genuinely disabled will lose out as a result.

My hon. Friend will have heard the scaremongering from certain quarters. I think that we all accept that, with the ageing population, we need a system that is fit for purpose. With increasing age comes increasing cost, and there is a demand for more quality, too. Grappling with these competing demands necessitates that we should come up with a new system. If we do not, the current system will buckle and fall. I hope that my hon. Friend will take the assurance from me that existing claimants will continue to receive the same cash level of support if we introduce a national care service.

May I draw the Minister’s attention to a problem that is affecting some of my constituents who are in receipt of disability and other benefits? If they report any change in circumstance, there seems to be a very long time lag before their new benefit is agreed. In the meantime—and these people are on very low incomes—they are left with no income at all. Will the Minister look into this?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing to our attention the concerns of her constituents in Milton Keynes. If she provides me with the details of those constituents who have experienced a delay, I shall certainly look into the matter.

It is no good the Minister pretending that this is all Conservative scaremongering, because 34 Labour Members have signed early-day motion 1 and they, along with all the disability organisations, oppose taking away attendance allowance and disability living allowance and folding them into the social care system. The simple question for the Minister is this: the Secretary of State herself, in evidence to the Select Committee, said that older people valued attendance allowance and disability living allowance and the independence and control that they gave them, so how do they benefit if those benefits are taken away and, at best, they are not even given back to them in an individual budget or, at worst, if they lose that independence and control? How do they benefit?

The hon. Gentleman is approaching this from a one-dimensional perspective. I have set out that we have an ageing population and that there will be additional costs in order for us to deliver on a required new system. It took the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues about four months to read this paper before we got a scaremongering response. I have said to his hon. Friends and other hon. Members that existing claimants will have their cash-related income protected as regards attendance allowance and DLA. We need to put in place a system that is fit for the future. We will have a national care system in the same way that we have a national health service, and that is opposed completely by the Opposition.