My officials and I have discussed the proposals with regard to the mobility component of disability living allowance with a wide range of disability organisations, and disabled individuals and their families. This has included visiting and discussing the proposals with care home residents. These discussions have taken place in the context of the wider public consultation on DLA reform that is currently under way.
I thank the Minister for her answer, although I do not think that it will do much to allay my constituents’ fears about the impact on them of the DLA cuts. I am happy that she mentioned that the Government have been in discussion with disabilities charities. More specifically, however, what discussions has she had with those charities about families with children in residential care homes and the impact on them? Those families will no longer be able to take their children out at weekends and in school holidays.
So that we are clear, I should say that the Government are talking about retaining spending on DLA at the same level as last year—that is after a 30% increase in expenditure over the past eight years under the Labour Government. With regard to the implications for children living in residential care settings, we are obviously looking at the details, but I can assure the hon. Lady that the intention behind the policy is very much about removing overlaps, not mobility, in the provision.
Two blind people came to my advice surgery on Saturday who were very concerned about the impact of this proposed change on their independence. Have the Government made an estimate of the number of blind or visually impaired people who will be affected by this change?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that, given the way that disability living allowance works currently—and certainly given the way that we are looking to take it forward—we are assessing the barriers that people with a disability face, not the condition itself. Obviously, people who are blind or partially sighted face a range of barriers, but they might also have multiple conditions. That is why it is important to look at all those conditions and why, in putting forward for the first time an objective assessment for DLA or its successor benefit, we will be able to ensure that people really get the support that they need.
Will the Minister not agree to put the proposal on hold until she has carried out a thorough study of the viability of having local authorities step into the breach; or it is only proposals concerning trees that this Government put on hold, not proposals affecting vulnerable people?
I can absolutely assure the hon. Lady that we are looking in great detail at the impact of all our DLA measures. I have been to talk to residents in care homes and their family members, and what I found was an array of ways in which disability living allowance is used. All hon. Members will want to ensure that the most vulnerable members of our society are left not with a benefits system that was designed for people living in family home settings, but with one designed for how people are living now and for their mobility needs.
Many disabled people in residential care use the mobility component of DLA to ensure that they remain part of their local and wider communities. It was quite disappointing to hear a comparison drawn recently between those in residential care and those in hospital, many of whom are totally immobile, albeit for only a short period. Does the Minister agree that that was an unrealistic comparison, and can she say what assessment has been made of the mobility requirements of disabled people in residential care as compared with the requirements of those in hospital?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: people living in care homes have distinct mobility needs, and having gone out and spoken to residents, I have seen that at first hand. We need to ensure that we have a system that really meets those needs, and is not simply a sticking plaster for lots of other issues that may be forthcoming in the care homes sector. As with so many aspects of DLA, we are dealing with a benefit that is rooted in the past, not in the way people think about disability issues today. I hope that I can work with him on any examples from his constituency of how we can make it work better.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that fairness and reasonableness will be the main considerations when she finalises her reform proposals?
My hon. Friend will know from all the work that we have done and the consultation paper that we have put out that we want disability living allowance to continue to support disabled people to get into work and overcome the barriers that they face in their lives, and to ensure that the system works for today, not for 18 years ago, when it was first put in place.
I sincerely hope that the Minister has been in listening mode during her consultation on the proposals. Constituents of mine have told me that car manufacturers offer discounts to the disabled, who use their DLA mobility component qualification to demonstrate their eligibility for these discounts. What consultation has she had with the industry to ensure that under her proposals, those in care homes do not find themselves having to pay more than the rest?
I know that independent travel can be an important way for care home residents to achieve their objective of living more independently. We need to challenge the way that disability living allowance supports that at the moment, which could well include talking to motor manufacturers.
Will the Minister specifically address the comparison with hospitals, which was quite wrong and has been described by the Disability Alliance as “offensive”? The cut would produce a saving equivalent to less than one sixth of the bankers’ bonuses about to be handed out at RBS. Will she think again about this cut, or do we have another lady who’s not for turning?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question—I think. I would reiterate the point that I made earlier, which is that the changes to disability living allowance finances that we are talking about would mean keeping expenditure the same as it was last year, after eight years of a 30% increase. Overall, she has to keep that in mind. What we will do is ensure that we remove any expenditure overlaps, as she would expect us to do, and as I had hoped the previous Government would do.