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Welfare Reform Bill

Volume 524: debated on Wednesday 9 March 2011

6. What assessment he has made of the likely effect on families in Scotland of the changes to benefits proposed by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. (44080)

7. What discussions he had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions prior to the publication of the Welfare Reform Bill on the likely effect on Scotland of the measures in that Bill. (44081)

10. When he last met anti-poverty campaigners in Scotland to discuss the potential effect in Scotland of the measures in the Welfare Reform Bill. (44084)

The Secretary of State for Scotland and I are in regular contact with ministerial colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions. We also meet regularly organisations in Scotland with an interest in welfare and combating poverty.

That was not an answer to the question that I asked. I cite two cases to the Under-Secretary: a family with a son born with fragile X syndrome and autism and another family with an absolutely outstanding young teacher who suffered a massive stroke. Both of them now require 24-hour residential care. Their lives will be damaged irreparably if the Government go ahead with the withdrawal of benefits for people in residential care—benefits that give them a quality of life that makes residential care not a prison sentence. Will the Secretary of State and the Scotland Office campaign with the people of Scotland against this proposal by the Government to withdraw benefits from people in residential care?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there was a debate this morning in Westminster Hall on that specific issue. The Government have indicated that they are listening to the concerns. The fundamental issue with disability living allowance is that it is not fit for purpose and needs change. The Government are taking those changes forward.

I have been contacted by Mr Ron Skinner, MBE, who is a non-executive director of Order of Malta Dial-a-Journey Ltd, which operates in my constituency. He expressed grave concern about the impact of the removal of mobility allowance from those in residential care. What specific discussions has the Minister had with his opposite numbers in the Department for Work and Pensions on this issue, which is causing great concern for those in residential care?

Yesterday, I met the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) and Lord Freud, the Minister in the House of Lords who is responsible for welfare reform, to discuss the implications of welfare reform for Scotland. The right hon. Lady raises one such issue. As was said in Westminster Hall this morning, DLA as it currently exists is not fit for purpose. It is applied randomly across care homes, not just in Scotland but across the United Kingdom, and it needs to be reformed.

Order. There are far too many private conversations taking place in the Chamber. Let us have a bit of order for Fiona O’Donnell.

Like you, Mr Speaker, I am feeling in a generous mood, so I will give the Under-Secretary of State a third chance to redeem himself. The Prime Minister’s excuse for removing the mobility component was that it addressed an anomaly between those in hospital and those in residential care. Will the Under-Secretary of State at least acknowledge that residential care homes are based on a social model, and not a medical model?

I certainly acknowledge that residential care homes are social rather than medical institutions primarily. However, as the hon. Lady will know, having been present at this morning’s debate in Westminster Hall, many care homes operate the mobility aspect of disability living allowance differently. The basis on which it is applied to a person in a home in Scotland and what it is applied for is dependent on which home they are in. I am sure she will agree that that is not acceptable.

Does the Minister agree that many families in Scotland are suffering economically and socially because of the disastrous policies not only of 13 years of Labour Government, but of four years of Scottish National party Government in Scotland? Will he undertake to work with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to ensure that people in Scotland who are in real need, especially those with disabilities, benefit under his Government’s policies?

I agree with my Friend’s analysis. Like many people in Scotland, I recognise that the Welfare Reform Bill provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to radically overhaul the benefits and welfare system.

Can the Minister indicate to the House how many low-paid Scots will be lifted out of income tax, and how many families in Scotland will benefit from the reform to tax credits that has been announced?

The changes announced last week to social fund crisis loans will cut the level and availability of loans for essential items such as beds and cookers. Does the Minister agree that that will push vulnerable people on lower incomes towards high-cost lending and into the arms of loan sharks, exacerbating problems that Scotland already has?

I do not agree with the hon. Lady’s analysis. I am surprised to hear again from the Scottish National party that it does not welcome the devolution of elements of the social fund to the Scottish Parliament.