My Lords, I beg leave to ask the first Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.
The Question was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty's Government what plans they have to ensure that people newly disabled after April 1988 do not receive less by way of benefits and allowances than people disabled before April 1988.
My Lords, disabled people will receive more benefit by way of income support than ever before. Over £50 million extra will go to those who qualify for the disability premium. Furthermore, my honourable friend the Minister of State for Social Security and for the Disabled is urgently and sympathetically seeking a way to help the very small number of severely disabled people who need considerable help to live in the community and who become newly disabled after April 1988.
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for that reply. In the light of the fact that we have been told that we have had the biggest social security review since Beveridge, are the Government satisfied that people who are 100 per cent. disabled as a result of the Enniskillen bomb, the fire at King's Cross or industrial injury all receive different and higher levels of compensation and benefit than those received by someone who is 100 per cent. disabled as a result of a congenital handicap? Does the Minister also agree that all the people in the categories that I have mentioned would be well advised to secure their discharge from hospital before April 1988, because if they are discharged after that they will all receive benefit at a lower level than that to which they are at present entitled?
My Lords, income support is not the only benefit available to disabled people. In assessing income support, we shall continue to ignore mobility and attendance allowances for most purposes. Significant entitlements can be built up through personal allowances, the disability premium, mobility and attendance allowances, where relevant, and in certain cases either the severe disability premium paid directly to the person or invalid care allowance paid to someone else who provides care and support.
My Lords, is the Minister prepared to consult his right honourable friend about some of the problems now confronting members of the British Limbless Ex-Servicemen's Association? Ex- servicemen from both wars who have lost limbs are worried because they are finding that as they grow older it becomes more difficult and more expensive merely to move about. Will he please have a look at this problem, perhaps with representatives of the British Limbless Ex-Servicemen's Association?
My Lords, I shall draw the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, to the attention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.
My Lords, will the noble Earl say how many people now receive the supplementary additional requirement on account of disability, and how many will receive the disability premium and the severe disability premium under income support?
My Lords, until the new scheme comes into operation next April, it is difficult to estimate the number of new claimants who will qualify for the disability premium. However, at the point at which reforms are introduced next April, we estimate on the basis of existing supplementary benefit claims that 230,000 sick and disabled people will be entitled to the disability premium; of those, 190,000 (just under 85 per cent.) will be better off under income support than they are under supplementary benefit.
My Lords, will the noble Earl ask his right honourable friend to consider paying a disability premium to those who are newly diagnosed as terminally ill after April 1988, who would have been eligible under the present social security scheme for attendance needs additional requirements for the first six months qualifying period prior to their potential receipt of attendance allowance?
My Lords, we are aware of the situation with regard to terminally ill people. In view of what the noble Countess has said, I shall draw her remarks to the attention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.
My Lords, from the noble Earl's answer to the first supplementary question, it sounded as though some people would draw their income under six different heads. How will people know what they are entitled to? What steps are being taken to inform them? As the noble Earl knows, the failure of people to claim what they are entitled to because they find it difficult to know their rights has been a serious handicap in the past.
My Lords, I understand the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear. Rather than give an inaccurate answer, I should prefer to give an accurate answer in writing.
My Lords, the Minister mentioned severely disabled people in his original reply. Can I ask why the Government appear to have substituted a rebate of 20 per cent. through the benefit system for the undertaking given by the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, during the passage of the Abolition of Domestic Rates (Scotland) Bill, that the severely disabled would receive rebates of 100 per cent. of the community charge? These undertakings do not appear to be the same. I should very much like to know the reason for the substitution.
My Lords, people who are awarded income support or family credit, whether they are disabled or not, will receive increases in their benefits as compensation towards the average minimum community charge contribution. The effect of this will be to ensure that certain disabled people are compensated for 100 per cent. of their community charge liability.
My Lords, in view of the admission by Ministers that some severely disabled people are to suffer a decrease in their income as the result of the new proposals, will the noble Earl agree that there is an urgent need for a review to ensure that this does not happen? Will he further agree that it is not in the interests of the disabled that they should await the OPCS review? That would be a disservice to the disabled since they were promised in 1974 that they would he provided with support to live normally in the community?
My Lords, I refer the noble Lord, Lord Basnett, to my original Answer: namely. that my honourable friend the Minister for Social Security and the Disabled is keeping an extremely wary and sympathetic eye on those who are severely disabled.
My Lords, can the noble Earl tell us why. at col. 60 of Hansard on 16th November, the Minister, the noble Lord. Lord Skelmersdale, predicted that only 250 people would be worse off after April? How was that figure reached? Surely—and heaven forbid!—it would need only another Zeebrugge or King's Cross disaster, or a regrettable increase in road accidents, for the figure to be much larger than that? It seems to some of us quite irrational that that figure should have been quoted. Can the noble Earl tell us why transitional payments will not be index-linked and for how long the transitional payments will he maintained?
My Lords, the second question of the noble Baroness refers to the second Question standing on the Order Paper in the name of the noble Lord. Lord Carter. With regard to the figures given by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, on which she questions me, it is a highly technical and complicated subject. If the noble Baroness will allow me to do so, I prefer to write to her.
My Lords, will the Minister respond to my second question? I asked him to confirm whether people who are severely disabled and who were discharged from hospital after April 1988 will have a lower level of benefit than if they were discharged before that date.
My Lords, frankly, I should prefer to write to the noble Lord on the point that he raises.