My Lords, the Government have made progress with a number of proposals to assist independent living for disabled people. These include the common assessment framework for adults; the fairer contribution guidance, which will be published soon; regulations to allow direct payments to be made to adults lacking capacity, from autumn 2009; ratification of the United Nations convention for disability rights on 9 June; and the soon-to-be-published Care and Support Green Paper.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that very helpful reply, but would she agree that the Government and supporters of my independent living Bill may be in conflict, because the Government want to go slower and we want to go faster in our approach? Would my noble friend and the rest of the Government consider a compromise proposal, whereby the Government enact the Bill now but then take time in implementing it—say, over two years? That would be a beginning of a breakdown of the stances on both sides.
My Lords, my noble friend is very tempting. I commend him for his passion and determination to drive progress on the very important issues of independent living and equality for disabled people. As I have already said, this Government continue to make real progress on this. I have listed some of the key actions that we have delivered since we discussed my noble friend’s Bill in March. The Government’s programme of action is making a real difference and will continue to do so. The work that we are doing and leading on, together with the Equality Bill being discussed in the other place, means that many of the goals that we all desire can be delivered without the need to enact my noble friend’s Bill.
My Lords, the Care and Support Green Paper will be published in July. I apologise for the delay. It will lay out the overall direction and series of choices for reform of the care and support system. It aims to ensure that care is both high quality and cost effective and that people have choice and control over their care. The publication of the Green Paper will be followed by a full and formal consultation to run into the autumn, to allow everybody to take part. This is a very large policy reform, which needs to be discussed by the whole nation. From that will flow the reforms that we hope will ensure that we get this particular issue of care correct.
My Lords, do the Government agree that we have been going over this ground for a long time? The noble Lord is basically asking for something that represents best practice across the board. When the Minister responds, can it be borne in mind that the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, is not calling for anything new—nothing that has not been at least tacitly agreed by virtually all sides of the House?
My Lords, the noble Lord makes an important point in support of my noble friend. The independent living strategy, of which the noble Lord will be fully aware, is a five-year strategy. It is about the needs of disabled people and the need to support them in their daily lives to have greater choice and greater control. The Government’s whole programme of activity feeds into that strategy.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the single most important thing to enable disabled people to have independent living is the provision of specially designed houses? What are the Government doing to provide independent housing for disabled people?
My Lords, there is indeed a large demand for housing adaptations and housing specifically designed for disabled people. We regard the disability facilities grant as an important part of that. It has increased from £57 million in 1997 to £146 million in 2008. We have also made it clear to local authorities that, in the light of their local circumstances, they are expected to build into their planning the needs of specific groups such as disabled people. When considering housing, they are expected to take account of the need to build homes that are appropriate for the independent living of disabled people.
My Lords, I have raised this issue before, as have many noble Lords on the Liberal Benches. I declare an interest because I have a daughter with multiple sclerosis. Is the Minister aware that people who are severely disabled feel the cold much more than ordinary individuals? I have asked the Government to look into giving the winter fuel allowance to people of whatever age who are in receipt of full care allowance.