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Disabled People: Benefits

Volume 713: debated on Tuesday 13 October 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government which elements of disability benefit they are considering integrating into the wider social care budget in England.

My Lords, the Green Paper, Shaping the Future of Care Together, proposed that one way to deal with the challenge of an ageing society may be to bring some disability benefits and the new care and support system together into a single system as a better way of providing support. At this stage, we do not want to rule out any options and so are considering all disability benefits.

I thank my noble friend for that reply. Is he aware that any attempt by the Government to withdraw these benefits, or any benefits at all, will be very strongly resisted by disabled people, by their organisations and by many Members of both Houses of Parliament?

My Lords, I reiterate that no decision has been made on this matter—it is a consultation—and I acknowledge the benefit that many disabled people see in the current benefit structure, particularly DLA and attendance allowance. However, there is a case for bringing some disability benefits and the adult social care system together to provide better support through a new national care service. We should remember that the social care system and disability benefit system have in many ways developed in isolation from each other—they are separately assessed and have separate applications—and there may be benefits for individuals in bringing them together. However, we have made clear in the Green Paper that should we make a change in this direction, individuals receiving the relevant benefits at the time of the reform will continue to receive an equivalent level of support and protection.

Perhaps I may illustrate the nature of the challenge that we face. There are currently 1.26 million adults who get their care and support needs addressed. Over the next 20 years, 1.7 million more adults will need to be supported. Currently, 20 per cent of cases cost less than £1,000 a year and 20 per cent cost more than £50,000 a year.

My Lords, does my noble friend consider it acceptable that if attendance allowance were absorbed into the social care fund in future, many thousands of disabled people who get the benefit now, such as visually impaired people who fall outside the fair-access-to-care criteria, would no longer get any help with the extra costs of disability?

My Lords, these are exactly the points that need to be fed into the consultation so that they can be taken fully into account. Currently, there is a considerable degree of overlap between the social care support system and attendance allowance, in particular, and many claimants of attendance allowance effectively have a significant loss of their benefit in the assessment for social care.

My Lords, I declare an interest in that I receive a disability benefit. Is the Minister aware of the very real fear that has been engendered among disabled people at the possibility of attendance allowance, and possibly the care element of disability living allowance, being swept into the kitty to plug the gap in the funding of adult social care? Many disabled people think that that is about to happen and say that they just do not trust local authority funding, which of course is where it would end up. Will the Government make an unequivocal statement to the effect that this is very much open for consultation and is not going to happen tomorrow, as a lot of people think it is?

Indeed. I can absolutely reassure the noble Baroness and the whole House on that issue. This is a Green Paper. It is a consultation and we need fully to take account of people’s views. There is no prospect of people simply having their disability benefits removed overnight. That is no way in contemplation.

My Lords, on this proposition of subsuming various allowances, including attendance allowance, is this moving away from the principles of right to control which are being included in the Welfare Reform Bill?

It is very much to the contrary. It is a clear thrust of the Green Paper that when we establish the national care service, some of its key components will be prevention services and information and advice, and personalised choice and control will be at the centre of those proposals. In a sense, this is being reinforced by the Welfare Reform Bill at the moment.

My Lords, notwithstanding what the Minister has said about all disability benefits being up for consideration, and given the reported statement by the Minister for Care Services that disability living allowance is not under threat, can the Minister confirm that neither component of the disability living allowance, whether paid to present or future recipients over as well as under 65, is being considered as a possible source of funding for social care?

My Lords, as I said in answer to the first Question, currently no particular benefit is ruled out of consideration. We are conscious of the fact that DLA is overwhelmingly used by people who are under 65, and obviously care needs are overwhelmingly for people who are older.