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Disabled People: Disability Living Allowance

Volume 727: debated on Wednesday 11 May 2011


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the loss of passported benefits to disabled people when the number of those entitled to receive disability living allowance is reduced by 20 per cent.

My Lords, we are committed to ensuring that the budget for DLA is kept under control. Reducing expenditure in 2015-16 by 20 per cent means bringing working-age expenditure back to 2009-10 levels and makes it sustainable for the future. As we are still designing the assessment for the personal independence payment, it is not yet possible to comment on its impact on future passporting arrangements. We therefore cannot currently reflect that in our impact assessments, but I can, and do, commit to us doing so when we are able.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for his response and for his assurance. Will he bear in mind that, on our calculation, there are more than 40 passported benefits spanning a wide range of government departments? Will he do his utmost in the assessment process to ensure that there are no cliff edges or unintended consequences which could affect significant groups of rather vulnerable people?

My Lords, this is a key matter. There are a large number of benefits attached to DLA. I suspect that at least six government departments are involved. No one knows exactly where all of them are because local authorities use them in different ways. We are going to make a very close assessment of this. Indeed, we suspect that some of the attached benefits will be looked at again to see how they can best be directed at the people who need that support.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that on Monday the Government published draft assessment regulations for the new personal independence payment. It appears that assessments will seek to distinguish between those who have not adapted to their disability and those who have and who will be at risk of having their benefit reduced or losing it altogether. Does the Minister not agree that people may have adapted to their disability by reason of the very help that they have received from disability living allowance, which supports their independence and fuller inclusion in the community, and that reduction of benefit for those who have so adapted may, in fact, be self-defeating and undermine the integration into the community of the very people the benefit was designed to help?

My Lords, this is clearly a quite nuanced issue, because there are people who are climbing Mount Kenya on prosthetic limbs who are, I suspect, less challenged in doing that than many of us would be. It does not make sense to go on treating them as disabled in any way, although they may need ongoing support to keep that particular disability support going. We need to get this right. We are consulting on it, and we are determined that we do not create a disincentive for people to use all the supports that they need.

My Lords, we were told that the Government’s policy would be to make the broadest backs bear the biggest burden. How do we reconcile that with cuts in disability benefits that sharply reduce the incomes of severely disabled people?

My Lords, let me take this opportunity to make absolutely clear what is happening, in particular to DLA funding. The funding for all DLA, in real terms on 2011-12 figures, was £12.1 billion in 2009-10—the last year. At the end of this Parliament in 2015-16, the funding will be slightly higher—£12.3 billion. The talk of cuts relates to the projections on a benefit that was rising very sharply. What we are doing is bringing it under control. As I say, in absolute terms—in real terms—it is not being reduced; it is roughly the same. There is a slight decline in the working-age DLA from £6.7 billion to £6.5 billion. I am talking real terms.

My Lords, I welcome the news that the budget will not be reduced over the lifetime of this Parliament, but I am sure that my noble friend understands that many recipients of DLA are very worried about the proposed changes before them. Further to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Low, what words of comfort does the Minister have for those who are about to be reassessed, to ensure that the assessment process treats them fairly and honestly, and that those who are in need of help will get it?

My Lords, we are going through a very complex and thorough process this summer to examine what is the right test for receiving the personal independence payment. A lot of things are coming out of the early research, and one of those is that people who have done less well out of DLA are those who have various mental conditions and learning disabilities, and we are trying to recast it so that those people who need support will get it. There will be some changes; it is not going to be the same as DLA; but it is going to be a far more transparent, clear and consistent test.

My Lords, assuming that there are some who will not get the DLA but are, at present, entitled to passported benefits, can the Minister give an assurance that if they are to lose their DLA, an analysis of alternative criteria will be made available to them and that they will all be contacted to enable them to claim such benefits?

My Lords, it is probably premature to say how we are going to deal with this in detail. What we are going to do is publish an impact assessment—I am committed to doing that—on exactly what happens to passporting. We shall look at these issues, which are thoroughly complicated. DLA is not the only passport into many of these other benefits—there are other ways into them. We need to look at the issue in a very wide context.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the Welfare Reform Bill proposes to extend the qualifying period before claimants can receive the personal independence payment from the current three months under DLA to six months under the PIP. Is it not the case that making people wait longer for financial support will place further burdens on those adjusting to sudden onset conditions such as stroke, and people who experience the immediate debilitating effects of treatments for diseases such as cancer, as well as penalising those whose impairment or condition has gradually worsened over time? How can the Government possibly justify that?

My Lords, the intention behind the change is that we are directing the PIP to people with long-term disabilities. Therefore, we want to make sure that we get the right assessment and take time to do that, which is common with other benefits.