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Welfare Reform Bill

Volume 734: debated on Tuesday 31 January 2012

Third Reading

Clause 10 : Responsibility for children and young persons

Amendment 1

Moved by

1: Clause 10, page 4, line 36, at end insert—

“such additional amount to be paid at either a higher rate, or a lower rate, which shall be no less than two-thirds of the higher rate as may be prescribed”

My Lords, Amendment 1 seeks to ensure that the gap between the higher and normal-rate additions for disabled children is not too great. The Government’s proposals for these additions, according to the Minister, are designed to be revenue neutral. The money saved is to be used to raise the level of income for adults in the support group.

My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baroness, but might I just suggest that people leave the Chamber quietly, because it is very difficult to hear what she is saying?

The amendment proposes that Ministers revisit the relationship between the new levels of disability addition for children and allocate resources to adults in the support group when new money allows. I know that we must move on from arguments made on Report, but I must make just a few points to help my argument here to be coherent.

Very briefly, under the new provision for a disability addition and a higher addition, families who have a child who is eligible for the higher addition will receive £1.50 per week more than current claimants do, but families with disabled children who do not meet the stiff criteria for the higher addition will receive £27 per week less. Most families with a disabled child will therefore lose about £1,400 a year.

This amendment would peg the normal addition for disabled children at two-thirds the level of the higher disability addition for children. The House voted on a more radical amendment on this issue on Report and the Division was lost by two votes. We are seeking to eliminate the cliff-edge between the two levels of disability addition for children because all such families are far less likely, for example, to be able to rely on relatives or other informal carers. Their childcare costs will be far higher than those with a non-disabled child. Of course, families will have to pay 30 per cent of their childcare costs whereas today they pay, I think, 5 per cent. There really is an issue of work incentives for those parents, although I understand that the Minister will have a go at me on that issue.

On another terribly important matter, the need for high childcare costs will continue until the child is very much older, if not indefinitely. That applies to children who would not qualify for the higher rate addition yet who may be very severely disabled. That is the point. This amendment would go a long way to creating a much fairer system, which is what we are all about.

One might ask whether it really matters. It does matter because 100,000 or so disabled children affected by this loss of benefit are very likely to live in poverty. Recent research by the Children’s Society indicates that once the additional costs of disability are accounted for, four in every 10 disabled children are living in poverty and a loss of income would really matter. Therefore, disabled children would not only live in poverty but would have vastly greater costs.

The Government argue that their new additions align the levels of support for disabled children with those for disabled adults, but the levels of support are based on completely different tests. For children the test is based on eligibility for DLA, and for adults it is based on their fitness for work. So I am not quite sure how the Government are arguing that these have been aligned.

The Government argue that the changes will ease the transition to adulthood for disabled children. On Report, the Minister said:

“We want to smooth the transition from childhood to adulthood by removing that artificial divide”.—[Official Report, 12/12/11; col. 1054.]

In fact, the restructuring will reduce the support for most disabled children. It will not reduce the support for the very most disabled children who require night-time care, but it will reduce it for others. Therefore, I do not accept the argument.

There are good reasons for proposing a disability addition at two-thirds of the higher rate for children. This addition is needed to contribute to the costs of special clothing, repairing damage, safety measures and special food, and to contribute to the costs of giving disabled children access to the opportunities that other children have. We know that simple things like swimming lessons cost something like £270 for 12 lessons for a disabled child as opposed to £80 for a normal child. Where will that money come from? A summer club costs £450 per week for a disabled child compared with £100 a week for a non-disabled child. Yet these are the things that would give a parent a break and really help a child to socialise and benefit from development opportunities.

The Government’s proposed child additions go nowhere near covering these extra costs. I fear that their proposed reforms to disability additions are short-term fixes. I understand the position of the Minister, who is under huge pressure from the Treasury. One of the troubles for this House and noble Lords is that this reform, much of which we support in principle, is being tangled up with swingeing cuts to benefits which are having unacceptable impacts. Therefore, we are trying at the edge to ameliorate some of those unacceptable impacts. That is what we are about. The Government’s proposed reforms to disability additions therefore need another look by Ministers.

I turn to the particular problems of single parents with a disabled child. Many years ago I ran a group for parents of severely disabled children. I expected lots of mums and dads to turn up, and I was faced with what I thought was an absolute tragedy: the room was full of mothers who told me that the fathers had gone. Many of them had left home within months of the birth of the disabled child. It is these mothers and a great deal of others whom we need to have in our minds today.

Many parents of disabled children will be doing something very valuable for society by staying at home to develop their children’s full potential. They should not be under pressure, even in these stringent times, to go out and stack shelves. By devoting themselves full-time to therapy, play exercises and other learning activities, they are reducing the dependency levels of their children that, with luck, will last throughout their lives—some cannot make progress, of course, but many can—and increasing the possibility that their children can develop a degree of independence, and maybe even financial independence, in adulthood. It would be wise for the Government to take this issue very seriously.

I would ask the Minister to revisit the two levels of disability additions to consider whether the balance is right. Is there not merit in leaving the higher rate at £76 and retaining the basic level at two-thirds of that sum, which is something like £50? That really would make an enormous difference to these families. I would be grateful if the Minister would agree to take this matter away for further consideration, even at this very late stage, in the light of what I think are very powerful arguments for some change in their approach. Finally, will he agree to review the impact of the disability benefits changes in the universal credit system one year after its introduction—although I know that the system is to be introduced over time, so a year may not be terribly realistic? While doing that, will the Minister consider taking a look at reviewing the entire welfare reform package? I beg to move.

My Lords, I have added my name to this amendment, which has been ably introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. The children we are talking about, those who will be affected by this reduction in benefit, are those who are profoundly deaf, who have Down’s syndrome and those with cerebral palsy, among many other conditions. The Government are focusing their resources on the most severely disabled, but the costs of bringing up a disabled child do not equate with the severity of the impairment. The care costs can be just as expensive, sometimes even more so, for bringing up a child who will qualify only for the future lower rate of addition under the Bill.

I grew up with my friend’s younger sister who was born with cerebral palsy. It was a family with four children. The whole family’s life was dominated by trips to London to visit her therapists, visits to hospital, visits to the swimming pool and so on, so that she could avoid contractures and had a chance to develop her full potential. Of course, we all had to go because there was no one to look after us at home. The cost must have been considerable. Then there were the costs of extra equipment, the constant wear on her clothes and so on. If Paula had qualified for the higher rate of care and needed night time attendance as well, it would have put a considerable strain on her family, but it would only marginally have increased the costs. Under this Bill, Paula’s benefits would have been halved, and her chances of developing to her full potential and living an independent life would have had no hope at all.

What about profoundly deaf children? Most do not need day and night care and so would not qualify for the higher rate. The National Deaf Children’s Society tells me that it was contacted by Laura, a single mother whose daughter was diagnosed as deaf soon after she was born. Laura had to give up her job as a nurse as she was the only person who was able to care for her child. She said to me that her life then spiralled out of control and she started getting into financial trouble. All she could think about was, “I have got to eat less and I have got to turn the heating down”, otherwise she simply would not be able to support her daughter. The NDCS helped her to apply for the current benefits, and now that the stress of not being in financial trouble has gone, she is finally able to concentrate on learning to communicate with her child, thus giving her the best possible start in life. But under this Bill Laura would lose up to £1,400 a year. That is £22,000 over her daughter’s childhood. The sum of £1,400 is the cost of heating your house for a year. Think of the danger and the misery that that will mean on a freezing cold day like today.

On Report, the Minister argued that he was working within a fixed financial envelope and that he just could not maintain the existing rates for disabled children if he was going to increase the rates for severely disabled adults. If ever there was an example of robbing poor Peter to pay poor Paul, this would be it. Surely the Chancellor is able to release his noble friend the Minister from this part of his restrictive envelope and find the money from the shoulders of people who would not notice the loss of £1,400 a year. We know that there are many of them; we read of them daily in our newspaper headlines.

Does the Prime Minister really wish to leave this as his legacy for disabled children—children with cerebral palsy? I urge your Lordships to support the amendment and send a message to the Commons to think again.

I gather that we are being asked not to rehearse all the arguments. We have, anyway, heard very full arguments from the noble Baronesses, Lady Meacher and Lady Wilkins. I shall try instead to concentrate on the amendment.

No one likes cliff edges of any sort in the benefits system, and this amendment tries to make one edge less steep over time. The cliff edge that the Government are trying to eliminate in universal credit is the amount of disability additions received, by way of different gateways, by new claimant families for a moderately disabled child under 16 and a moderately disabled adult of 16 and over. The amendment’s cliff edge is different. It tries to address the difficult and sometimes rather artificial differences between the needs of a severely disabled child—whose family will get more money under the Bill—and those of a moderately disabled child and a much less disabled child, both of whose families will get much less money. I have great sympathy with the amendment because I believe that as many families as possible with even moderately disabled children should be helped, although I acknowledge that the amendment, narrowly drawn as it is, to some extent preserves the cliff edge between the disability needs of children and adults in universal credit which the Government are trying to eliminate.

The question is whether the formula in the amendment should be locked into the Bill, or whether everything should be left to regulations. My noble friend Lord German will address that shortly.

My Lords, I should like to talk directly to my noble friend the Minister about money, because we all understand the imperative to reduce the deficit and how, right the way through the Bill, trying to cut back has been part of the debate on almost every clause. However, this amendment seeks to attain proportionality between that higher and lower amount of addition made to universal credit for disabled children.

I come back to a question that we have raised in previous debates: what exactly do we mean by “disability light”, because that is really what we are talking about. These are still disabled children, in the same way as, in other parts of the Bill, they are still disabled adults. It might be presumed that it is somehow like comparing a light head cold with a really nasty bout of flu, but I say to my noble friend—I should have referred to my interests in the register—that it is not like that. For children with disabilities who will lose this huge sum of money and for their carers, particularly the parents, the impact will be great. We have already heard in your Lordships' House today about the impact on some—not all—families of caring for a disabled child, as well as on the relationship between the parents and—and this should never be forgotten—on other siblings. Usually there are other people in the family. They all share in the responsibility when they share a household with a disabled child.

I have spent many years dealing with casework for what must run into hundreds, if not thousands, of adults and children on the autistic spectrum. If this is about money, I hope my noble friend will take my word for it that although they might be considered as “disabled light” in childhood, a huge proportion of them will be the big bills to the public purse later on in adolescence and adulthood. Not only is the human cost of that tragic and avoidable—because most of it is avoidable, if it is properly planned and cared for—but there is the economic aspect. Just putting in the basics early enough, some of which are very low-budget items, can prevent the very big crisis-budget bills that inevitably come. I say “inevitably” quite deliberately, because that is what we know happens; it is well recorded. We have enough evidence of this right across the whole disability spectrum, particularly in some of those spectrums that I take a particular interest in, which are not immediately visible. They are the ones where there is no obvious physical disability but which none the less have a profound impact on the individual concerned. I do not want to overegg this, but Members of the House will have seen the headlines. We see these tragic cases where parents have a disabled child who is sometimes of school age but sometimes an adult dependent child; for those parents, childhood does not end at 18 or when they leave education, it goes on year after year. I can think of some pensioner parents with pensioner-age children still living at home and wondering what is going to happen to them. This is a lifetime commitment for parents.

I am quite sure that if my noble friend, and certainly the Treasury, have done the cost-benefit analysis that I asked for when we discussed DLA in the context of this Bill, they will find that this amendment, although not what the Government are proposing, will save the public purse over the medium to longer term. If we look at it in those crude terms—because that is what I feel they are—we will save a lot of pain and anguish. We will certainly save lives. At the end of the day, it will also save the Exchequer money in some part of the public sector where it will almost certainly have to be found in a hurry.

My Lords, I stand very briefly to support this amendment. As a psychiatrist who has worked for many years with families with disabled children such as those we have been hearing about, I feel very strongly about the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, made about proportionality. It is very difficult to base the cost of having a disabled child on whether the child needs care at night or only during the day. This relates particularly to children who have very difficult and challenging behaviour, including those with learning disabilities who might have attention deficit syndromes or autistic spectrum disorders. This amendment needs very careful and thoughtful consideration.

My Lords, I am pleased to support this amendment so ably moved by my noble friend Lady Meacher and so clearly defined by the noble Baronesses, Lady Wilkins and Lady Browning. The principles behind universal credit are an acknowledged improvement on the current arrangements for benefits for people who are either in or out of work. Noble Lords cannot but be aware of the enormous strains that disability can put on individuals and their families. That has been pointed out to us today. These strains fall disproportionately on parents of children with disabilities. Most of the time the public are unaware of the emotional demands made by a child with whom his parents cannot reason and whose needs are unending, unpredictable and create additional burdens on the family finances. I have a huge respect for mothers who continue to cope while at the end of their tethers.

The improvements in neonatal survival rates have brought with them more children who are very dependent. Some will never be wholly independent. Some children become disabled through illness or accident for which no one is to blame. There will be no huge compensation payouts for them. This is a responsibility that can be too much for parents to bear alone and I believe that we should all ensure that they receive adequate support.

Recent research by Dr Esther Crawley at Bristol University showed that as many as one in 100 children away from school may have CFS/ME. Many of these children are currently in receipt of DLA at the lower rate, which has a mobility component, as well as others at the higher rate, although they can walk short distances. We do not know how such children will be assessed in future, although if the PIP assessment is anything to go by they will lose the mobility component. Their DLA helps with childcare costs and transport, among other things. It also provides a passport to other benefits, such as Blue Badge, congestion charge exemption and the London Taxicard. As one mother put it to me recently:

“Without these my daughter would essentially be housebound and not only would have no social life whatsoever, but she couldn’t get to medical or dental appointments or places of educational interest associated with her studies. She is a clever talented girl who cannot progress to higher education without these things”.

I am growing increasingly concerned about the strains that we are about to put on our less fortunate citizens by the provisions of this Bill. There are reports appearing on a regular basis of deaths of people found by ATOS to be fit for work. Chris Grayling acknowledged that 31 people had died while awaiting their appeals in the three years to last October. I understand that benefit cuts are also confirmed by coroners as the cause of at least 16 suicides. The noble Baroness, Lady Browning, has mentioned mothers who have murdered their children and then committed suicide.

Too often children with disabilities are cared for by a lone parent, as we heard from my noble friend Lady Meacher. Rejection of this amendment could be the last straw. Acceptance of this amendment may well be their lifeline.

My Lords, I support this amendment. I am not going to repeat what I said at Second Reading, in Committee and at Report stage, save to emphasise once again that as a family who lost two severely handicapped boys we know the impact of cost when there is disability in the family. Although at their latter stages they would undoubtedly have had the highest available support, at earlier stages they would probably not under the definitions now current. There are thousands of children and families who will most certainly miss out.

We are told that Disability Rights UK is very concerned about the impact that this will have on families with disabled children and particularly, as in our case, on those with more than one disabled child. It is concerned about the effect that it will have on the longer-term life chances if they grow up in poverty. The Minister said at Report stage that,

“the impact of the reform of disability payments on the number of disabled children living in relative poverty will be negligible”.—[Official Report, 12/12/11; col. 1055.]

Negligible—that is not the assessment of others. The Children’s Society estimates that over 40 per cent of disabled children already live in poverty. The Minister conceded at Report stage that we are talking about taking £200 million and redirecting it. What will be the effect of taking £200 million off those who already are very near to poverty? That is surely not acceptable.

The Minister emphasised at Report stage the provisions of the transitional arrangements being made, but he conceded that as inflation bites—and it is still running at 5 per cent—the value of this will erode, which will be a real loss to these most vulnerable people. If this issue is to be considered further, as the mover of the amendment requested, and the Government give it further thought, we must keep the issue alive by adopting the amendment today. Otherwise we will lose the opportunity. I beg the Government either to accept this or to come back with their own amendments in another place and bring them here—or, alternatively, I suggest that we as a House ensure that they are carried.

My Lords, I, too, wish to speak relatively briefly to this important amendment. In the course of my neurological training and in my career, I spent some time assessing children with cerebral palsy who attended the excellent Percy Hedley centre in Newcastle upon Tyne and received outstanding treatment. However, when I saw the varying degrees of disability produced by this group of conditions—a group of immense variability—and saw the effect that the condition of these children had on their families, sometimes leading to family breakdown, as the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, said, I became increasingly concerned about the evidence of the disability and the resultant poverty which developed in many of these families.

Some of my personal research was dealing with a progressive disease—Duchenne muscular dystrophy—where young boys born apparently normal would begin at about the age of three to have difficulty in walking. They then began to have problems with falling frequently and getting up from the floor, and progressively became increasingly disabled so that many of them were taken to a wheelchair by the time that they were aged 10. I saw the effect that this had when not just one but two boys might be affected in an individual family, and the problems faced by those parents were immense. I shall never forget one mother saying to me, “I see my son die a little every day”.

I am not talking just about static conditions such as cerebral palsy—although even in cerebral palsy as the child becomes older, the disability may remain neurologically non-progressive—but about the problems that begin to emerge over schooling and a whole series of other issues, which become increasingly important and increasingly matters for concern. I could go on about my personal experience in the field of neurology and paediatric neurology but I would simply say that this is a very worthwhile amendment, and one which deserves your Lordships' support.

My Lords, I wonder whether I might intervene briefly. I am in a slightly awkward position, and it may not surprise the House to know that I have been approached by all parties to this argument, either to say something on their side or to shut up. I am going to make a slightly ambivalent speech which will leave a lot depending on the Minister. I fully support the concerns that have been expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, by my noble friends Lady Thomas of Winchester and Lady Browning, and by others. The Government need to listen to this and take heed, and come forward with proposals which address these concerns.

In the light of what I said last week, it will not surprise the House to know that I do not think that setting benefit rates or benefit relationships in concrete in primary legislation is sensible. I would prefer that we leave it for Ministers to decide in regulations, as the Bill provides, provided it is clear that they are going to put something sensible in those regulations and that we shall have a proper opportunity to scrutinise them. It will follow from that that I want a positive response from the Minister before deciding what I am going to do.

I will make one further point, which picks up on what the noble Lord, Lord Walton, was saying. The other thing that strikes me about setting things in concrete is that this is a world in which things change very fast, because of medical advances. He referred to Duchenne muscular dystrophy. I think I have more knowledge of cystic fibrosis, where the world has moved on hugely in the past 20 or 30 years—not least because of work done at the hospital of which I used to be chairman, the Royal Brompton—and that is happening all over the scene. Conditions that were immediately life-threatening or life-limiting at a very early age are now more treatable, and life is longer. Anything that ties us down to an inflexible framework for dealing with these problems is probably not the right way forward.

That, though, is simply a view that I express to the House. My fundamental point is that this is better dealt with in regulations, provided we can ensure that the Government will do that. I look forward to hearing what my noble friend has to say.

My Lords, I congratulate my old friend the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, on her excellent introduction to the amendment.

I have two points to make. First, regarding the excellent speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, I used to be an expert on cost-benefit analysis; indeed, I did the very first piece of cost-benefit analysis ever done in the Treasury, and I am talking about a very long time ago. I have not the slightest doubt that if the Government were to conduct such an analysis—I am too old now to do it for them—of what they are doing in this area, it would show that there will be no net economic saving nor net financial saving from what they are doing now. Nor do I have the slightest doubt that there are plenty of very good economists in the Treasury who already know that.

My main point is that the question before us is an ethical one and should not be treated primarily in economic and financial terms. Your Lordships’ House is the best suited place that I know of to discuss such matters; indeed, I believe that we have a duty to consider the ethical aspects of what the Government are doing with regard to disabled young people. My main intellectual hobby is philosophy, and I know no philosopher who has ever written on the subject of ethics who would be other than appalled at the notion that we are discussing which group of disabled should bear the burden. Those philosophers would regard that as a rather sick formulation of policy-making and would be equally appalled that such burdens should fall on two of the most vulnerable groups in our society. The first group is the young disabled, about whom their view would be that if the Government cannot find the money, we taxpayers should meet the cost. That would be the correct ethical response to all this. The second group we ought also to bear in mind, as various contributors have mentioned, is carers and the burden placed them. I thank goodness that I have never had to be a carer in that sense. As has been pointed out, those carers worry about whether they dare die as their disabled people have got older.

The Government simply should not be going down this path. I say in terms to the Minister that he should be ashamed of himself in trying to defend such unethical behaviour.

My Lords, a Division on a similar amendment was lost by two votes. We must all remember that we have here a compromise that would mean that at least some of the huge number of children would not be as severely deprived of the many things that they need in their lives as otherwise. It is also a question, as we have heard graphically spelt out, of many single parents, mainly young mothers, coping on their own with all these additional burdens and the need to stretch the money in ways that your Lordships have read about day after day in the pleadings that come through to us all. I ask the Minister to give serious consideration to whether a compromise of some sort would do. Personally, I would prefer the amendment as it is to be passed in full; it is about the maximum that any reasonable, fair-minded person would be happy to receive.

The amendment tabled earlier by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, was passed. If the Minister cannot give us sufficient reassurance and this amendment is voted on and passed, the other place will have an opportunity to see just how widespread is the support for it across all Benches, as we saw with the noble and learned Lord’s amendment. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will think very hard about accepting this amendment, which was so brilliantly moved by my noble friend Lady Meacher.

My Lords, it has been said that the mark of a civilised society is the way that it cares for its most vulnerable. I remind the Minister that the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, encapsulated the societal burden of a failure to demonstrate that we are a civilised society.

I wish to put some figures on the table which have not been mentioned in the debate to date. The Family Fund is a charity that provides grants to low-income families caring for severely disabled children. In 2010, it had to pay out to a range of families, 64 per cent of whom had a child who was not receiving the higher rate of DLA. Recent figures from the Social Fund found that 69 per cent of families with disabled children are worried about their financial situation, with 61 per cent of those struggling to pay monthly bills and three-quarters believing that the high costs of caring for a disabled child are the cause of their financial situation. Other children in the family will suffer as a result of that, probably disproportionately greatly, because the psychology of a parent caring for a disabled child often dictates that that child becomes a focus of disproportionate attention.

Research by CLIC Sargent found that on average parents spend about £367 on extra expenses a month following a child’s cancer diagnosis and treatment, resulting in an annual spend of about £4,400 for parents of a child with cancer. When these families, whether suddenly or gradually devastated by illness, do not have the money they need with which to pay not for luxuries but very basic things to enable them to provide care for the disabled child, the other children in the family, the health service and society as a whole end up paying a higher price in many domains.

The amendment was eloquently introduced by my noble friend Lady Meacher. I urge the Minister to accept it, thereby removing the need to test the opinion of the House.

My Lords, I support this amendment, but in so doing I understand the position in which the noble Lord finds himself with a set of sealed envelopes. Like many other noble Lords, I encourage him to go back to the Treasury, or at least to have a look at how the available funding can be properly distributed. After all, this is a compromise. Personally, I would like us not to be in this position at all but rather to ensure that we do not make any cuts, because these are cuts—unlike some of the other reforms—to the budgets of families with disabled children.

I do not want to repeat the eloquent speeches that have already been made but to make three brief and, I hope, slightly different points. First, the Government need to take the long view as regards financial management. If we take the short-term view, we will find that many of these families will fall into even more disarray than they are in already. We should remember that, as has been said—I reinforce this point—the majority of these families are single-parent families looked after by mothers. These are not women who have had a child for some feckless reason, as is often portrayed in the newspapers, but women whose husbands cannot tolerate the pressure of having a disabled child in the household and have simply gone out of the picture—so these women are alone. Often that means that they cannot support their child’s situation, which results in many children going into care. I shall not quote more statistics, but noble Lords know that there are large numbers of disabled children in care at the moment and placing them in foster homes is very difficult; in fact, to get them adopted is almost impossible. The state’s burden of caring for such children is huge; the costs per week of caring for a disabled child can run into thousands. In taking the long view, we have to remember the number of children in care.

My last point is that, as several people have said, if we are a civilised society, we want children to grow up to be active young people and to have a proper transition into adulthood. I declare an interest as the president of Livability, a charity which looks after young people in schools, in colleges and through into adult care. I understand the need for that transition. If we are to do that and if we are to ensure that such families have a proper life, appropriate funding is crucial. Noble Lords may have disabled children but, if you are trying to bring them up on the kind of money that these families have and in the housing conditions and relationship situations of these families, funding is absolutely crucial to underpin the care, love and continuity that these children desperately need. I ask the Minister to look in his envelopes again to see whether there is not some way in which the money can be redistributed to ensure that that does not happen.

My Lords, I would like to take a little further the arguments, put by the noble Lord, Lord Newton, about where we go with the concerns that have been widely expressed around the House. It is worth reminding noble Lords that the intention expressed by the Minister is not in the Bill before us; that is the subject of future regulations that are to be brought forward. I understand that the purpose behind the amendment is to lock the Minister into a pattern which will remain for many years to come. If you put something into primary legislation, it will be locked there for many years until time is found to change it. I shall return to some of those issues later.

One thing that has not been mentioned is the other cliff edge—my noble friend Lady Thomas mentioned this in her speech—relating to those who are 16 and those who are 17. The cliff edge is enormous. We also have to consider the change in the funding, although it is not the subject of this amendment, but it is the subject of the Minister’s thinking, as expressed to us. Many people see the problem of no continuity for disabled people between the ages of 15, 16 and 17. That is the issue that the Minister is concerned about.

Another related issue is not just the level of payments, but the way in which the payments will be funded over time. Perhaps this House would be better thinking about having a further debate on this or having that discussion during proceedings on regulations. I shall come back to how that might happen in a moment. There are two possible routes out of the problem of the distinct difference in the funding for those who are post-16 and those who are less than 16. I guess that one of the ways might be to create new tiers. There are already three tiers in DLA and there are two tiers for adults. At some stage in the future, a Government—this one or a future Government—might decide that it is essential to have three tiers and they might want to redesignate. Of course, that would be stopped by this amendment.

The second and more purposeful way in which the amendment would not allow change would be as regards transitioning; I do not mean the transitional measures in the Bill, but moving to rectify the enormous cliff edge that occurs at the age of 16. For that to happen, it may well be that a Government of whatever kind would want some form of progress on changing the relationship between post-16 and under-16 provision.

All those things would not be assisted by an amendment that locked into aspic a set of placements between one set of benefits and other, and missed out the other half of this equation, which is not the subject of the amendment. Of course there are concerns about the levels of payment that go into these particular directions. If you forage around the background of these particular payments—they go back to supplementary benefits, and I guess that some noble Lords here will remember how those originated—their purpose was to pay for the additional costs that were not being funded from the disability living allowance system that we now have. Those payments related mainly to items such as energy costs—the costs of extra baths, the need for more heating in the house, extra hot water and so on. Those are very much some of the issues that face the over-16s as well as the under-16s.

We need to have this debate, but need to have it in terms of the absolute flexibility that we can create in the environment between now and when the Minister brings forward his regulations. I am sure that he has listened to what has been said today, and my advice to my noble friend would be to heed the warnings that have been given. Clearly, there are very strong views about how you treat disabled children but, at the same time, I ask noble Lords to consider in the same breath the plight of those over 16 and to think about how best we might approach this issue.

A compromise situation might well be achieved by my noble friend listening to this debate and saying that he will discuss these matters when we come forward with the regulations. I know that many noble Lords will think that you cannot do anything about regulations: they are laid before you and you can either vote for them or not. We are laying markers now and there are markers that people can lay. I am sure that all the lobby groups are lined up, ready to influence the Minister in this matter. There is time—is there not?—for us to make sure that we do not put right one problem and cause another to be set in stone against it. We need that flexibility and I hope my noble friend is listening to that, will heed what he is hearing, but give a commitment that he will consider these matters when he brings forward his regulations.

My Lords, I should like to come back on some of the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Newton and Lord German. First, I say to the noble Lord, Lord German, that this is a very narrow amendment. It is being considered at Third Reading and we were advised to focus very narrowly on the subject that we are discussing, and not to say that because we cannot do enough for older disabled young people we should therefore make younger disabled children poorer. That is what the noble Lord, Lord German, was arguing for in part of his speech, and I was sad about that. I thought it was inappropriate as well as, frankly, irrelevant—given the steer we were given from the Table about the amendment.

Secondly, the noble Lords, Lord German and Lord Newton, asked the Minister to take the opinion of the House and to come back in regulations, as though—in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Newton—we would otherwise be setting payments in concrete or, as the noble Lord, Lord German, said, in aspic. I think I prefer aspic to concrete but, none the less, the point is that we are not doing that at all. That would be fundamentally to misunderstand what the amendment seeks to do. It would be wrong to put in the Bill a precise sum of money that would require primary legislation to change. That would be wrong because it would fix a payment in concrete or aspic. We are not doing that. This amendment establishes a principle of proportionality, because—as the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, said so movingly and as so many other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, who have personal experience of this, said—the costs of disability are not just connected to the degree of disability; they are on a spectrum and may change.

Unless the amendment is passed, the Government propose that more severely disabled children will have one sum and less severely disabled children will have one-third of that sum. The amendment proposes that the right proportionality would be two-thirds of that sum. That is the principle, because we accept the arguments that have been put today by people with first-hand caring responsibilities, such as the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, in a very moving speech, and during the whole passage of the Bill. The principle here is that disabled children fall on a spectrum of disabled needs, costs and of either an improving or a deteriorating condition. Therefore, we should not have an arbitrary line as to whether you get the full sum or one-third of it. It is not about fixing a sum of money in concrete, it is about a principle that one should be proportionate to the other. That is all we are asking the House to discuss today.

I did not suggest that this was setting rates in concrete; I suggested that it was setting relationships between rates in concrete. That runs into the point that the noble Baroness just made and my earlier point: that there is a spectrum which changes over time.

The noble Lord is precisely right and has therefore made my point for me. Precisely because that relationship may change over time, we do not want the cliff edge of being on either one-third or three-thirds of the rate. Precisely because, as he says, it changes over time, we want to reduce that cliff edge and not make such a sharp distinction in the spectrum of disability.

The final point that both the noble Lords, Lord German and Lord Newton, argued was that this should be in regulations because they believe in the benevolence of the Minister on the issue, as we all do. I am confident that the enemy of or opposition to the amendment is not the Minister. We know him, as we have been engaged in discussion in Committee and at Report. His principles, integrity, evidence and assiduity are without comparison. His enemy is the Treasury. I put to the House a simple question. Which does the House believe will most strengthen the Minister's arm in seeking to follow the wishes of the whole House as expressed today: leaving it to regulations which we cannot amend some way down the line—three months, six months, nine months or a year—when the Treasury can say “Go away”, as it said to me on many occasions; or passing an amendment today which would insist that the House of Commons and the Treasury think again? If they turn it over, I will be sorry about what I will regard as having happened to their moral compass, but that is their right and privilege.

I know that the noble Lord, Lord Freud, will have to read his script. I do not expect him to either confirm or deny this, but he will have to read out things that he would wish he could say differently. Whatever he may say, if we want to aid him today in his battle with the Treasury on behalf of the most vulnerable people in our entire society, we will support the amendment to establish the principle of proportionality in the Bill.

My Lords, we support the amendment moved so comprehensively and eloquently by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. This has been a powerful debate with a strong ethical strand, as my noble friend Lord Peston said that it should be. My job is made easier by the contribution we have just heard from my noble friend Lady Hollis, who dealt comprehensively with those who argue that we should deal with this in regulations. The fact is that we have tried at earlier stages to reach the position that the amendment now provides and have been unsuccessful—as my noble friend said, possibly not because that is where the Minister wants to be but because that is the policy imposed on him. I think that my noble friend is absolutely right: if we pass this amendment today, we will put down a clear marker on proportionality, which will strengthen those who have to go and argue with the Treasury about resources.

As we have heard, the amendment seeks to prevent the interests of one group of disabled people being played off against those of another by limiting the ratio between the higher and lower levels of disability support. At present, as we have heard, the Government’s proposals would lead to a significant cut in the amount of support for disabled children on the lower rate of support, amounting to some £27 a week, or over £1,300 a year, with around 100,000 families seeing this drop in their support. We have heard some graphic descriptions from my noble friend Lady Wilkins about what support meant for her family. We also heard from the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, who made the very telling point that this is about the whole family—siblings as well—for whom the level of support can make a real difference.

The Government have suggested that this money would be recycled into higher levels of support for disabled adults on the higher rate, but we do not believe that this is a trade-off that anyone wants to see. The interests of adults with severe disabilities should not be played off against those of children with lower-level disabilities, which, as we have heard, may well include conditions such as Down’s syndrome and profound deafness. Such children have no opportunities themselves to increase their income, and we know the problems that parents caring for these children can face when trying to find paid work or increase their hours.

The amendment does not seek to prescribe the levels of support, which will of course be a matter for the Government of the day and will depend on what resources allow, but it does seek to embed the principle that, although there is a need to recognise that some conditions require a higher level of support than others, this should not be used as a reason to downgrade the needs of the many disabled children—and their families—who currently rely on the lower level. Perhaps the Minister could outline in his response, first, what he believes the ratio between the two rates should be and, secondly, how he intends to ensure that those on the lower level do not see a dramatic fall in the support that they receive.

We will doubtless hear again that transitional relief will protect some claimants. However, we know that this is not a protection in real terms and in any event it does not help new claimants. Perhaps we can hear from the Minister what changes in household circumstances he considers would break even this partial protection. In making these judgments, what weight do the Government give to the fact that disabled children are more likely to live in poverty than other children? The Minister may justify the current ratio as aligning support for adults and children. However, is it not the case—a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher—that the routes into the benefit are quite different: for disabled children through the DLA and for adults through the WCA? Is there not a disability disregard for disabled adults who can access work?

Much of our debate on the Bill has focused on its impact on children. We would all, I hope, recognise the necessity of combating poverty among children because it carries with it the prospect of greater poverty in later life. However, it would seem that on this matter the Government are shifting resources in the other direction from children to adults.

It is perhaps appropriate that today we heard from the UK’s four Children’s Commissioners, who have put out a notice. I should like to finish by quoting them:

“Families who receive welfare benefits are particularly vulnerable because they live in poverty—small changes in their household income can have a big effect on their welfare. We are concerned that many more families and their children will be pushed into absolute poverty over the coming years if these proposed changes go ahead”.

We support the amendment.

My Lords, I think that I have to take up the challenge of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, and try not to read anything at all in order to convince her that I actually believe in what I am going to say.

I preface my remarks by reminding noble Lords that the amendment is in the same territory as the one we discussed on Report that was moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, and on which there was a Division. I confess to feeling slight surprise when I saw it come back in such a similar guise. If my arguments sound somewhat familiar to noble Lords, it will be because they have heard many of them before. I need to go through them in the context of this skilfully drawn-up amendment.

I start by making it absolutely clear to all noble Lords—in particular, to my noble friend Lady Browning—that this is not about deficit reduction. Every penny of the money will be recycled to increase support for severely disabled children and adults. None of the money that we are talking about will go to Her Majesty's Treasury, with which I have absolutely cordial relations at all times. The principle that was picked up by my noble friends Lord German, Lord Newton and Lady Thomas concerns the cliff edge that exists at 16 when youngsters transition from childhood to adulthood. As my noble friend Lady Browning pointed out, many of these youngsters are in practice dependent on their families for a long time. The cliff edge is something that we wanted to smooth out. This will be essential to protect work incentives in adulthood.

I said many times in the debate that we are overhauling the whole support system for people who rely on benefits. It simply does not make sense to concentrate on any one element. The universal credit will provide a package of support for families to meet a range of their needs. That is why we need to look at the overall impact of universal credit on families rather than look at individual components. If some families get a bit less on one component, it does not mean that they will get less overall. I will pick up on the point raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Meacher and Lady Wilkins, about some of the social activities that are required to have a good quality of life. The intention is for DLA to pay for those facilities. The purpose of universal credit is income replacement. The two benefits do different things.

I also remind noble Lords that, contrary to some estimates that have gone around this afternoon on the impact of universal credit, clearly the impact will be that families will be much better off. I remind noble Lords that I and my friends in the Treasury are managing on a steady-state basis to put £4 billion a year into the pockets of the poorest people through universal credit. That is the context in which we are making these changes. Noble Lords should not underestimate what it took to get that out through a government process: a steady-state £4 billion a year in universal credit for the poorest.

My Lords, I think that I am right in saying that about £18 billion has been taken out in cuts. We are not getting extra benefit payments, but I applaud the Minister for having retrieved £4 billion; that is wonderful, and great news.

I am very grateful for the applause. I am not hearing a lot of it. The modelling that we have done in the department shows that, as a result of this measure on the reform of disability payments, the number of disabled children living in relative poverty will be negligible. The support for families in the universal credit package includes generous disregards for parents, plus the disability addition to the child element. Of course, we are also supporting formal childcare costs right the way down the hours spectrum in universal credit.

I do not know whether the Minister is going to say anything further about poverty figures, but how does he deal with the report from the Family and Parenting Institute, prepared by the IFS, showing that relative child poverty will increase between 2010-11 and 2015-16 by around 400,000, and that absolute child poverty, as defined in the Child Poverty Act, will increase between those years by around 500,000? Does he dispute those figures?

My Lords, we have spent a lot of time on child poverty, and the IFS projections do not take account of quite a few matters. They certainly do not take account of any change in government policy. Child poverty, to people’s surprise generally, actually went down last year, and it is projected to go down this year. What happens in future will depend on how we respond. I should point out to the noble Lord that the IFS had some very positive things to say about the impact of universal credit on child poverty, and it has pointed out the impact that universal credit will have as it goes in the direction that he and indeed I want to see.

Let me go through some of the figures on what happens under universal credit for a parent with a disabled child who works 20 hours a week on minimum wage. That parent, and that family unit, is likely to be £73 a week better off in work under universal credit, compared with £13 in the present system under tax credits. There are some 30,000 more families with a disabled child in work than out of work, so that extra money is being targeted pretty effectively.

Let me remind noble Lords again about the figures for the support that we are providing. Under universal credit, an out-of-work family with a disabled child can receive just over £8,000 a year in benefits for its child after introduction of universal credit, compared with just over £4,000 for an out-of-work family with a non-disabled child and around £1,000 for a family that receives only child benefit.

The Minister said that those children will receive £8,000. They are receiving £9,500 under the current rules.

The figure that we have on the average amount is £8,800. There is a 5 per cent difference in the overall package for that family under universal credit. Those are the figures that we have worked out for the average. Taken overall, it is a small decline, and clearly there is a substantial incentive for the family to look at work. Work becomes much more attractive. Even a few hours of work under universal credit becomes attractive in a way that is completely impossible today.

My Lords, we are talking about severely disabled children receiving the full rate of £77. That is the point: we are trying to direct the money towards the people with the greatest need regardless of their age. That is what we are trying to do here.

We have to be very clear about this. One of the main reasons for this amendment is the fact that it is so difficult to divide those who are eligible for the higher rate from those who are not. There is often a very narrow—and fairly arbitrary—margin. They just happen not to need to be disturbed at night, but during the day the costs may be even higher—the disruption to the family, the impossibility of working—all those issues are possibly just as great for those who will not qualify for the higher rates. It is really important to hang on to that.

My Lords, this is a really important point. It may very well be that the concern of the House actually boils down to a discomfort with the dividing line between severely disabled and disabled. If that is the case, the way to do it—and I pick up what my noble friend Lord Newton was saying—is not to look at aspect or concrete ratios but at the precise issue that noble Lords are actually worrying about, which is the relationship. I will commit to having a very close look at this. It is clearly tied up with DLA definitions, which are under constant review and are being reviewed.

If we move the children from DLA to PIP, we need to look at this and there will be a real consultation process. I will review this dividing line and look at that very closely, and when we come to the regulations on this, I will report back to noble Lords on exactly what we find. My sense is that this is the real issue underneath all this. I know noble Lords had to find an amendment that had to weave through, to express this concern, so we all know what is happening on a technical basis. Let us go to the real issue. The real issue is: are we getting the dividing line right? People ask me if I am listening—I hear what noble Lords are saying; this is what I think noble Lords are saying, and I will go and do something about that.

I do not think that is the whole issue that is concerning noble Lords. There is another issue, about the context. If you expect a single mum to get work in order to benefit from universal credit, you should go out on to the highways and byways with these women, as I do, and try to get a job. You need to be part-time, you need to work within certain time constraints, and you need to be able to get specialist childcare if you are going to go out. It is about more than being proportionate, it is about understanding the nature of life when you have a disabled child, however severely along the spectrum that might be, because some behaviour disorders, which sometimes can be assessed as reasonably manageable, can be extraordinarily difficult to get someone else to manage outside your family home. As I said to the noble Lord recently on another point, if you compare the unemployment figures and the numbers of part-time jobs with the number of those women who would like to work getting into those jobs, there is also that contextual issue that I am sure is concerning their Lordships.

Not just your Lordships—I share those concerns, clearly. One of the things I have been trying to do is to really hone in on the help for people to get them into the right kind of work. We have now substantially rebuilt the payment by results element of Welfare to Work. That is not about saving money; it is about making sure that the support is very individualised for people. We will have the formal national statistics on this later this year, but the anecdotal feedback that I am getting from providers is that that individualisation of support for people is really beginning to work. That is a real issue that needs to be addressed. We need to support people back into the workplace when they can work, but we also need to get severely disabled children, who will move into adulthood still needing to be supported, to this higher rate and not have this cliff edge.

The blunt truth is that if we got rid of this cliff edge and maintained higher levels for less disabled children—that is the set of choices that we are playing with here—the cost would be £200 million a year. When things are better, I can quite imagine any Government being very keen to put money in that direction. However, as noble Lords will know, you get an amendment here and an amendment there and pretty soon the amounts add up in a way that really damages our national finances. We can blame the Treasury if we like, but that is a real constraint. We have already looked at amendments the proposals of which we have totalled up to cost in excess of £5 billion over five years, and just taking that on the chin and continuing to get rid of the cliff edge would cost another £200 million, as I said. Those are the choices. We have done a lot of soul-searching on this, and our view is that it is right and fair to align the extra amounts payable for disabled children and disabled adults.

I will close with two points. First, we are trying with the universal credit to bring coherence and simplicity to our benefit support for people. I cannot tell noble Lords how difficult that is to do in practice. I spend every moment of the day when I am not here with your Lordships trying to do that and wrestling with issue after issue. It is very simple; if you are asking someone a set of questions, when do they turn off? How many questions can you ask? You have to simplify the whole system. One thing that I have appreciated more than anything else in the weeks in which we have gone through this Bill is that this House has supported absolutely consistently the introduction of a universal credit. It has understood what we are trying to do and the pressure and the need for coherence and consistency, and I am really grateful for that support. I ask the House please to maintain that support now, especially as we have already voted on this principle.

Finally, I will pick up the point made by my noble friends Lord Newton, Lord German and Lady Thomas that this is a matter for regulations and not for primary legislation. Noble Lords have sent a very strong message to me and to the Government. I will look at this issue and we will be able to discuss it in our debate on the regulations.

My Lords, on a point of order, will the Minister confirm that we cannot amend regulations? He has asked us to give them consideration and committed to bringing them back, but whatever he brings back will have to be either accepted or rejected.

My Lords, I hope that noble Lords by now have got a flavour of how I try to work with them. I listen and I take on board what people say. I will aim to shape the regulations in the light of that. I am more than happy to—

I have listened avidly to this debate and been very moved by a lot of it. I also have some experience. I can see that the position is extremely difficult. On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Patel, about not being able to amend regulations, I should like to ask my noble friend whether he can throw out regulations and put new regulations in their place. I know that we have mixed up concrete and aspic. It is not that regulations are fixed in concrete and cannot be changed—I understand that. However, if we voted saying that the regulations were not appropriate, could we have other regulations?

If the House of Commons throws the regulations out, they can be thrown out; but if we throw them out, the House of Commons can ignore it completely.

No, my Lords. Without wanting to get into a huge constitutional debate about this, my understanding is that if the House of Lords threw them out, there would at some stage have to be a satisfactory set of regulations that both Houses could agree. So it is a very powerful thing to do. Clearly, I would hope never to get into that position, which is why—

What the Minister says about affirmative regulations is right, but is he aware that it is the stated position of the Conservative Party in this House that it does not vote against affirmative regulations? In recent times we have had several such debates, and the Conservative Party has declined to do this on principle.

When we were in opposition we certainly did not vote on a fatal basis, which was our policy. If the House feels strongly about a set of regulations and the Opposition do not have such a self-denying ordinance—which I think they do not—they can express their view in a vote on the regulations.

My Lords, the Minister is encouraging us to defy all the conventions of the House. Perhaps I may say gently that he really should not go down this path. First, the noble Lord, Lord Patel, is absolutely right: you cannot amend regulations. If you could, you would be in the game of primary legislation, because you would be toing and froing. Equally, if the House of Commons were to pass those regulations and we decided to overturn them, then the non-elected House would be overturning the will of the elected House. Both major parties have respected—I repeat, respected—that convention for the full 20 or so years that I have been in your Lordships’ House.

Before the Minister replies to that intervention, perhaps I may suggest that we are getting bogged down on the question of amending or rejecting regulations. I thought that the Minister indicated that, before we get to the point of regulations, he will look at this closely, consult people and speak to people. That is where the conversation should be and where the attention should focus at the moment.

I thank my noble friend Lord Trimble for that. That is the position. I have heard strong arguments here and very great concern. I will talk to noble Lords before we get the regulations out to make sure that they find the regulations acceptable. I give that undertaking now. I beg the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

My Lords, I feel a huge weight of responsibility here. The Minister does not want me to test the opinion of the House, and I understand that, but hundreds of thousands of families all over the country with disabled and severely disabled children are desperate about this issue; I repeat, they are desperate. The pressure of that is difficult to bear. But I do want to say that I respect very strongly the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Freud, for the huge amount of work that I know he does all the time on working towards a simpler welfare system. He has done a fantastic job on this. But, as he knows, the job of this House is to try to ameliorate the worst effects of legislation, and that is what we have done consistently throughout this process. The Minister has generously agreed to take back and think about these issues following the moving speeches that have been made by many noble Lords, but the fact is that we in this House do not have an assurance that anything will happen.

The Minister is under huge pressure from a Secretary of State who is an awfully long way from this. I think that he has little real understanding of what it is to be a poor family with a very disabled child and not able to afford to give to that child what they know it needs. I have concerns about that because we need the Government to understand the enormity of the pressure on these families. I have often said to my own children that I do not think I could have managed it at all because these things are so tough. That is the situation here.

The Minister referred to a cliff edge at the age of 16. The noble Lord in his place beside me referred to a cliff edge at the age of three. The worry is that what the Government are doing is introducing a cliff edge at birth and then at one, two and three, when severe disability hits. Do we want these families to fall off a cliff—and that must be how it feels—when they realise that they have made a lifelong commitment to care for a child but the state withdraws some of its support? That is a big issue for us.

The Minister referred to DLA funding swimming lessons, school holiday clubs and so on. The reality is that DLA does not cover adequately those expenditures, and that is the issue. Families do not have enough money, and it is why 40 per cent of them are in poverty. They need more money if they are to help their children fulfil their potential, whatever that potential may be. The Minister also referred to families being better off in work. I accept that, but the difficulty is that that is being achieved by impoverishing an awful lot of people, some of whom can work—speaking for myself, I support the Government’s quest to get more and more people back into work. But when we consider families with disabled children, particularly single parents with disabled children, as others have said, they cannot do this and it is terrible to impoverish them.

That is the dilemma we are facing. I know that the Minister is going to be deeply unhappy with me and I do not like making him deeply unhappy, but I owe it to the families out there to test the opinion of this House. We have to do it.