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Disabled Students’ Allowance

Volume 789: debated on Tuesday 27 February 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what consideration they have given to removing the need for candidates for higher education with dyslexia and other specific learning disabilities to pay for new assessments for the disabled students’ allowance if they have an existing diagnosis acquired before the age of 16 and a history of support.

I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and draw the House’s attention to my declared interests.

My Lords, disabled students’ allowances do not meet the costs that students incur in providing evidence of their disability. We committed to reviewing the need for post-16 diagnostic assessments for students with specific learning disabilities and have sought expert advice on whether the need for this remains. The result of that review will be published in the spring and I would not wish to pre-empt it.

Would the Minister agree that there is a very good case here for not needing a review? The second assessment for somebody who has already been identified as having a lifelong condition can cost up to £600. You cannot get rid of dyslexia—I know; I tried. Can the Government give us some idea of why they are not just getting rid of this? On receipt of DSA, you get a needs assessment. This is a total waste of time and money.

I do not agree with the noble Lord. We gave a commitment to seek expert advice. For example, there are very important questions that we need to ask, to which we are getting answers. For example, is it necessary to require a diagnostic assessment to have taken place when the student is a specified age or older? If so, what age should that be? Does the assessment need to have been undertaken recently? If so, how recently? If a new assessment is still needed, does it need to be a full assessment or could it be a more limited one? There are a number of questions that we seek answers to, and we are going to come back to the noble Lord as soon as we can in the spring.

My Lords, I welcome the Government’s review and am grateful that we will see the results some time soon. However, there is an issue when vice-chancellors are paid significant sums of money while disabled students who have previously had assessments need another assessment to get their benefits. That seems to go against the natural grain of justice. When the payment for the assessment is made, who receives that payment?

The Government are clear that disabled students should receive support wherever and whatever they choose to study, so that they are able to study alongside their fellow students on an equal basis. They are paid in respect of the additional expenditure that a higher education student is obliged to incur because of their disability. I should say that they are not intended to cover disability-related expenditure that the student would incur even if they were not in higher education.

Without pre-empting the outcome of the Government’s review, will the Minister at least agree in principle that it is desirable that there should be continuity of support for people with clearly diagnosed disabilities, and that there should be the minimum of impediments to disabled people taking part in study and in all other aspects of our national life?

I partly agree with the noble Lord. As I said earlier, it is important that we give the correct form of support to those who are disabled. It is also up to the individual providers—the universities and colleges—to make the right decisions themselves as to how they can look after those who are disadvantaged and who have disabilities. There is evidence that this is happening, but more should be done.

My Lords, the Minister mentioned the additional expenses that disabled students often have. What is the Government’s response to the disincentive of the £200 charge for any computer equipment that is imposed on any disabled student to get the technology that they need to assist them? What are the Government doing to help the students with that additional charge?

The £200 student contribution towards the cost of a computer is something that all students get. I realise that some evidence and figures show a reduction in the cost. We are looking into that but we are adamant that all students, disabled or not, should receive the £200.

My Lords, will the review look at the fact that prospective students have to pay a charge, often amounting to hundreds of pounds, for the second assessment? Given that many of the people we are talking about come from lower-income households, how is that consistent with the Government’s approach to widening access? As I understand it, the review is not looking at the issue of charges. Will the Minister agree to extend it?

We have made it clear that the review is not considering the issue of who should pay for such a diagnostic assessment. The reason for that is that we want to see the result of this review as to whether the diagnostic assessment should occur post 16 or before that.

My Lords, as I understand it, the Equality Act recognises learning disabilities and other forms of mental and physical disabilities in the same way. Yet until now, the Government’s position has been to separate learning disabilities out into a different category. I welcome this review but can the Minister assure us that it will lay out the basis for that different treatment?

I cannot confirm that the review will cover that but I have no doubt that the review panel will look at the different types of specific learning difficulties. The right reverend Prelate will know that there is a big spread between dyslexia, dyspraxia and attention deficit disorder. The panel will look at all these issues as part of this review, focusing particularly on the diagnostic assessment.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, has put his finger on what appears to be a pretty simple, straightforward case. My noble friend’s Answer reveals that the Government may have many further considerations before they are in a position to resolve this question. That being the case, will he talk to the usual channels and arrange for us to debate the result of the review when it comes to us?

I am certainly happy to talk to the usual channels through my noble friend the Chief Whip, but would not like to promise anything. We await the results of this review in the spring and will make them apparent.