John McDonnell: I appreciate that argument, but there is a difference between having a national system and having a complete free-for-all at the local level. There is a midway point, which would involve the Government setting clear criteria and guidelines, backed up with statutory force, so that when the changes are introduced locally, funds are not diverted but go to people who need them, and local authorities do not face high administrative costs. What I am searching for is

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Government action to reach a compromise and achieve a balance between national distribution and local distribution, thereby avoiding a free-for-all.

Brandon Lewis (Great Yarmouth) (Con): I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s generosity in giving way, but I would query what he is describing. Would it not go against the ethos of the Localism Bill, which is about trusting authorities with the responsibility to do what is right for their areas, and trusting the electorate to keep them in check so that they do just that?

John McDonnell: I understand, and, coming from a local government background—both as a councillor and as a local government officer—I very much support the localist agenda of freeing up local authorities to do as much as they can to reflect the direct wishes of the local electorate. However, we are talking about people in severe poverty, and one of the overall duties of government at every level is to ensure that people in our communities are not put at risk as a result of that poverty. Therefore, there is a danger in the localist agenda, which I support, of allowing a free-for-all. Without establishing national standards and monitoring, we could have a number of local authorities failing to fulfil their responsibilities as we would wish. Although I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the local electorate should hold those authorities to account, we have unfortunately had numerous examples—I speak as an advocate of local government—of that mechanism for keeping local authorities in check not being effective, particularly on the detail of administering such schemes. I am sure that we can all cite examples of that on a cross-party basis, no matter who has been in control.

I am not talking about just my individual concerns. Virtually every organisation dealing with the poor in this country has expressed its concerns about this element of the legislation. My local citizens advice bureau has provided me with numerous examples—which I will not take the House through—of the benefits of both social loans, particularly crisis loans, and community care grants. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Heather Brown, director of the Hillingdon CAB, and all her team for their hard work. They have emphasised the need to explore all the implications locally and nationally before the Government leap into a new system.

Shelter and Crisis, the housing charities, have undertaken their own assessments of the process. Crisis surveyed 250 of its housing advisers. Numerous Members across all parties work closely with Crisis, and we have the greatest of respect for its work. That survey showed that 69% of clients used crisis loans for rent in advance, with 87% using them to help furnish their properties. In its briefing, which many Members will have seen, Crisis quotes one person as saying that unless we have a system that is at least as effective as the social fund, the effect on efforts to get people to move into independent accommodation would be “catastrophic”. Anxieties have been expressed across the board about the fact that we have not yet had that assurance.

I am concerned about the lack of analysis in the Government’s proposals of people’s needs. There is also a lack of detail on how the proposals will work. My worry is that poor and vulnerable people will be put at risk as a result. It therefore behoves us as a House in

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discussing this Bill, as well as the Government, to come forward rapidly with detailed proposals that have statutory backing, in order to assure our constituents and all those working in the field that we will have a system to provide emergency support to people who are poor and vulnerable, but not one in which local decision making risks diverting those resources away from where they are needed. It is on that basis that I have tabled this amendment for discussion. I hope that, as a result of this debate, we will at least gain a clear understanding of how the Government are going to address these issues—and address them fairly urgently—given that they are causing considerable concern.

Ms Karen Buck (Westminster North) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) on the way in which he has introduced this group of amendments. His amendments and those tabled in my name cover much the same ground. Like him, I am deeply concerned that the Government propose to remove the discretionary element of the social fund without giving us a great deal more clarity about how the poorest and most vulnerable will be protected, about the adequacy of the replacement system, about the protection of vulnerable people without a local connection—a matter to which I shall return in a moment—and about the lack of a proper system of review. As my hon. Friend rightly said, the numbers involved are significant, with 640,000 applications for community care grants and 3.6 million applications for crisis loans. We are not talking about a modest amount of money, and those figures represent a great deal of need. He also suggested that they represent only the tip of the iceberg of need. Of course we accept that there cannot be unlimited capacity to meet need, and it is clear that, were more resources to be made available, more need would come out and be met.

I want to pick up on a point that my hon. Friend made in response to an intervention. Despite the numbers of people who apply for and receive loans and grants under the discretionary grant, and the fact that when local government takes on this responsibility it will be accountable, in the spirit of localism, to its electors, we must recognise that the characteristics of people who seek assistance from the social fund do not make them a cohort of people that is likely to influence local politicians on a significant scale. This will tie into comments that I will make in a moment about what we should do with people with no local connection.

All the evidence that I and my hon. Friends have received from our law centres, citizens advice bureaux and other organisations shows that the claimants of discretionary social fund elements are very likely to be highly mobile people in a crisis that frequently severs their connections to the local community. They are not likely to be over-represented among those on the electoral register, or to wield a significant amount of local clout. They would not always need to do that; a good, responsive local authority will map and respond to their needs without it, but the reality is that, in a competition for scarce resources, that will not always be true of all local authorities.

We are completing the stages of the Welfare Reform Bill today, having been asked to make decisions on a number of important elements, which we discussed on Monday and are debating today, without having been given a great deal of substance or detail about how

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those elements will work. The Government called for evidence on the discretionary element of the social fund in February, but the consultation did not close until we were in the middle of the Bill’s Committee stage. That worries me. Yet again, the Government seem to be pushing ahead with their proposals even though we have not had a proper opportunity to reflect on the breadth of views and opinions of people with experience of and expertise in the subject.

The Minister might care to report to the House on what the responses to the consultation actually said. It would be nice if she assured us that all the responses would be placed in the Library. I think I can guess, however, that their overwhelming tone will be one of deep disquiet, and that they will be urging the Government to think again, which is consistent with the principles outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington. As he said, almost all the organisations with expertise and specialist knowledge in the operation of the social fund have told the Government of their worries. Let us take note of who they are. They include: Age UK; the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services; Barnardo’s; the Child Poverty Action Group; Citizens Advice; Community Links; Crisis; Disability Alliance; Family Action; the Family Fund; the Family Rights Group; Gingerbread; Homeless Link; the National Housing Federation; Oxfam; Platform 51; the Prison Reform Trust; Save the Children; Scope; and St Mungo’s. I am sure that there are others.

Those organisations are the big society in action. In many cases, they provide complementary services to the social fund, and they are expressing their concerns about the Government’s proposals and about their capacity to deliver to the people who will need their services when the changes are introduced. If the Government are serious, as I have always thought they were, about the idea of the big society and about a partnership with voluntary and community organisations, surely the first principle must be to listen to what those organisations are saying. Let us take an example from that list. Oxfam has said:

“The Social Fund provides vital support for people in times of crisis. The government proposes to devolve much of this money to local authorities, but without any statutory duty on them to provide an equivalent system of protection. This runs the risk of driving people to use high-cost lenders, reducing their chances of managing their debts successfully. This is particularly important as Universal Credit constitutes a radical reform, and it is almost certain that its introduction will suffer from teething troubles. These are likely to cause significant need for emergency payments like crisis loans, just as they are abolished. The Social Fund needs to play an important role in protecting people during this transition, which further supports the need for a delay to the change.”

The Committee also heard directly from people who know more about the social fund in all its strengths and weaknesses—we know that there are some weaknesses in the operation of the existing scheme—than anyone else. They included Sir Richard Tilt from the Social Security Advisory Committee, who said:

“Community care grants are the bit I am most concerned about—£141 million. By the time that you have dished that out to 100 plus local authorities, there will not be a great amount of money at local level, and I think, as it is not ring-fenced, it is likely to disappear into other things.”

He also said:

“My view on all this is that we have a UK social security system and that, for the past 25 years, the discretionary social fund has been the ultimate, final safety net for the poorest and

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most vulnerable…I would argue for a UK safety net underneath it.”



Official Report, Welfare Reform Public Bill Committee,

24 March 2011; c. 82-3.]

Professor Kempson told the Committee, in respect of the role of local authorities:

“Some will provide a better service than we have now”.

I do not think that that is in doubt. There is excellent practice in local government. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington, I also came to the House after serving in local government and I am a great advocate of it. Professor Kempson said:

“Some will provide a better service than we have now; many will provide a worse service; and some, I fear, will provide almost no service.”

She also said:

“As I read it, there will be no ring-fencing, and I cannot even see that there is any proposal as yet to build in any form of accountability by local authorities. That is the very least that is needed.”––[Official Report, Welfare Reform Public Bill Committee, 24 March 2011; c. 82-3.]

We know that the social fund has many flaws and has been subjected to scathing criticism from the Public Accounts Committee, the National Audit Office and others. I completely accept that those criticisms need to be taken seriously. The issue before the House today, however, is whether the Government’s proposal risks making things worse by entirely removing that essential safety net without addressing the genuine concerns of the present system. The Minister made it absolutely clear to the Committee that

“there is no expectation that local authorities will replicate the current scheme.”––[Official Report, Welfare Reform Public Bill Committee, 3 May 2011; c. 731.]

She is nodding at that. She made it clear that, when the discretionary social fund is removed, local authorities will provide a service equivalent to the present one. She said that this was not devolution to local government, but something fundamentally different.

Central to that is the fact that the Government do not expect local authorities to manage loan schemes, as happens now with the crisis loan scheme, and that as loan repayments were topping up the available resource through the current crisis loans, the capacity to provide an equivalent level of service through emergency funding is now severely restricted. The figure I was given was 84%, although the Minister told us in Committee that it was 50%—and I am happy to accept her correction. None the less, the cash sum as an annual figure starting from now that will be devolved to local authorities does not tell us much about the funding that will available for the equivalent level of crisis service once the scheme gets under way because that 50% repayment will very quickly fundamentally erode the value of the service. As we have heard, the likelihood is that it will drive people into the arms of the cowboy and high-interest lenders as well as into debt.

2 pm

The current proposals expect local authorities to devise their own schemes for emergency support, but without ring-fencing or without specific accountability attached to the funds. It is highly likely, as we know, that some or all of the funds can be diverted into other local priorities and the safety net would disappear.

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The Government also envisage local schemes that will make use of the provision of other cash support to assist people in need, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington said, emphasising the potential use of credit unions, charitable support, recycled furniture outlets and food banks. Setting aside whether that is really the kind of service that we want to operate, it has to be accepted—this is central to our thinking—that in many cases, although not all, when people are in need of emergency assistance, money is the best way of helping them to purchase the goods that they are likely to need.

That is very much in the spirit of empowerment, which we often hear the Government talk about in other respects. When people are at a crisis point in their lives and turn up to ask for assistance—perhaps fleeing domestic violence and needing to set up a new home—I fail to see how it empowers them when the only thing available is a second-hand recycled white goods store that may or may not have the form of assistance that they need. Whether or not it will be good value for money is another point. We all know that second-hand and recycled goods are of less value than new ones. There are all kinds of practical issues to consider.

Sheila Gilmore: Is it not also the case that many of the arrangements for people to purchase second-hand furniture are increasingly set up as social enterprises, which are intended to recoup money and make a working profit to go back into the business, so they will charge people, albeit less than for new goods, as otherwise their enterprise will not work? In any event, if this were going to be free, it would have to be heavily subsidised by someone.

Ms Buck: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. The Government’s mindset is an old-fashioned one. There is an excellent case for making better use of recycled goods as a commercial or social enterprise facility, but there is also a strong empowerment argument for letting individuals make their own choices with cash at their disposal to meet their needs appropriately. As my hon. Friend rightly says, in many cases, the vision we used to have of a charitable sector simply opening a warehouse into which people can go to choose whatever donated goods might be available no longer applies.

George Hollingbery: I would counterpoint that on the basis that it is entirely possible to imagine a financial arrangement between the charity and the local council in which the council uses the funds provided for the purpose to future-buy services from the charity, giving people free access under certain circumstances to the products provided. There are many different ways to skin this cat; I can see these arrangements working perfectly adequately.

Ms Buck: The problem is that once we start creating a necessity for such an arrangement to be run at every single local authority, we will also create the potential for a mismatch between the goods that people need, the goods that are available, the charities providing those services and the area in which they are available. That also risks setting up a completely bureaucratic system in every single local authority to do what the current discretionary social fund does.

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George Hollingbery: I do not suggest for a moment that what I said should be a prescription nationwide. I said simply that it is easy to imagine an entrepreneurial solution that used the social fund to provide services locally that were administered by local councils but did not involve money changing hands.

Ms Buck: I will do a deal with the hon. Gentleman. If he supports our amendment, I will accept his point. There is some truth in what he says: there is some excellent practice out there and plenty of innovation in the local government sector, but it is not consistent across the piece. The amendment effectively says, “Do not abolish the discretionary social fund without piloting or without allowing a proper ability for local authorities across the piece to demonstrate that they have the capacity to do what needs to be done”. The hon. Gentleman might well have enough confidence in that, but it cannot be guaranteed. At the moment, there is absolutely no assurance that a consistent level of innovation, expertise and commitment is available in some, let alone most local authorities.

John McDonnell: In my constituency we have done just that. A furniture fund has been set up by a voluntary organisation that is partly contracted by different agencies, but it has taken us 10 years to get to that. Now, because of people’s change in circumstances as a result of loss of benefits, we are setting up an arrangement for food parcels, which are being distributed by religious organisations. It is, however, extremely difficult, and it takes a long time to set this sort of thing up. My anxiety is that in the rush to legislate on this matter, none of the preparatory work has been done and there are considerable costs in setting these things up, particularly in the early years.

Ms Buck: That is an excellent point. As we have said so many times in debating this Bill, one does not necessarily disagree with some elements in principle—localism and the involvement of local government in shaping the response to local needs, for example—but these local projects take a long time and require investment to set up and they tend to come and go. In north Paddington, one of the most deprived communities in the country, two credit unions were set up over the last 15 years—with regeneration funding in both cases—but they have both collapsed. I do not want some of our most desperate and vulnerable people to be forced into reliance on a set of services that come and go, that might not be available and that might well collapse. I think credit unions are marvellous; I would like to see them flourish in all parts of the country, but they are much more vulnerable than people sometimes allow.

John McDonnell: Many of us have been through the same exercise that my hon. Friend described to establish credit unions, so the last thing we need at the moment is anything that destabilises our local credit unions. Loading this sort of responsibility on to them could undermine not only individual credit unions, but the whole sector.

Ms Buck: That is absolutely right. We need to carry on growing the local expertise and the local voluntary and community organisations, including credit unions, which need to come up with innovative and practical responses to help deal with our social problems. However, they are not a replacement, but a complement, and they have to be approached with a great deal of care.

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Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I commend credit unions to all Members for the work they do, but for those in financial difficulties, the crisis is already there and unless someone is already in a credit union, they cannot borrow from it. With respect, I do not believe that credit unions are an option.

Ms Buck: That is absolutely right. The Government mention credit unions as part of the package of alternatives that they want to see picking up the slack. They may have a role for some people, but the hon. Gentleman is right that they are not an emergency response. As I said in my opening remarks, precisely because a disproportionate number of the individuals who need crisis intervention do not have a local connection or a stable household background, they are the ones who will not be in a credit union. They are disproportionately unlikely to be in a credit union or to have the scope to be able to join one. That is precisely why the social workers—expected to be a part, although admittedly not the entirety, of the gatekeeping process for the replacement of the discretionary social fund—are so concerned. Although they will not be alone, they will be very much on the front line of gatekeeping for this dramatically reduced and very different type of service, which is patchy and might be flourishing in some cases and not in others. As I said in Committee, the consortium of community care stated a few months ago that social workers are anxious about having to deliver the social fund, knowing that applications for community care grants are already turned down in 60% of cases. They say that their role as advocates and supporters for people in need through a crisis in their lives is dangerously undermined by the new financial gatekeeping role that they will be asked to take on.

In evidence to the Committee, Councillor Steve Reed, speaking on behalf of the London Councils and the Local Government Association, said that local authorities have expressed an in-principle willingness to be part of this process. I understand why he would do that. He also told the Committee that he was worried that the localisation of the discretionary social fund should be fully funded and that it should cover all the costs, including the administration costs, which, for the community care grant alone, were £19 million in 2008-09. As we have drawn out in the debate over the past hour, the likelihood is that the administrative process for local government and the gatekeeping, which will not simply be about deciding whether to give a crisis loan or community care grant but whether to find people alternative levels of support, are likely to put an increased financial burden on local authorities.

Some Government Members on the Committee argued that social workers and others will be able to provide more intensive, personalised intervention for people in crisis, helping to end a cycle of repeated loan applications, but that is likely to make the situation worse. If the 3.64 million crisis loan applicants or 640,000 applications for community care grants have to be funnelled through a more intensive and personal level of intervention, who will do that work? Where are the social workers and the available time in local government to improve on this? The answer is that they will not be there. Local authorities are retrenching and they are on the back foot financially, and the likelihood is that they will have a smaller pot of money as they act as gatekeepers for an even wider group of individuals.

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The Minister tells us that there is an expectation that there will be some form of review process, but the current review process is national and now every local authority will be expected to set up its own, leading to huge complications with differences in approach and the structure and bureaucracy of setting up a process in every local authority to determine how initial decisions will be reviewed and appealed against. I know that that causes a great deal of alarm in the advice sector.

Let me return to the vexed concern about local connection. Sample work on discretionary fund cases was carried out by the Department last year, which considered a basket of 500 different cases, and 20% of those cases involved people who were homeless. Some 20% and more of the applicants in such cases—the amount varied between different parts of the country—had no single connection with any individual local authority. That is my single biggest concern about the Government’s approach to this agenda.

One example, which was highlighted in the media last week, is the case of victims of domestic violence. A group of the women’s charities has written to the Minister for Women and Equalities, warning that some councils will not be financially able or willing to help women escape violent partners on the grounds of the provisions in this part of the Bill. The belief is that there will be an increased postcode lottery of provision that does not reflect the Government’s previous claim that tackling domestic violence is a priority and the fear is that councils could impose a local connection test that could disadvantage women fleeing domestic violence who are often, almost by definition, forced to move into another local authority area. The charities say that many women fleeing the home have to leave everything behind, including household furnishings and essential items, such as cookers, that most families take for granted to rebuild their lives in a new home. They quoted a mother from Croydon, south London, who left her abusive partner in 2003 and said that she had only been able to escape a life of domestic violence thanks to a £700 grant that helped her to rebuild her life. The chief executive of Women’s Aid said:

“The social fund is a vital resource for victims attempting to rebuild their lives after domestic abuse and, if it is not available, victims may be forced to return to their abusers.”

The director of Refuge added that if the discretionary social fund is abolished, there is a risk that

“more women will be forced to delay their escape from their partner.”

2.15 pm

We flagged up other groups in Committee that deserve to be mentioned again, such as those that deal with the problems for ex-prisoners. About 66,000 people leave prison every year, a third without accommodation. The Prison Reform Trust has lobbied me and others on its concerns about the loss of the discretionary social fund and has flagged up the fact that ex-prisoners have a particularly strong need for early financial assistance to prevent debt, because once they are in debt there is a grave danger that that will lead to a risk of reoffending, as the two are heavily correlated.

I worry that local authorities, which are subject to political pressures from their resident populations and forced into painful choices that, in some cases, involve retrenching youth services, libraries and so on, are

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hardly likely when allocating a non-ring-fenced grant to make ex-offenders, for example, a priority. That is human nature. It is inevitable that some groups will be less of a priority than others and ex-offenders are likely to be a particularly at-risk group in that context. If we take each local authority on its own merits, we can understand the political reality of that position, but it will come back and bite local communities and the Government many times over if those individuals are not assisted and cannot make a stable life for themselves after they leave prison.

Local authorities such as mine and such as those in seaside communities, in particular, have an incredibly high population turnover. In my constituency, 30% of those on the electoral register alone move address every single year. Those individuals do not have a local connection and there will be a real risk that a mechanism will be created to determine who does and who does not have a local connection. Where, then, will those individuals go?

When the Committee took evidence, the Secretary of State said that there would be a “moral duty” on local councils. I repeat what I said in Committee: I do not know what a moral duty means. We all believe that local authorities have moral obligations and we have a moral obligation to respond to homelessness, to children in need and to the care needs of our elderly people, but in practice, without a legislative framework, people will not necessarily assume that duty if they have grounds to believe, for example, that the person approaching them at a time of crisis is not someone whom that specific local authority has a duty to assist. Although I welcome the principle of a moral duty, I want to see a legislative framework. I want to see it piloted so that local authorities have the opportunity to draw up a code of practice that can be tested and shown to work so that when people do not have a specific local connection they will be dealt with and not turned away.

For all those reasons, and for the reasons so well expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington, I shall press amendment 39 to a vote. There might be scope for a localised response to some of these needs, but we are a long way from having anything like the structures, framework and legislation to enable individual needs to be accommodated, including with reviews and when the vexed question of local connection is not resolved. I hope that the House will take the opportunity to say that we should not proceed until we have seen this working in practice and dealt with any of the problems that will undoubtedly arise.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Maria Miller): I know that the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) is keen for us to make progress today and was somewhat concerned that we did not complete consideration of all elements on Monday. I will try to address all the issues that I am able to address in a speedy manner so that we can consider things fully.

Right hon. and hon. Members who have been listening to the debate thus far will already have a flavour of the complexity of the current scheme. Unfortunately, the scheme is open to widespread abuse, and some of that is driven by the remoteness of the administration of these elements of the discretionary social fund. Just so that hon. Members are absolutely clear, I should say that we are talking about replacing budget loans, crisis loans

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and the community care grant with national payments on account, including advances and alignment payments, and with local authority -delivered local assistance. The bulk of the comments of the hon. Members for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and for Westminster North (Ms Buck) were about crisis loans, half of which are alignment payments, which will continue to be paid at national level through payments on account. It is important that hon. Members are aware that to all intents and purposes people will still have access to that money on a national basis. I hope that will reassure hon. Members regarding a number of the issues raised.

I do not think that the status quo is an option because of the level of abuse in the system at the moment. First, the number of crisis loans has tripled since 2006, but we do not believe that that increase reflects an underlying increase in genuine need as a result of the recession or anything else. We have looked in detail at the individuals who are causing that increase in demand and our analysis has shown that it is being driven by young single people on jobseeker’s allowance, many of whom are still living at home. We should be looking at what is driving that demand and asking whether the money is getting through to the sort of vulnerable people about whom the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington is rightly concerned.

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): What is the Minister going to do to ensure that the operation of the social fund across the devolved regions does not set a hierarchy of standards and differences that are so far apart that people come to realise that the social fund operates very differently in certain parts of the UK? That would create hardship for many vulnerable people.

Maria Miller: The national payments on account will be dealt with on a national basis in the same way in any part of the country and the regulated part of the social fund will continue as it is. The hon. Gentleman is talking about how local assistance will be dealt with and I am sure that he, like all hon. Members, will know that local authorities want to do their best by the vulnerable citizens we are talking about. That is certainly my experience of most, if not all, local authorities.

Naomi Long (Belfast East) (Alliance): Will the Minister give way on that second point?

Maria Miller: Will the hon. Lady forgive me if I make a little more progress? As I have said, we really need to move through this quite quickly.

Another reason why the status quo is not an option was highlighted only this week when community care grants were referenced in a “Dispatches” programme, which showed that an ex-offender who had received a community care grant for resettlement had spent the money on drugs. We should all be concerned about the lack of checking on how money is used and we should look at how to improve the system.

The hon. Member for Westminster North took a great deal of pain to talk about people who claim crisis loans having some degree of mobility and disengagement from the democratic system. I am not sure what evidence she has to support those assumptions, but we do not have that evidence to hand. The three elements of the discretionary scheme that I have talked about have very different and distinct client groups.

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Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South) (Lab): May I draw the Minister’s attention to one group of people who might fall into that category? Victims of domestic violence might not be on the electoral register because they are forced out of one area and into another and they therefore do not have the democratic accountability that comes through the ballot box.

Maria Miller: The hon. Lady is obviously a mind reader, because I was just about to talk about whether the changes we are discussing will be a problem for victims of domestic violence—a group whom we all want to ensure get that support and are able to move to a place of safety, as is absolutely right. We do not believe that the new localised service will be a barrier to people in genuine need, particularly victims of domestic violence. It will provide an opportunity for more joined-up services on the ground while continuing to give individuals in that situation access to national payments on account through advances or alignment payments. The hon. Lady will be aware that under the current scheme victims of domestic violence must have fled the family home to qualify for support to set up home from the discretionary social fund.

A third and very important reason why keeping the status quo is not a sensible option is the need to align support with the wider changes that are happening in the welfare system. To continue running the current administratively burdensome system is no longer financially sustainable. Community care grants and crisis loans for general living expenses will be replaced by locally based support, which will be the responsibility of local authorities in England and the devolved Administrations in Scotland and Wales. That will deliver on the coalition’s commitment to implement the Calman commission’s recommendations and will tie in with the wider Government agenda on localism, as has been mentioned. Local authorities are better placed to understand the issues that people in their area face and to dovetail existing and needed services. Different areas face different issues and local authorities will be free to come up with the sort of innovative ideas that will address these issues and make sure that the money that is available is targeted at the right purposes so that we move away from a situation that allows the sort of abuse I have mentioned.

Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab): We learned in Committee that although council tax is delegated to local authorities, investigations of fraud will be carried out nationally by the single fraud investigation service. The Minister has talked about abuse. In the case of the devolved social fund, where there is a worry about fraud will it be investigated by the local authority or by the single fraud investigation service?

Maria Miller: Local authorities will be free to consider whether they need to set up their own service locally or use the local government ombudsman. It really is for local authorities to look at the most effective way of dealing with levels of fraud or with any dissatisfaction with the way in which they are delivering services. The amendments do not really grasp the premise behind the Government’s proposals. We want to move to a situation in which local authorities are looking at the gaps in their services locally and are able to use the funding that is forthcoming as a result of these changes to fill those gaps and pull together the sort of service that is required by vulnerable groups such as those we have been discussing.

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Crisis loans for alignment purposes and budgeting loans will be replaced by new national provision. As I have said, that accounts for half of all current crisis loan applications. That provision will be delivered nationally by the Department for Work and Pensions. The ending of the discretionary social fund and the implementation of replacement schemes, both nationally through payments on account and locally by local authorities and the devolved Administrations, is the best way to approach the reform. Amendments 53 and 54 would prevent those reforms from taking place and would leave us with an out-of-date and inefficient discretionary social fund scheme that would soon be unworkable with the introduction of the wider benefit reform we have already outlined.

2.30 pm

Amendments 39 and 40 would impose criteria set by central Government on arrangements to replace the discretionary social fund if it were abolished. Some of the requirements in amendment 39 are activities that we are already undertaking in our work on the replacement of the discretionary social fund. Other elements in the amendment would not be helpful to what the reform of the social fund is trying to achieve. As I said, in some ways the amendment misses the point of the reform, which is that local authorities are better placed to understand the needs of their local communities and to make sure that the money is getting through to the right people for the right activities.

Ms Buck: Why does the Minister think that almost every specialist organisation, voluntary group and charity in the field thinks that that is a problem? Is it because they do not understand it?

Maria Miller: The hon. Lady will know that we have had a call for evidence, and we will be considering the many different views of the organisations she mentions. We will of course want to work with those organisations to make sure that our policies work well. I remember some confusion in Committee about whether we were talking about the social fund or the discretionary social fund, so perhaps we need to make sure that people really understand our policy. Empowering local organisations at local level—the sorts of organisations that the hon. Lady named—to work with vulnerable groups in the individual community will, I think, be welcomed by many organisations on the ground.

Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): Does my hon. Friend share my slight puzzlement that the left seems to have abandoned the rich tradition of mutuality and self-help that was the foundation of the Labour movement? I am not hearing very much about that from the Opposition.

Maria Miller: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I too was thinking about some of the speeches earlier this week; responsibility and empowering people are vital.

Amendment 39 misses the point when it proposes a pilot scheme to determine the feasibility of whatever scheme would replace the discretionary social fund. It would be impossible to run a pilot scheme for each local authority. We could run only a single pilot scheme, which would lead to our stifling any ideas local authorities

15 Jun 2011 : Column 813

might have about how to improve their local area. I hope that my experience of local authorities is no different from that of the hon. Member for Westminster North. They really understand their responsibilities to the most vulnerable groups in society and rather than deprioritising them, which is the inference from her comments, they are very much a priority. Those groups may not have a strong voice at the ballot box, but most councillors I meet are very motivated about getting the right support to them.

John McDonnell: I do not want to get drawn into discussions about blue Labour, and I understand the hon. Lady’s anxiety about almost flying against the localism agenda, but there is a mid-way point. Even if the Government are not looking at laying down criteria or guidelines, is there no thought that central Government could convene local authorities to explore best practice before the proposals are implemented?

Maria Miller: There have already been conversations with local government, and as I think Opposition Front Benchers hinted at, there was a broad welcome for the proposals. We shall certainly be working with local authorities to make sure that what happens is exactly what the hon. Gentleman was talking about; the spread of best practice will be critical.

The amendment seems to have taken no notice of the national provision of payments on account that DWP will provide under clause 98. Budgeting advances—the replacement scheme for social fund budgeting loans—will be very similar to budgeting loans, which have been hugely successful and largely self-financing. Budgeting advances will be targeted at those who are least likely to be able to access mainstream lending. That will help to ensure that vulnerable people are not driven to illegal lenders, which is rightly of concern to Opposition Members.

Short-term advances—the replacement scheme for interim payments and crisis loan alignment—will ensure that people who face financial need as a result of problems with their benefit claims will, if they are eligible, be able to access financial assistance through interest-free advances of their benefit. The grounds for eligibility will be set out clearly in regulations.

Another element of the amendment is a requirement for the Secretary of State to publish a proposal for a replacement scheme, based on wide consultation with stakeholders. We are already taking that approach in our discussions about replacement schemes. We will soon publish our response document to our call for evidence, which was based on wide consultation with lobby groups and local authorities. There will be a large amount of information and evidence for Members to consider.

The amendment requires local authorities to set up an independent appeals mechanism, but as I have already said, local authorities will be able to set up an internal review mechanism if they think it appropriate. Furthermore, the local government ombudsman offers a fair and impartial service for people who are dissatisfied with a decision made by their local authority.

In conclusion, the national scheme of payments on account and the local provision, as delivered by local authorities and the devolved Administrations, will provide

15 Jun 2011 : Column 814

well-considered replacements for the discretionary social fund, and will make sure that we are supporting more effectively than is currently the case the vulnerable individuals we have discussed today. With those reassurances, I hope Members feel it appropriate to withdraw their amendments, and we can press forward with the Bill.

Yvonne Fovargue (Makerfield) (Lab): As we have heard, the discretionary social fund currently consists of budgeting loans for managed expenditure, crisis loans for emergencies and community care grants for essential household items such as cookers and beds for certain groups—for example, vulnerable people who are moving into new accommodation. The provision is national and acts as a safety net for benefit recipients facing essential expenditure they cannot meet.

It bears repeating that in 2009-10, there were 640,000 applications for community care grants and 3.64 million applications for crisis loans. That demonstrates the scale of the activity we are asking local authorities to take on. It is no small task, but it is absolutely vital to the financial well-being of many of the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society. Although an alignment scheme will be introduced—in effect, allowing advance payment of benefit—I have seen from experience how important it is that people can claim a community care grant, which does not have to be paid back, for their living expenses. It does not put people on the lowest possible income into debt. Without that, people will be driven into the arms of the high-cost lenders, which will reduce their chances of managing their debts successfully. That will put more strain on other services—for example, the health service—due to the increase of stress and depression caused by the cycle of low income and debt.

Proposals were outlined in 2011 to transfer to local authorities, with guidance, the funds currently used, but there will be no new statutory duty for how the money is to be used. It will not be ring-fenced. Local authorities have numerous calls on their expenditure at present, and without ring-fencing we cannot guarantee that the provision will go to those who are most in need. I envisage a number of different policies and that some vulnerable people will lose the right to apply for emergency support. They may be trapped between two local authorities with differing policies.

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): My hon. Friend talks about the involvement of local authorities. Several of my constituents have contacted me about a situation that arose when the computer system in Sefton council’s housing office was down for six weeks. The staff advised my constituents to get crisis loans until the problem was fixed. I cannot understand how the Government’s proposals will make it possible for those staff to provide any kind of crisis support. Does my hon. Friend agree?

Yvonne Fovargue: I do. It is difficult for local authorities to provide a consistent service. As we have heard, people who are fleeing domestic violence will have an especially difficult time as they move from one local authority to another overnight. How will they be treated?

Maria Miller: I apologise for intervening on the hon. Lady, but may I clarify that people will be able to access that sort of money through payments on account, as I outlined?

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Yvonne Fovargue: I shall return to the issue of domestic violence. Who will be the responsible authority? If people move overnight to interim accommodation, whose policies will prevail? There are problems at the moment with local authorities taking responsibility. I know of situations in which one local authority says, “These people can’t come back to us,” and the other says, “We don’t want to accept them.”

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): My hon. Friend makes an important point. This is a serious and acute problem in London. Given that the boroughs are geographically small, people who move at a time of crisis are not aware of what borough they are moving to and from, and the situation can be disastrous for their future housing options. Central Government direction is needed, and there must be complete ring-fencing and a statutory requirement on each local authority because otherwise the most vulnerable will be short-changed as a result of demands for expenditure—albeit understandable demands—in other areas of a local authority.

Yvonne Fovargue: I completely agree. The Government’s approach seems to be predicated on a view that local management will more accurately assess local people’s needs and use a range of local provision and services to support people in need, but that argument is flawed.

We have heard mention of credit unions and charitable support, as well as recycled furniture outlets and food banks. However, let me cite the example of an individual whose washing machine or cooker breaks down. They might be given a recycled product, but such goods are often much less energy-efficient than new goods, so that person will face higher fuel costs and will have no choice but to pay them with more of their low income. Such goods also lack a guarantee and have questionable reliability, so the approach might well be a false economy.

There is also a question of whether charities will be able to sustain continuing demand and, importantly, of whether the dignity of the individual will be adequately protected. I have heard many people—young and old—say, “I am not asking for charity. I do not want charity.” I fear that people will be deterred from applying to any scheme under which they will be referred to a charity and that they will therefore be forced into the hands of the high-cost lenders and credit companies.

Oliver Heald (North East Hertfordshire) (Con): I might have misunderstood the hon. Lady, but is she really criticising the charities that provide such services? For example, councils for voluntary service provide excellent second-hand furniture facilities. These charities are not undignified, but offer an extremely worthwhile service through which they provide good quality goods at reasonable prices.

Yvonne Fovargue: I absolutely accept that, but some people do not want to be forced to use such charities as their only course of action. Vulnerable people on low incomes have a great sense of pride when claiming benefit. I absolutely believe that forcing individuals into the arms of charity will mean that they will instead go to high-cost lenders.

Oliver Heald rose

Yvonne Fovargue: I will not give way. I want to move on to the lack of an appeals process.

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I regret the loss of the extremely useful digest published by the social fund commissioner that gave an overview of appeals and reviews. That was an invaluable tool for advisers. It assisted them to help their clients to obtain their rights consistently. Such consistency is extremely important. Without a universal scheme, it will be lost, so vulnerable claimants will be left with a patchy and inconsistent service. People might have a right of appeal or independent review but, depending on local authorities’ policies, one side of the street could well get a cash grant while the other side would be given advice about which charity to approach. In the context of homelessness, I have seen that one local authority’s interpretation of “advice and assistance” can be very different from that of the local authority that gives people a list of private landlords.

2.45 pm

Jeremy Corbyn: I am glad that my hon. Friend brings up the issue of private landlords because the majority of the people about whom we are talking—certainly in London, but possibly in the rest of the country—tend to live in private rented accommodation, which is often unregistered and usually incredibly energy-inefficient, certainly compared with council and housing association accommodation and most owner-occupied properties. These people therefore face higher energy costs and their permanency of accommodation is more vulnerable. We need to take account of the fact that we will be throwing people into the most vulnerable housing sector of all those available.

Yvonne Fovargue: I agree. This is no way to treat vulnerable individuals who are trying to obtain life’s necessities. I urge hon. Members not to legislate for the Government’s proposals before a robust, effective and consistent alternative, with a proper right of appeal, has been fully explored.

Priti Patel (Witham) (Con): One of the Bill’s underlying principles is that it focuses resources on those who are the most vulnerable and in need. It is also designed to reduce complexity and to make the delivery of welfare support more effective and efficient. Clause 69 satisfies those requirements. Localising the delivery of the social fund will clearly promote a more joined-up delivery of services and support.

Oliver Heald: Does my hon. Friend share my concern about the remarks made by the hon. Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue), who seemed to suggest that benefit claimants should be entitled as of right to buy all their furniture as new, rather than resorting to sensible and reasonably costed alternatives? What person who starts a new home does not have to buy a little bit of second-hand furniture?

Priti Patel: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are talking about taxpayers’ money, so we have to be resourceful.

I do not believe that Labour amendments 39 and 40 would make the delivery of the social fund more effective, and nor would they further support applicants and people in need. They would put additional bureaucratic burdens on the Government and risk delaying the implementation of the reforms. Amendments 53 and 54, which were tabled by the hon. Member for Hayes and

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Harlington (John McDonnell), would dogmatically block change by retaining the existing top-down system that is nowhere near as effective as we want it to be.

The hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) talked about several of the anomalies and dysfunctional problems in the social fund, as well as the National Audit Office’s criticism. Members of the Public Bill Committee know that the number of crisis loan applications has soared since 2006 from 1 million to 2.7 million, while more than 17,000 people have received crisis loans in the past 12 months. Given that such a significant number of people require multiple crisis loans, delivering the social fund locally will help to signpost them to support mechanisms, rather than encouraging the top-down approach that has been in place thus far. Many of the arguments put forward by Labour Members have been flawed and inaccurate, and I think that the amendments would be counter-productive to the Bill’s objectives.

Ms Buck rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. I do not think that the hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel) is giving way; she has concluded her remarks.

Jim Shannon: I am not against the principle of welfare reform, but I am against how it affects those people who regularly come to see me. Not a week passes in the offices that I look after in which we do not see people who need crisis loans, and we hear from people who are under financial pressure all the time. With respect, I sometimes wonder whether some hon. Members have ever seen a social fund or crisis loan form. Do they know what it is like to be in financial crisis and under pressure?

I support the amendments for a number of reasons, and I hope they will be put to the vote. What happens in the House today will be sent to the Northern Ireland Assembly for its endorsement. On the principle of parity with the rest of the United Kingdom, I expect the Northern Ireland Assembly to endorse the decision of the House. The measure will then become the law for Northern Ireland as well. So if we feel concerned about it, we must oppose it here today. That is what the people I represent tell me.

Most of us are probably affluent enough to be able to borrow money from the bank if we are under financial pressure, but the people who come to me in my office seeking crisis loans through the social fund cannot do that. They do not have the option of the credit union either, because of the credit union methodology. I fully support credit unions. Everyone on the Opposition Benches who has a particular knowledge of credit unions would support them 100%, as we have in the past, but they are not an option for people in financial crisis, as the Government have suggested.

Naomi Long: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that part of the difficulty is that in circumstances where people’s finances are very stretched and they are very vulnerable, the crisis loan system stands between them and lenders with extortionate interest rates and loan sharks, which can impact not only on their financial welfare, but on their health and well-being more generally?

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Jim Shannon: I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. She clearly has cause to represent people in relation to social fund issues and has a good understanding of the financial crisis they face.

Many of the people who come to me in my office have health problems. If they are unable to work, possibly because of an injury at work or an accident at home, they are left facing a financial crisis. Intimidation is not rife in Northern Ireland and nowhere else; it happens in other parts of the United Kingdom as well, and there are occasions when someone has to leave home quickly, and they face financial crisis. Most of those who come to me are single people, maybe a single parent with a young child, or sometimes they are people coming out of care or out of prison, or people who have experienced family break-ups.

The hon. Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue) described the situation well, and I share her experiences as a representative. Those people are under great financial pressure and are worried about where they are going to go. They look for alternatives to borrowing money. Sometimes, as a result of their inability to pay back their loans on time, they end up in hospital. Loan sharks are probably the only people willing to lend them money but at an extortionate rate, which puts them under great pressure. I am sure other hon. Members have seen that.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): Is my colleague, like me, at a loss to understand how some hon. Members who are prepared to commend the social fund measures are the same people who, in relation to parliamentary expenses, argue for the operational principles of clarity, predictability, responsiveness, consistency and the right to query or appeal? They demand those operational principles where it affects themselves, but they are prepared to mangle them where they affect their most marginal constituents when it comes to the social fund.

Jim Shannon: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his passion and his commitment. I would find it difficult to argue against those points. I should like to hear from the Minister what measures the Government intend to put in place to ensure that the people whom I have described—the single people facing financial problems or those experiencing health problems, marital break-ups or intimidation, who clearly have problems at home—will fit into the system. I do not see that they will. I see extreme difficulties for them in future.

The hon. Lady spoke about those managing debt. Not everybody has the ability to manage their financial circumstances. We meet people in my office who unfortunately fit into that category. We try to advise them or send them to someone who can give them advice and help, but in many cases they are unable to manage their financial circumstances. The crisis loan enables them to borrow and get out of the crisis that they face, and agreeing a direct debit helps them to manage their money.

For those who come to me in financial crisis, the crisis loan is their only way out. I would love to be the Northern bank or the Ulster bank and be able to lend all those people money personally, but unfortunately my resources do not go that far and it is not my responsibility to do that singly and individually. That is the responsibility of Government.

15 Jun 2011 : Column 819

Bill Esterson: The hon. Gentleman makes a strong case for his concerns about the loan system. What worries me, reading the clause, are the references to discretion and appropriate decisions by the Treasury about what does or does not constitute grounds for payment on account. A constituent who came to me was denied employment support allowance and was told that he was fit for work. When he went to the jobcentre, he did not qualify. That person needed three separate crisis loans. The point about managing debt is well made. The issue of appropriateness will cause huge problems.

Jim Shannon: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. Many Members in all parts of the House know how the system works and the importance of a crisis loan system operating through the social fund.

My final point relates to the appeals system. The proposed changes will do away with the independent appeals system or at least make it unnecessary. I fought a number of appeals for people who had applied for crisis loans through the social fund. Having the appeals system in place is critical. If they are turned down the first time, it may be because they provided the wrong information, or because all the necessary information was not available. An appeals system allows a review to take place. It is crucial that the independent appeals system is retained.

The system of crisis loans through the social fund is a crucial aspect of life in Britain today for the people who come to my office and for those I meet. It gives people hope and an opportunity to get out of sometimes dire financial circumstances. The Government, the House and we as elected representatives have a duty to make sure that the social fund and the crisis loan are retained.

Bridget Phillipson: I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to this important group of amendments concerning the discretionary social fund, particularly amendment 39, which calls on the Government to bring forward detailed proposals for the replacement scheme.

Discretionary social fund payments, such as crisis loans and community care grants, provide an essential safety net for some of the most vulnerable people in our communities who, at times of extreme hardship or disadvantage, need financial support. One such group I wish to talk about in detail are women fleeing domestic violence who, through no fault of their own, are forced out of their own homes and have to seek shelter elsewhere. It is because of my experience working with women affected by domestic violence and their families that I am so concerned about the Government’s proposals and what they could mean for those women.

A woman fleeing domestic violence often must leave her home with nothing more that the clothes she is standing in, without money or access to money, but she still needs access to vital items for herself and her children, from food and nappies to children’s clothing. The social fund provides a vital lifeline for those women. Although far from perfect—I admit its shortcomings—it gives reassurance to the woman that help is available should she need it so that she does not feel pressured to return home to violence simple because she has no access to money. Community care grants allow women to start afresh, with a new life and a new home, by covering some of the costs attached, such as a washing machine or a cooker.

15 Jun 2011 : Column 820

3 pm

At present, clear guidance operates for decision makers, with clear processes in place if the individual is unhappy and wishes to challenge a decision, but the Government’s proposals will shift those responsibilities to local authorities and are deeply concerning on a number of levels. There is little reassurance that an adequate service will be provided or that the quality of service and the appeals process will not differ greatly across the country from council to council. The Government say that local authorities will be open to scrutiny at local level, and to a degree that is true, but I simply do not feel confident that vulnerable and excluded groups, such as women fleeing domestic violence, will be able to make their voices heard in those circumstances.

As I indicated when I intervened on the Minister, those women are often not on the electoral register and cannot cast a vote, so at the most basic level there is a lack of democratic accountability. I am sure we all hope that local councillors and councils would take due notice of those groups regardless, but the realities of life mean that if those women are unable to vote, as is the case for the vast majority who are forced to move to a women’s refuge, they are denied an important opportunity to affect local decision making.

Skilled and experienced professionals in the Department for Work and Pensions currently administer the discretionary social fund, but it is not clear who will take on that role within local authorities. That will present a significant capacity problem for local authorities that are already stretched in the current financial climate. The Government have not set out minimum standards and levels of service that they expect councils to adhere to. How will individuals access the replaced discretionary social fund, and where? What time scales can they expect for decisions? We might end up with significant variation between councils, whereas at present we have a clear national scheme. I do not believe that we have had clarity from Ministers on local eligibility.

Ian Paisley: The point that the hon. Lady is making is critical. A local authority might lay down a policy on this matter that is very good, but if another authority then does something slightly different that appears to be better, automatically all the good work that the first local authority has done will be seen as of no use as it will be held to another standard. We must have a single national standard so that people who require this fund, whether in Bushmills or Birmingham, know that they will see the same standard, with the same requirements, the same grant and the same opportunity to avail themselves of that assistance.

Bridget Phillipson: I agree entirely. It is vital that people feel that appropriate safeguards are in place with a national scheme and a national appeals system so that when things go wrong, as they sometimes do, there is an appropriate means of redress and decisions can be looked at again.

My concern with the Government’s proposals is that we will end up with massive variation between councils and between different parts of the United Kingdom, which will disadvantage people in certain areas. Some councils might choose a system that works very effectively and addresses the needs of vulnerable groups, but others might not do that so well. That is why the Government

15 Jun 2011 : Column 821

must be very clear about the standards that they will demand of local authorities, but they are not being clear.

Women fleeing domestic violence are often forced out of their local area in order to seek safety, so what safeguards can we expect when a woman is forced to move to an area where the local council might decide that she is ineligible for support? In the urban areas of the north-east, where large local authorities cover small geographical areas, it is not a great distance from Gateshead to Sunderland, but might the local authority in Sunderland, for example, take the view that the woman should seek support from her local authority in Gateshead? I sincerely hope that it would not take such a view, as that could hold up the process when the woman desperately needs financial help. This is not a factor at present because the scheme is a national one, but devolving responsibility to local councils will create a raft of potential problems for those councils and risk placing some very vulnerable people at risk of harm.

It is simply not good enough for the Government to hope that local councils will be able to manage this complex change. With a budget that is not ring-fenced and the potential for a reduced level of funding from recovered grants, it is inevitable that some local councils will not want to take people without a clear and established local connection, which I believe will be particularly damaging for women fleeing domestic violence if this is not done properly. That is why it is imperative that the Government set out detailed proposals, as amendment 39 makes clear, including eligibility criteria and an independent appeals mechanism. Without further clarity and detail, there is a real likelihood that some of the most vulnerable people in our communities will be unable to access financial support when they need it most.

John McDonnell: I will not delay the House any further because I think that colleagues from all Opposition parties have demonstrated why they are not convinced by the Government’s proposals, and why every charity and housing group in the country is not convinced either. Members’ surgeries will fill up as people can no longer receive grants and loans, so it is inevitable that we will return to the issue at a later date to reform the Government’s reforms. I will not push for two Divisions on this group and, on the basis of supporting amendment 39, beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: 39, page 52, line 22, leave out subsection (1) and insert—

‘(1) Section 138(1)(b) of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 (discretionary payments out of Social Fund) may be repealed, if the Secretary of State—

(a) publishes a detailed proposal for a replacement scheme, or schemes, based on wide consultation with relevant stakeholders;

(b) ensures that such a scheme, or schemes, will provide financial protection for applicants in an emergency or crisis, with the eligibility criteria for applicants specified in regulations;

(c) demonstrates the feasibility of such a scheme, or schemes, through a pilot or pathfinder process; and

(d) demonstrates how an independent appeals mechanism will be implemented.’.—( Ms Buck .)

15 Jun 2011 : Column 822

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The House divided:

Ayes 237, Noes 300.

Division No. 294]

[3.6 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Anderson, Mr David

Ashworth, Jon

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Balls, rh Ed

Banks, Gordon

Barron, rh Mr Kevin

Bayley, Hugh

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Benn, rh Hilary

Benton, Mr Joe

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blears, rh Hazel

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Blunkett, rh Mr David

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Burnham, rh Andy

Campbell, Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Gregory

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Caton, Martin

Chapman, Mrs Jenny

Clark, Katy

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Tony

Curran, Margaret

Dakin, Nic

Danczuk, Simon

Darling, rh Mr Alistair

David, Mr Wayne

Davidson, Mr Ian

Davies, Geraint

De Piero, Gloria

Dobbin, Jim

Dobson, rh Frank

Docherty, Thomas

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Doran, Mr Frank

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Durkan, Mark

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gapes, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Goggins, rh Paul

Goodman, Helen

Greatrex, Tom

Green, Kate

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hain, rh Mr Peter

Hamilton, Mr David

Hamilton, Fabian

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harris, Mr Tom

Havard, Mr Dai

Healey, rh John

Hendrick, Mark

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Hermon, Lady

Heyes, David

Hillier, Meg

Hilling, Julie

Hodge, rh Margaret

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hoey, Kate

Hood, Mr Jim

Hosie, Stewart

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

Jackson, Glenda

James, Mrs Siân C.

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Jowell, rh Tessa

Joyce, Eric

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Lloyd, Tony

Long, Naomi

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Caroline

Lucas, Ian

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

MacShane, rh Mr Denis

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Shabana

Mann, John

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McClymont, Gregg

McCrea, Dr William

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGovern, Jim

McGuire, rh Mrs Anne

McKechin, Ann

McKinnell, Catherine

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Mearns, Ian

Michael, rh Alun

Miliband, rh David

Mitchell, Austin

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme


Morris, Grahame M.


Mudie, Mr George

Munn, Meg

Murphy, rh Mr Jim

Murphy, rh Paul

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

O'Donnell, Fiona

Onwurah, Chi

Osborne, Sandra

Owen, Albert

Paisley, Ian

Pearce, Teresa

Perkins, Toby

Phillipson, Bridget

Pound, Stephen

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reeves, Rachel

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Robertson, Angus

Robertson, John

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Joan

Sarwar, Anas

Seabeck, Alison

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Sheridan, Jim

Shuker, Gavin

Simpson, David

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Angela

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Spellar, rh Mr John

Straw, rh Mr Jack

Stringer, Graham

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, Valerie

Walley, Joan

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Wicks, rh Malcolm

Williams, Hywel

Williamson, Chris

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wishart, Pete

Wood, Mike

Woodcock, John

Woodward, rh Mr Shaun

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mark Tami and

Lilian Greenwood


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Amess, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Steve

Baldry, Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Baron, Mr John

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Binley, Mr Brian

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Mr Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Mr Steve

Brokenshire, James

Brooke, Annette

Bruce, Fiona

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, Conor

Burrowes, Mr David

Burstow, Paul

Byles, Dan

Cairns, Alun

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carmichael, Neil

Chishti, Rehman

Clark, rh Greg

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Crabb, Stephen

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Davey, Mr Edward

Davies, David T. C.


Davies, Glyn

Davies, Philip

Davis, rh Mr David

de Bois, Nick

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Dorries, Nadine

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duddridge, James

Duncan, rh Mr Alan

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, Michael

Field, Mr Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fullbrook, Lorraine

Fuller, Richard

Gale, Mr Roger

Garnier, Mr Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Glen, John

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, Damian

Greening, Justine

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Hague, rh Mr William

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Matthew

Hancock, Mr Mike

Hands, Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Heald, Oliver

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Hendry, Charles

Herbert, rh Nick

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollingbery, George

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Holloway, Mr Adam

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Howarth, Mr Gerald

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Huhne, rh Chris

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Huppert, Dr Julian

Javid, Sajid

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, Mr David

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Mr Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Laing, Mrs Eleanor

Lamb, Norman

Lancaster, Mark

Latham, Pauline

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leech, Mr John

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leigh, Mr Edward

Leslie, Charlotte

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Stephen

Lopresti, Jack

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

Main, Mrs Anne

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

McVey, Esther

Mensch, Mrs Louise

Menzies, Mark

Mercer, Patrick

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, Maria

Mills, Nigel

Milton, Anne

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mulholland, Greg

Mundell, rh David

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

O'Brien, Mr Stephen

Offord, Mr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Patel, Priti

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pritchard, Mark

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Mr John

Reckless, Mark

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reevell, Simon

Reid, Mr Alan

Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rogerson, Dan

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, Amber

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sandys, Laura

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Shepherd, Mr Richard

Simmonds, Mark

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Miss Chloe

Smith, Julian

Smith, Sir Robert

Soubry, Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Mr Graham

Stunell, Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Syms, Mr Robert

Tapsell, Sir Peter

Thurso, John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Truss, Elizabeth

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vickers, Martin

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Ward, Mr David

Watkinson, Angela

Weatherley, Mike

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williams, Mr Mark

Williamson, Gavin

Willott, Jenny

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Yeo, Mr Tim

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr Shailesh Vara and

Mark Hunter

Question accordingly negatived.

15 Jun 2011 : Column 823

15 Jun 2011 : Column 824

15 Jun 2011 : Column 825

15 Jun 2011 : Column 826

Clause 74

State pension credit: capital limit

Amendment made: 19, page 54, line 15, clause 74, at end insert—

‘( ) In section 19 of that Act (regulations and orders), in subsection (2), before paragraph (a) there is inserted—

“(za) section 1(2)(d),”.’—(Maria Miller .)

Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. We now come to a sensible grouping of amendments, to be considered together, on the personal independence payment. The first, amendment 43, refers to clause 78, but amendments 41 and 42 refer to clause 83, which is about a rather separate issue, so I hope that the Chair will take into account the progress of the debate in order to decide whether to allow a vote, if necessary, on amendments 41 and 42.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): We will see how the debate goes, and I am sure that we will look favourably upon the issue when we get there.

Clause 78

Ability to carry out daily living activities or mobility activities

Margaret Curran (Glasgow East) (Lab): I beg to move amendment 43, page 56, line 40, at end insert—

‘(7) Regulations shall exempt people with prescribed medical conditions from the requirement in subsection (4)(c), including in prescribed circumstances where the individual is—

(a) severely mentally impaired;

(b) a double amputee;

(c) deaf/blind;

(d) undergoing haemodialysis;

(e) severely visually impaired; and/or

(f) meets the requirements of special rules set out in Clause 80.’.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 76, in clause 79, page 56, line 45, leave out ‘as respects every time’ and insert

‘as regularly as their disabling condition occurs’.

Amendment 44, page 56, line 45, leave out ‘6’ and insert ‘3’.

Amendment 77, page 57, line 3, leave out ‘as respects every time’ and insert

‘as regularly as their disabling condition occurs’.

Amendment 45, page 57, line 3, leave out ‘6’ and insert ‘9’.

Amendment 46, page 57, line 15, leave out from ‘previous’ to second ‘months’ and insert

‘3 months means the 3’.

Amendment 47, page 57, line 17, leave out from ‘next’ to second ‘months’ and insert

‘9 months means the 9’.

Amendment 66, in clause 83, page 58, line 34, leave out ‘meets the condition in subsection (2)’ and insert

‘is an inpatient of a hospital’.

15 Jun 2011 : Column 827

Amendment 41, page 58, line 35, leave out ‘2’ and insert ‘3’.

Amendment 42, page 58, line 40, at beginning insert—

‘(3) The condition is that the person is an in-patient of a hospital.

(4) ’.

Amendment 73, in clause 86, page 59, line 35, at end insert—

‘(3) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a report on the impact of regulations made under section 83 within 12 months of the regulations being laid before Parliament.’.

Amendment 60, in schedule 10, page 140, line 25, at end insert—

‘(3) The Secretary of State shall ensure that, in respect of any person whose award of disability living allowance is terminated on or after the appointed day, an award of personal independence payment is made without application, and that said award is not subject to the requirements of assessment in section 78(3) or (4), or subsection (2) of this section, until:

(a) The Secretary of State has commissioned an independent report, no less than six months after the appointed day, on the effectiveness of the assessment process as used on new applicants for personal independence payment, and;

(b) The Secretary of State has satisfied himself, having consulted with disabled people, that the assessment process is functioning correctly.’.

Amendment 74, in clause 91, page 61, line 13, at end insert—

‘(c) the first regulations under section 83 containing provisions about the payment of the mobility component of personal independence payments to residents of a care home.’.

Margaret Curran: We have reached a vital stage in our consideration of the Bill. Government proposals for the reform of benefits for disabled people have been mired in controversy and bogged down by issues that the Government have failed to address, and they have alienated many organisations of and for disabled people. Sadly, instead of listening to and attempting to understand those concerns, the Government have dismissed them and undermined the traction that they command throughout the country. So much for the new politics! Instead of continuing the previous policy and the new approach of co-production practised with care and consideration by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mrs McGuire) when she was the Minister with responsibility for disabled people, the Under-Secretary has been steadfast in her refusal to appreciate the issues brought to her, which I will detail. I fear that her approach has alienated the voices for reform in the disability movement and in this House. As a result, we are debating a huge missed opportunity for meaningful reform. However, we are where we are, and we will debate the proposals before us and our amendments to improve them.

Let me say a few words to provide some context. Although disability living allowance is a much respected and much valued benefit, it was designed in a different time, well before measures such as the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 and the Equality Act 2010, which were introduced by the last Labour Government and which have profoundly changed the way in which disabled people participate and are recognised in society today. I acknowledge that the application procedure to make a new DLA claim—the process of self-assessment

15 Jun 2011 : Column 828

whereby somebody has to fill out a long, and at times complicated, form—is not one that many people believe to be suitable in a modern welfare state. We therefore believe, and have said consistently throughout our deliberations, that it is right to reform DLA. We welcome the Government’s decision to keep DLA as a non-means-tested, in-work benefit, and we think it is right to introduce a new, objective gateway.

Notwithstanding that, we feel that this Government have made profound mistakes and have missed opportunities in their approach to DLA reform. The whole process was kick-started by a rushed consultation. Apparently, according to the DWP website, it was one of the biggest of its kind, yet despite all those representations it yielded very few changes following the introduction of the Bill. The consultation was carried out over the Christmas and new period and was cut short. Perhaps most disappointingly of all, the Government chose to publish their proposals before it had even closed. No wonder this Minister, in particular, has a reputation for not listening. She will know that charities and the disabled people whom they represent have been highly critical of the process of reform. It did not have to be like that, and it is very disappointing that the Government did not undertake more groundwork to ensure that key stakeholders were a key part of the reform process.

While we take issue with the process of reform, we also have major concerns about its substance, and that will be the focus of my remarks. We now know that universal credit will halve support for disabled children and take away the severe disability premium for disabled people who live alone without a carer, yet put nothing appropriate in its place. Furthermore, part 4 outlines details of the new personal independence payment, with proposals to make disabled people wait half a year before they receive support and to take away the right of automatic entitlement for those with severely disabling conditions. The proposals are plainly chaotic and confused as regards the future of DLA mobility component for those in residential care homes.

Fiona O’Donnell (East Lothian) (Lab): My hon. Friend has referred to the Government not listening and not understanding. Does she share my utter dismay at what the Prime Minister said at Prime Minister’s questions, when, on at least four occasions, he failed to acknowledge and understand what the Bill means, or even to see the difference between those who are terminally ill and those with cancer?

Margaret Curran: I could not agree more. It was staggering how ill-informed the Prime Minister seemed to be about the impact that the Bill will have on cancer patients. I will make reference to further experiences that cancer victims will have as a result of these proposals. There is worse news for them, as we will find out.

Our amendments seek to put right the wrongs in the Bill. They would make the personal independence payment a fairer, more effective and more workable component of welfare reform. That is incredibly important given the scale of the reform, with 1.8 million working-age people being assessed in just three short years. Let me begin with one of the most controversial elements of the Government’s proposals and explain the key arguments behind our amendments to clause 83, which deals with the mobility component for those in residential care

15 Jun 2011 : Column 829

homes. That policy has attracted much attention and has been the subject of much debate inside and outside the House, yet the Government’s position remains, I am sorry to say, far from clear.

The blanket cut to those living in residential care was first announced by the Chancellor in the comprehensive spending review: it is there on page 12 of the documentation that I have here beside me. For the record, that position has not changed. The cut was in the first Budget document, and it remains in today’s Budget document. Granted, it has been delayed by six months, but it is still there. The proposal was met with an outcry from disabled people, disability organisations and the Opposition. Where was the Government’s much vaunted compassionate welfare reform? Why single out this particular group? Why select perhaps one of the most vulnerable sections of society? We have heard much talk of reviews and overlaps, but let there be no mistake—unless clause 83 is amended, people living in residential care homes can have their DLA mobility taken away from them.

Let me draw to the attention of Members who may be thinking about how they will vote a briefing submitted by several charitable organisations, which says that while the Government are no longer planning to remove DLA mobility from people living in residential care, they are planning to remove PIP mobility. Members should be careful to remember that if the Government say they are not removing DLA mobility, the Bill as it stands will remove PIP mobility.

Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): I accept the hon. Lady’s observations about the confusion over the Government’s intentions. I think she just said that the Bill will remove PIP mobility. Is it not the case that the Government could bring forward regulations to remove PIP mobility? What we have to determine this afternoon, and what I hope Ministers will give us assurances on, is whether that is the Government’s intention.

Margaret Curran: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I know that he takes a great interest in this matter. That is exactly the point I am about to address. Our purpose this afternoon is to prohibit the Government from ever taking away PIP mobility from those in residential care. I hope that I can win his support, because I know that he has a genuine interest in this matter. I hope he bears with me, and I will gladly allow him to intervene again.

Sir Peter Bottomley: Just to put it in plain English, are we agreed across the House that the mobility allowance, as it used to be called, should be available to people who happen to live in a residential home, rather than in their own home, whether their home is within a residential home or they are living in a block with others?

Margaret Curran: Yes, that is what we agree on. Our amendments would ensure that the Government do not have a blanket power to remove PIP mobility from people because they live in residential care. If Members agree with me, they should vote for our amendments. I will go through the arguments again, and hopefully that point will be clear.

15 Jun 2011 : Column 830

Ian Paisley: Does the hon. Lady agree that what will be foisted on people tonight if we are not careful is a sleight of hand whereby, from March 2013, people will be moved across duplicitously from DLA to PIP, and then PIP will be withdrawn? Of course, DLA will not be withdrawn because it no longer exists. That sleight of hand should be rejected outright by this House.

3.30 pm

Margaret Curran: This is getting embarrassing because, again, I could not agree with the hon. Gentleman more. He made the point perfectly. I commend him because he too takes a strong interest in this matter and has argued passionately for his constituents.

Unlike the Government’s position on DLA mobility for those in residential care homes, Labour’s position is crystal clear, as are our amendments. The Government must not remove DLA mobility for those in residential care and must delete the part of clause 83 that sets out to do just that. When I say “DLA mobility” throughout my remarks, I also mean as it applies to PIP mobility.

There have been many warm words from the Minister on the Government’s plans on DLA mobility, but they come as little reassurance to disabled people when they realise that absolutely nothing has changed since the cut was announced. The clause remains unamended and the cut remains in the Budget book. Some 80,000 disabled people continue to be under threat of losing out at the hands of this Government. Warm words, yes; a change in policy, no.

When justifying this cut, the Minister explains that it is about removing the overlap in provision. She has described a situation of chaos in the residential care sector in relation to this benefit, but hon. Members and charities have heard little or no evidence to substantiate that claim. Furthermore, she knows as well as we do that she does not need clause 83 to remove any overlap there might be in the provision of services to support the mobility and transport needs of care home residents. She already has the power to set new eligibility criteria. Such criteria could remove any overlap in funding or inconsistency in practice and ensure that the mobility component of DLA is used appropriately—I presume that that is the reason for her concerns about overlap. If care homes or local authorities are using the mobility component in a way that is not appropriate, she should address it head-on with the care homes and local authorities.

Bill Esterson: My hon. Friend is making an extremely good case. One of my constituents has said that if the mobility component of DLA is taken away, it

“will make a prison of my son’s care home”.

A wider issue that has been raised by many constituents is that people may be in care for many years with considerable mobility needs and that the care home needs the extra resources to get them beyond the front door.

Margaret Curran: I thank my hon. Friend for drawing our attention to his constituents’ concerns. I am sure that he, and all Members, will bear that experience in mind when we vote this afternoon. I appeal to Members to consider the significant needs of people who live in care homes. That should direct us in how we vote.

15 Jun 2011 : Column 831

Mark Durkan: Does the hon. Lady agree that many people will be perturbed and confused by the fact that the Government are derelict on the real crisis affecting care homes in funding, ownership and stability, but are diligent in trying to claw back the pittance that some people in those care homes receive, based on the myth that there is some financial West Lothian question whereby people are being paid out of one fund and also getting money out of another?

Margaret Curran: The hon. Gentleman makes his point with great passion. We must bear in mind the context in which this decision is being taken and the scale of resource that is involved. I have to say to him that we have found no evidence of great concerns about the practice of care homes and local authorities on the matter. The Minister has not presented any such evidence to us or to charities, and we cannot see where the great worry or cause for concern is.

George Hollingbery: I have just a small point. I think I heard the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) say that PIP was being withdrawn after the change from DLA. I believe the hon. Lady will confirm that we are talking about the mobility component, not PIP in its entirety.

Margaret Curran: If I made that mistake, I am very grateful for the opportunity to correct it. We are talking about the mobility component of DLA, which will be transferred to PIP. I will come on to broader concerns about PIP later, but I thank the hon. Gentleman.

I was talking about how the Government are addressing the issue of overlap and introducing a review. I assume that part of their concern is the need for greater consistency in how funding for people who live in residential care is arranged. I put it to the Minister directly that if there needs to be greater consistency in how the transport and wider mobility needs of residents are addressed, she should issue the appropriate guidelines to care homes. Whatever she chooses to do to address the matter, it is plainly wrong and irresponsible to make victims of the residents themselves by the blanket withdrawal of a benefit to which they are legitimately entitled.

The core of the argument, which should determine how we vote today, is that the power in clause 83 is necessary only if the Government want to remove payments solely on the basis that someone lives in a residential care home. If that is not the aim, we need to change the Bill.

Stephen Lloyd (Eastbourne) (LD): On that point, does the hon. Lady agree that under article 20 of the UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, on personal mobility, and article 31 of the UN convention on the rights of the child, removing the mobility component from children in residential homes may amount to a breach of the UK’s obligations in human rights conventions?

Margaret Curran: That is a very interesting observation, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for drawing it to the House’s attention. I know that he takes a great interest in these matters. That point gives us even more reason to argue that Members should support the amendments—they would avoid any problem of that nature.

15 Jun 2011 : Column 832

When the Minister is not talking about “overlap” in an attempt to address the problem in question, she is talking about the need for a review. It was promised that the review, first announced earlier this year, would look into the provision of DLA mobility to those in residential care homes, which I know offered some succour to Members who were concerned about the matter. Labour Members were mildly optimistic that that was a signal that the Government were undertaking a rethink, as we know they are prepared to do when the time is right. However, we have been sadly disappointed. Although a review was launched, it has no time scale, there are no terms of reference, no review group has been established and there is no involvement for disabled people. No wonder people are confused about where the policy stands.

I remind the House that at Prime Minister’s questions on 23 March, the Prime Minister offered the Leader of the Opposition an opportunity to contribute to the review. I do not think that possibility actually exists. Have the terms of reference of the review been made public? No. Will the findings be published? No. This is not a review, it is, as the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) said, a delaying tactic to cover up a deeply flawed policy. In my wilder moments I thought it was perhaps an appeasement of some Liberal Democrat Members, because we know that their party conference overwhelmingly passed a resolution condemning the policy. The Liberal Democrats in Committee disappeared when the matter was voted on. They are here today, so I hope they will join us and help to defeat this particularly pernicious part of the Bill. I appeal to them to make their presence felt today in a way that they did not in Committee.

Ian Paisley: Does the hon. Lady agree that throughout all of this—no matter how it is dressed up or how Opposition Members are criticised—the policy is about doing one, well named thing? It is about making the pips squeak among the most vulnerable in our country. That is another reason why it should be opposed.

Margaret Curran: This is embarrassing, because hon. Members are putting the argument so much more effectively than I am.

To conclude on this section of my contribution, may I make an appeal to Members of the House? We have a moment in time. We are being watched by disabled people this afternoon, and by their organisations. This goes to the heart of what we are about. People will be prisoners in residential care and prisoners in their own homes if this provision is removed from them. Many opportunities for them will also be withdrawn. I appeal to hon. Members: let us do the right thing this evening and vote for amendment 43—I also intend, Mr Deputy Speaker, to press amendments 42 and 44 to a Division when the time comes.

I shall now discuss specific aspects of the personal independence payment that should be changed to make the new benefit fairer and more effective in giving support to those who need it, and to assist a smooth transition for existing claimants to the new benefit. Amendments 44 to 47 seek to amend clause 79 and the proposed change to the required period condition for PIP. The amendments would retain the three-month period that claimants must wait before they are eligible

15 Jun 2011 : Column 833

to receive PIP, but would extend the period over which a claimant must show that they will be with that disability from six months, as is currently the case with DLA, to nine months.

In other words, for those who have not followed every single detail of the Bill like those of us who served in Committee, like the Government intend, the Opposition would extend the current DLA required condition period from nine months to one year for PIP. However, the Opposition would extend the provision after receipt of the benefit, not at the beginning. To do otherwise would be to penalise unfairly those disabled people who need extra help associated with their disability early in their treatment.

Yet again, there is some confusion about the rationale behind the change in the waiting time for PIP. In Committee, the Minister said that the change was categorically not about savings. She clearly stated:

“I will be honest and open with my answer. I would like to reassure the hon. Lady”—

meaning me—

“that the principal aim of extending the qualifying period from three to six months is not about savings. We do not expect the measure to provide any significant savings.”––[Official Report, Welfare Reform Public Bill Committee, 10 May 2011; c. 848.]

Furthermore, I have asked the Minister in a series of written parliamentary questions what the projected savings are. Again, her Department was unable to provide any sort of answer—nor do its answers so much as allude to potential savings resulting from this policy decision—yet at Department for Work and Pensions questions on Monday, the Minister appeared to backtrack, stating that “modest” savings were now part of the reasoning for pushing ahead with the change. In her response today, will she indicate the scale of those modest savings? It is a little concerning that the rationale behind changes that will make such a big difference to the lives of many disabled people in this country is, even at this late stage, being cobbled together by the Government.

If we cannot comment on savings from the policy, we can at least discuss its impact on disabled people who require PIP to help them to meet extra costs associated with their disability. In Committee, we discussed in great detail the different conditions that are likely to require early support, so I will not go into them in great depth today unless pushed to do so.

Jim Shannon: The hon. Lady has clearly outlined the issues in relation to the qualifying period. Is she aware, as many in the House are, that for people in poor health, it is a time of stress and anxiety? The Government are talking about increasing the qualifying period when people are under the most pressure regarding their health, so putting them under additional, financial pressure. Does she feel that such financial pressure will impact on people’s health at a time when they need less pressure and more help?

3.45 pm

Margaret Curran: The hon. Gentleman makes a very strong point. The Macmillan cancer charity, which has already had an airing in the Chamber today, makes strong representations about the impact that financial

15 Jun 2011 : Column 834

worries can have on health, including leading to a deterioration in health. It is therefore especially pernicious that the Government have come forward with this policy. Cancer and stroke victims will suffer severely from this, because they can have major changes in costs very early in their conditions. Cancer and stroke victims may not be terminal, but they can still have great needs and society needs to support them in working through the terrible and difficult circumstances they are experiencing.

Fiona O’Donnell: Does my hon. Friend agree that this is about more than the entitlement to DLA or PIP: it is about all the other benefits that that triggers, including carer’s allowance so that a whole family can be supported through that difficult time?

Margaret Curran: Indeed, and for those of us who have experience of how families struggle through family illness on lower incomes, we know how important that is. We do not want to have a society in which people who are struggling with major illnesses have to worry about how they will meet their family bills.

Cancer and stroke victims usually require help early in their conditions. As of August 2010, some 195,000 people were receiving DLA for a malignant disease or a stroke-related condition. Many in this group who are of working age may well be the very individuals who will be affected by clause 79 and the decision to lengthen the qualifying period to six months.

The extra costs will vary from individual to individual, but we can safely assume that they include key criteria such as extra fuel costs, costs associated with aids, adaptations and special diets, and extra costs of washing clothes and such like.

Dame Anne Begg (Aberdeen South) (Lab): On the issue of extra fuel costs, one reason why the last Government—followed by this Government—said that they would not extend the winter fuel payment to those with disabilities was that it was already covered in the payments received under DLA. If the people who move on to PIP do not get those payments, they will be disadvantaged.

Margaret Curran: I thank my hon. Friend for that point, which reinforces why we should not accept the Government’s proposals and instead vote for this amendment. Simply to shrug aside the points that have been made or—as I suspect the Minister will argue—to pass on the obligation for meeting these costs to local authorities that are already feeling the strain of funding would be unfair and a great insult to many victims. Cancer patients are already the victims of the decision to time-limit the contributory employment and support allowance to just one year, as the Prime Minister now understands. Why should they be punished yet again at the hands of this Government when it comes to reforming DLA? We had controversy this morning about how cancer patients are being treated by this Government and now we have more concerns and more difficulties for cancer patients.

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): As it is carers week, it is also important to remember that when someone is having treatment in a hospital that may be some distance from home, there is also an

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impact on family members, who end up taking time off work and have to pay high travel costs. That has an impact on the whole family’s income, not just the person who is suffering the illness.

Margaret Curran: Indeed, and there is often an impact on the wider family, not just the immediate family.

We believe that the Government are misguided in their decision to lengthen the time disabled people must wait before they are given support. The Government are also wrong to remove automatic entitlement for certain severely disabled people who currently have the automatic right to receive the higher rate of DLA. At the moment, the severely mentally impaired—that is the language that is used—double amputees and those who are deaf-blind, undergoing haemodialysis or are severely visually impaired are automatically able to receive higher rates of DLA. Under the Bill, however, only those with a terminal illness will automatically receive PIP. Obviously I welcome the Government’s commitment to protect the terminally ill, but we believe that this obligation does not go far enough. Amendment 43 would ensure that those with a severely disabling condition, who are currently eligible for automatic entitlement, would retain that right following the introduction of PIPs.

It is important that we keep in mind the group of people whom we are talking about in the amendment. Is the Minister planning to inform the House today that an individual who is severely mentally impaired or a double amputee might not now be eligible for the higher rate of PIP? That would be quite an announcement. What reason is there to force this group of severely disabled people to undergo an assessment process of which we can all safely predict the outcome? We now know that the Government plan to spend £675 million on establishing PIP, on the bureaucracy of PIP and on the reassessment of 1.8 million working-age recipients of disability living allowance.

Jeremy Corbyn: Does my hon. Friend have estimates of the cost of each of these interviews that will have to take place; of how many will be unnecessary; of how many will be appealed successfully; and of the incredible stress and hardship through which individuals will be put while knowing full well that unfortunately they can never get a job or go to work, and that they will have to be in receipt of benefits in the future?

Margaret Curran: I am afraid that I do not have specific numbers to hand, but I will make it my business to get that information because it would be very interesting. I am sure that some organisations could help us estimate those numbers and the different categories that my hon. Friend highlighted. He outlined a common-sense approach. It makes no sense to put these people through this stress, or to add to the bureaucratic costs of administering the process, when that money should be going to the disabled people themselves.

In a time of economic restraint, I am sure that everyone on both sides of the House agrees that this is a huge amount of money to spend on administration, so we should consider opportunities to reduce the costs. It is absurd to propose reassessing conditions that will clearly be eligible for the new PIPs. I have asked how much it will cost, and I will try to get answers—perhaps the Minister can give them in her reply. If the argument for retaining automatic entitlement is rooted in the

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avoidance of needless assessment, it is also grounded in the goal of appeasing the anxiety of many disabled people about having to undergo reassessment for PIP eligibility. As I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) knows, one of the biggest concerns disabled people tell us about is the constant reassessments they have to undergo, despite it being obvious to everybody that they have a disability. They are needless assessments.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that problems are also created by the period disabled people have to wait before an assessment and the consequent stress and worry? They read newspapers that convince them they are not going to get the benefit, and their overall state worsens as a result of this whole exercise.

Margaret Curran: Yes, absolutely, and we have an opportunity here to minimise that stress and to address the problems. I strongly believe that we should take that opportunity.

Mark Durkan: Does the hon. Lady recognise that many people are concerned that as the costs of administering the assessments emerge and escalate, they will be met not by scaling back the arrangements, but by tightening the criteria and reducing the benefits awarded?

Margaret Curran: I acknowledge that many disabled people and disability organisations are extremely concerned about that, given the Government’s track record on this. We cannot underestimate or brush aside the level of anxiety of many people in this country about the reform of DLA. Many people find incredibly stressful and worrying the prospect of having to go through a new face-to-face assessment to prove their disability, despite it being abundantly clear, in order to receive help.

It is the Government’s job to assure disabled people that the introduction of PIPs—I know that the Minister tries to do this—will not mean the end of financial support for disabled people. Given the Minister’s efforts on that, I plead with the Government to go that extra mile to assure disabled people that the process is about meaningful reform of an important benefit, rather than an attempt to remove it from those whom they can get away with removing it from. One way the Government can do that is by ensuring that the most severely disabled members of our society do not face needless upheaval and uncertainty over the future of support following the introduction of PIPs.

Stephen Lloyd: I understand where the hon. Lady is coming from, but does she agree that the Government have made good progress by bringing in Professor Harrington to ensure that the test—which, to be honest, we inherited from the previous Government—is improved?

Margaret Curran: That test was introduced for the work capability assessment and the application of employment and support allowance, as the hon. Gentleman knows. Of course I acknowledge that the Minister is working with disabled people to try to ensure that the test is as effective as it can be, but I have to tell the hon. Gentleman and the Minister that most disabled people are saying that they are not satisfied. I do not think that reassurances have been given that the test is right yet.

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None the less, what I am talking about in this debate is automatic entitlement, which is a different issue. Even if the test were perfect, which would be very hard to achieve—we are very far from that—putting people through needless assessments, all at a cost, would still not be worth it when they are clearly disabled. Retaining automatic entitlement for severely disabled people would be a small step, but would enable the Government to send out an important signal to show that they are listening and that they get some of this. The big cry coming from disabled people is that there has been no shift from the Government and no signals, and that they do not get it.

Amendment 60, which is our final amendment in the group, would ensure that the process of reassessment will result in an orderly, careful and efficient transition for working-age claimants. As I have said before, we need to keep in mind the scale of the exercise that the Government are proposing to undertake. We are talking about reassessing 1.8 million working-age people on DLA in the space of just three years. To meet that goal, the Government would need to reassess—I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North that I do have the figures for this—roughly 600,000 people, which is 11,500 people a week or more than 2,000 a day. That is the scale of the process that disabled people will have to go through.

Given the scale and depth of concern about this issue, our amendment 60 proposes that checks and balances be written into the Bill to ensure that lessons are learnt as reform develops—we have tried to learn some of those lessons ourselves—and that the teething problems of assessment are addressed and disabled people have the confidence that reform will work for them. Amendment 60 would embrace this opportunity to send out a clear message that we will learn from mistakes in the system and iron out anomalies in the assessment before we start to assess some of the most vulnerable people currently receiving DLA, by ensuring that only new applicants are assessed first. That is what the safeguard would do. Amendment 60 is fair and proportionate. We are not saying that reassessment is wrong; we are simply saying that it needs to be done properly and carefully, and that it should be phased, with the Secretary of State playing a key role in the process to ensure clear scrutiny and accountability.

The amendments would ensure that the personal independence payment was a fairer, more effective and workable reform. As I set out in my introductory remarks, the Opposition support reform and the principles of reform; however, the Government have wasted a significant opportunity to introduce such reform. If the universal credit penalises families of disabled children by halving the support available to them; penalises severely disabled people who live alone by neglecting to replicate the severe disability premium or the personal independence payment; penalises disabled people in residential care homes by removing their DLA mobility component; penalises disabled people by making them wait six months before they receive the support that they need; and creates uncertainty and needless anxiety for the most disabled people in our society by removing their automatic entitlement to the new benefit, is it any wonder that we are opposed to this Bill?

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Jenny Willott (Cardiff Central) (LD): I rise to speak to the amendments tabled in my name, which focus on the mobility component of the disability living allowance for those in care homes. We have already heard a lot about that from the hon. Member for Glasgow East (Margaret Curran). Amendment 74 asks for the regulations on this issue to be dealt with under the affirmative, rather than the negative, procedure. Amendment 73 asks for a report on the impact of the changes after one year.

4 pm

There were many concerns across the House when the Government announced their original plan to remove the mobility component of the disability living allowance from all those in care homes. Concern was expressed particularly about young people in boarding schools and residential care, and about the impact on parents who have to meet extra costs associated with their child’s disability, whether or not they are in residential care. For example, they might need to meet the additional cost of an adapted or expensive car to transport the young person around. Concern was also expressed about the impact of the proposal on older people in residential care, and it is that issue that seems to have taken off, rather than a focus on younger people.

The Government have listened, however, and they have said that they no longer plan to remove the mobility component of the disability living allowance from all those in residential care. Instead, they have made it clear that they intend to tackle instances of overlapping funding, such as when a local authority is providing funding for someone’s mobility needs directly to a care home and the individual is also getting DLA. I hope that the Minister will confirm that that is the Government’s intention, because it is important to be clear that we are tackling the overlap of funding rather than entirely removing mobility support from people in care homes.

Fiona O'Donnell: Under the hon. Lady’s definition of overlapping provision for mobility needs, would she settle only for what we would expect anyone living in the wider community to have—namely, complete freedom of choice and access to transport to assist them when it suits them?

Jenny Willott: I am about to come to my understanding of that point. Obviously, it is up to the Minister to determine her definition, and I am sure that the hon. Lady will be able to comment on what the Minister has to say later.

I am also glad that the Government have put on hold the plan to introduce this change while comprehensive research is carried out. Any decision needs to be based on solid evidence, and it has become clear that no research has been done in the past, so no such evidence has been available so far.

Margaret Curran: To the best of her knowledge, can the hon. Lady identify two examples of where overlap is a problem? Does she think that the review should be widened to involve disabled people? Does she also think that its findings should be published?

Jenny Willott: I have just made it clear that no research has been done in the past, so there has been no evidence up to now. I have absolutely no idea what

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evidence the Minister has found, but I am sure that she will be able to give the House more information on that and answer the hon. Lady’s question. Not being part of the research team, I cannot give the hon. Lady any examples of overlap, but I am sure that the Minister will be able to provide more information about that later.

Margaret Curran: May I ask you to address the second part of my question, which was about the review? There are serious concerns that the review is not being made public and that we do not know its terms of reference. I presume that you know its terms of reference, since you support the Government’s proposals. Could you perhaps explain them to the House?

Jenny Willott: I think she means “the hon. Lady”, rather than you, Mr Deputy Speaker. This is obviously an issue for the Minister to address later, particularly in regard to the terms of reference. I do not believe that it would have been appropriate for disabled people to take part in the research, because it is my understanding that this is an information-gathering exercise—

Simon Danczuk (Rochdale) (Lab): Shame!

Jenny Willott: The hon. Gentleman shouts “Shame”, but this is an information-gathering exercise to obtain evidence on the basis of which a decision can be made. At that point, it will be appropriate for people to be consulted. When we know the evidence base, and what options are open to the Government, it will clearly be appropriate to consult. At the moment, the Government are communicating with local authorities to find out what funding is in place, and disabled people are probably no more aware of that than I am. It would not be appropriate, while gathering that information, to consult. Afterwards, when we have the evidence on which to base a decision, it will become appropriate to consult on the options.

Cathy Jamieson (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (Lab/Co-op): I have to confess that I am astonished to hear the hon. Lady suggest that disabled people would have nothing to add to an information-gathering exercise. Would she support postponing the proposals until we have clarity on what the review will involve, to ensure that everyone with a view is able to put their view forward?

Jenny Willott: The hon. Lady completely misrepresents my words. I absolutely did not say that disabled people have nothing to add to this. I said that the Government are undertaking an information-gathering exercise so that we have an evidence base on which to look at the options for the Government to take forward. At that point, people with disabilities and others affected would, I hope, have an opportunity to be consulted and to participate in discussions. At the moment, it is my understanding that the Government are gathering information to provide the evidence that has been lacking. I have to say that I was taken aback to find that the previous Government had never done research to enable us to understand what funding is made available to care homes and what is made available to people through disability living allowance. Providing such evidence is seriously overdue.

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Several hon. Members rose

Jenny Willott: I give way first to the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley).

Ian Paisley: I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who is being very good and lenient with her time. On the issue of overlapping, which was raised at the start of her comments, I want to point out that the disability living allowance as currently constructed is a non-means-tested benefit. Overlapping implies that there should now be a means test. If part or all of someone’s benefit were to be taken away, means-testing would be necessary. Is the hon. Lady saying that she will support a provision that would introduce a new means test by stealth?

Jenny Willott: I do not believe that this is about means-testing of benefits. It is about looking for sources of state support or Government funding for the mobility needs of individuals with disability. It is about looking at the different sources of money to ensure that it is provided evenly to people with disabilities so that their mobility needs are covered.

Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): I understand where my hon. Friend is coming from, as she and I are signed up to the same position. Let me confirm that her position and mine is the one agreed at our party conference only a few months ago—[Interruption.] Let me put it on the record that the conference called

“on the Coalition Government not to remove the Mobility Component completely and to ensure sufficient funding for the mobility needs of those who cannot afford to fund their needs themselves”


“to ensure that any reductions to the Mobility Component are based on clear evidence that the cost of that support is provided via other funding means.”

That is where we stand, so I ask my hon. Friend to confirm that that is why she is making sure that the Government will end up standing there, too.

Jenny Willott: That is exactly the position that I am putting forward. I am concerned, because clause 83 still leaves it open for Ministers to cut the mobility component for those in care homes. As a number of Members have made clear, the concern about that is considerable.

Dame Anne Begg: I appreciate that the hon. Lady is trying to get the Government off the hook by supporting this review, but the original proposal came forward in the coalition Government’s first Budget—almost a year ago. Is she not as surprised as I am—if not shocked—that the work that she now advocates was not done before the proposal was made in the first place?

Jenny Willott: To risk the wrath that has been incurred by some colleagues on my side, I have to confess that I was somewhat surprised about that, but I also think it should have been done by the previous Government as well. It is pretty shameful that we have no understanding of where the funding for these costs has come from.

Several hon. Members rose

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Jenny Willott: I am afraid that I am not taking any more interventions, as many Members want to participate in the debate and I do not want to run out of time. I am sure that those who have further comments will attempt to catch your eye, Mr Deputy Speaker.

We must not underestimate how important it is for people to be able to get out and about. I appreciate that those in residential care often do not have as many mobility needs as some people living on their own. For example, they do not need to shop regularly for food as it is usually provided, and they often do not need to make arrangements to get to a doctor’s appointment or the hairdresser’s because those services are often provided in the care home. However, they often need to shop for things other than food—for clothes and personal items—and they need to be able to maintain contact with friends and family. Younger people in residential care may often be in work and need to travel in and out of work as well. They have needs that need to be funded. It depends on the disability, but often public transport is not an option, so people rely on expensive taxis, on Motability scooters or on having access to their own vehicle, all of which add significant costs.

It is important that people have independence, keep up their social lives and live a full and valuable life. That is not possible on the £22 a week that people in residential care would be left with if they did not have the mobility element or any other support for their mobility needs. Although this part of the Bill is about PIPs, which will apply only to those who are over 18, I would be grateful if the Minister clarified the Government’s intention about extending PIPs to the under-18s, too, and whether the provisions will apply to families and young people with disabilities who are under that age.

My amendments would ensure that this important issue is decided by affirmative resolution, enabling proper parliamentary scrutiny, and that its implementation is monitored effectively through the production of a report after enough time has elapsed to show the impact and the effect. It is clear to me from the totality of the Government’s proposals that affect people with disabilities that the Government do not intend to restrict the independence of individuals. The move towards personal independence payments from disability living allowance goes in quite the opposite direction. We had a number of debates in Committee about the increased emphasis on individual needs and independence, and I sometimes found the Minister’s emphasis on taking every person as an individual and assessing their individual needs somewhat frustrating. Sometimes in debate it is easier to consider groups of people, but it is clear that the Minister’s intention is to consider individual needs and to take them into account when making decisions, as well as to ensure that individuals have independence.

Stephen Timms: The Minister has said that she does not envisage the results of the review being published. If I understand the hon. Lady correctly—she is making some telling points—she envisages the review being published so that there can be consultation. Will she confirm that she disagrees with the Minister on that point?