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Lord Addington moved Amendment No. 126:

Page 69, line 8, leave out ("5"") and insert ("3"")

The noble Lord said: Again, with the leave of the Committee, I shall move an amendment in the name of my noble friend.

Amendment No. 126 concerns a more straightforward issue. It seeks to make the test which is applied to decide the correct level of mobility payment available to children under the age of five because those who are less severely disabled also incur extra costs. Although the Government will probably say that those under that age are not usually regarded as living independently, if one has a four or five year-old who is deaf, it may be extremely difficult to take them, for instance, on a bus. If they cannot hear, they may run off the bus and into the road, so extra travel costs to keep them safe may be incurred.

The provisions refer to a lower level of disability. I am always rather terrified of the idea of defining a "lower level" of disability. Extra costs may be incurred because of the necessity of using a car or a taxi because a hearing impaired child, for instance, cannot be controlled and easily given guidance. That is the nub of the matter. I beg to move.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Amendment No. 126 seeks to replicate for the lower rate mobility component what the Government are proposing to do for the higher rate; that is, to bring it down from the age of five to three. I am sure that Members of the Committee will be aware that it is not that the lower rate mobility component is a lower financial level of mobility allowance for the same group of people; it is designed to help very different people.

The higher rate of mobility component is for people who are virtually unable to walk. It is literally concerned with physical mobility; it is for people who cannot walk easily more than a few yards. It involves the "virtually unable to walk" test. The lower rate mobility component does not involve people who have a physical incapacity to walk, but those who, when they walk, need supervision by virtue of severe learning difficulties, behavioural problems, severe mental illness or the like. So these are not, as with the care elements, a step down in severity of need; they are two different groups of people, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Addington, will be aware.

Lord Addington: I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. I was trying to point out that the problems implied in that assessment of the definition often do not fit the categories which all governments have to use.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: That is where I was going to dissent from the noble Lord, Lord Addington.

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We recognise that with the higher rate MOB, where somebody is physically unable to walk--for example, a child who has had severe cerebral palsy from the age of four--they may still need pushchairs or, with a different form of illness, oxygen cylinders and so forth. That means that to obtain any mobility the family will need personal transport.

In the past the child at the age of five may have needed that to go school, which is why the old, higher rate mobility component started at five. We are now reducing that to three because now that is when children go into playgroups or go through the national childcare strategy into nursery school. The same does not apply to those people on the lower rate mobility component. The lower rate mobility component is intended to help people who need extra guidance or supervision as a result of their disability.

The vast majority of children under five need constant supervision when out walking, whether or not they are disabled. That is particularly true when children are in unfamiliar places. None of us would allow a three or four year-old to run in a busy street without constant supervision. That is the difference. If a child has a physical disability and needs heavy equipment, it cannot run in the street; it has to be carried. From the age of three or four onwards it may be physically too heavy to be carried and therefore access is needed to a mobility car.

A child with a behavioural problem needs constant supervision, but that would apply whether or not the child had a behavioural problem. That is the basis of why we are unable to accept the amendment. The analogies are not similar. The needs in lower rate mobility component for an able-bodied child and a child with this level of disability do not engender any different needs for mobility, whereas they do if the child has a severe physical disability. In the light of that explanation I hope the noble Lord will not press his amendment.

Lord Addington: There does not seem to be much between us when it comes to the types of problem involved; it is just that we believe that children who can respond to their own name can at least let the parent know where they are. They will be easier to keep an eye on, to control and communicate with. Thus it will be easier to travel with them on a bus; one will not need to have a hand on them all the time.

This is an argument we could debate for a long time, quoting examples of cases where people have found the situation to be extremely difficult. However, the Minister indicated that she is not prepared to accept the amendment at this time. I shall take it away and consider whether it merits further attention. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 127 not moved.]

Lord Rix moved Amendment No. 127A:

Page 69, line 10, at end insert--
("(5) In determining entitlement to the mobility component of disability living allowance, no account shall be taken of where or by what agency a person is accommodated.")

20 Jul 1999 : Column 843

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 127A I shall speak also to Amendment No. 127E in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and others.

Amendment No. 127A seeks to reverse the change made in 1996 which took away or reduced the DLA mobility component for those living in NHS accommodation. That was, of course, a change made by the previous administration. But the Minister will agree that it has not been a rule adopted by her administration that they should simply accept uncritically what was done by a previous administration. With reform in the air, it seemed to be a good opportunity to look at this again.

The 1996 change was remarkable in a number of ways. It attracted one of the largest responses ever received by the Social Security Advisory Committee--almost every representation being firmly against the change. Unsurprisingly, it attracted the opposition of the advisory committee itself. It led to debates in Parliament in which hardly anyone other than government Ministers had a good word to say for the change. Finally, it was defended by the then Ministers with what must rank as quite the lamest collection of arguments ever dredged up to defend an indefensible policy.

We were told that people in hospital were by definition in bed and could not conceivably benefit from a mobility benefit. We were told that the beneficiaries included detained mental patients whose mobility had been restricted by due process of law. We were told that health authorities were responsible for funding any mobility required by patients and that the mobility component constituted double funding. We were told that some NHS trusts had accumulated large sums of money for long-stay patients and paying benefits would simply add to the funds without adding to the welfare of the patients.

Mencap and other disability bodies produced real cases involving the threat of real hardship to counter all this nonsense; but we argued in vain. I hope that on this occasion we shall not argue in vain. Should the Minister's brief not be as helpful to her as she would wish, I trust that at least it will contain evidence of the actual effects of the 1996 change which governments have so far failed to produce, having so far failed to ask for that evidence.

I should like to earth my argument in a real situation. The people who suffered from the change three years ago are not people confined to bed and unable to benefit from mobility money. If they were, they would not be eligible for the mobility component since the basic eligibility criteria would exclude them. For the most part, they are not even in anything called a hospital. Fewer than 3,000 people with learning disabilities now live in units on hospital sites; around 5,000 live in NHS community homes.

Mary lives at No. 1 in a home staffed by an NHS trust but leased to a housing association. She gets her mobility component in full, and getting it means that she can get out and about, with someone to accompany her, doing the things she wants to do--meeting the people she wants to meet and visiting the places she wants to visit. Jean lives at No. 2, in a home not yet leased to a housing association. She gets one-third of what her next-door neighbour gets, because of the 1996 change,

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and, effectively, as the household budget does not fill the gap, gets one-third of the opportunities enjoyed by her next-door neighbour, although her disability and her needs are almost identical.

Had these same people lived, for example, in a Mencap home, as well they might, their entitlement to the mobility component and their enhanced quality of life as a result of it would never have been in question.

When mobility allowance was introduced, those living in any form of residential setting were deliberately included because of the overwhelming evidence that they needed it at least as much as, and probably more than, those living in the community. When DLA mobility component replaced mobility allowance, the same logic was followed. But, in 1996, some misguided person decided that here was a soft target for savings, perhaps because as many as 60 per cent of those affected had no actively involved relatives to defend them, and many were not well able to speak for themselves to defend their own interests. I hope that we may see justice restored today. I beg to move.

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