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Lord Higgins: Given some of the critical remarks made by the Treasury and Civil Service Committee for some 14 years under my chairmanship about what the previous government were doing, I, personally, feel reasonably content with all that. Be that as it may, I was slightly unnerved by the fact that the quotation from
I heard what the noble Baroness said, particularly about the cost; £300 million is a substantial sum. I am not quite clear how that will rise to £650 million; presumably it will happen as more and more people live longer. Having said that, the situation seems to be extraordinarily anomalous. People who claim before the age of 65 will get these benefits ad infinitum, if that is the right expression; on the other hand, someone over 65, who perhaps by mistake has not claimed--we all agree it is difficult to understand DLA--will not. In particular, people who are over 65 find that they will not receive any of these benefits.
I found the argument put forward by the noble Baroness very strange in this context. It appeared that if one was below 65, then one was in some sense more useful and should receive the benefits in order that one goes on being useful. However, if one is over 65 one does not receive the benefits unless one has claimed them before one was 65. The more I look at this matter--which I brought forward originally in the context of a rather simple, straightforward amendment--the more puzzled I become. Apart from the question of cost and to what extent one should give this priority, I become more and more puzzled as to why this particular anomaly has been allowed to continue.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Perhaps the noble Lord will agree that there is a difference between these two situations. On the one hand, we have the situation where people become disabled in their thirties and have not yet had the income to be able to afford to run a car; they are in work but, because of their disability, the only way they can continue to work is if they receive a mobility allowance that they can then translate into a Motability car; that allows them to continue to work. On the other hand, we have the situation where if a man becomes disabled at 68 or 70, he will, if he is a car driver, already have acquired his car during his working life when he was not disabled. He has acquired the car and been able to run it; he continues to run the car. I do not deny that there are always problems at the 64/65 margin, or wherever one draws the line. But there is a basic distinction between someone who has not had an opportunity to acquire a car--and without a car has to drop out of the labour market--and someone who is likely to have a car--and, thank you very much, would like some financial contribution towards it--and would continue to run the car in any case once he has passed the age of 65. That has been the basic approach.
Lord Higgins: We are venturing into the technical area of how long cars last and whether it is better to replace them and so on. Again, I find this rather a strange debating point. It may well be that the person over 65 finds that his car has worn out or is uneconomical.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: That is not what I said. I was trying to explain why someone who was in work would have to drop out of the labour market without mobility allowance. If that person then continues to use the car, he may carry on working for a number of years. He may drop out of work in his fifties, or whatever, and continue to use the car. On the noble Lord's argument, we would then extract that car from him at the age of 66 because he has crossed the threshold of 65 and yet has no alternative resources, whereas somebody who becomes disabled after 65 is much more likely to have built up the resources enabling him to provide for the increasingly reduced--if I can use that phrase--mobility needs that come with old age. That is all I was saying.
Lord Higgins: Clearly one's mobility gets worse with age rather than better. I am not arguing--nor does the amendment argue--that one should stop people below the age of 65 being entitled to this allowance; nor are we arguing that they should not continue to receive it after 65 if they claim it before 65. All we are saying is that there is a very clear anomaly here in that people over 65, or those who failed to claim while they were under 65, will not receive the kind of benefits that those under 65 receive.
I may have misunderstood the noble Baroness but she seemed to be saying that the purpose of this allowance is to enable people to work. Clearly the question of mobility is much broader than that; people over 65 also need to be mobile, whether or not they are working. Of course, nowadays some may well indeed be working over the age of 65.
Baroness Darcy de Knayth: Before the noble Lord decides what to do with the amendment, as it is Committee, perhaps I may intervene. The noble Baroness did not answer my question. I may not have phrased it very well. I can see the difficulties if a vast number of people, because of old age, have increasing mobility problems, but what about the person over 65 who has an amputation or becomes paraplegic or whatever? Is there not a case for ensuring that such people are mobile? I am thinking, for example, of the socially useful granny who suddenly becomes an amputee. As the noble Baroness said, someone who was socially useless would not qualify for the trike any more. But a large number of 65 year-olds are extremely useful socially. Even if they do not work, they are useful to
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I apologise to the noble Baroness if I did not answer her point. I am sure that there is a case for helping such people, as in the examples given by the noble Lord. However, the noble Baroness gave an example of someone with a traumatic injury. What happens if someone has, for example, increasingly severe arthritis? What is the trigger point in terms of how we discriminate and distinguish between cases?
The point about DLA, with its lower, middle and higher rate, is that we apply the idea of the care proxy. That is simple. For mobility, the higher rate mobility component has been based on the "virtually unable to walk test", which is much broader than that used by the noble Baroness. While I sympathise with the point she makes, it would be very hard to restrict decisions or to hold any such line as she has suggested. I do not deny that such a disablement would be traumatic and would totally turn someone's life over; it would be horrendous for the person. But that is equally true of the growing problems of osteo-arthritis and the like. It would be difficult to make a distinction.
Returning to the noble Lord's point about "socially useful", it is not something that I am now endorsing. I merely thought that it would amuse your Lordships. That was the point about 1948. Clearly, the joke fell flat, because noble Lords are confident that they are so socially useful that the descriptions of 1948 do not apply any more. The point that I attempted to establish was that the original designation was that people who become disabled early in life are likely to have fewer opportunities to work. It therefore makes it far harder for them to make provision for later life. What we are talking about is a non-means-tested benefit which contributes towards the extra costs of disability.
The noble Lord would have a point if his intention were to make the benefit means tested. But it is not. Where disability has occurred over the age of 65, the presumption is that the person will have had a normal working life, built up resources, acquired a car and some savings and be much better able to make provision for his or her mobility needs, irrespective of age, than someone who is disabled early in life, whether in work or working but not for a wage--as a carer, for example--and where help is needed to help to allow that person to meet the mobility needs for a full and socially inclusive life.
Lord Higgins: I understand what the noble Baroness is saying. But taking the debate as a whole, her reply was unpersuasive--except in one context; namely, such provision would cost £300 million initially, and apparently £650 million later. That is always a rather