The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): My Lords, there are already two codes of practice in force that can be used in evidence in a court or tribunal: the Service Charge Residential Management Code, which is published by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, and Private Retirement Housing: Code of Practice, which is published by the Association of Retirement Housing Managers. The Government recognise that problems caused by the actions of managing agents can cause leaseholders real inconvenience and distress. Landlords and managing agents must obey the law and should act in a socially responsible manner. While we have no plans for a wide-ranging review of leasehold law, we are keeping a close watching brief and will not rule out making changes.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: Can the Minister tell me what rights leaseholders have to be assured that managing agents carry out regular assessments of property condition and arrange necessary repairs for works in blocks of flats? Are the agents responsible for ensuring that any work done is carried out to a satisfactory standard?
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, managing agents are employed by the freeholders, although leaseholders have rights as to what they are being charged for and the work that is being done. We believe that any managing agent acting on behalf of a landlord owes a duty of care to leaseholders. Reasonable steps should be taken to ensure that all work is done properly and safely. Leaseholders of course have a right to challenge the management of their blocks and the people who are doing it through the leasehold valuation tribunal.
Lord Best: My Lords, I declare my interest as chairman of the council of The Property Ombudsman, which listens to complaints against managing agents.
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Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I do not think that we would want to compel managing agents to do that, but I agree that it would be very helpful if they would voluntarily ensure that they are members of the ombudsman scheme, which is very valuable in terms of leaseholders being sure that they are getting and can get proper access to advice.
Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the words "regulation" and "overregulation" should be used with some care, while acknowledging, as the noble Baroness has done, that in practical terms redress through an ombudsman or some other route should be made a lot easier? I speak as having been chair of a residents association of a block of 24 flats over some years. The accounts are almost impenetrable and it is difficult to get stuff done according to the lease. You do not get an answer to the telephone. If you need a plumber, you can use only a named plumber who is never available, et cetera. We all know the litany.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I acknowledge that it is probably not very easy, but I do not acknowledge that there are no routes for dissatisfied leaseholders. They have access to the lease valuation tribunal if they have concerns, particularly about charges. They also can go to LEASE if they are concerned about the way in which their property is being managed. It requires at least one person in the property to be in charge of the residents and how they feel in order to make sure that they follow the routes that are already open to them.
Lord Shipley: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the report published last year which showed that some leaseholders were paying far too much in property insurance to managing agents and that, as a consequence, regulation would most certainly help? In addition, might it be for government to promote the right to manage to leaseholders groups in blocks of flats, so that they themselves can reduce the costs that they have to bear?
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, the matter of commission is already being investigated as there have been many complaints about it. As I understand it, the commission of, for example, insurance would not appear on the service charge but could form another charge that the leaseholders have to pay. I think that most leaseholders need to have a tenants association within their blocks of flats or wherever they live to ensure that they do have some muscle with poor managing agents and that they can then use the routes that are, as I said, there for them.
The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Sassoon): My Lords, as my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made clear in the Autumn Statement, the Government, including of course the Treasury, are undertaking extensive contingency planning to deal with all potential outcomes of the euro crisis.
Lord Barnett: Thanks for that very informative reply. I hope that there will never be a need to use the contingency reserve, because, as the Chancellor has said, it would be devastating for the UK economy if there was a collapse in the eurozone. We already have a near recession-if not an actual one-forecast without such a collapse. I gather that the Government are more amenable to the new draft treaty that has been promoted for the next summit. In those circumstances, and given the risk of jeopardising the slightest chance of preventing that collapse, would he not agree that it would be very foolish to veto that summit as well?
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, first of all I welcome the compliment paid to my Answer by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett. He asked me a yes or no Question. I gave him a very full Answer and some extra things he did not ask about, so I am glad that he appreciates that. I am not going to speculate on our negotiating position because this is all very fast moving. All I can reiterate is that we are working very hard with our European partners to see a resolution of all aspects of the crisis. They have invited us to be at the table to discuss the arrangements that the eurozone countries are making among themselves and we are active and positive participants when we are invited to be there, as we are at those discussions.
Lord Higgins: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is very much easier, technically, for a country to join the single currency than to leave it? Does he accept that the contingency plans which he mentioned-and which are welcome-need to be designed to ensure that, for anyone leaving, the process is completed as soon as possible? It is not just a question of having the notes and coins available but of having an extensive programme, including provision for exchange controls. I welcome my noble friend's reply but stress that this is a very complex question.
Lord Sassoon: My noble friend makes some interesting and relevant points. I shall not speculate on what precise aspects the Government are looking at in their exercises but, as he points out, none of this, under a range of scenarios, would be at all simple.
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, of course the FSA, in the course of its normal work, continually examines the exposure of the financial sector to a whole range of issues, including to the eurozone. The Europe-wide stress tests which were done, and done again, and finally done on a much better basis, looked at that matter last year.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: Will my noble friend confirm that in these contingency plans there is no question of the Government providing money for eurozone states to bail them out while the underlying problem of lack of competitiveness within the euro remains unresolved and unaddressed?
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, of course I can confirm to my noble friend that we work extremely hard to make sure that the competitiveness of the EU and the eurozone is not lost in the discussions. It is encouraging-they are only early signs, but they are encouraging-that in the Merkel-Sarkozy discussions on 10 January there was specific reference to growth-enhancing policies for prioritising EU spend towards growth and competitiveness. We look forward to the letter which I think they are likely to write to President Van Rompuy ahead of the next Council meeting.
Lord Grenfell: My Lords, given the unrest on the Conservative Benches in the other place, I was tempted to ask whether the Prime Minister had contingency plans for the full recovery and strengthening of the eurozone, but I have a more serious point to make. Does the Minister agree with me that it is extraordinary that the rating agencies disclaim all responsibility for the impact on borrowing costs of their downgradings when a Government like Italy's are doing their best to solve their problems, and when an institution such as the European Financial Stability Facility-which was downgraded yesterday by Standard & Poor's-is trying to maintain its lending capacity in advance of the creation of the new ESM, which will take some time? Do these unaccountable agencies just not care whether the impact of what they do is likely to hamper and jeopardise the eurozone recovery?
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, the credit rating agencies have a useful and important part to play in the good working of the financial markets. Your Lordships produced a report in committee on aspects of the
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Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, is it not now clear that there are really only two ways forward-either full fiscal union, which does not look as though it will be accepted by the peoples of Europe, or a return to national currencies? On the latter alternative, have the Government seen the research from Bank of America Merrill Lynch which suggests that an orderly return to national currencies need not be nearly as traumatic as the political class would have us believe?
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, there is a whole range of views about the effect of the eurozone breaking down in any way. All I can say is that 40 per cent of our trade goes to Europe, and we want to see a strengthened and healthy eurozone. That is fundamentally in the interests of the UK. A crisis in the eurozone presents the most imminent threat to growth in this country.
Lord Newby: My Lords, does the Minister agree that if there is a collapse in the eurozone, it is highly likely that the IMF will be asked to play a larger role that it has done up to now? What is the Government's thinking about making further resources available to the IMF in those circumstances?
Lord Sassoon: I am happy to try to clarify the Government's position. It is very clear that the Government see the IMF's role as supporting individual countries and not currencies. That has always been its role. If the IMF puts forward a case, as it may well do, for an increase in its resources, and if there is a strong case, the UK will support the IMF in increasing resources as required, as it has always done in the past.
Lord Peston: My Lords, using the immortal words of the noble Lord, Lord Henley, will the Minister give me a lesson in economics and explain why the Government still do not forthrightly support the maintenance of the euro? What possible benefit is there to us in the Government seeming to drag their heels when dealing with this matter?
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, as I have repeatedly made clear this afternoon and on other occasions, the UK Government want to see a strong and dynamic eurozone
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Lord Lawson of Blaby: My Lords, there is only one thing as worrying as the collapse of the eurozone, and that is the continuation of the eurozone. It has been demonstrated to be fundamentally flawed and is the cause of all these problems. Is the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, not right that at the heart of the thing that we need to address is the risk of a banking meltdown? Will the Minister give an undertaking that should it prove necessary for the United Kingdom Government to rescue any British banks, they will do so on much tougher terms than the ludicrously soft terms on which the previous Administration went in to save banks?
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, we have a lot to learn about the softness with which the previous Administration went about a lot of things. One of the key lessons for this crisis is that we must stick to a deficit reduction programme that is firm and fair, and keep this country isolated from the worst of the problems that are all around us.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Baroness Wilcox): My Lords, in April the National Careers Service will be launched in England. It will provide high-quality information and advice on careers, online and by telephone. For those aged 18 and over, it will provide a face-to-face service in the community. From September all secondary schools in England will have a legal duty to secure access to careers guidance for pupils aged 14 to 16. Subject to consultation, this duty will be extended to 16 to 18 year-olds in schools and in further education.
Lord Roberts of Llandudno: I am grateful for the references to England and I only hope that we speak to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as well. I appreciate that careers advisers in the new development will be independent. Are we certain they are going to be trained at the top level and that the interviews they conduct will not just be online or by computer but be face-to-face discussions with the youngsters, who are often among the 1 million unemployed? In respect of the face-to-face discussions, do we realise that only 7 per cent of young people know the meaning of apprenticeships? What are the Government going to do to make apprenticeships far more widely known about and better accepted?
Baroness Wilcox: The National Careers Service is being put together to answer pretty well everything that the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, has just suggested. We know that the careers advice that has been given up until now has been very patchy, and neither parents nor children have understood what their choices are. We hope that the training and monitoring that we will do will make absolutely sure that schools will get the right advice for children in their area.
Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, having visited a comprehensive school this morning and talked to the lower sixth form, never have I been more reminded of the importance of careers guidance when young people begin to make choices about further education and careers. Is the Minister worried about the comments by the president of the Institute of Career Guidance? He said:
"In reality, the National Careers Service is an illusion, and not a very imaginatively branded one either, and is a clear misrepresentation with regard to careers services for young people ... The likely reality is that hundreds of thousands, and possibly millions, of young people will never get access to personalised impartial career guidance"-
I do not expect the Minister to agree with that, but I would expect her to assure the House that there will be a review of the current approach to careers guidance and to ensure that the right level of personalised careers guidance is available to young people.
Baroness Wilcox: We take this issue very seriously. We are putting new money towards it and ensuring that the youth contract will provide nearly 500,000 new opportunities for young people, including apprenticeships and work experience placements. The important thing as far as we are concerned, and our aim, is to get every unemployed young person earning or learning again. We do not think that careers advice has been good in the past and we think it can be improved upon. We are using the original Connexions system to help us to provide a better outcome than we have had thus far. With 1 million youngsters out of work, we know how important this is.
Baroness Deech: Does the Minister appreciate that the cuts in legal aid proposed by the Government will devastate the career prospects of young people, many of them from ethnic minorities, who wish to become lawyers? The possibility of earning a living with legal aid in interesting areas such as immigration and family law has been wrecked, not to mention tuition fees.
Baroness Wilcox: We are giving schools the power to decide in their area what is going to be right for the children in their schools. This is a very empowering thing to do. We have enormous confidence in our schoolteachers. We believe that our schools should be given this opportunity. Perhaps the noble Baroness would like to speak further on this to me. We will ensure that every opportunity is available to our children.
Lord Mawhinney: My Lords, in her Answer my noble friend referred to the service thus far as "patchy". Many of us who have been privileged to be Members of Parliament over the past 30 years would not be nearly so generous as she has been. What are the radical changes that are planned that give my noble friend confidence about this bright new tomorrow?
Baroness Wilcox: Local authorities deliver both universal careers guidance and targeted support for vulnerable young people under the Connexions brand, and there is widespread evidence that a lack of focus on careers guidance led to provision of variable quality, which is what I was referring to. That is why we have decided to end the Connexions area-based grant that the noble Lord is referring to. Local authorities retain the responsibility to help young people not in education, employment or training to re-engage. We are concerned about children at every level: children in schools, and children who have just left school and are wandering the streets with no training and no work to go to. Do not worry, we are really on top of this, and any advice that the noble Lord can give me, I am happy to have.
Lord Taylor of Blackburn: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, mentioned the independence of these advisers. Will they really be independent or will they just be yet more teachers who find themselves with a little spare time in their timetable and are given this job to do?
Baroness Wilcox: That sounds a bit like the careers guidance when I was at school all those years ago. No, the whole point is that these are going to be specially trained careers advisers. They will be external to the schools. It will not just be-forgive me-the teacher who maybe has time to go to the library for the couple of rows of books that we used to get pointed towards. This is real careers advice; we need it now, and we are determined to provide it.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): My Lords, I assume-I hope correctly-that my noble friend's Question relates to the proposed wind farm at Kelmarsh, which has been the subject of a recent planning appeal. In that case, the decision has been
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Lord Naseby: My Lords, is it not extraordinary that our precious battlefield sites of Hastings, Bosworth, Culloden and Naseby can be spoilt by wind farms, especially when planning guidance PPS5, introduced less than a year ago by the present Government, specifically mentions the need to protect the setting of a heritage site? How can one inspector ignore PPS5 on the-in my judgment-spurious grounds that wind farms are limited by time as their life is only 25 years? Will the Minister think again and come with me to the viewpoint, which is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and see the impact that six windmills will have from Colonel Oakey and Prince Rupert's viewpoints? Surely the Secretary of State needs to recognise that we do not have the funds to challenge in the High Court. However, the Secretary of State has the right to call in at any point, and I ask my noble friend to convey that to him.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I hear very clearly what the noble Lord has said. As I said, I cannot comment on the particular matter that he raises. All I would say is that there are two issues here. One is the Planning Inspectorate, which, as noble Lords will know, is independent. The planning inspector makes a decision on behalf of the Secretary of State, but he or she takes that decision in the light of his or her own views. The protection of areas of a special nature is covered by the national planning policy framework and the expectation is that they will be protected.
Lord Jones: My Lords, surely the Government will move towards a rethink, bearing in mind the huge importance that that battlefield held for future parliamentary democracy. Is it not the case that on that battlefield the King lost an army and Parliament assumed dominance? It was there that Cromwell's cavalry, on the second charge only, was able to smash through the royalist army. It was there that Colonel Oakey's enfilading of the royalist infantry ensured that the parliamentary forces succeeded. Is this battlefield not quintessentially the middle English countryside, adjacent as it is to the sleepy charm of Naseby village and being the haunt of buzzard and skylark?
Baroness Parminter: Thank you. My Lords, does the Minister think that the opportunity to make revisions to the national planning policy framework should be used to make clear the importance of the landscape setting of historical assets in contributing to our understanding of a sense of place and who we are from the ideas and events that have shaped our country?
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, the national planning policy framework will be coming into existence in the next weeks or months. We are looking to the protection of areas of natural beauty as the noble Baroness has indicated.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, does my noble friend recall that the royalist centre at the Battle of Naseby was led by that great soldier Sir Jacob Astley, who subsequently surrendered the last royalist army in the field with the words which have a lasting relevance to the political scene: "Gentlemen, you have beaten us, now go fall out among yourselves"?
Lord Cormack: My Lords, my noble friend said that the inspector makes a decision on behalf of the Secretary of State. Can that really be right? Does not the inspector make a recommendation and the Secretary of State makes the ultimate decision?
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, as I understand it, the initial recommendation by the planning inspector is made on behalf of the Secretary of State. If that is incorrect, I will come back to the noble Lord.
"( ) Where amounts are re-allocated to local authorities as described in subsection (5), the Secretary of State must publish the following information annually for five years following the first re-allocation-
(a) the amount of money which has been re-allocated from the Consolidated Fund in each local authority; and
(b) an annual report accounting for the expenditure of these amounts in each local authority area."
Baroness Lister of Burtersett: My Lords, like Amendment 50 debated last week, this amendment is designed to minimise the adverse effects likely to result from the abolition of the discretionary Social Fund-
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, in order to be of assistance to the noble Baroness, who is seeking to move a very important amendment, may I suggest that those leaving the Chamber do not pass in front of speakers? That is not the habit of this House. May they please leave the Chamber by another route, so that we may hear from the noble Baroness?
The amendment is about accountability. Considerable concern was raised in Grand Committee about the accountability of local authorities for the moneys devolved to them when the discretionary Social Fund is abolished. The amendment has been drafted with the help of Family Action, to which I am grateful, so as to put into effect the recommendation of the Communities and Local Government Committee report Localisation issues in welfare reform. While the CLG Committee accepted the Government's case against ring-fencing the money, its report said that this,
Ministers have been giving out mixed messages on this issue. I hope that means that they are genuinely trying to find a way of answering the concerns about lack of accountability that have been raised in a number of quarters. One ministerial response has been to rely on the ballot box, even though the people affected are those least likely to vote, and also to contend that it is sufficient to set out the purpose of the funding in a settlement letter.
However, a chink of light emerged in the Government's response to the call for evidence, when they said that the settlement letter, mentioned last week by the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley,
Last week, the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, spoke about supplementing the planned review of a cross-section of local authorities in order to collect more information on how the money is spent. While I welcome the spirit in which this very small concession was offered, I fear that it falls short, not just of what we believe is necessary but of what the Government themselves hinted at in their response to the committee's evidence.
We are still awaiting an answer to some astute questioning in Grand Committee from the noble Lord, Lord German, about how the Government will meet their obligations of stewardship for the money allocated to local authorities in England. As the noble Lord stated very powerfully, this is a question of accountability to Parliament. How can such accountability be ensured if local authorities are not required to report on how they spend the money allocated to them?
The purpose of Amendment 50ZB is to allay the fears voiced by voluntary organisations such as Family Action, Women's Aid and Platform 51 that local authorities might impose a local or residence condition as a way of rationing assistance when allocating social housing. Again, I am grateful to Family Action for help with drafting this amendment. Given the pressures on local authorities, it is quite conceivable that some at least might seek to impose a local connection test-that is, confine help to people who already have a local connection with the area. In Committee, I tabled a general amendment to prevent such a test. This amendment is drafted more tightly to ensure that such a test is not applied to people fleeing domestic violence-or, more accurately, people who have fled domestic violence-young people leaving local authority care, people who are homeless or who have been homeless within the previous 12 months and people leaving institutional residential care such as a hospital, prison or a young offenders' institution. In other words, this amendment is designed to safeguard the interests of groups who are likely not to have a local connection.
"These groups of people are much less likely than others to be able to demonstrate local connection. Without crucial assistance from a Community Care Grant to buy essential items such as cooking equipment and bedding, they may struggle to set up and maintain a home. This puts them at risk of reoffending or moving back into temporary or institutional accommodation, which is far more costly and means they lose their newly-found independence".
The consortium is particularly concerned that, without a clear legal prohibition on requiring a local residence connection, women who have experienced domestic violence will be discouraged from moving elsewhere to
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The Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Freud, did not address these issues in Committee but kindly wrote to me afterwards. However, he simply set out in his letter the local connection provisions on homelessness contained in the Housing Act 1996. I shall not spell those out now, but they protect a person from being denied any assistance anywhere because of a lack of local connection. If the Minister is saying that the same rule will apply here, then I welcome it, but does it not need to be written into the legislation? As I understand it, the Housing Act 1996 does not apply to the legislation we are discussing here. If the Minister were to offer to bring forward his own amendment at Third Reading to give effect to the Housing Act provisions on local connection, I would happily withdraw the amendment as unnecessary. As an absolute minimum, can the Minister assure the House that the settlement letter will spell out that local authorities should follow the same provisions as in the housing legislation?
It seems to me that the aims of these two amendments are not that far from what the Government themselves wish to achieve. I hope therefore that the Minister might be willing either to accept them or to agree to bring forward his own amendments at Third Reading. I beg to move.
Baroness Meacher: My Lords, I will speak briefly to Amendment 50ZA and will refer to Amendment 50ZC. I very much applaud the aims of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, in seeking to have publication of information about the allocations of money to local authorities for the purposes envisaged. She presented her case very powerfully as always.
I want to thank the Bill team for a most helpful conversation. I understand that the £36 million allocated for crisis loans could be spent by local authorities on grants or payments in kind as well as loans. I find that very encouraging. I for one am very suspicious of loans for people attempting to live on the breadline-they can build up even greater problems for the future-other than when provided for budgeting purposes, which I know is very much what the Minister has in mind. If, for example, households receive half their monthly income half way through the month as a loan only to be repaid at the end of the month, that would go some way to ameliorate what would otherwise, for me anyway, be a highly risky set of proposals.
Amendment 50ZA, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, would provide information on whether the funds had been spent by local authorities on the purposes for which the Government are allocating them-we all understand that is what they are being allocated for. I have some concerns that, even if the Minister concedes this amendment, it remains true that there is no statutory requirement for local authorities to provide some form of assistance to households in crisis. Many Social Fund crisis loans are sought because mothers, often single mothers, have no cash for the electricity meter-apparently, this is really the dominant issue confronting people who seek these loans-with several days to go before getting any more benefit and, of course, the children are cold and the mother cannot even make a hot meal for them without some form of electricity. I understand that the idea of the settlement letter is to spell out the purposes for which the £36 million should be used. I applaud that. I also understand that the DWP plans to follow up a representative sample of local authorities after one year to find out how they have spent the money.
My concern is that over time the settlement letter might be redrafted-heaven forbid that Ministers even change from time to time-and, if local authorities report after one year that unfortunately the £36 million had to be spent on other matters, it seems to me that there is no way of ensuring that these households in crisis actually have funds allocated to those needs. That is actually my concern. We need to know that there will continue to be a system for dealing with these household crises, particularly for families with children. We do not want these children disadvantaged.
I understand the logic of making the £178 million for community care grants and crisis payments available to local authorities, which are no doubt closely involved with many of these families-certainly, if they are not involved, they should be. The aim, as I understand it, is that these funds need to be brought together with other forms of assistance for these families in order to generate greater value for money. At the moment, the Social Fund is a national system that operates at arm's length from other services. I recognise that this has some disadvantages. The concern is that every local authority is likely to respond differently to this challenge. How can we be sure that households in crisis will have somewhere to go for help, as I have already said? The Government are already committed to the settlement letter and review after 12 months, again as I have already alluded to. I welcome those commitments very strongly. They are a start, but they are a weak provision in this very important area of policy.
I hope that the Minister will take seriously the need for a more robust system to underwrite what I understand to be the Government's intentions. The amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, is one option, but whether or not the Minister accepts Amendment 50ZA, perhaps he will consider incorporating in regulations the requirement that the funds envisaged for resolving household crises are indeed allocated to that purpose. I understand that how local authorities want to do that is a matter for them, but I think that ensuring that the funds are focused on that issue merits a sentence in the regulations. That would
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Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: My Lords, I make a brief intervention to support the amendments, as I did in Committee. Clause 69 is very important for a relatively small but very vulnerable group of people. The discretionary Social Fund has been part of the furniture, if you like, of social security for a long time, and during the period that it has been deployed, people have been able to take advantage of it to save the public purse considerable sums. One of the main purposes behind the discretionary Social Fund is to prevent people being institutionalised in various ways, and it has done that very successfully. There is cross-party agreement that reform of the Social Fund is long overdue, but to abolish or decentralise it like this raises many questions, which remain unanswered. I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity to try to assuage the concerns that some of us continue to have.
First, the process that will now unfold is less than clear to me. Reading the penultimate subsection of Clause 69, I think that an affirmative resolution will be required to give effect to the power that the Government are seeking in the clause, but I should like reassurance about our ability to have ongoing discussion about how the Social Fund Commissioner's assets and the apparatus that we have in place at the moment will be dismantled in a way that makes sense, and that the allocation formula for the disbursement of these moneys is carefully considered and consulted on, because the discretionary Social Fund spend obviously has a very spatial dimension to it because some communities need it much more than others. We need to be careful about how we make that decision in the first instance. That is another reason why Parliament, by virtue of affirmative resolution or statutory instrument, must be continuously approached for advice and reassurance. The sample of local authorities being lined up for the welcome review process needs to be carefully considered because of the point I have just made: the decentralisation process will affect some dramatically differently from others.
I still have serious misgivings about this. If we are going to do this, we need to be really careful that we are getting it correct in the first instance and that the client group who have relied on discretionary payments from the Social Fund in crisis situations are not left wanting, completely abandoned and without access to liquid cash in circumstances where they find it difficult to survive.
Lord Boswell of Aynho: My Lords, I wish to raise briefly the question of whether to centralise payments to people in extreme difficulty or whether to leave that to the discretion of local authorities or, as was originally suggested prior to the First World War, friendly societies, or others. That idea has subsisted for at least 100 years and I think it will continue. I am generally supportive of the localism agenda and I can see material benefits
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The wider question, which has been touched on by a number of noble Lords, is whether this money, which was intended for people in severe difficulties, will continue, albeit with local administration, to be applied to such people in general. I think that on the whole the Government are facing in the right direction here, but I look forward to the Minister's assurances on it.
The specific twist that I want to add was prompted by something that the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, said about whether there should be a local connection. Clearly there is the subtext that there could be some discrimination in favour of the local boy or girl against someone from outside, someone who was felt to be in some sense the architect of their own distress or someone in some way morally unworthy. I do not want to go on about that now, but we can see the argument developing.
I should like the Minister to consider-and it may be helpful to him to do so-the fact that since the passage of the Housing Act some 16 years ago, we have had all the equality duties, including the public sector equality duty. Certainly local authorities, in exercising the discretion being offered them, will have to operate within the framework of that duty. I wonder whether that is indeed helpful in obtaining the assurances that I think we want with regard to making sure not only that the money goes where it is intended to go but that it goes to the people who need it most within that category of difficulty, rather than being siphoned off to people who are more acceptable or who come more within the interest of the local authority concerned.
Baroness Sherlock: My Lords, I want to speak in favour of all these amendments and to ask a question about Amendment 50ZB. When we discussed the Social Fund on our previous day on Report, I raised the fact that the Office of the Children's Commissioner had published the Child Rights Impact Assessment of the Welfare Reform Bill. I understand that at that point the Minister had not had the opportunity to read the assessment in any detail, but I wonder whether he has had the chance to read it since then and, if so, whether he can assure the House about the line that says:
"In failing to guarantee that crisis support is available for children fleeing an abusive home with their parent/carer, the clauses abolishing the Social Fund fail to take all appropriate legislative measures to protect children from domestic abuse and we therefore believe they are in breach of Article 19",
of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. That goes to the heart of the point which the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, has just raised. People might have a very good reason to cross boundaries. If one were fleeing domestic violence, that would be a good reason not to move to the neighbouring street, as I am sure the noble Lord would accept. How can the Government guarantee that local authorities will give appropriate support to children and families in that circumstance, and how can they prove that the UK will discharge its responsibilities under this convention?
Lord Newton of Braintree: My Lords, I speak as a heretic who is even now probably having his burning at the stake prepared by the Secretary of State for Local
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The suggestion of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister-that if local authorities are going to have this money, they should at least be required to account for it-is a good one. I am slightly scarred by my experience as chairman-although I am no longer-of Help the Hospices; the previous Government allegedly made £50 million available but no one ever found it. It disappeared into thin air. I do not want to see that happen here. I do not want to see it spent on swimming pools, or campaigns, or many other good causes, when it is intended for people with severe disabilities.
There is an irony here which the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, will appreciate. Nearly 25 years ago, when we were introducing the Social Fund, I was the villain. She pursued me up hill and down dale. Now I am the hero whose achievement is to be safeguarded. I hope she may reflect on that.
This transfer is probably sensible. The needs of very seriously disabled people require a discretionary, judgmental element in the help that is provided. This cannot be met by benefit rates, which are inevitably restricted and generalised, so I am not opposed to this. The noble Baroness knows that I declined to sign her earlier amendment on the basis that all such money intended for disabled people-not just the Social Fund money-should be, if not ring-fenced, then protected to some extent. I cleave to that view.
It is sensible to have at least this requirement for local authorities to say what their allocation has been and what they have done with it, in line with whatever protestations Ministers have made. It does not cost the Government anything significant. It does not blow a further hole in the finances. It is reasonable, sensible, proportionate and justified, and I hope we shall get a positive response.
Lord Blair of Boughton: My Lords, like other speakers I support Amendment 50ZB. Very few police officers have not come across the fleeing mother with her children. There is no more desperate person imaginable. However, that is not the point I want to make. My point relates to a longer-term issue, and is about making sure that this funding goes towards the long-term prevention of crime. The connection between criminality and having been in care, between criminality and homelessness, and between criminality and having been already in prison is so clear that money spent here and accounted for by the local authorities, as the noble Lord, Lord Newton, has just said, is money well spent. This money should be spent on this, and to have it spent on other things would be a great shame.
Lord German: My Lords, to concur with the noble Lord's last sentence, this is a matter of accountability. I refer to Amendment 50ZA, which applies only to
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Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: My Lords, I am not sure whether the noble Lord, Lord German, is for or against the amendment, but all the other speakers have clearly supported these amendments. This is quite sensible, because the amendments all set out to ensure that vulnerable people can continue to access support once the Social Fund has been devolved, to whomsoever.
The first amendment in the group implements a recommendation of the Select Committee in another place. It would provide some reassurance about the effectiveness of the new system of helping those in need, and clearer information to local voters about whether their local authority is choosing to spend less than the allocated amount. It does nothing to restrict local discretion in how to implement the Social Fund replacement scheme; it merely places a requirement on the local authority, as has been said, to account for it. I think that all noble Lords who spoke would support that, and I feel sure that this is an aim that the Minister, similarly, will support.
The second amendment in the group, as was spelled out, would ensure that the use of local connection rules cannot prevent, for example, care leavers, the homeless, those fleeing domestic violence-the noble Lord, Lord Blair, spoke about them-and those leaving institutional residential care accessing Social Fund-type support. It is true that it ties the hands of local authorities a little, but only to ensure that groups that might be very much in need of support are not left with nowhere else to turn. As we heard, for many women fleeing domestic violence, community care grants are vital in helping them to set up a new home and perhaps buy a cot, a bed or a cooker. Given that many women need to enter refuges or other homes away from their former partners, they will often be unable to meet local connection rules.
We know that, among people who use the discretionary Social Fund, one in eight is leaving some sort of institutional care; nearly one in 10 is leaving prison; and one in five has at some time experienced homelessness. I work in Camden with people who have alcohol problems. There are a lot of train stations in Camden, so a lot of people arrive on our doorstep. At the time
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Although I understand that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, will not press her amendment, I urge the Minister to consider it. We know that although universal credit budgeting loans could be available for rent in advance, crisis loans will be abolished before the introduction of universal credit, and it could be some time before the new system is set up and reliable. We know from our experience of many new IT systems that even the best laid plans occasionally go wrong. We have had many assurances from the noble Lord, Lord Freud, about the robust nature of the system being put in place, but it would be prudent to ensure that a national safety net remains while we wait for him-we hope-to be proved right on this occasion. I said "prudent" but it is probably vital that we continue to guarantee national access to community care loans and crisis loans until the universal credit system is set up. Once national systems have been devolved, the accountability that my noble friend spoke of, as well as the local connection rules, will be an essential part of helping these vulnerable groups. We are happy to support all three amendments in this group.
Lord De Mauley: My Lords, when we discussed the Social Fund last week, I hope I was able to offer reassurance in two key areas. First, I informed noble Lords that we would extend the 2014-15 review of a cross-section of local authorities to include information about the way they have used their funding for the new local provision. Perhaps I may return to that in a moment.
I was also able to assure your Lordships that the settlement letter that noble Lords referred to today that will accompany the funding will set out what the funding is to be used for and will describe the outcome that must be achieved-although, for reasons I explained, not the method that should be used to achieve the outcome. After further consideration of the issue, and following questions from noble Lords, I am able to explain what the settlement letter will contain. The letter will set out what the funding is to be used for, the underlying principles, and describe the outcome that must be achieved. It will say that the funding is to concentrate resources on those facing greatest difficulty in managing their income, and to enable a more flexible response to unavoidable need. The letter will make explicit that the funding is to provide a replacement provision for community care grants and general living expenses crisis loans.
The letter will go on to explain that community care grants were awarded for a range of expenses, including household equipment, and were intended to support vulnerable people to return to or remain in the community or to ease exceptional pressure on families. They were also intended to assist with certain travel expenses. It will also explain that crisis loans were made to meet immediate short-term needs in an emergency or as a consequence of a disaster when a person had insufficient resources to prevent a serious risk to the health and safety of themselves or their family. As I said in our discussion of Amendment 50
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Amendment 50ZA would require the Secretary of State to publish information on the amount of money given annually to each local authority. I can assure your Lordships that we already plan to publish this information on the DWP website. On community care grant budgets, noble Lords might like to be aware that work has been done since Committee to make the funding distribution fairer by changing the funding allocation methodology.
It is each local authority's responsibility to decide what type of support it provides with these funds. We have already been made aware of a variety of innovative ways in which local authorities plan to use this money, such as furniture re-use schemes, working with credit unions, investing in existing projects or joining up with other organisations in the area. For example, the fieldwork undertaken by the department shows that rural local authorities had very different ideas from those of urban authorities, and would embrace the freedom to design and establish local provision that suits the particular challenges they face.
Some benefit recipients cannot even afford the delivery of free goods from support schemes. During the fieldwork, the department was made aware of the fact that a local authority in Yorkshire is considering using some of the new funding to pay the delivery fees charged by an existing provider for the delivery of free goods to benefit recipients and other low income groups. This demonstrates the benefit of tailoring support to the local area. This initiative is particularly useful in a rural area, as it would have been far more expensive for people to arrange their own deliveries than in an urban area. This service would help people on the lowest incomes to receive free household goods that they might otherwise be simply unable to access.
Another example of innovative thinking came from a local authority in the Greater Manchester area, which said that it would use the funding to expand the local credit union, as this already provides household goods to people on low incomes. Expanding the scheme would increase access to affordable credit for those on low incomes and reduce the reliance on high-cost and illegal lenders. Yet another different approach to the new provision is that of a local authority in the south-west, which has been looking at how commissioning services would boost the local economy, providing new skills and routes back into employment and out of poverty.
As I hope is evident from these examples, giving local authorities the responsibility for deciding what the new local provision will look like allows for innovative new schemes that are tailored to the local area.
Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: These examples are very helpful, as is the further fleshing-out of the content of the letter to local authorities, but what is the arbitration process, supposing local authorities deliberately and in bad faith pay no attention to the contents of the letter that the Minister is proposing to send?
Lord De Mauley: Perhaps I might come to that as I proceed. Amendment 50ZA would also require the Secretary of State to publish an annual report accounting for the expenditure of this funding. As each local authority will be delivering different types of support, requiring the Secretary of State to report on a large number and variety of schemes-some of which, as I have explained, would be combined with existing services-would, I suggest, be impractical as well as costly. It would lead to expenditure on administration when local authorities will, in any event, be required to account to their communities for their spending and services.
There will be a large variety in the size of awards to local authorities, as the amount of funding each will receive will be based on the equivalent Social Fund spend at the point of transition. Therefore, while some local authorities will receive large amounts, others will receive less than £10,000. It would be far too onerous to require these authorities to report in detail on how the funding is spent. It would make no sense to enforce the same reporting requirements on such a wide range of local authorities receiving such differing amounts. However, as I said in the debate on Amendment 50, the department will conduct a review in 2014-15, obtaining appropriate information from a representative cross-section of local authorities, in order to help inform future funding levels. I am not talking about a small sample. An analogous exercise conducted last year covered 50 local authorities, so we are talking about quite a substantial exercise. Following the helpful contributions of noble Lords in Committee, I have made a commitment that this exercise will be extended to provide more information about the way in which local authorities have used the funding.
Amendment 50ZB seeks to ensure that certain particularly vulnerable groups of people are not rendered ineligible for support on the basis of a test of local residence or connections. We have discussed this issue with local authorities, which are, of course, as noble Lords will be well aware, already very familiar with the issue. In fact, it is not really a Social Fund-specific issue at all because local authorities already deal with boundary issues in the delivery of other services, such as housing and homelessness. Local authorities already have many duties to provide assistance to vulnerable people under existing legislation and frequently co-operate with other local authorities in doing so. We believe that local authorities should be given the freedom to set their own eligibility criteria to enable them to tailor the new provision to their local area.
Furthermore, we will encourage local authorities to link support across boundaries. Indeed, several authorities have mentioned to us in discussions that they were already planning to establish collaborative working relationships. Wandsworth, Hammersmith and Fulham and Kensington and Chelsea, for example, already work together to provide some joint services and have said that they will look to see how they can join up for this new local provision. Bristol is also looking at working with neighbouring authorities. Each of the groups referred to in Amendment 50ZB already receives assistance from local authorities and the Government. As my noble friend Lord Boswell mentioned, local authorities already have a number of existing
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The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, referred to Section 199 of the Housing Act 1996, which sets out what constitutes a local connection in relation to people who are homeless. There is also statutory guidance for local authorities from the Department for Communities and Local Government to which local authorities must have regard. The effect is that those with no local connection receive help from the local authority to which they apply; those with a local connection to a particular area receive help from the authority responsible for that area unless they are at risk of violence if they return there. A local authority housing a vulnerable person would be in a good position to provide help through the new local provision-for example, by providing furnishing for the accommodation it arranges. This is a more holistic approach for local authorities to adopt and such an approach would also be beneficial for local authorities delivering support to those fleeing domestic violence. Local authorities can use the new local provision alongside existing support.
The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, challenged me as to how the other groups in the amendment are covered by duties and responsibilities. Local authorities already have a duty to house someone fleeing from domestic violence. They will be able to use the new provision to continue to provide support further down the line-for example, helping to furnish new accommodation that has been provided to someone who has fled domestic violence. As regards young people leaving local authority care, local authorities have a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of a child who has been a looked-after child, including providing maintenance, and have such duties until the child is 21. Local authorities also already have duties to support disabled people or those who are destitute. They must make arrangements for promoting the welfare of those with a disability or mental disorder, including assessing the welfare needs of a person leaving hospital having received in-patient treatment for a mental disorder.
The National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990 requires local authorities to prepare a plan for the provision of community care services in consultation with relevant bodies and to assess the needs of people who may be in need of these services. Local authorities are already required by multiple legislative duties to provide support to the most vulnerable people in their area and they have a great deal of experience of doing so. They will be able to use this experience to deliver the new local provision in a way that will best suit the people in their local area. Therefore, I suggest that there is no specific need for local connection eligibility rules to be published.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, asked about the Children's Commissioner's report. I have read the report, published last week, which suggests that certain changes made by the Bill could lead to breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Government are satisfied that the Bill is compatible with their human rights obligations, including those under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The safeguards to which I have referred will ensure that the money intended for vulnerable people goes to vulnerable people. The most discretionary support will be better tailored to people's needs when it is delivered locally. The new local provision and the national provision of payments on account will complement each other and, taken as a whole, they will provide more effective and better targeted support. For these reasons, I urge noble Lords not to press their amendments.
Lord Wigley: Does the Minister intend to respond to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord German, with regard to the interplay with devolved authorities? It is a material question that was raised in Committee. My understanding in Committee was different from the understanding of the noble Lord, Lord German. If the Minister cannot respond now, perhaps he will write to interested parties in order to provide clarity on the matter.
Baroness Meacher: Can the Minister also respond to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, which I also raised, on the real assurance-the teeth, if you like-that the Government will need in emergencies to make sure, without specifying how it is spent, that the money is spent on those in greatest need? I would be grateful for a response from the Minister.
Lord De Mauley: My Lords, I hoped that I had emphasised that point. A great deal of work has been done with local authorities explaining the proposal and the intentions behind it. We have encountered considerable enthusiasm for the principle. We have put a lot of effort into helping and educating local authorities which will be making the decisions. I hoped that I had emphasised the importance of that point. I am agreeing with the noble Baroness but I do not think that I can go very much further than I have gone.
Baroness Lister of Burtersett: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate. They have added some powerful arguments and questioning. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Newton, I should say that it is better to go from zero to hero than the other way round.
I thank the Minister who, I feel, is inching gradually in the direction that we have been trying to push him. He has again reassured us that the Government share the concern across the House that the money that is allocated to local authorities should be used for the purposes intended. It was helpful to have more information about what will be in the settlement letter. However, I have heard nothing today to reassure me that the
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How can the noble Lord say with such assurance that the money will not be used on a swimming pool, a road or anything else? Without the information that this amendment would provide, I am afraid that the Government simply cannot give that assurance. I am very disappointed that the noble Lord has not felt able to go further in meeting the spirit of these amendments even if not the letter of them. I do not think that he has dealt adequately with the questions and comments made by noble Lords.
We have the example of the supporting people budget. When the ring-fence was removed, immediately many local authorities started spending the money on other things. That was with an existing budget. This is a new budget, which will be even more tempting for local authorities. I hope that the Government will reflect further on this issue. We will certainly reflect further but, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Baroness Grey-Thompson: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, is unfortunately unwell today. Currently, she is watching the Report stage of the Welfare Reform Bill from her hospital bed. She has asked that Amendment 50ZE is not moved and I would ask your Lordships' House to agree to this request. I am sure that your Lordships' House would also want to send best wishes to the noble Baroness for a speedy return to the Chamber.
Baroness Meacher: My Lords, in moving Amendment 50ZGA, I shall speak also to Amendment 56ZC, the purpose of which is to allow disabled children aged 16 and 17 to continue to qualify for DLA for children instead of PIP until they reach the age of 18. It would mean that they would not have to go through the PIP assessment process until they reach an adult age. It would also simplify the benefits system by aligning PIP with universal credit.
I thank the Minister for sparing time to discuss this amendment at the end of a long day, which was at the end of a long week. I should offer him my apologies because last week I was jetlagged, tired and not very well, and I did not always get all my little ducks in a row. But I understand that 16 and 17 year-olds applying for PIP would not have to go through an income assessment. However, they would have to undertake a capability assessment. The point of this amendment is to sort out some issues of principle and consistency in relation to 16 and 17 year-olds. When I met the Minister, we did not touch on these issues and I should be interested to know his response today.
More particularly-in my view more importantly-this amendment would deal with the adverse consequences of these clauses for the young people affected. In other words, if disabled 16 and 17 year-olds would benefit from being treated as adults, frankly, that would be good enough for me but the fact is that they will not.
In terms of consistency, the Government plan to raise the age of participation in education or training to 17 in 2012 and 18 in 2015, but the introduction of PIP from 2013 will treat 16 and 17 year-olds as working-age adults. Does it make any sense to treat these young people as children with respect to education and as adults when it comes to claiming benefits?
I understand that regulations will provide for some exceptions for that. I also understand that some children aged 16 and 17 may claim ESA and thus universal credit. But the basic assumption of the new universal credit system will be that children will be treated as dependents of their parents, and therefore not generally expected to claim universal credit in their own right, until they reach the age of 18.
In our discussion, the Minister defended the decision to transfer 16 and 17 year-olds to PIP on the grounds that they would only need to undertake the capability assessment and not the income assessment. That is fine. My question to the Minister is: why is it necessary to create this anomaly between the age limit for universal credit and the age limit for PIP? I look forward to hearing his explanation. In my experience, the Minister always has very good explanations for everything that the Government do, but I have difficulty imagining what the explanation for this one is, unless it is a
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The treatment of 16 and 17 year-olds under the PIP system rather than the DLA system will also impact upon their entitlement to disability additions. As noble Lords will know, universal credit includes disability additions to provide extra help for both children and adults with disabilities. However, the gateways to this additional support differ for the two groups. Children aged 16 and 17 will, other than in some exceptional circumstances, count as part of their parents' household. The disability additions for children who are part of their parents' household will be based upon DLA. Even if these 16 and 17 year-olds are part of their parents' household, along with younger children-and in almost every case 16 and 17 year-old disabled children will be a part of their parents' household-they will not be treated as such. Again, is there any logic behind this provision?
A separate point is that the PIP assessment tool envisaged for 16 and 17 year-olds is not appropriate for children, albeit that the PIP assessment tool is more sensitive to mental health disabilities than the DLA assessment-I will return to that point, which is an important one. The Children's Society points out that children and young people need a system designed to take into account their developmental needs and circumstances, including the importance of social networks and friendships. PIP questions are narrower than those for the DLA assessment. The DLA assessment itself includes reference to reasonable amounts of social activity and the support needed to take part in that. There is no question that friendship and the ability to get out and about are essential for children and perhaps even more essential for 16 and 17 year-olds than for any other age group whatever.
Despite concerns about the applicability of the PIP assessment tool to 16 and 17 year-olds, disabled children will be one of the first groups to trial the new assessment system when they turn 16. Is this not likely to lead to large numbers of unfair or inappropriate decisions? I understand from the CAB service that the numbers affected will be some 50,000 16 and 17 year-olds currently receiving DLA, plus the flow of future youngsters into that age group. I hope that the Minister will take this point seriously.
On mental health issues, the Minister is well aware of the concerns about the efficacy of face-to-face assessments for adults. Some improvements have undoubtedly been made, but those involved in the improvements recognise that there is still a long way to go to achieve an adequate level of reliability. Mind reinforces the point, stating that,
Although a smaller proportion of mentally disabled people will lose benefit as a result of the shift from DLA to PIP, considerable numbers of both physically and mentally disabled people will lose out, as the Minister will be aware.
Before concluding these comments, I applaud the Minister's commitment to improving assessments for people with mental health problems. He has been dedicated to that task and very real improvements have been, and are being, made. I think that this House will want to recognise that.
The amendment would achieve three things: it would align universal credit with PIP and the Government's plans in other parts of the system to treat 16 and 17 year-olds as still being part of their parents' household; secondly, it would safeguard young people from being assessed using an inappropriate tool, albeit that more explicit reference is made to mental health in the criteria; and, thirdly, it would further simplify the system. I look forward to the Minister's response to these points. I beg to move.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Patel, and I have amendments in this group. Our noble friend Lady Meacher has spoken most eloquently to the specific problems for these age groups. This is Report stage, and we are well aware that there has already been much debate about young people who have to transition between children's services and those for adults. However, I remind the Minister that, coming from a medical background, we have tabled our amendment because of the specific problems for those who fall ill suddenly or who are severely ill. As they transition for all their care in the medical sense, they transition also for all their life events and social interactions. They struggle to move to a degree of independent adulthood and are faced with a whole range of problems that those who are more settled either in the security of childhood or, later on, in an adult framework might not encounter so acutely. For that reason, we ask the Government to allow them to be considered separately should it be appropriate.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, we have strong sympathy with these amendments, spoken to so effectively by the noble Baronesses, Lady Meacher and Lady Finlay. We had a bit of a canter around this issue in Committee, focusing particularly on 16 to 24 year-olds. I took from that debate, and the Minister may take the opportunity to confirm or deny it, that there is potentially scope within the Bill for a regulation not to require 16 year-olds inevitably to move towards PIP. If that is not the case, it is important that we clarify it, because it impacts on how we approach the amendment.
A number of questions have been posed which I should like to emphasise. The first is whether the Minister contends that the PIP assessment as currently constructed is fit. Does he believe that it would be appropriate for most 16 year-olds? The assertion is that it is not. Another issue is the extent to which there is alignment of ages for a range of things-the UN convention certainly, but care generally and education and training. Would it not be better if that alignment were brought into effect also for the purposes of the PIP and the DLA cut-off?
When somebody aged 15 is about to become 16, that is the point at which things change on the DLA journey and we move into a somewhat different regime.
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Lord Freud: My Lords, I welcome these amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the noble Lord, Lord Patel. They allow me just to go through how the Government intend to introduce PIP successfully for young disabled people from the age of 16. Clearly, the central question is whether 16 or 18 is the right age. In one sense, all ages are a little arbitrary here. Adulthood is defined at different ages in different contexts. The key to the decision to start PIP at 16 was based around the assessment criteria and at what stage people fit in with those, in terms of the activities that they can undergo and how we can look at them. When we looked at it with a range of experts, we concluded that you would normally expect individuals without disabilities to be able to carry out these activities independently from the age of 16. For example, you would expect a 16 year-old to be able to wash and dress themselves, to communicate with others, to plan, and to follow and make a journey. It is the age at which, currently, you expect individuals to be able to be employed full-time. There is a general expectation that they have the capabilities of adults.
The group looked at whether you would expect even younger people-I had better use that word now, rather than adults or children-to fit this assessment. They concluded that children go through several developmental stages under the age of 16, and they do that at uneven speeds. So, there was a cut-off in developmental terms between the two stages, for the purposes of this test, at 16. The other way of looking at this is that it is about trying to move people into adulthood and independence. A lot of these youngsters are living in their households but need to move to independence. Having their own independent help and their own funding in PIP at that age matches their aspirations to move into adulthood, and allows them to make their own decisions about aspects of their lives.
This is an area where, as we described in our policy document, we have set out our intentions and outlined the key principles that we have debated and agreed with stakeholders. We have set up a subgroup of the PIP implementation development group specifically to help and inform the design and testing of the new
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Clearly, this is not the only testing that disabled youngsters undergo in this phase of their lives. There are a number of assessments as they move from childhood to adulthood. We will ensure that all young people claiming PIP or moving on to it at age 16 have the appropriate support to allow them fully to express their needs. We know it is important that they have a parent, an advocate or a friend to accompany them to that face-to-face consultation. We are not changing anything in terms of DLA in this area. We are changing a lot of things by moving DLA to PIP, and we will be discussing some of them, but in this area we are sticking with the same age as the existing DLA arrangements.
There was an anomaly that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, tried to pin me down on and defied me to find a good explanation for. I have been challenged and I shall do my best. On the point about the difference between the universal credit at 18 and PIP at 16, the blunt answer is that these are different benefits for different purposes. It is important that we do not think of PIP as an income supplement; that is not what it is, and nor is it for someone who is out of work. PIP is a payment to people who are disabled who will always need extra money to live because their costs of living are higher, and we will pay it regardless of whether people are in work or out of work. That is why it is a different argument. By giving PIP earlier, we are giving youngsters their independent funding to run their own lives from that point-not from the point when they are meant to be in the workforce and fully independent-when, if they do not have a job, they will need an income supplement. That is the difference. I hope that I have risen to the challenge; I am sure that the noble Baroness will say that I have not, but I have done my best.
We are working closely with the Department for Education to explore evidence gathered so that we can have a single assessment for an education, health and care plan that can be used to support a personal independence payment claim. We are trying to get rid of all the multiple assessments.
Baroness Meacher: Does the Minister accept that there are a lot of people who are very worried about this shift? The reality is that many of them who might have been entitled to DLA will not be entitled to PIP and will therefore lose out. They will also lose out on the disability additions. There is quite a big financial consequence here.
Lord Freud: I accept that there are concerns but one has to stand back. We are spending £12 billion on PIP in real terms, which is the same as the spending in 2009-10. The talk about a big cut refers to a big cut of
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One of the other things that is happening-and is probably the biggest difference in emphasis between DLA and PIP-is that PIP is trying to take account of people with mental health problems in a way that DLA finds much harder. That is why the assessments and activities that are looked at are very different. Therefore, PIP is different and there are changes. Some people will lose out but they are the people who need the money less. That is the point of making the adjustment. However, the overall sum remains that £12 billion.
To pick up the point of the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, we have the power and flexibility to treat 16 year-olds differently. This includes different assessment processes during the migration period. We are working actively now with children's groups to make sure that we have the right migration strategy for youngsters and to finalise it. We will publish that approach. It is not a settled matter, which was, I think, the noble Lord's real question. We are working very hard to get it right.
Let me deal with some of the amendments. Amendments 57, 58, 50ZGA and 56ZC would prevent our abolishing DLA for those aged 18, and potentially limit our flexibility by imposing statutory duties that would be less able to respond to change, especially as we refine and improve processes as a result of feedback and our experiences. It is very important that we have that flexibility. One of the things that we will discuss later this evening is feedback and the amount of research that we will carry out on a continuous basis. Clearly we want to incorporate that into how we apply PIP, particularly for youngsters.
This is very technical but I need to make it clear that the Government consider Amendment 56ZC to be consequential on Amendment 50ZGA; and, separately, Amendment 58 to be directly consequential on Amendment 57. I do not want any misunderstandings later, although the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, is not in her seat at the moment to give me a piece of her mind. Given the reassurances that I have given the noble Baroness, and the technical limitations that the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, would impose, I hope she will withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: If the amendments which the noble Lord, Lord Patel, and I have tabled would be more restrictive, does the Minister now have more powers to make regulations to exercise discretion in relation to people of different ages? Does this discretion remain wider by not including our amendments where an age group is highlighted?
Lord Freud: This is a framework Bill. There is a lot of potential flexibility as we set up the regulations, particularly in this migration period, as we move into them. This flexibility would be denied by these amendments.
Baroness Meacher: I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, for contributing to this short debate. This amendment was tabled very late and others have not had a chance to catch up with the thrust of the argument. I thank the Minister for his reply, although I doubt that the considerable number of people who will be losing out as a result of this provision will be very reassured by his response. I do, of course, understand-at least in general terms-the thrust of the Government's commitment to focus resources on those most severely disabled. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
(a) the person's ability to carry out daily living activities is limited by the person's physical or mental condition; and
(b) the person meets the required period condition."
Baroness Grey-Thompson: My Lords, the amendment is designed to complement broader plans for social care and links to the Dilnot review of care funding. The Dilnot review examined care costs and how best to manage our demographic change. It concluded that universal disability benefits for people of all ages should continue as now. Dilnot was referring to DLA. The rationale for his recommendation was that DLA helps many disabled people avoid formal social services. It acts as a form of low-level needs management. However, Government plans include abolishing the low-rate care DLA payments of £19.55 per week, which 652,000 disabled people aged 16 to 64 currently receive.
Despite ignoring the Dilnot recommendation, the DWP has not provided a cost-benefit analysis of what this abolition could mean for care services. Charities and individual disabled people have, however, indicated that reduced access to DLA will increase dependency on social care services funded by councils. About one in eight of the disabled people who completed a Disability Alliance survey suggested they would be more likely to need a council-funded care home placement as, without DLA, families would no longer be able to manage needs. This leaves councils funding a much more expensive service. The lack of information being provided on this issue, despite the clear recommendation of the Dilnot review, can leave us with no choice but to assume it has not yet been fully analysed.
The Minister has suggested that providing a basic level of help is unaffordable, but we must also take into account the further costs of the two million medical notes from the NHS which disabled people who are forced to undergo the new assessment process will have to provide. This is not a cost-free policy. What about the analysis of the cost of potentially avoidable NHS use following the abolition of low-rate
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The DWP has been pressed on these issues since plans emerged in 2010. It is unacceptable that these legitimate questions on the policy costs remain unanswered. I also believe the amendment is essential to help mitigate the risks of the current government proposals to disabled people, their families, the NHS and councils.
Figures published just yesterday suggest that of the 652,000 disabled people receiving low-rate care, about a quarter of a million may be able to access daily living payments under PIP. The statistics suggest an increase of 166,000 in the numbers receiving enhanced daily living payments, compared to DLA high-rate care, and an increase of 89,000 in standard daily living payments, compared to middle-rate care DLA. However, this means that 400,000 disabled people will lose support.
My amendment aims to secure basic support for just some of those 400,000 disabled people. The amendment will not simply carry over the same people and the same rules. I realise that the Government need to ensure a new approach. The amendment allows them to retain the right to establish the level of basic need at which disabled people would be entitled to support, as well as levels of payments. The DWP has not yet published the payment levels that disabled people can expect under PIP, but it could examine different payment levels. I beg to move.
Baroness Wilkins: My Lords, I strongly support the amendment, which has the support of many disability organisations and thousands of disabled people and their families who face losing help under the Government's plans.
The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, has already outlined the numbers of people affected by the Government's proposals. These people are not fakers and scroungers. Of current low-rate care claimants, DWP statistics show that 20,000 are blind, 57,000 have learning disabilities, 94,000 have arthritis, and more than 100,000 experience psychosis or psychoneurosis. These are some of the people affected, and these conditions are clearly not fake. These are the people who the Government suggest should lose support.
Disabled people have told the Government exactly what losing low-rate care could mean. Examples include people who categorically state the clear health and social care consequences of cutting DLA, as the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, outlined. I shall cite examples of people who have commented. One said:
"If DLA was reduced or removed then I would be unable to attend doctors and hospital appointments due to the cost of getting to and from them, and my health would be severely put at risk due to not having enough money to either keep myself warm and/or fed".
The amendment could help prevent an explosion of avoidable NHS and social care needs, as the noble Baroness said. Will those needs of the disabled people who are losing help be met elsewhere? I fear that no support may be available from any other public service for many of the 400,000 who will lose all their DLA. The past decade has seen a shrinking of council social care service provision through the tightening of eligibility criteria. More than 80 per cent of councils in England now help only people with critical or substantial needs. The people losing DLA may very well not be able to access care services until crises develop. This leaves families, friends and neighbours to care for them. We already have one of the highest economic inactivity rates due to informal care provision. By not accepting this amendment the Government risk ignoring the impact on carers-especially on women aged between 46 and 64 who are more likely to have to take up caring responsibilities in lieu of formal services or benefit provision.
In proposing to abolish low-rate care provision, the department appears to fail to understand or, worse, to wilfully ignore the genuine needs of disabled people and carers. The amendment would help the Government ensure that they did not simply end the lifeline of DLA for disabled people and families who are unable to access alternative help until they receive expensive NHS treatment or residential care. Accepting the amendment and devising a fairer way to share the burden of the proposed dramatic cut in DLA resources would also help the Government ensure that they do not permanently undermine disabled people and the trust and confidence of carers. I hope that the Government really mean what they have said-that we are all in this together.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I will speak just briefly on this. It seems to me that the importance of this amendment has been heightened by the documentation we got just yesterday from the DWP, which emphasised that half a million people are going to miss out under the new system compared with the current arrangements. In passing, I might say that it would have been more helpful had we had that documentation a little earlier so we could have studied it in more detail, although clearly the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, has delved into it more deeply than I have had the chance to do.
There must be an onus on the Government to undertake some sort of assessment of the consequences for those half a million people who are not going to be able to benefit under the new system. Some of the consequences have been spelt out, such as extra pressure on social services and the health service. We know there will be loss of income tax and national insurance because DLA helps many people to stay in work or to work longer than they otherwise would. All those consequences are quite apart from the worst feature which is the human cost for people who are going to miss out who had been able to rely on funding and not just at the lower rate. It may be that most of those who fall out of the system are currently on the lower rate of DLA, but that certainly is not the case for all of them.
It seems to me that this approach reinforces the perception that is too prevalent that if you claim these benefits then somehow you are not worthy and you do not really deserve them. Half a million people will come out of the system under these proposals. What are the consequences for them? What assessment have the Government undertaken of their needs as a consequence of falling out of the system? Have they or will they look at the sort of proposal that this amendment covers so that there is some basis for bringing some redress for those people who, on any analysis, are bound to suffer as a result of these proposed changes?
Lord Wigley: My Lords, before the Minister gets up-I am sorry I did not get in before the noble Lord on the Opposition Front Bench, who beat me to it-I want to say a few words in support of Amendment 50ZGB moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson. It provides a basic rate of daily-living payment to minimise the number of disabled people who might otherwise be totally deprived of such focused help. Listening to Radio 4 this morning and hearing the Minister from the House of Commons acknowledging that 500,000 people could be hit by these changes really brought home to everyone the significance of what we are talking about. The ending of lower-rate DLA will leave people with needs arising from their disability but without the means to pay for them.
The point was made earlier by the Minister-and I understand his point-that the day-to-day costs of living are covered separately from the additional costs of disability. The implication is that people who would be in the lower group do not have additional costs of disability, but we all know from experience that they do and they are going to be losing out as a direct result. If the Government's intention is that so many people who have previously been recognised and acknowledged as having needs will no longer be helped to meet those needs, let them say so. I think it is a very retrograde step.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I had also meant to rise to speak a bit earlier. I, too, very much support what has been said about those amendments. We have all been absolutely flooded with e-mails about the situation of many of the people with disabilities we are talking about, who are fearful about their future and about how they are going to be affected. What has really impressed me is the details they give of their own lives and just what they need the extra money for-things that you and I would not even think about. It is not just support to get out of the house and to get to the shops or extra money for a car because there is no other way of getting about, but support for very basic extra things to make it possible to use saucepans and things like that.
I appreciate the actions that have already been taken, but I hope that serious thought will be given to those half a million people who will still suffer as a result. I am sure that the Minister will do everything he can to ensure that those in real need are approached with a flexible mind, but, nevertheless, some will fall between the new systems that are being devised, so I support the amendment and hope that serious consideration will be given to it.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, I hesitate to intervene, but are things said subsequent to the Minister sitting down clarifications of what had been said before? If not, are they in order?
Lord Freud: My Lords, I start by picking up the point that the lower rate is being thrown out so everyone on the lower rate will no longer get DLA or PIP. That is absolutely not the structure of what is happening. We are looking at the needs of people from the ground up and designing a support mechanism in PIP to look after people who have disability needs. Clearly, anyone who needs support, on the grounds of a rigorous and consistent assessment, will get it. Many of those people will get more. In fact, we think that the proportion of people who will be in the group with the greatest need, in the highest group, will rise under PIP compared to those in the standard group.
The difference between PIP and DLA is that we are trying to strip out the complexity of all the different rates and boil it back down to eight rates-by the time you take the two components on the two different rate levels. The amendment replicates the complexity of the structure of DLA and moves it back up from eight to 11 components, making it more difficult to administer coherently.
I pick up the specific point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, on the Dilnot review, and reassure her that the DLA reform proposals published in April 2011 were shared with Andrew Dilnot's review of long-term care funding, which was published a couple of months later in July. Andrew Dilnot said that universal disability benefits should continue, based on need and not on means. We are doing PIP exactly on those grounds-it is not means-tested but based on needs. He did not say that that benefit should go on unreformed.
We have designed the PIP assessment criteria to take broader account of the impact of disabilities than simply care and mobility, which are still of course very important factors. In our most recent draft of the assessment criteria-I remind noble Lords that we are still consulting on this process; this is work in progress and we are still listening very hard to the responses that we are getting-care and support needs feature very strongly. If someone needs attention with things such as washing, bathing, going to the toilet, dealing with medication, cooking food and eating, that is taken into account. We have amended the draft assessment criteria so that they now include supervision, whereas before they just considered whether someone needed assistance and prompting.
Finally, I should make it clear that the constituent parts of the current DLA cooking test have, in effect, been retained in the first activity relating to preparing food and drink. Therefore, again, individuals' needs in relation to this are taken into account.
It is clear that by moving to a two-tier structure we are not withdrawing support from those who require levels of support which we would expect to be covered by the criteria for entitlement to the lowest-rate care
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I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, if I did not give him enough time regarding the thresholds. In future, I shall try to make information available a bit earlier, as I know that there is much to absorb. This is a huge Bill and there is a great deal of information on it, so I acknowledge that getting that information out on a timely basis is important. On the assessment of the thresholds, we have now launched a further formal consultation to gather views from disabled people and their organisations, particularly on the weightings and the entitlement thresholds. This consultation will run for 15 weeks, during which time we aim to get all the information we can, and it will end on 30 April.
Of course I understand the noble Baroness's concerns, but these amendments would not restore the DLA status quo and they fail to address the more fundamental questions of how, and for whom, support is prioritised. I repeat that we are trying to make sure that the scarce resources that we have go to the people who need them most. We know that under these changes there will be shifts in provision. Some people will receive less support-
Baroness Browning: I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend. On the point about scarce resources, I think we all understand the financial situation and the imperative to reduce the deficit. However, if people who are currently on the lower rate of DLA lose it-a point made earlier in the debate-they will not just carry on with life as it is. If we accept that these people do not claim DLA without a need for it, then we accept that they have a genuine disability and that the lower rate of DLA is factored into their weekly budget. If it is then decided that their case is not as important as someone else's and that that person might need the DLA, that is going to have an impact. Earlier, the point was made that if you take away the lower rate of DLA from a lot of people with a wide range of disabilities, there will be consequences for their health and well-being, which will translate into a financial cost on the public sector. Will my noble friend consider undertaking a cost-benefit analysis of that consequence?
Lord Freud: My Lords, I have two answers to that question. The first is that people who need the support because of a disability may happen to be on the lower rate of DLA today but that does not mean that they will not be entitled to the standard rate in the future. My noble friend gave an example of people who are really dependent on that funding. I would expect in those circumstances that it would continue. Indeed, I would regard PIP to be a failure if it did not do that. Secondly, we will be monitoring that really closely. As I have discussed, later this evening I will present an amendment to make sure that we properly monitor what happens in this area and make sure that PIP does what it should be doing, which is to stop people ending up in the situation that my noble friend is so concerned about.
I must point out that if we move to a three-tier system on the daily living component, the implications are that the caseload would be larger-possibly larger than that under DLA-and spending would increase
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Before I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendments, I would like to confirm that the Government see Amendments 50ZGH and 50ZJA as directly consequential upon Amendment 50ZGB. On that note, I beg the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.
Baroness Grey-Thompson: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. I have to say that I am disappointed. I am also concerned and gravely worried for a huge number of disabled people. The tiny spark I take out of his comment is that he says he is listening. That is positive. However, there are lots of ways in which spending will increase if we push disabled people into poverty or do not give them the right support they need. We will be making massive, long-term mistakes for the rest of those disabled people's lives. It is not a small number of people. It could be up to 500,000 disabled people-half a million disabled people could be affected by this.
I am keen to keep pressing the Minister to ensure that the outcomes of disabled people losing the lower rate of care will be monitored throughout the rollout of the PIP assessment because, whatever way you look at the maths, there will be people who lose out. It is a big mistake to see this as a deadweight expenditure. You only have to look at our postboxes or e-mail inboxes -in the past two days, I have had nearly 600 emails from different disabled people saying they are terrified of the changes that are going to happen.
It is really important that the assessment process properly records whether losing DLA has a negative impact on the health of disabled people or their ability to work. We have a long way to go on this. Very reluctantly, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Baroness Grey-Thompson: My Lords, the issue of the social model of disability was discussed at some great length in Committee and the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, spoke very eloquently on it. Despite the Government's commitment to the social model of disability, their other commitment on this issue-to provide an objective assessment-works in opposition to this aim.
The idea of an objective assessment is to ensure that people with the same functionality receive the same level of PIP. This looks only at the person's
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The DLA has been criticised and no one would argue that it could not be improved on. However, DLA takes into account to some extent an individual's circumstances and uses-again to some extent-the social model of disability. It is claimed that, by making the criteria simpler, PIP will use the social model. However, it seems to rely much more on the medical model and appears to be going backwards in terms of taking into account someone's costs in surmounting their barriers. The charity Scope has made it clear that it considers that the Government are introducing a tick-box style medical assessment that will not help them achieve the aims they have set out to achieve.
The stated aim is to provide a more active and enabling benefit that supports disabled people to overcome the barriers they face to leading a full and independent life, yet nowhere in the assessment process is there any space for looking at the barriers that an individual faces. Disabled people face a multitude of barriers to participation and independence, many of which come as a direct result of social, practical and environmental factors. Making the test more objective and simpler will inevitably lead to a greater focus on the medical model, which will work against the stated aims and purpose.
"We recognise that Disability Living Allowance needs reforming and we fully support the government's ambitions to create a more active and enabling benefit. However, we are concerned that the new assessment the government is planning to use is flawed because it doesn't take into consideration all the barriers that disabled people face in daily life. Without understanding the extent of barriers people face, the government has no hope to overcome them and genuinely enable people to take part in daily life".
At a time of limited resources, it is crucial to ensure that support is targeted as effectively and accurately as possible. This will not happen using the proposed assessment. To ensure effective targeting, the assessment process for PIP claimants must accurately measure the extra costs that individuals incur, based on an understanding of the variables that affect those costs. I beg to move.
Baroness Browning: My Lords, this is the first time I have contributed on Report. I declare my interest as vice-president of the National Autistic Society, patron of Research Autism and as the named carer of an autistic adult man in receipt of DLA. I am concerned about this part of the Bill and support the amendment and the detail with which it outlines what I believe are shortcomings, despite my noble friend's best efforts to identify how the assessment will affect people on the autistic spectrum.
In 1990, the House of Commons sent to this Chamber the Autism Bill, which became an Act of Parliament. It was passed as a result of a Private Member's Bill introduced by the right honourable Cheryl Gillan MP. It was supported by all parties in both Houses and was enacted in 2010 by the coalition Government. I tabled a Question for Written Answer just before Christmas asking whether the Welfare Reform Bill that is before us was compliant with the Autism Act. It is worth remembering that no other Act of Parliament has been passed that is specific to a condition. Certain medical conditions are mentioned in other Acts, but the reason for both Houses agreeing to pass the Autism Act, which is now on the statute book, was that autism is different. I make no apology-I know I bang on about it quite a lot-for drawing the attention of the House to the fact that an Act of Parliament was needed because autism is so different.
There are many aspects to the Bill, including the amendment we are now debating, which have a specific read-across to the autistic spectrum. Some years ago in another place I introduced the first debate in Parliament on Asperger's syndrome. It was not well understood then. It is far better understood now, which is a great relief to me and many others. Even so, parents and people with Asperger's syndrome still struggle to get access to services, benefits and independent living, and to take their place in society as they would wish. The Autism Act was passed in recognition of that. I have to say to my noble friend that I was very disappointed when the reply to my Question for Written Answer in relation to this piece of legislation said that this was a matter for the relevant services by local authorities and NHS bodies and was not the subject matter of the Welfare Reform Bill.
Under the Autism Act, there is now a statutory responsibility on health and social services to implement the autism strategy which will require them to work with partners; for example, local authority housing departments. The Health Minister will be in a strong position to call to account local authorities and health authorities that do not implement this strategy. I know it is not the subject of this clause but if you are going to say that people under 35 will have restrictions placed on them as to where and with whom they live, that is a total contravention of what local authorities are being asked to do to implement the Autism Act. Equally, in the assessments for people on the autism spectrum, Asperger's syndrome is not "autism-lite".
Some years ago the National Autistic Society produced a report on autism called Ignored or Ineligible?. It is a 10 year-old report but sadly a lot of it is still relevant today, especially for those trying to get support for people on the autism spectrum, particularly those at the end of the spectrum who are more able-people with higher than average IQs. The anomaly about this condition is that you can have people with Masters degrees who cannot cope with some of the day-to-day detail of looking after themselves. The House has put on the statute book the Autism Act because autism is so different. The amendment before us picks up on some of those defects in the assessment.
I had time to read the case study-unfortunately it was number 13-in the information that my noble
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I do not want to focus on my own situation but, as I am sure noble Lords can imagine, as a mum I am pretty worried. I want to take this opportunity to say on behalf of other mums-if I do not say it, who is going to say it for them?-that when you have a child who is born with a lifelong disability and you know they are going to die with that disability, as a parent your relationship with that child is very different from your relationship with other children you may have. When they are little children, you agonise about things like education. As they get older, life skills and whether they can cope for themselves become far more important to you than whether they ever got a GCSE. As they and you get older, your waking moments are haunted by how they will cope when you are no longer there to support and help them. I think that most parents of disabled children-whatever the nature of their disability -would understand that. Therefore, when you feel after many years that you have them in what I would describe as a stable situation-and how important, particularly for autism, stability is-it is so worrying when you suddenly look into the future and find that actually it is not stable at all. It is not stable for you-as you are growing older with goodness knows how many years left-and you see that it is not stable for them.
I have every respect for the amount of time my noble friend has put into autism. I am totally in favour of what he is trying to do to get more autistic people into work, because there are many who could work if they were given the right support and back-up to do it. I fully support that. But Asperger's syndrome and those people on one end of the spectrum of autistic spectrum disorders are not "autism-lite". I mentioned the report Ignored or Ineligible?. It showed that for people between 20 and 30 the suicide rate was 8 per cent. The reason it was 8 per cent was that the people on that spectrum try like mad to be part of society and try to be like everybody else. However, there comes a point at which, for many of them, they give up that struggle. I am very concerned that if they are not assessed as individuals, with all the quirkiness and strangeness of this very complex condition, we will go back to people on the more able end of the autistic spectrum being either ignored or ineligible, with all that that means. That is why I support the amendment tonight.
There is a real fear among so many disabled people who have contacted us that the migration to PIP is going to be like a horrid game of musical chairs, because they all know that the Government want a 20 per cent cut, wherever that comes. They all think that when the music stops, they will be the one without a chair. They also know that DLA, for all its faults, has the lowest incidence of fraud, and many of them say they feel demonised in the press for being scroungers. Would it not be nice if some of the screaming headlines in tabloid newspapers were about the way in which many people receiving DLA are able to live independently, contributing hugely to society in many different ways, rather than the other way around?
On the low level of DLA fraud, we have to acknowledge that my noble friend, coming to this whole subject with a fresh eye, reckons not that the wrong people are claiming the benefit but perhaps that the net has so small a mesh that it tends to pick up everyone who has any level of disability rather than picking up only those with the greatest need. Therefore, his argument goes, you do not have to resort to fraud in order to get DLA; it is so loosely drawn that almost anyone can get it if they know how to fill in a long and complex form in the right way. Taxpayers are entitled at this point to ask why medical reports are looked at in only around half the cases, which I for one find quite inexplicable, but we will come to that in our debate on a later amendment.
that is most worrying. It could mean many things and is most closely associated with those who are entitled to means-tested benefits, which we know is not the case for PIP, and long may this last. Among the arguments that the Minister deployed when he rejected this amendment in Grand Committee were that it was too widely drawn; would be too expensive; would lead to too long an assessment, which would be too intrusive; and too complex. The noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, countered this by saying that the proposed points-based tick box descriptors approach will not capture enough information about the barriers and costs faced by disabled people on a daily basis. Both are right, which is why this issue is so difficult. It would be almost impossible to translate this amendment into a points-based assessment in a meaningful way, although in an ideal world that is exactly what is required.
I wonder whether there is any way in which the sense of this admirable amendment, or elements of it, could somehow be incorporated into the assessment process. I shall be most interested in my noble friend's reply.
Baroness Wilkins: My Lords, I support the amendment, which seeks to ensure that the assessment for the new entitlement is fit for purpose and fulfils the Government's commitment to the social model of disability. As has already been noted, DLA occupies a unique space in the welfare benefits system as it recognises that disabled
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We should all warmly welcome the Government's repeated commitment to the social model of disability, for which, as many of your Lordships know, disabled people have fought long and hard. At the heart of the social model is the recognition that it is our society, not just their bodies, that disables people with health conditions and impairments. However, I fear that the proposed assessment for the new entitlement does not reflect this commitment. Despite the Government's assurances in Grand Committee, the Minister admitted that the proposed test,
The second draft of the PIP assessment criteria includes some small improvements from the first. However, it does not go nearly far enough. By assuming that a medical assessment will capture social and environmental barriers to independence, the Government risk homogenising the diverse difficulties that disabled people face in their everyday lives. The new threshold document makes many mentions of extra costs and barriers, but only a few of these will be captured by an assessment that looks exclusively at impairment.
It is with this in mind that I support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson. The assessment for the new entitlement must consider the real social, practical and environmental barriers faced by disabled people with impairments living in our society. I, along with disability charities such as Scope, disabled people's organisations and disabled people across the country, voice great concern that the Government are reneging on their commitment to the social model of disability. Doing so would undo decades of campaigning for and progress towards a better and more equal society.
Baroness Hollins: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, for her honest and enlightening contribution. I speak as a doctor and as a mother; I have two adult children who are in receipt of disability living allowance.
I wish to talk about the medical approach to disability. As a doctor, I have often been accused of being very "medical model", usually by disabled people. The medical model to disability is reductionist. Many doctors and other health professionals do not understand the social model; they do not understand the social, practical and environmental barriers that people with physical and mental impairments face. I support the amendment, but it would require skilled and sensitive assessments to be available and they would need to be delivered by people who understand the social model.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I, too, support the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, in her amendment. I read the whole of the information sent to us yesterday and I was pleased to see that ME/CFS,
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If they are incontinent, they may need to be able to change their clothing regularly. They may need incontinence pads, which-as everyone knows from questions in the House-are extremely difficult to get from the National Health Service. My mother-in-law, who died a few years ago, could not go out of the house because she was worried about wetting herself in public. If she could have afforded incontinence pads, she would have been fine. She was not going to tell her children or her daughter-in-law about her problem and we had to extricate the information from her to find out why she was not going out. Such people get confined to their homes and become desocialised, and it is very difficult to get them back into society. We must take all these things into consideration-not just whether they can cook or wash themselves-when we think about what they need to keep functioning on a relatively normal basis.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I shall speak briefly on this amendment. The comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, about her personal experience of the whole range of autism reminded me just how this range has developed over the years. When I first got involved with the autistic movement many years ago, it really was just one thing; but since then, many different branches and forms of behaviour have been identified. The fact that all these extra aspects have to be borne in mind re-emphasises the whole question of whether the clause is fit for purpose. In particular, the Asperger's syndrome comment was very apt. I hope the Minister will be able to persuade us that there will be a thorough method of assessment by people who understand the range of problems that we are talking about as well as-as my noble friend Lady Mar said-the detailed and different ways in which extra help is used and needed for such people to have a basic ability to lead a normal life.
Lord Freud: My Lords, let me start by referring to the moving speech made by my noble friend Lady Browning. I confess to a real concern about autism generally and I am very proud that my maiden speech was on the Autism Bill. I have undertaken a number of initiatives in the autism area because we do not look after people with autism and Asperger's properly. I also strongly believe that it would not take a huge effort to make sure that we look after those people much better. As my noble friend knows, there is currently a major initiative to try to ramp up the number of such people who have and keep jobs. Currently only around 15 per cent have jobs, which is ludicrous, and I am determined to double that figure.
As part of that concern for this particular group, we wish to make sure that this assessment takes people with autism and with Asperger's properly into account. I am hopeful that PIP will do a better job than DLA, and, furthermore, that we will make sure that we have the right processes in place to look after this group. As we refine processes during the next consultation period, which we are running until the end of April, one of the things that I want to make absolutely sure of is that we have the right measures in place for autism. I know that everyone in this Chamber feels similarly on this issue, and feels very strongly that we should get this right for that particular group.
I shall now turn to the more technical aspects of this issue-that is, looking at what we are doing with the PIP and its assessment. Is it a medical assessment, as the noble Baroness suggested? It absolutely is not. In fact, as I said in Committee, our approach is-and this is rather a mouthful-akin to the biopsychosocial model. I shall try to draw this out a bit-I do not mean in time: I shall try to draw the themes out. A medical assessment would be something like the industrial injuries disablement benefit, where there is a direct correlation between the injury sustained and its severity and the amount of benefit or compensation received. Nor will the PIP assessment focus on the functional limitations of the individual in the way that the work capability assessment does. Instead, it will assess how the individual's health condition or impairment impacts on his or her everyday life by looking at their ability to carry out a series of key and holistic activities, all of which are essential for participation and independent living. In such an approach, the type of condition or impairment an individual has is of limited relevance.
It is not, however, a full social model assessment. I accept that. That is something that many noble Lords and disability organisations would like, but I have to point out that it was not our intention to develop it in this way. As a department, we do support the social model. As the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, said, we are on record as supporting it. While we want to ensure that the PIP assessment better reflects it than previous assessments, that does not mean that the full social model is relevant for assessment, although it is relevant for some things. I sent round a rather interesting piece of analysis to many noble Lords in the Committee, called Models of Sickness and Disability, which showed the differences between the models, explaining the medical model, the reaction of the social model against the pure medical model and the synthesis of the biopsychosocial model. The summary of the biopsychosocial model in the analysis is that:
Baroness Browning: Will my noble friend confirm whether, when people on the autistic spectrum are assessed, there will be somebody present as part of that assessment who is expert in cognitive specialisms?
Lord Freud: People will be able to bring anyone with them to the assessment, whether it is a parent, adviser or anyone else. For the WCA, the person doing
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Baroness Browning: It has been suggested-I hope that this is an opportunity for my noble friend to put this straight-that the assessor will be able to call somebody on the telephone in making the cognitive assessment. I hope that he is able to assure me tonight that that is not the case.
Lord Freud: Clearly, the system will be elaborated and developed, and we are at an early stage. Although the WCA is a very different test from the PIP assessment, one of the useful lessons that we have drawn from Professor Harrington's recommendations for it is that mental health champions are available on site for assessors. That is the way in which that test has developed, and there are some valuable lessons there for when we look at how we elaborate the PIP assessment.
If we were to go with the full social model assessment along the lines suggested by Scope, looking at the full range of factors that potentially cause barriers and cost, it would require a very long, intrusive and costly assessment, putting significant cost burdens on the state and, more importantly, very large burdens on the individuals involved. They would also inevitably require much more regular assessment, as the social factors that would be taken into consideration would change more regularly than the impact of a health condition or impairment. You might, for instance, get to the ludicrous position where every time a local bus service changed, you would have to do a reassessment on that model. In meeting after meeting with noble Lords, I have been left under no illusion that having too many reassessments is one of the things that they dislike the most. We will try to provide later on some reassurance that there will be decent gaps wherever possible between reassessments.
The situation could go very dramatically the other way and lead inevitably to inconsistency, with factors considered varying from person to person and affected by local factors or service provision. With PIP, we are looking at something that is universal and where entitlement is based on the same criteria wherever individuals are and whatever their circumstances. This discussion carries echoes of our ring-fencing debate earlier today in relation to the Social Fund. If we move to a kind of local needs-testing, which is what the amendment implies, it would be at odds with how we deliver a national benefit. Clearly, we could do something else. We could localise it as a benefit, but then it would be a very different benefit. I suspect that many noble Lords would be very concerned about moving in that direction.
Most importantly, we think that a social-model approach would be more subjective. Benefit entitlement needs to be based on clearly defined and transparent criteria which we need to be able to set down in legislation and apply to individuals consistently, whatever their circumstances and wherever they are in
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Finally, we do not think that an assessment along these lines would allow us to control expenditure and keep that benefit spend sustainable, making sure that it goes where it is needed most. I do not think that I can really reach a figure on how much it might cost, but our estimate is that it would be very substantial.
Although the social model approach is superficially attractive-and I emphasise that we support it in many ways-we have decided that it is not the right way to go with this assessment. We have not gone for the medical model; we have gone for the biopsychosocial model. That model has now garnered very significant academic support, as those noble Lords to whom I sent that very interesting piece of research will recognise. It recognises the diverse range of biological, psychological and social factors that impact upon an individual and cause variation in need. We think that approach-of looking at activities and outcomes-matches the requirement.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister can answer a question for me. I made a particular point about people having very special needs such as extra heating and incontinence pads, for example. If they are leading a fairly normal life but would be restricted to their homes because they cannot pay for things, will this be taken into account in the PIP assessment? I could not see it anywhere when I read the details. How are these facts going to be elicited when the person is being assessed? People do not fit into boxes-everyone is an individual. It seems that the noble Lord is trying to make people fit into boxes when they do not.
Lord Freud: We are very much trying not to make people fit into boxes. We are not saying, "Because you have that condition, that's your relevant position". We are trying to look at people as individuals. Clearly, you go through all these criteria very carefully and reach a judgment. It is almost impossible for me to say whether a particular person would hit the assessment criteria or not. You just have to go through it and see. However, we clearly expect someone to get a payment who has genuine needs for coping with life because of their disability. That is what it is designed for. I cannot answer the specific question, but I can tell the noble Baroness the principle-where that person needs that support as a result of their disability, they should get it.
When we develop an assessment for PIP, we have to balance a range of factors. A complete model should include all the perspectives and important interactions between an individual, their health and the environment. That is what the biopsychosocial model does. There are limitations in considering only a single perspective, and this is a much more holistic approach.
I do not accept the criticism that our proposals do not truly reflect the extra costs faced by disabled people. As I have tried to explain, it would not be feasible to assess the actual costs without something hugely intrusive to disabled people and very complicated. We therefore have to assess other factors as a proxy for these costs. We are using "care" and "mobility" in DLA, which we do not think are broad enough. So, in our draft assessment criteria we have a range of everyday activities for PIP that we believe are a good proxy for the impact of impairments, the overall level of disabled people's needs and the extra disability-related costs. We will go on refining those; we will not just stop when we finish the consultation in April.
The proposals have taken into account many of the key drivers of cost that Scope and others are obviously concerned about. For example, individuals who have difficulty getting out are likely to have higher utility bills, while those who need support planning a journey and moving about are likely to have higher transport costs. The proxies and associated criteria should therefore allow us to prioritise spend on those who face the greatest challenge and expense. In answer to my noble friend Lady Thomas's point on the tick-box assessment, the proposals, which have been around since May, are very much not a tick-box approach; they are trying to look at people's functional capability.
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