§ 10. Mr. Duncan Smith
To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what is the total spending on long-term sick and disabled people and their carers; and what were the equivalent figures for 1978–79 and 1985–86. 
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
Does my hon. Friend accept that many of my constituents and those of other hon. Friends throughout the country will be concerned about the way in which spending in this area has burgeoned at a time when so many people in society are supposed to be getting better in terms of their health? Does he agree with me, and will he take up the point, that we shall drive hard to ensure that money in this area is spent solely on those who genuinely need it?
§ Mr. Burt
My hon. Friend makes a sound point about the changes that had to be made to incapacity benefit. We were trying to ensure that a rapid rise in the growth of expenditure was brought under some control to ensure also that benefit went to those who really needed it.
The Government seek to encourage independence in terms of benefit policy for other long-term sick and disabled people. We want to establish a simpler system with fewer overlaps which will be delivered by modern means, and one that will reduce the scope for fraud and abuse. The Government are well on their way to producing such a system.
§ Mr. Wigley
Will the Minister please avoid the pressure coming from the right wing of the Conservative party further to cut expenditure on disabled and long-term sick people? Will he consider especially the position of those people who are receiving care in the community help through local authorities, in circumstances where the local authorities are having severely to cut expenditure because of the grant settlements of the coming year? Will the Minister ensure that no one who needs that help will be either unable to pay for it where excessive charges are being made, or will lose out because local authorities cannot provide the necessary services?
§ Mr. Burt
I recognise the hon. Gentleman's genuine concern. To suggest to the Government, however, that they have been in any way mean towards the long-term sick and disabled is just untrue. We are keen to ensure that benefits go to those who need them, and that they are used appropriately. As I said in my main answer, total spending on the long-term sick and disabled shows a 280 per cent. increase in real terms. That is equivalent to £350 per person in the United Kingdom.
It is important that our record on sick and disabled people is recognised. We introduced the disability living allowance, which brought about 500,000 people into 167 benefit for the first time. Our record of care and concern for those who really need it is outstanding, and strongly supported by the Government. Community care, an innovation introduced by a Conservative Government, is the responsibility of the Department of Health. I shall ensure that the hon. Gentleman's concerns are made known to my colleagues in that Department. Our record on disabled people, especially with the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, which was the most important step in anti-discrimination legislation affecting disabled people that this country has ever seen, is second to none.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton
Does my hon. Friend accept that carers are the unsung heroes of community care, and that not only do they save the public—the taxpayer—a great deal of money but in many cases they sacrifice their own career and private life to look after somebody who is ill, whether that person is disabled, mentally ill or mentally handicapped, and that carers deserve more consideration from society, whether by way of assistance or fiscal incentive? Will my hon. Friend see what he can do to encourage and help this very deserving section of our community?
§ Mr. Burt
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The entire country owes a debt of gratitude to all those who care for and look after others. It is a debt that the Government have recognised uniquely. In the middle of 1986, about 30,000 people were in receipt of invalid care allowance. Owing to changes made by the Government, 318,000 people are now in receipt of that allowance. In 1979, the Labour Government spent £4 million on invalid care allowance, whereas, this year, this Conservative Government will spend £609 million. That shows how much Conservatives value carers, and that is what we have done for a most deserving and important group of people.
§ Mr. Bradley
Despite what the Minister has said, there have been real cuts in benefits for disabled people—estimated to be at least £90 million this year and £250 million in 1998–99. One cut that is causing particular concern is the withdrawal in July of the mobility component from disability living allowance for adults and children in hospital. Many organisations, such as Mencap, have made representations to hon. Members, because they know what an enormous difference the benefit makes to people in that situation. Without it, disabled people are deprived of their mobility. Does the Minister not recognise that that cut is particularly pernicious? Will he think again and protect the 16,000 people who live in NHS hospitals or in residential homes, so that their quality of life does not suffer?
§ Mr. Burt
The situation is not quite as clear cut as the hon. Gentleman makes out. The benefit is designed to assist independent mobility. Those for whom the restriction is intended are in long-term care, where independent mobility is difficult and where in many cases the NHS is designed to pick up other care needs. We also have evidence that the benefit was used for a variety of other purposes beyond that of independent mobility. Some six times as many people today receive support for their care and mobility needs than in 1979. It is a difficult area. It is out to the Social Security Advisory Committee for 168 consultation, and we shall look at its responses carefully. The complaint that the hon. Gentleman made is not quite as easy to substantiate as he might think.
§ Mr. Tracey
My hon. Friend amply made the case that the Government are providing far more than was provided in 1979. Does he agree, however, that there is still too much duplication between the community health trusts and social services in local authorities? Will the Government do something to begin to bridge the gap and, indeed, to save resources in that sphere?
§ Mr. Burt
As I said in an earlier answer, the Government intend to ensure that there are as few overlaps as possible. My hon. Friend has put his finger on an aspect that could be examined, and I shall draw it to the attention of my colleagues in the Department of Health. We are determined to ensure that the system is fair and simple, and that benefit goes to those who need it most. Our record in that regard is exceptionally good.