§ 3.22 p.m.
§ Baroness Hollis of Heigham asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ Whether they will exempt disability working allowance recipients from health service charges.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Henley)
My Lords, we have no plans to do so.
§ Baroness Hollis of Heigham
My Lords, we welcome disability working allowance, which, like family credit, tops up low earnings. But will the Minister confirm that, after clawback for housing and poll tax benefit, someone on DWA may receive just £3.56 more than if he were on family credit? Can he then explain why, if one is on family credit and fit, one receives free prescriptions but if one is unfit and on disability working allowance one has to pay for those prescriptions either by an expensive season ticket or at £3.40 a time? Surely the Minister is not going to tell the House that if one is disabled one does not need prescriptions but if one is not disabled one does and they are free.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, I accept that family credit and disability working allowance are similar schemes. I would also accept that there are occasions when it might be that someone on disability working allowance was only getting the figure that the noble Baroness quoted. But in the main, recipients of disability working allowance are likely to get more than those on family credit: that is, more than £3.56. Nevertheless those on disability working allowance, 877 although there is not automatic exemption from National Health Service charges, are offered help in other parts of the health service. To start off with there is the National Health Service low income scheme. There are then the season tickets which are available at a cost of merely £1 a week for those who have regular requirements for prescriptions. There are also some exemptions on the ground of either health or status, for example, for pensioners, children and those suffering from certain specific ailments.
§ Lord Ennals
My Lords, is this measure not only unfair to disabled people but also unwise in that it is a deterrent to people applying for this new benefit? Perhaps in answering that question the Minister will say what the level of take-up has been since this new benefit was introduced.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, I do not accept it is a deterrent to take-up. Admittedly so far we have had a relatively low take-up of disability working allowance, some 1,130 cases. A large number of others have applied but have been turned down. The reason for this seems to be they have applied when they are not working. As the noble Lord will know, disability working allowance is an in-work benefit and therefore those who are not working are not entitled to it.