A cabinet minister has refused to confirm if the government still plans to cut welfare spending by £135 million a year by removing a key benefit from disabled people in residential care.
Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith confirmed that the government would be reviewing its proposal to remove the mobility component of disability living allowance (DLA) from council-funded residents of care homes.
He told MPs – during the second reading of the welfare reform bill – that the government would review what support was necessary to ensure the mobility of people living in care homes.
But he declined a request from Liam Byrne, the shadow work and pensions secretary, to confirm the £135 million saving was now “off the table”.
The exchange followed another debate earlier in the day on reform of the mobility component.
The Plaid Cymru MP Hywel Williams, who secured the debate, criticised the government’s argument that care homes should be providing for their disabled residents’ mobility needs.
He said: “If we depend on institutions to solve people’s problems of mobility, we will soon get institutional answers, which is something we should avoid.”
Tony Baldry, the Conservative co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on carers, welcomed the government’s decision to postpone a decision on removing the mobility component until 2013.
But he said a care home resident in his constituency had used his mobility component to buy a better wheelchair, and questioned whether that would be possible if councils were responsible for residents’ mobility needs through their contracts with care homes.
The Liberal Democrat MP Duncan Hames said that, without the mobility component, disabled residents would be “unable to meet the cost of living independent and fulfilling lives”.
He called on the government to transfer councils’ care funding for mobility needs to disabled people through their personal independence payment (PIP), the planned replacement for DLA.
Margaret Curran, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, accused the government of seeking “cuts based” rather than “evidence based” reform, and said: “This cut is wrong. It should be off the agenda now.”
Maria Miller, the minister for disabled people, claimed the DLA system was “a mess”, that Labour had allowed spending on DLA to “spiral unchecked”, and that every care home she had visited had a “different experience” of how to meet residents’ mobility needs.
She said the government was not cutting spending but “just trying to ensure that the rapid growth we have seen is brought under some level of control”.
Miller also confirmed that disabled people would be able to continue to receive PIP after they reached 65, following concerns raised about ambiguous language in the welfare reform bill.