Opposition MPs have failed in an attempt to force the government to abandon the most controversial element of its disability living allowance (DLA) reforms.
The failed bid came from Labour members of the Commons committee set up to examine the government’s welfare reform bill, which this week began to discuss the clauses that will replace DLA with a new personal independence payment (PIP).
Margaret Curran, Labour’s shadow disabled people’s minister, said plans to remove the mobility component of DLA from about 80,000 people in residential homes would “leave many disabled people trapped in their own homes”.
The coalition had intended to introduce the cut in 2012, but now says the proposal is under review as part of its wider reforms.
Curran said this government review was “shrouded in secrecy”, and criticised the decision not to publish its findings.
She also pointed to a report by the Disability Benefits Consortium that highlighted how the government had given eight different reasons for its decision to remove the mobility component.
Maria Miller, the minister for disabled people, again insisted that the proposal to remove the mobility component had been about “reducing overlaps in provision” and was “not about reducing the mobility of care home residents”.
When asked by shadow work and pensions minister Stephen Timms why the measure was still in the bill if the government did not intend to remove the mobility component, Miller said: “What I am saying very clearly is that the way we decide to support individuals in care homes will be looked at alongside the support for other recipients of DLA.
“We will not remove mobility support from people if additional support is not in place.”
But Curran said there was still confusion around the clause in the bill, and added: “Will some people in residential homes lose their benefit, or will all people in residential homes lose their benefit? Will some lose it as a result of the review? Will some lose it as a result of overlap?”
Labour’s amendment that would have removed the proposed cut from the bill was defeated by just two votes, 12 to 10, although the two Liberal Democrat committee members – Jenny Willott and Ian Swales – were not present for the vote.
A Liberal Democrat spokesman said later that they had missed the vote “purely by chance”, because Willott was “a relatively new mum and had to leave to feed her son” while Swales had to attend a party meeting under a “three-line whip”.
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Law reform ‘will bring clarity’ to social care
Sweeping reforms to social care laws would provide “clarity” to disabled people about their rights to care and support services, according to the government advice body that has recommended the changes.
The Law Commission, which advises the government on law reform, said its recommendations would provide a “single, clear, modern statute and code of practice that would pave the way for a coherent social care system”, replacing the current “complex and confusing patchwork” of laws.
It said its long-awaited report on the reform of adult social care law in England and Wales would be the “most far-reaching reforms” for more than 60 years, if accepted by the government.
The Liberal Democrat care services minister, Paul Burstow, welcomed the report and said it provided “a strong foundation upon which to build, as we develop legislative reforms”.
He added: “We now have the opportunity to update the law for the 21st century, placing principles of personal control and independence at the heart of social care law.”
The report recommends that “individual well-being” should be the basis for all social care decisions.
It includes plans for a “single, streamlined assessment and eligibility framework”, with a “single, clear duty” to assess a person for their care and support needs.
There would also be a duty on local authorities to produce a care and support plan for all people with assessed eligible needs.
But the report has not recommended giving disabled people a legal right to “portability” of their care packages when they move to a new local authority area, although it suggests three new measures to “facilitate” portability.
The report does recommend allowing direct payments to be used to buy long-term residential care for the first time.
There would also be a new duty for local authorities to investigate allegations concerning an adult with health or social care needs who was at risk of harm, or to cause an investigation to be made by other agencies, such as the police.
And there would be new duties for councils to co-operate with other local authorities, the police and the NHS, with an “enhanced” duty in certain circumstances, such as during an adult protection investigation.
The report recommends separate social care legislation for England and Wales.
The government is developing proposals for “comprehensive reform”, to be published in an adult social care white paper, which will include the recommendations it accepts from the report and draw on the work of the Commission on Funding of Care and Support, which will report to the government in July.
MPs and peers on the all party parliamentary groups on disability and social care are set to discuss the new report on Monday with the Law Commission and care services minister Paul Burstow.