A Conservative government would be unlikely to scrap disability benefits such as attendance allowance (AA) and disability living allowance (DLA), according to the shadow minister for disabled people.
Mark Harper MP was speaking as his party began its annual conference in Manchester.
His comments follow mounting protests from disabled people about possible moves to scrap AA and DLA and give the money saved to local authorities to help pay for means-tested care services.
The controversy follows July’s care and support green paper, which discussed “integrating some elements of disability benefits, for example attendance allowance, to create a new offer for individuals with care needs”.
Harper said: “We are not attracted to that change because DLA and AA are supposed to be focused on the needs of people with a disability to try and level the playing field.”
And he said any such change from non-means-tested to means-tested benefits should not be done “through the back door as part of a document about social care”.
Harper said his party was unlikely to develop a policy on social care reform for working age disabled people before the election, although he hinted that they would move away from means-testing as “you just end up inventing another barrier for work”.
Harper also said his party wanted to move towards benefits simplification, to encourage take-up, although it was “easy to say and difficult to do”.
And he said the government should be doing more to move towards personalised budgets, as they provide independence and control for disabled people.
He said: “Given the state of the public finances and the increasing demand for social care there clearly is not going to be vast amounts of extra money available.
“If we are going to be able to deliver better outcomes for people and have any chance of dealing with increasing demand, I think local authorities are going to have to move in this direction to a more personalised system more quickly…otherwise we will see an increasing rationing of care.
“One of the things ministers need to do is to push that and get local authorities to see that they need to move faster, and get more disabled people campaigning from the bottom up to insist to their local councillors that that is the system they want to see.”
5 October 2009