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Monday, December 15, 1997 Published at 18:33 GMT


Disability benefits cuts 'not ruled out'
image: [ Government spending on disability benefits has soared ]
Government spending on disability benefits has soared

The Secretary of State for Social Security, Harriet Harman, has refused to rule out benefits cuts for the sick and disabled as part of the British Government's ongoing plan to reform the Welfare State.

[ image: Harman: Labour has 'tradional concerns' for those with a disability]
Harman: Labour has 'tradional concerns' for those with a disability
Responding to questions from Labour backbenchers in parliament, Ms Harman re-stated the Government's pledge to 'modernise' the benefits system.

BBC Political Correspondent, Nick Robinson, reports on a tough day in parliament for Harriet Harman (3'00")
But she refused to deny a leaked memo from her department which suggested that payments to the sick and disabled could be reduced.

"Labour has always stood up for the interests of people with disability," she said. "We are having a comprehensive review to modernise the Welfare State and those traditional concerns will remain at the heart of our agenda."

BBC Political Correspondent Huw Edwards analyses the Government's position (Dur: 2'04")
After the rebellion by nearly 50 Labour MPs over cuts in lone-parent benefits, Ms Harman told the Commons that the Government would continue to look after the concerns of the poor and the vulnerable.

The spiralling increase in sickness and disability payments over the past 15 years gives force to widespread fears that major savings have to be made.

Benefit spending has soared

Government spending on sickness and disability benefits has grown from £4.1bn in 1982 to £23.5b this year and it now accounts for a quarter of all benefit expenditure.

The Department of Social Security attributes the increase in payments to the ageing population and a gradual growth in the extent of provision.

The two most expensive benefits, the Disability Living Allowance, which currently costs the taxpayer £4.4 billion, and the Incapacity Benefit, costing £7.8 billion, have been highlighted by those campaigning against cuts as particularly vulnerable.

The Disability Living Allowance is a tax-free, non-means tested benefit introduced in April 1992. It helps people with care and mobility needs arising from illness or disability to pay for carers and transport costs.

The new benefit replaced the Mobility Allowance and Attendance Allowance

Incapacity Benefit was introduced in April 1995 when it replaced the more generous Invalidity Allowance.

The Conservatives, who were also keen to cut costs in this area, brought in the All Work Test at the same time. Previously, anyone applying for Invalidity Allowance needed a note from their GP saying they were unfit for work.

Under they new test, an individual's capacity for work is assessed by independent medical staff.

The Department of Social Security commented that panic about proposed cuts was premature.

"All of this is being considered as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review which started last June and is expected to take about a year," a spokesman said.

"So if any cuts were proposed they wouldn't be discussed until next year. It's far too early to start speculating what they might be. If any legislation does emerge from the review it won't be in place at least until the end of 1998."

The changes to lone parent benefits, sealed by a Commons vote last week, will save the Government £395m over three years.

Ministers believe that the highest loss of income for a lone parent will be £10.25 a week under the new scheme, while the average will be around £5.

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