AT a time when the lot of the disabled has been put into sharp focus by the absurd reasoning of Glenn Hoddle, there comes the distressing disclosure that many of them are, in effect, being taxed for their handicap.

It comes in the findings of a survey by the mental health charity, Mencap, which found that more than half of the country's local authorities are charging people with learning difficulties for using non-residential facilities such as day centres even when they are among the poorest on Income Support.

Thus, in East Lancashire we find people in this category being charged £1.55 a week while elsewhere Lancashire County Council operates a sliding scale of charges, based on ability to pay, that ranges from nothing to £6 a week.

To begin with, this difference highlights a disparity of policy that treats some of those with learning difficulties worse than others - an evident unfairness that needs to be eradicated.

Abolition of all charges for those on Income Support is quite rightly being sought by Mencap.

The organisation fears that the charges could become so steep that some may find they can no longer afford to attend day centres and, as a result, lose what independence they have acquired through the social contact they provide. It is also questioning the legality of the charges being imposed by councils.

But while it is proper for both the legitimacy and affordability of these charges to be challenged - as should be the scope councils have to introduce them even if they do not at present impose them - there is another much more compelling basis for their abolition.

That is the sheer immorality of them.

It is bad enough people in the lowest income groups of all being made to pay for what may be the main social contact that exists in their lives.

But it is, surely, inhumane to charge anyone what amounts to a fee - no matter how large or small it may be - for being handicapped.

And that this happens at all in our society is a shame and a scandal.

The government must order the abolition of these charges forthwith.

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