HC Deb 17 June 1966 vol 729 cc1872-6

11.6 a.m.

Mrs. Lena Jeger (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)

I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 4, line 24, to leave out from "apply" to "where" in line 25.

Clause 8 provides that there shall be excluded from this benefit persons who are engaged in remunerative full-time work, with certain exceptions. The exception to which this Amendment relates and on which I want guidance occurs in subsection (3) where there are references to the disabled. As I read the subsection, it seems to make a completely irrelevant distinction between the self-employed disabled and the employed disabled. I understand from the subsection that, where a person by reason of disability has his earnings substantially reduced in comparison with those of other persons similarly occupied, he may be brought within the benefit of the Bill unless he is an employed person. I may have misread the provision. I certainly hope that in any publicity or leaflets issued to acquaint the general public with the purposes of the Bill this will be one of the points more clearly and simply spelt out.

There are many disabled persons whom we are encouraging in every possible way to take jobs, some in sheltered workshops, some in Remploy schemes, some—thank goodness—in conditions of normal employment. Not only is it to the benefit of the disabled people themselves that they should work and earn their living wherever possible, but it is, of course, to the benefit of the whole country.

But many of these people, especially when they first start back at work after, perhaps, a life of crippling illness, when they may be trying to get used to new artificial limbs or, perhaps, trying to recover their equilibrium after severe mental breakdown, may well have their earnings substantially reduced in comparison with those with whom they are working on similar jobs. But are we to say that, if a man sits at home making baskets and earns some money he can be brought within the benefits of the Bill whereas, if he goes to a workshop and makes baskets as an employee, he must be excluded however modest his earnings or by however much they are less, by reason of his disability, than the earnings of those alongside whom he works?

I wonder whether it would not have been clearer and simpler if, instead of making this irrelevant differential between disabled people, it might have been provided that every person registered under the Disabled Persons Employment Act, whether self-employed or employed by someone else, should be brought within the Bill. I table the Amendment in the hope of getting some clarification about the point. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will want to look sympathetically at what seems to be a possibility of unfairness.

The Minister of Pensions and National insurance (Miss Margaret Herbison)

My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) has, as usual, put her case excellently and most reasonably. She is right in her interpretation of the Clause and its effect upon the disabled person.

The Clause provides that anyone who is engaged in remunerative full time work is disqualified from benefit under the Bill. To escape disqualification, two conditions are specified in subsection (3): first, that the man must not be employed under a contract of service; and, secondly, that his earning power is substantially reduced by disability compared with other persons in the same occupation. The Amendment would remove the first condition, and it would mean, in effect, that the disabled man who worked for an employer and satisfied the second condition would be eligible for benefit under the Bill like the self-employed person.

My hon. Friend referred to the self-employed who work at home. They rarely make what one could call wages. She referred to the basket maker. My information is that if one compares a basket maker working at home with one employed in a workshop, there is a very great difference in the amount of money that they get at the end of the week. Many of the people who work—if one can call it that—at home are doing the work mainly for some therapeutic reason.

Having said that, I would stress that I have the very greatest sympathy with the case that my hon. Friend has made. But a broader question is involved. The disabled persons who are most seriously affected by the disqualification—those in industry—and whose earning power is reduced by disability cannot get any of the non-contributory benefits under the Bill. But such a person is not unlike his fellow worker who is a low-wage earner with a family who, if there was no wage-stop, would be better off.

I do not think that there is any doubt that these two groups—the group for whom my hon. Friend is making a plea and the low-wage earning group—overlap. The disabled man with a family and the low-wage earner seem to me to form a very special element in the problem of family poverty.

On Monday we dealt very fully, on Amendments, with the question of family poverty. I do not think that any hon. Member can be in any doubt about the deep concern of the Government about this problem. We are determined to find a solution to it. However, I am convinced, having examined this matter as carefully and as sympathetically as I can, that we should only complicate this very serious issue and perhaps aggravate the inequities which already exist if we dealt separately with the problem of disabled persons working for an employer.

I ask my hon. Friend to await whatever decisions the Government may reach on the whole question of family poverty. I know that there is a serious problem, but I do not think that the remedy suggested is the right way to deal with it.

Mrs. Lena Jeger

In view of my right hon. Friend's assurance that the matter will continue to be the subject of urgent study, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

11.15 a.m.

Dame Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)

I should like to refer to the situation of a man who has been unemployed for a considerable time and obtains a job and then has to work, as is done in so many industries, with one week in hand. In other words, he does not get paid for a whole week. This leads to very great difficulties, because the man seldom has any savings and his family must be kept during that period, and it is difficult for him to get any form of assistance.

I should like to know whether the Clause will prevent the family from getting some assistance during the week in which the man, although he is fully employed, is not drawing any wages. There are more industries than one in which this happens, and I have personal experience of the fact that this causes considerable hardship to families.

Miss Herbison

The Bill makes no difference in the treatment of such a person from what obtains at present. I do not know what the expression is in England, but in Scotland we talk of a waiting period before the wages are paid. The National Assistance Board finds out, and I imagine that the Commission will, the circumstances not only of the man but of his family and whether he can have some of his earnings by the end of the week.

On the basis of my experience of cases dealt with by the National Assistance Board in my constituency, I am sure that the Commission will deal most sympathetically with these people. It is not in every case that the man is denied benefit. I am certain that this is the proper way to deal with it. I agree with the hon. Lady that sometimes great hardship could be caused.

Mr. Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)

I am sure that the whole Committee will be grateful to the right hon. Lady for her clarification of the position raised by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger).

It occurs to me that there may well be a case where a disabled man finally gets a job after having been in receipt of the 9s. addition, and then, because of the nature of his disability, he finds after holding the job for a time that he cannot cope and has to give up. Will he be in a position to continue drawing the 9s. addition straight away, or, under the Bill as a present drafted, will he have to wait two years on Assistance before he will be eligible again for the 9s. addition?

Miss Herbison

That will depend on the length of time for which he was able to work. I will be dealing with the 9s. on further Amendments put down by my hon. Friends and hon. Gentlemen opposite. In the vast majority of cases, it is not an additional benefit. It would probably be better to leave the matter until we come to those other Amendments.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 9 and 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.