HC Deb 30 July 1976 vol 916 cc1071-87

11.7 a.m.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe)

I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 17, leave out from 'being' to 'either' in line 18.

Mr. Speaker

With this we may take Amendment No. 2, in page 1, line 20, at end insert 'and he is the parent responsible for the care and control of that other person'.

Mr. Clarke

These amendments seek to make a small change in the Bill, which has a modest enough purpose in itself. The small change, however, is quite an important one. The purpose of the Bill is to provide some small relief to one-parent families in receipt of supplementary benefit who are also lucky enough to have some small part-time earnings. The principle purpose of the whole Bill is to increase from £4 to a new figure of £6 the amount of earnings from part-time employment which can be ignored, or disregarded, for the calculation of supplementary benefit.

That is a small enough measure, but I would have thought that the purpose of the Bill, upon which the House was agreed on Second Reading, was to give some small extra help to those single parents left with the responsibility of bringing up children. We all appreciate the very special financial problems of people in this position, and this gives them some slight extra relief from the rather harsh rule which disentitles people from supplementary benefit if they earn more than a very small amount from part-time earnings.

Although the purpose of the Bill is to give this small relief to the position of single parents left with the responsibility of children, as it stands it adds a qualification to the category of single parents who will benefit, because the part of the clause that the amendment seeks to remove requires that in respect of the poorer single parent about to get a higher rate of disregard, the child, or children, for whom that parent is responsible must be a member of the same household.

In considering the Bill I have found it difficult to see why the relief for single-parent families should be given only to those who are responsible for children living in the same residence. In Committee the Minister tried to explain that limitation, and we had a tied vote, giving the House an opportunity to reconsider the matter on Report.

In probably the vast majority of cases the single parent whom we are trying to assist will be living in the same household with the child, but a single parent sometimes has difficulty in housing, particularly in the immediate stress following a separation. Sometimes the housing arrangements entered into by single parents with their children are somewhat unusual.

The case we had in mind was that in which a single parent was solely responsible for the children of a broken union but, because of housing difficulties, was living in one place and the child was living nearby with a relative or friend. Even if the child were living next door he would not be regarded as being in the same household for the purpose of the Bill. It seems illogical to exclude the single parent in that position from the higher rate of disregard.

In Committee the Minister explained that the concept of "household" ran through the entire supplementary benefit legislation. That explains why, almost as a matter of course, it was used in the drafting of the Bill. The reason why that concept runs throughout the supplementary benefit legislation is that a claimant claims as a member of a household. The claimant claims for his dependants, whoever is living with him. The principle is that if he leaves the household and is adult he becomes a claimant in his own right and makes an appropriate claim for the household to which he has moved. But the children who, by Clause 1, are supposed to be members of the same household are not claimants themselves. If the children are in a different household in the circumstances I have described, they could not make a separate claim as heads of other households. I hope that the analogy that the Minister drew with the rest of the supplementary benefit legislation will be reconsidered.

The Minister suggested that if a child is with grandparents, for example, those relatives could be regarded as single parents for the purpose of the Bill. That attempt at reassurance brought out some absurdities. To be able to benefit, the grandparent would have to be a single grandparent, and the other grandparent would have to be either deceased or absent. The grandparent would also have to be in receipt of part-time earnings to benefit from the Bill, and would not have to be cohabiting with anyone at the time of caring for the child. The reassurance that to receive benefit under the Bill the grandparent would have to be clean-living, single and in receipt of part-time earnings, was hardly satisfactory.

The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mr. Eric Deakins)

In Committee the image that I and the Committee had in mind was of a grandparent of 60 or 70 in receipt of part-time earnings, and the absurdity was apparent. It is possible in these days of early marriage for grandparents to be in their 40s or 50s and still capable of part-time work.

Mr. Clarke

I accept that, but for the purpose of the Bill such a grandparent would have to have part-time earnings and be single to enable him to gain the benefit. Those two matters were raised by the Minister, and he also pointed out that my amendment as then tabled would have given relief to the deserting husband who has given up day-to-day responsibility for payments towards the child's maintenance. He rightly pointed out that that was not the category of case I had in mind.

For that reason, in tabling the amendment again, we have added Amendment No. 2, which attempts to make clear that the person who benefits from the Bill should have some day-to-day responsibility for the child even if the child is not living in the same household. The wording is: and he is the parent responsible for the care and control of that other person". The phrase "care and control" is a workable definition, because, for example, under a court order a parent may be ordered to have care and control of the child falling short of full legal custody.

11.15 a.m.

I hope that the two amendments fit the category of case I have described. I realise that there is a drafting omission. The Minister pointed out that we should exclude from sub-paragraph (1A) in subsection (1)(b) the reference to the child's requirements and resources being aggregated with those of the single parent in order to achieve my purpose.

Apart from that drafting matter, the case we are trying to meet is that of a single parent who is left with day-to-day responsibility for the child and, for housing reasons or for some other reason of convenience, has the child resident nearby with a friend or relative. Such a person will still have to cope with all the financial difficulties and still be within the natural target area of the Bill.

I hope that after the tied vote in Committee the Minister has had a chance to reconsider the position and to wonder whether this slight qualification in the Bill is necessary.

Mr. Deakins

It may help the House if I intervene now, as I may be able to satisfy hon. Members who raised this matter in Committee and today by showing that the two amendments are unnecessary. Since the Committee proceedings, we have reconsidered the position of the single parent in these circumstances, and I hope that what I say will satisfy the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), his colleagues and my hon. Friends who had strong feelings on the point.

The circumstances we are dealing with are those in which the mother has care and control of the child but for one reason or another—because of housing difficulties, for example—the child is living nearby and is sleeping apart from the mother. Amendment No. 1 seeks to enlarge the definition of a parent in a one-parent family to include a single parent whose child may be living elsewhere. The amendment would not necessarily have that effect, because the requirement in sub-paragraph (b) that the requirements and resources of a parent and child are aggregated would not be met.

Supplementary benefit is assessed on a household basis, that is, in relation to members of the same household living together. Exceptions are made, and I instanced them in Committee. For example, a child who is temporarily absent from the home on holiday is still regarded as a member of the household, and the requirements and resources continue to be aggregated with those of the parent, whose right to the higher disregard would not be affected. Similarly, when a child is in hospital his requirements and resources continue to be aggregated unless the period in hospital is a long one and unless the parents have in effect abandoned the child.

In considering whether a parent whose child is away from home in other circumstances should get the benefit of the higher earnings disregard, we must look at the purpose for which it is being introduced. In the Second Reading debate my hon. Friend the Minister of State quoted from the Finer Report the passage which says that a disregard of earnings helps parents who can do the occasional or small job while spending most of their time looking after their family, and may thereby obtain some personal satisfaction and increased social contacts as well as extra income. He went on to stress the importance of encouraging lone parents to keep in touch with the employment field by way of a part-time job so that it will be easier for them to get back into full-time work when the children are older and do not need so much of the mother's or father's time. But single parents who, for whatever reason, have arranged for their children to be looked after permanently away from the home may have largely freed themselves from the constraints inherent in being a parent in a one-parent family. Indeed, the purpose of the arrangement may have been to allow the parent to take a job. Being no longer tied to the house by the children's presence they may be free to undertake full-time employment. If they do not do so they can be in much the same position as any other single person who is unemployed or sick, and where this is so there is no particular reason why they need the proposed higher earnings disregard. As I said in Committee, it would be possible in those circumstances for the person with whom the child was living to qualify as a single parent for the purposes of the disregard.

Amendment No. 2 relates to the concept of a parent who, although not living under the same roof, is responsible for the child's care and control. That is the guts of this little debate. As I understand it, that would mean that the parent had day-to-day contact with the child and was responsible for its everyday care. For example, although the child might be living with a neighbour in the same street or around the corner, the parent might be taking the child to and from school and would see it in the evenings even if the child was not sleeping in its room at night.

I accept that, for various reasons, a parent may be unable to have a child living with him or her, but the child may be living close by and the parent may be in frequent contact with the child, providing a good deal of the day-to-day care and attention. The parent may in practice separate from the child only at night to go to a room next door or, perhaps, in the next street.

We have considered the matter again and we are prepared to accept that in this situation the parent should qualify for the higher disregard. In such circumstances we think that the child and the parent could be regarded as members of the same household so that their requirements and resources can be aggregated and the parent will qualify for the higher disregard.

Clearly, this provision can apply only when the parent lives in close proximity—I am sure that the hon. Member for Rushcliffe will not cavil at that—and the parent can play an active part in the child's day-to-day care. But I think that is what the House as a whole understands by the concept of care and control.

As I said, Amendment No. 1, even linked with Amendment No. 2, could not have the effect that the hon. Member wants, because of the requirement of sub-paragraph (1)(b), but we are prepared to accept that there are grounds for allowing a higher disregard in the cases that I have mentioned. This may be achieved by methods of assessment that will meet the requirements of the Bill without amendment. In those circumstances, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will see fit not to press these two amendments.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

I am grateful to the Minister for reassuring us that he is happy to meet the purpose of the amendments and I can accept his expert advice that it can be done as he has described. However, there seems to be a change in the definition of "household" which will be applied for the purpose of this Bill. I assume, therefore, that one is relying on the officers subject to the appeal to the tribunal to make the kind of definition of "household" that the Minister has just described. But what will be the mechanics of this? Will some instruction be issued to officers explaining that the concept of "household" is intended to be defined in this way for this purpose?

The House is relying on the Minister to make this change in practice and to put it into effect. If we are not to do it in the Bill and not to have a form of words approved here, can he assure us that steps will be taken within the Department to make sure that officers realise that this change is intended? Will the Minister make clear that we are not just relying on the fact that, on reflection, the Minister's officials think "household" covers this and trust that officers will do so in practice.

Mr. Deakins

I can give that assurance. We shall obviously have to notify the supplementary benefits staff of this slight change in the definition to be made of "household" in these circumstances. I stress that each case will have to be considered on its merits, because the degree of care and control in any case would have to be considered, to see whether it met the normally accepted definition of care and control.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

I am grateful for the Minister's explanation and I repeat my thanks for his helpful response. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

I beg to move Amendment No. 3, in page 2, line 3, at end insert 'unless that person is a spouse or former cohabitee who has moved back into the house- hold for a period not exceeding four weeks with a view to reconciliation'. This amendment highlights the anomalous feature of the Bill, which arises almost inevitably from the fact that it seeks to offer special and particular relief to one-parent families as opposed to any other recipient of supplementary benefit, whether single people without children or couples with children.

Because the purpose of the Bill is to give a small increase in the rate of disregard of part-time earnings to those parents who are living apart from the other parent but are coping with children, it means that the benefits of the Bill will go only to those who are not living with their spouse or who are not cohabiting with anyone else. As a result, the Bill has to have a cohabitation rule written into it.

Another result is that the moment that someone who is benefiting under the Bill resumes living with his or her wife or husband or begins to cohabit with anybody else, the special benefits of the Bill are lost. This means that, as these benefits will be calculated on a week-to-week basis, in any week in which anyone moves in to live with the lone parent, the amount of £2 disregard will be lost and the single parent's benefit will be reduced.

This is a slightly silly result of a worthwhile attempt to give special relief to one-parent families. It is, of course, one of those things that would happen throughout the benefits system if at any stage any Government were to start giving special benefits or relief to single-parent families.

This need to have a definition of single parents which has to include a cohabitation rule—people who are only living apart from their spouses—is one reason why the Government and the Opposition have been cautious about a number of the recommendations of the Finer Committee about single parents. A guaranteed maintenance allowance was the main recommendation. The principal reason why the Government have not accepted it and the Opposition do not press for it is the vast expense involved, but another reason is that it would bring into the social security system yet another benefit dependent on the cohabitation rule, and would therefore throw up anomalies in the distinction between single parents and couples living together.

Similarly, at one stage the Government said that they were contemplating a change of the family income supplement rules so that there could be a reduction in the minimum working week which has to be worked to 24 hours for single parents only. The Minister seemed to go back on that at the last Question Time of his Department, but I trust that one of the reasons why he is doing so is the difficulties that arise when one starts to give special treatment to single-parent families only.

The difficulty thrown up in this Bill is that any reconciliation between a married couple or any resumption of cohabitation between a couple who are not married leads to an immediate loss of £2 in the lone parent's disregard; a reconciliation does not produce the increase in benefit that would happen otherwise if a family came back together.

I am sure that the House will feel that no legislation should deter possible reconcilations in any circumstances. In Committee, I confined the argument to those who were being reconciled within the bounds of matrimony, but I am prepared to contemplate reconciliation between couples in any circumstances.

I appreciate that in deciding whether this provision is a deterrent to reconciliation one contemplates that some deserted wife will decide whether her husband is worth giving up £2 for a reconcilation. He has probably not beep a very worthwhile husband if a consideration of £2 can cause her to hold things in the balance. But it is unfortunate that a consequence of reconciliation for a lone parent on supplementary benefit with part-time earnings is that £2 a week is lost the moment the husband or the cohabitee moves back in.

Although this is not a great deterrent, it is a foolish and unintended consequence of the legislation. One wonders whether it could not be made more flexible, particularly because the situation of many lone parents, particularly in the time of stress after a partnership has broken up, sometimes makes it difficult to determine precisely when solitary life is being taken up. Husbands go backwards and forwards. Cohabitees tend to stay overnight on an uncertain and unsettled basis.

The amendment seeks to provide that the Bill can be made more flexible and can be relaxed in the case of someone who is either a spouse or a former cohabitee, who is moving back with a view to reconciliation, so that, for the first four weeks, this financial penalty need not happen.

That is the purpose of the amendment. It is an attempt to refine and broaden an amendment that was considered in Committee, and I trust that the Minister has had second thoughts about it. Obviously one has to stick to the principle that the Bill is for one-parent families. I wonder whether the definition of one-parent families might be eased a little, so that the £2 disregard is not lost immediately after people come together again.

11.30 a.m.

Mr. Deakins

We had an interesting debate on this point in Committee. I have had further thoughts about it, but I cannot be quite as accommodating as I was on the last amendment. I hope that my remarks will explain why, to the satisfaction of the hon. Gentleman.

The effect of the amendment would be to delay for four weeks the reduction in the £6 disregard which would otherwise occur at the time when a spouse or former cohabitee rejoined the claimant's household with a view to reconciliation". The amendment is in somewhat similar terms to an amendment debated in Committee, the chief difference being that it does not provide, as did the earlier amendment, for the introduction of the £6 disregard to be delayed for four weeks when the spouse or cohabitee left the household.

In many cases a returning spouse or cohabitee—I should make it clear that whenever I use the term "spouse" I include cohabitee—will be in full-time work and supplementary benefit will cease altogether. There will be cases, however, where the return of the spouse does not end the dependance on supplementary benefit. Where no part-time earnings are involved, the benefit in payment will be increased, on the basis of the scale rates which will be current from November 1976, by £7.95 a week—that is the difference between the single householder's scale rate and the rate for a married couple. If the single parent has had part-time earnings of £6 a week or more, the increase will be £5.95 instead of £7.95 owing to a reduction in the earnings disregard.

It is worth making the point—indeed, it is an important psychological point—that the benefit paid will not itself be reduced, rather it will go up by less than it would have done if the lone claimant had had no earnings. It might have gone up by £7.95. In the case that we are discussing it goes up by £5.95—£2 less than expected, but nevertheless it is an increase. If the amendment were accepted, the benefit would go up by £7.95 on the spouse's return because the one-parent family earnings disregard would not be immediately curtailed but the benefit paid would be reduced physically by £2 if the couple were still together four weeks later. I doubt very much whether the addition of £2 to the benefit for four weeks would in practice make much difference to the effectiveness of the reconciliation.

I accept that this is entirely a matter of judgment. I do not think there is any hard and fast rule about it. What I am certain of is that people greatly resent an actual reduction in their income. As the Bill stands, the couple when they reunite will receive an increase of £5.95 and we believe that this will in most cases be better received than would an increase of £7.95 followed after four weeks by an actual decrease of £2. The right time to adjust the disregard is at the point where the family's status changes from that of a one-parent to a two-parent family.

I do not rest my case on the fact that we would be creating a privileged class of married couples or cohabitees for supplementary benefit purposes. I rest my case more on the fact that from the point of view of reconciliation it is better to allow a couple to have the £5.95 and not further reduce it after four weeks than to allow them £7.95 and then penalise them because they have decided to be reconciled.

The amendment could represent a small financial gain to a few couples but, as I have explained, I do not think its psychological effect would be favourable. There is a strong case against it on the ground of creating an unnecessary complication in the administration of the supplementary benefits scheme, without any worthwhile social gain. It is surely preferable to have a straightforward rule, which is easily comprehensible, providing that the higher disregard should apply in any week when the claimant is, in fact, the head of a one-parent family but not in any week when he or she is not.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not press the amendment.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's reply. He has produced arguments additional to those that were advanced in Committee pointing out the reduction which would occur after four weeks if my amendment were accepted.

I am not sure about the Minister's assertion that there would be an increase in benefit when the two people first came together again. We are dealing with two people both on supplementary benefit. If the returning spouse is in full-time employment, that benefit ceases anyway. Therefore, we are dealing with a narrow category of cases where the returning spouse is in receipt of supplementary benefit, and presumably the couple change from having previously had two single rates of benefit to having the married couple's benefit.

The anomaly that the Bill would create is that their joint income, if the lone parent had some part-time earnings, would be £2 a week less than it would be if they had no children. That illustrates that this is a very narrow category of cases and that we are dealing with a very small amount of money, which, I accept, in the normal case is not likely to play a large part in determining the success of a reconciliation.

I accept the Minister's point that we should not wish to make the system more complicated than it is already, and as the Bill introduces a new complication of a kind perhaps one should not seek to refine it to ridiculous lengths in order to cover every minor circumstance.

Having canvassed the matter again and having listened to the Minister's reply, I do not feel disposed to press the amendment. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

11.36 a.m.

Mr. Deakins

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I believe that it would be for the convenience of the House if I were to confine my remarks to moving the Third Reading and to reply after having listened to the debate.

11.37 a.m.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

The Opposition, as they made clear on Second Reading, welcome the Bill as making a worthwhile change for a number of one-parent families. However, one has to say when looking at the Bill that it has to be a small welcome because it is a small change for a tiny number of that army of one-parent families for whom the House would like to do much more.

The Bill's effects are confined to those one-patent families who are on supplementary benefit and who happen to have part-time earnings which might take them above the disregard level. That means that the Bill is bringing benefit to only 15,000 or thereabout one-parent families out of 250,000 or so in receipt of supplementary benefit. Even that step for those 15,000, the fortunate few, is something. Anyone in receipt of supplementary benefit, and particularly a one-parent family, needs encouragement to earn a little to increase a small income on which to bring up a family and some encouragement to get out of the house and have social contact with the outside world which part-time employment can bring.

We are talking about a needy group in our society. The House on this occasion is discussing a category of people who really are worried about whether they can afford to buy shoes for the children and meet basic domestic bills. This is an area still of very genuine poverty in our comparatively affluent society. The degree of disregard given in the Bill will not be a great help because we are talking about small sums. The level of disregard was £2 in 1966 and it was raised to £4 in November 1975. The £2 in 1966, to retain its value, ought to be £5.04 now. The result is that the Bill deals with a situtation in which at present one-parent families, like every other recipient of supplementary benefit, are more harshly treated on the question of disregards than their equivalents were treated in 1966.

After the Bill comes into force, one-parent families will be the only recipients of supplementary benefit who will have a disregard which is worth more than the disregards were worth 10 years ago. That means that we are nowhere near the point of abandoning the means-tested basis of supplementary benefit. So long as there is such a benefit, some earnings have to be taken into account. We have to bear in mind, in fixing disregards, that it is pointless to disregard large earnings because need is not then established.

But here we are dealing with people with tiny earnings, working a few hours a week, who also receive supplementary benefit. We welcome the Bill and trust that successive Governments will try as far as possible to give a high priority to the increase of these disregards for supplementary benefit and will try to get back to the 1966 position—for all supplementary benefit claimants—so soon as the financial situation allows.

I realise that in the past, under successive Governments, nothing has been done about disregards because at every up-rating of benefits it has been said that those with part-time earnings were, to that small extent, advantaged compared with other supplementary benefit claimants and that the greatest need was felt by those with no earnings. I hope the Government will not accept that policy in future. I hope that in bringing forward further upratings they will bear in mind the importance of giving some minor incentive of this kind to those on supplementary benefit, to enable them to remain in the labour market to some extent. These people should be encouraged to improve their position and keep in the habit of employment, albeit part-time, until their circumstances improve and they can go back to full-time working.

Although the years have gone by and the disregards have not been reviewed, there is a greater need for this now when rates of inflation have been at lunatic proportions. Fortunately they appear to be coming down now. It is important, in such circumstances, to keep the disregard level under regular review and try to maintain its real value. The Bill brings improvement only for one-parent families. My instincts are that this should be a temporary distinction and that when financial circumstances permit it would be desirable to raise the level of disregard in such a way as to absorb the special increase and to place all supplementary benefit claimants on the same level of disregard.

Another feature of the Bill is that it retains for one-parent families what is the most harsh feature of the disregard rule for supplementary benefit claimants, namely, that once they are earning above the disregard level there is a straight pound-for-pound effect in the loss of entitlement to benefit. We all know that one of the disadvantages of supplementary benefit is that it is means-tested. Means tests have few friends in this House. It is a harsh means test which lays down that, as soon as a person reaches a certain level, the pound-for-pound effect operates.

I continue to hope that a sliding scale of disregards might be possible, with a 50p in the pound loss once earnings go above a certain level. It is constantly argued that this is an impractical complication, but it is done for the earnings rule for retirement pensioners. I remain unconvinced that it would be impossible to ease the harsh effect of the means test in supplementary benefit to the extent at least of having a tapered disregard level for earnings.

The Bill has its limits. It gives benefits to a very few people. It is a minor relief to people suffering from desperate poverty. One fears that it has been brought forward to give the Government something to say to the one-parent family lobby which has been a powerful lobby in this House in the past two or three years and has had remarkably little satisfaction. It was put forward by the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), whom we are pleased to see in her place today. She hinted that this Bill would be introduced when the House last debated the Finer Report. One felt that the Minister had to come into the Chamber and say something.

I trust that at some time—when the Government get the management of the economy under control and there is at last some increase in the real wealth of the country, when the economy is revived and the spendthrift activities of the Government in other areas are finally curtailed—the Government might be able to produce something more substantial for one-parent families. There are many more than the 15,000 who will be helped by the Bill who are waiting for assistance.

Subject to the limitations I have mentioned, I am prepared to give two small cheers to this measure. We are glad that it is to reach the statute book at a time when the Government have so mishandled things that we felt they may not do anything at all.

11.44 a.m.

Mr. Deakins

We have had a small but useful debate. I am grateful to all of those who have taken part in the proceedings of the Bill on Second Reading, in Committee and today. I appreciate the welcome that has been given in all parts of the House to this modest but efficacious measure.

Its main purpose is, of course, to increase the amount of earnings that the parent in a one-parent family can have, before his or her supplementary benefit is affected, from £4 to £6 a week. This will bring immediate advantage to more than 15,000 single parents at present on supplementary benefit who are earning over £4 a week. We hope that many more will get some benefit from the change. Those who may, at present, be limiting their earnings to £4 will be able to increase them to £6, and still others who at present are not working at all may be encouraged by the higher disregard to take part-time employment. That is something which we agree is socially desirable and is in the interests of society as well as of the one-parent family.

The hon. Member for Rushcliffe, (Mr. Clarke) mentioned a point that was also raised in Committee, namely, a sliding scale for disregards. I confess that we still do not like the idea because experience has taught us that it is not very efficacious and is administratively complex. It may help the hon. Member and the House if I emphasise a point not sufficiently brought out earlier, which is that the figure of £6 to be disregarded, like the present £4, is a net figure. For example, if a single parent were to earn £10 a week but had £1 a week fares and had to pay £3 to have her children looked after while she was away from home, her net earnings would be £6 so that her supplementary benefit would be unaffected. In other words, any expenses incurred in connection with the employment can be deducted before the disregard is applied.

This increased disregard should bring social as well as financial benefits. It is often helpful for single parents to get out of the home, even for a short time, to relieve the isolation which they may otherwise feel. By keeping in touch with employment opportunities, they can make easier the transition to full-time work that will be possible when their children are older and no longer a tie.

I am pleased to say that the second part of the Bill, which removes a longstanding anomaly in the Supplementary Benefit Scheme has met with the approval of the House. The Bill, in which we are making a change which is of potential benefit to all one-parent families on supplementary benefit, seems an appropriate opportunity to phase out the small disregards applied to widows' benefits, which are out of place in the scheme. In eliminating these disregards, we would not wish to take the benefit of them away from those who already enjoy them. That is why we have provided those beneficiaries with preserved rights under the Bill. I am sure that it is right to do this, even though it will delay the time when the anomalous disregards are removed altogether.

During the debates we have had on the Bill, various Members have remarked that it is a small measure with a limited compass. The hon. Member for Rushcliffe gave it two cheers. We would not disagree with that. Certainly the Bill does not set out to achieve far-reaching changes in the Supplementary Benefit Scheme. We think that it achieves two worthwhile objectives, by improving the disregards available to a class of beneficiary generally recognised as warranting special help and at the same time making a move in the direction of simplifying the scheme by providing for the eventual removal of a long-standing anomaly.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

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