HC Deb 22 November 1977 vol 939 cc1286-9
2. Mr. Watkinson

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he remains satisfied with the operation of the disabled housewife allowance.

17. Mr. Ashley

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what critical representations he has received concerning the housewives' non-contributory invalidity pension.

The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mr. Alfred Morris)

Up to 15th November, 46,000 people had claimed non-contributory invalidity pension for married women. The first payments will be made tomorrow for the week starting 17th November, although I regret that many people will have to wait before they receive their order books. While inevitably there will be criticisms of the scope of the new benefit, I am sure the House will agree that this extension of the cover provided by our income maintenance benefits is a further important advance.

Mr. Watkinson

Is my hon. Friend aware that all sides welcome this breakthrough in assistance to the disabled? What consultations did he have about arrangements for the new benefit, and can he say whether, when the benefit is reviewed, he will consider extending it to housewives who are disabled but who fall outside the terms of the benefit because they are able to do a little housework?

Mr. Morris

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his opening remark. I consulted hon. Members on both sides of the House about the arrangements for introducing the new benefit and I was also in close contact with representatives of the Disablement Income Group. It was a rather novel consultation in that I brought my officials face to face with hon. Members in the All-Party Disablement Group and representatives of DIG. It is difficult to promise any loosening of the criteria because of the expenditure implications, but I shall bear in mind what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. Ashley

The Government deserve congratulations on this new benefit, but can my hon. Friend say how soon he expects to be able to rectify the injustice of the benefit not being available to families where the husband receives an invalidity pension or is unemployed? Is he aware that, if this injustice is not rectified, those who bear the heaviest burdens will not benefit to the full from the new allowance?

Mr. Morris

There would be further expenditure involved if we changed the nature of the new benefit. That is why I cannot promise any changes of the sort that my hon. Friend is seeking. However, the extension of the non-contributory invalidity pension to married women is an important step forward. I shall be in touch with my hon. Friend again.

Mr. David Price

Is the Minister aware that quite a number of disabled people and those advising them do not know exactly the conditions that apply to this benefit, in spite of all the efforts of his Department? Through the efforts of his Department, will he consider running short weekend training courses for voluntary bodies and the Citizens' Advice Bureaux so that they can take on board the rather complex detail of this and a number of other benefits for the disabled?

Mr. Morris

This is a new suggestion. Many of the voluntary organisations have been interested in providing information centres for disabled people. I shall gladly give sympathetic consideration to the suggestion made by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Ovenden

Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), how does my hon. Friend justify a situation where the wife of a disabled man can earn up to £35 a week before her husband's entitlement to invalidity benefit is affected whereas a couple who are both disabled have to face a situation where the husband's invalidity benefit is reduced because his wife receives the £10 non-contributory benefit?

Mr. Morris

It is difficult for me to comment on any particular case. I shall be delighted to give consideration to any case that my hon. Friend may wish to raise with me in writing. I have said that there will be further expenditure involved in doing more than we have been able to do so far. Introducing new benefits means excluding people as well as including people. We shall build on our present benefits for disabled people as soon as we can.

Mrs. Chalker

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that we now seem to be entering a phase in which we need simplification of all the benefits that are available to the disabled? Many people are muddled about their entitlement and, therefore, are not necessarily getting the full amounts to which they are entitled. Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that without the work of the all-party group and pressure from the Conservative Opposition he would not have succeeded in introducing the housewives' NCIP this week? We welcome it, but he would not have succeeded in introducing it without that work and pressure.

Mr. Morris

I am concerned to improve the take-up of our new benefits. There are problems for disabled people in understanding the scope and nature of some of the improvements that we have been able to make. I have said that I shall bear in mind the point made by the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Price). I mentioned that the All-Party Disablement Group was in touch with me about the arrangements for introducing the allowance. I try always to work in the closest possiblerapport with the group.