HC Deb 10 July 1984 vol 63 cc867-8
7. Mr. Maxton

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will reverse the decision to apply the full extent normal rule even where, in the hours worked, the pay received would not meet the national insurance contribution otherwise due.

14. Mr. Bidwell

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if there is a minimum number of hours worked below which such hours cannot be regarded as qualifying for application of the full extent normal rule.

Dr. Boyson

We have no plans to alter the full extent normal rule. Unemployment benefit is intended to compensate for loss of employment which has resulted in loss of earnings. It would therefore be wrong in principle to pay benefit for days on which a person would not normally work, no matter what the number of hours worked on other days, or the wages actually received.

Mr. Maxton

Does not the rigid application of a rule brought in at a time of low unemployment smack of vindictive meanness against the poorest in our society? Would it not be better to have a more flexible approach, particularly in the case of those who, as I have said, do not even earn enough to pay national insurance contributions?

Dr. Boyson

The rule was brought in in the 1930s—another time of high unemployment. It was inherited by the scheme in 1948, and maintained by all Labour Governments. The rule applies only when there is a contract for part-time work. Why should people get unemployment pay on other days when they have signed a contract for part-time work, or when they have been employed part-time for six months and it is plain that they intend to continue this method of work?

Mr. Bidwell

Is it not true that in some cases workers have been prepared to work more days but employers have made sure that they do not, because that would affect their benefit and pension contributions? Is not the essence of the matter that this is a cut in public expenditure which should be succouring the poor? If not, is there not a muddle between the Department of Employment and the DHSS? If so, why does the hon. Gentleman not get his act together with the other Departments concerned?

Dr. Boyson

I could not disagree more. The rule makes it plain that if people normally work three days a week and have no intention of working on the other two days, they are not given unemployment pay on those two days. At present, when there is short-time working, the full extent normal rule is not applied. If short-time working is brought in by the employer, there is no disadvantage to the employees. They get unemployment pay on the days when they are not working. The situation is perfectly fair.

Mr. Latham

Is the full extent normal rule, or other rules that are related to the cut-off point of unemployment benefit, being reviewed as part of my hon. Friend's review of the social service system to see whether it is fully in accord with modern social conditions?

Dr. Boyson

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. I can give him a definite affirmative.