HC Deb 25 February 1986 vol 92 cc802-3
9. Miss Maynard

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many married women have claimed invalid care allowance since the social security appeal tribunal decision on the Drake case.

14. Sir David Price

asked the Sceretary of State for Social Services if he will take immediate steps to ensure that the invalid care allowance is extended to married women.

Mr. Newton

Up to 7 February the Department has received 10,220 claims from married women. A total of 786 of these claims have been disallowed because qualifying conditions other than marital status were not satisfied. We shall, of course, study the implications of the outcome of Mrs. Drake's case, but we have no plans at present to extend invalid care allowance to married women.

Miss Maynard

In view of the Government's response to the report on community care by the Select Committee on Social Services and their clear reluctance to extend the invalid care allowance to married women, what plans do the Government have to respond to the expected response of the European Court that exclusion of married women of working age would breach a European directive on equal rights in social security schemes?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Lady assumes a decision from the European Court which we manifestly have not yet had. We shall, of course, consider the decision when we get it. One problem is that if £85 million were available—that would be the cost of the hon. Lady's proposal —it is far from clear whether that would be the best way of giving additional support to those who are caring in the community.

Sir David Price

Would it not be more gracious of the Government to extend the right to that benefit to married women before they are compelled to do so by the European Court, especially as there is overwhelming support in the House and in the country to do just that?

Mr. Newton

Whether it would be more gracious or not, I hope that my hon. Friend, whose views I know and respect, and which have been expressed through his membership of the Social Services Committee, will reflect on my answer to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard), which was to the effect that £85 million might be used in a variety of more productive ways to support carers in the community.

Mr. Meadowcroft

Will the Minister confirm that, if Mrs. Drake's case succeeds, invalid care allowance will also be paid to unmarried women living with partners?

Mr. Newton

That is a matter that we would need to consider in the light of the precise terms of the judgment. The hon. Gentleman will know that in the ordinary course of events the social security system, unlike the tax system, treats co-habitation as being the same as marriage.

Mr. Meacher

If the Government lose the case in the European Court, does the Minister intend, rather then paying care allowance to married women to achieve sex equality, to achieve it by withdrawing the allowance from single women and men? Would that not be absurdly shortsighted and unjust, when the cost of care allowance with back-up services in the community is likely to be only a quarter to half the £350 a week that it now costs for institutional care, which is much less desirable?

Mr. Newton

In various exchanges with several hon. Members this afternoon I have done no more than make the basic point that the best thing that we can do for many carers is to ensure that further services are available to them and that that might be a better use of the resources involved.