HC Deb 12 January 1988 vol 125 cc248-54

`At end of Section 21 (1) ( b ) of the Social Security Act 1986 there shall be inserted the words "and ( c ) if he is over the age of 18 and below pensionable age he shall not be paid a lower rate of benefit due to his age.".'.—[Mr. Fearn.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Fearn

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The new clause deals with income support for young people. The intention is to remove the distinction between claimants for income support who are over and under the age of 25. From April 1988, single childless people between the ages of 18 and 24 who are entitled to claim for income support will receive £2605, while those aged 25 and over will receive £6 more. We are completely opposed to this distinction, as it is completely arbitrary. Why, for example, should a person aged 241 have fewer expenses and financial needs than someone six months older?

The Government perhaps believe that a person aged under rather than over 25 may be able to depend on parents. Forcing young people to depend on their parents is a recent trend in legislation and is a feature of clause 4 of the Social Security Bill. We should be encouraging young people to take full responsibility for their own lives.

The Liberal party is running an excellent campaign called "Youth Chance" which is designed to help young people take full advantage of their rights so that they can be more independent. In my constituency of Southport, young people certainly fight for their rights themselves, and I hope that they will continue to do so. The Government, by contrast, are helping to create an atmosphere of dependence around young people from which they will find it difficult to escape. That is totally against the Government's avowed aim to encourage independence among all people, and I am perplexed by this contradiction between the Government's aims and their actions.

The age limit of 25 used for income support is not a widely recognised age limit in the sense that 16, 18 and 21 years are commonly recognised ages that mark changes in a person's status. We now assume that once young people reach the age of 18 they are responsible adults and are expected to behave as such. This new age limit attacks that principle.

Similarly, the age limit of 25 years is not widely employed elsewhere in British legislation, so it is difficult to understand why it has been introduced for income support; unless, of course, it is merely a means by which the Government can save themselves a small amount of money. The amounts that will be saved are not great and the hardship and bitterness that this arbitrary age limit will cause cannot justify such a saving. I urge the Government to reflect on this very unfair distinction and to accept my amendment, which will prevent this injustice. I intend to take the matter to a Division.

Mr. Robin Cook

I remind the House that on many previous occasions the official Opposition have supported the principle advanced on this occasion by the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn). If he divides the House we shall be happy to divide with him. I do not think that at this late hour there is an argument of sufficient originality and novelty for the principle, which I could advance to the House, to change the minds of those who have already made up their minds. But I believe that the Government, in creating a quite new distinction between a full adult rate and a less than adult rate for those younger than 25, have introduced a new distinction into our social security system that is insupportable and cannot survive indefinitely.

10.30 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mr. Michael Portillo)

There are three things that we are not discussing tonight. One is the position of 16 and 17-year-olds. There has always been a lower rate of benefit for them under supplementary benefit, and the lower rate continues under income support. I do not think that is in dispute between us.

The second thing that we are not discussing is the position of couples because there will be no distinction in income support between what couples receive, whether above or below the age of 25. The third thing that we are not discussing is the position of parents because single parents will be paid the lone parent rate of income support, which is £33.40. On top of that they will receive the family premium, plus the single parent premium, plus the addition for the child.

The point that is at issue between us is the position of the single unemployed under the age of 25. Our movement away from the distinction of householder to a distinction on age grounds is dictated because we think this is a welcome simplification. All that is needed now to establish the entitlement of a claimant is one piece of information, the date of birth of the claimant. It avoids all the difficult points of definition that arise on householders and non-householders, let alone all the difficulties that arise if we try to divide benefits between people who are living together, sharing a house or a flat. As I have mentioned, there is a precedent for a division on age grounds in supplementary benefit, although I agree with the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn) that that division was not at age 25. There may not be a precedent for that age, but I will tell him in a moment why we think 25 is the right age for the division.

Most young people expect to receive less when they are young than do others who are longer in the tooth, or than they themselves will receive later in life. That would be their general position if they were in work. I do not think it is such a far-reaching idea that people who are young should be expected to live off a lesser amount of money than people who are a little older. We have not taken that principle to its logical conclusion because we are protecting families of whatever age by treating couples, whether below or above the age of 18, equally by giving the special rate to single parents.

We chose the age of 25 because there is fairly good evidence for that being an important age in the life style of young people. In fact, 90 per cent. of claimants over the age of 25 are householders. On the other hand, only one in five single claimants under the age of 25 is a householder. As a result of the reforms, given those figures, of the 810,000 single claimants between the ages of 16 and 24, 450,000 will gain and 200,000 will experience no change.

Young single claimants will receive rates compensation of £1 in income support even though, as will be clear to the House, the majority of them will not be liable to pay rates. The amount that we will pay in income support of £26.05 compares with the non-householder rate of supplementary benefit of £24.35.

The most important extra cost that a person might face if he was a householder is the housing cost. That is met by a different benefit, housing benefit. Under the reformed system, the starting point for the payment of rent under the income support scheme is 100 per cent. of that rent payment. We believe strongly that housing benefit is the correct way to address the extra housing cost that a householder might have to face.

I think this is a welcome simplification. It represents a considerable improvement in the system. I believe, despite what the hon. Gentleman has said, that there is every logic to support the age of 25. I commend that approach to the House. I have to advise the House to reject the new clause.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:

The House divided: Ayes 176, Noes 297.

Division No. 131] [10.34 pm
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Flynn, Paul
Allen, Graham Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)
Alton, David Foster, Derek
Anderson, Donald Fraser, John
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Fyfe, Mrs Maria
Ashdown, Paddy Galbraith, Samuel
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Garrett, John (Norwich South)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Godman, Dr Norman A.
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Golding, Mrs Llin
Barron, Kevin Gordon, Ms Mildred
Battle, John Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Beckett, Margaret Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Beggs, Roy Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Bell, Stuart Grocott, Bruce
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Harman, Ms Harriet
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Haynes, Frank
Bermingham, Gerald Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Blair, Tony Hinchliffe, David
Blunkett, David Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Boateng, Paul Home Robertson, John
Boyes, Roland Hood, James
Bradley, Keith Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Hoyle, Doug
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Buchan, Norman Illsley, Eric
Buckley, George Ingram, Adam
Caborn, Richard Janner, Greville
Callaghan, Jim Jones, leuan (Ynys Môn)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Kirkwood, Archy
Canavan, Dennis Lamond, James
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Leadbitter, Ted
Clay, Bob Leighton, Ron
Clelland, David Lestor, Miss Joan (Eccles)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Lewis, Terry
Cohen, Harry Livingstone, Ken
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Cook, Robin (Livingston) McAllion, John
Corbyn, Jeremy McAvoy, Tom
Cousins, Jim McCartney, Ian
Cox, Tom Macdonald, Calum
Crowther, Stan McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Cryer, Bob McLeish, Henry
Cunliffe, Lawrence McNamara, Kevin
Cunningham, Dr John McWilliam, John
Dalyell, Tarn Madden, Max
Darling, Alastair Marek, Dr John
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Dewar, Donald Martin, Michael (Springburn)
Dixon, Don Martlew, Eric
Doran, Frank Maxton, John
Douglas, Dick Meacher, Michael
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth Meale, Alan
Eadie, Alexander Michael, Alun
Eastham, Ken Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Evans, John (St Helens N) Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) Moonie, Dr Lewis
Fatchett, Derek Morgan, Rhodri
Faulds, Andrew Morley, Elliott
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Mowlam Marjorie
Fisher, Mark Mullin, Chris
Murphy, Paul Spearing, Nigel
Nellist, Dave Steinberg, Gerald
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Strang, Gavin
O'Brien, William Straw, Jack
O'Neill, Martin Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Patchett, Terry Taylor, Rt Hon J. D. (S'ford)
Pendry, Tom Thomas, Dafydd Elis
Pike, Peter Turner, Dennis
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Vaz, Keith
Prescott, John Wallace, James
Primarolo, Ms Dawn Walley, Ms Joan
Quin, Ms Joyce Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Robertson, George Wareing, Robert N.
Robinson, Geoffrey Williams, Rt Hon A. J.
Rogers, Allan Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Rowlands, Ted Wilson, Brian
Salmond, Alex Winnick, David
Sedgemore, Brian Wise, Mrs Audrey
Sheerman, Barry Worthington, Anthony
Shore, Rt Hon Peter Wray, James
Skinner, Dennis Young, David (Bolton SE)
Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury) Tellers for the Ayes:
Snape, Peter Mr. Dafydd Wigley and
Soley, Clive and Mr. Ronnie Fearn.
Alexander, Richard Chope, Christopher
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Churchill, Mr
Amess, David Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)
Amos, Alan Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Arbuthnot, James Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Conway, Derek
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Ashby, David Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Atkinson, David Cope, John
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Couchman, James
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Cran, James
Baldry, Tony Currie, Mrs Edwina
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Curry, David
Batiste, Spencer Davies, Q. (Stamfd & Spald'g)
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Davis, David (Boothferry)
Bellingham, Henry Day, Stephen
Bendall, Vivian Dickens, Geoffrey
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Dicks, Terry
Bevan, David Gilroy Dorrell, Stephen
Biffen, Rt Hon John Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Blackburn, Dr John G. Dover, Den
Body, Sir Richard Dunn, Bob
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Durant, Tony
Boswell, Tim Dykes, Hugh
Bottom ley, Peter Eggar, Tim
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Evennett, David
Bowis, John Fallon, Michael
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Fenner, Dame Peggy
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Fookes, Miss Janet
Brazier, Julian Forman, Nigel
Brittan, Rt Hon Leon Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Forth, Eric
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Browne, John (Winchester) Franks, Cecil
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Freeman, Roger
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick French, Douglas
Buck, Sir Antony Gale, Roger
Budgen, Nicholas Gardiner, George
Burns, Simon Gill, Christopher
Burt, Alistair Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Butcher, John Glyn, Dr Alan
Butler, Chris Goodhart, Sir Philip
Butterfill, John Goodlad, Alastair
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Carrington, Matthew Gow, Ian
Carttiss, Michael Gower, Sir Raymond
Cash, William Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Greenway, John (Rydale)
Chapman, Sydney Gregory, Conal
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Grist, Ian Lord, Michael
Ground, Patrick Luce, Rt Hon Richard
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom) McCrindle, Robert
Hampson, Dr Keith Macfarlane, Sir Neil
Hanley, Jeremy MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr') Maclean, David
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) McLoughlin, Patrick
Harris, David McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)
Hawkins, Christopher McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)
Hayes, Jerry Madel, David
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney Major, Rt Hon John
Heathcoat-Amory, David Malins, Humfrey
Heddle, John Maples, John
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Marland, Paul
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE) Marlow, Tony
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE) Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Holt, Richard Mates, Michael
Hordern, Sir Peter Maude, Hon Francis
Howard, Michael Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A) Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford) Mellor, David
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Meyer, Sir Anthony
Hunt, David (Wirral W) Miller, Hal
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Mills, lain
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Irvine, Michael Mitchell, David (Hants NW)
Jack, Michael Moate, Roger
Jackson, Robert Monro, Sir Hector
Janman, Timothy Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Morrison, Sir Charles (Devizes)
Jones, Robert B (Herts W) Morrison, Hon P (Chester)
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Moss, Malcolm
Key, Robert Moynihan, Hon C.
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Mudd, David
Kirkhope, Timothy Neale, Gerrard
Knapman, Roger Nelson, Anthony
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Neubert, Michael
Knowles, Michael Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Knox, David Nicholls, Patrick
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Lang, Ian Nicholson, Miss E. (Devon W)
Latham, Michael Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Lawrence, Ivan Oppenheim, Phillip
Lee, John (Pendle) Page, Richard
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Paice, James
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Patnick, Irvine
Lightbown, David Patten, Chris (Bath)
Lilley, Peter Patten, John (Oxford W)
Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant) Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Pawsey, James Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Porter, David (Waveney) Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Portillo, Michael Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Powell, William (Corby) Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Raffan, Keith Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Raison, Rt Hon Timothy Thorne, Neil
Redwood, John Thornton, Malcolm
Renton, Tim Thurnham, Peter
Rhodes James, Robert Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Tracey, Richard
Riddick, Graham Tredinnick, David
Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas Trippier, David
Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm Trotter, Neville
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy) Twinn, Dr Ian
Roe, Mrs Marion Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Rowe, Andrew Waddington, Rt Hon David
Rumbold, Mrs Angela Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Ryder, Richard Waldegrave, Hon William
Sackville, Hon Tom Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Sainsbury, Hon Tim Waller, Gary
Sayeed, Jonathan Walters, Dennis
Scott, Nicholas Ward, John
Shaw, David (Dover) Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb') Warren, Kenneth
Shelton, William (Streatham) Watts, John
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Wells, Bowen
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge) Wheeler, John
Sims, Roger Whitney, Ray
Skeet, Sir Trevor Widdecombe, Miss Ann
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Wiggin, Jerry
Soames, Hon Nicholas Wilkinson, John
Speller, Tony Wilshire, David
Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W) Winterton, Mrs Ann
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Winterton, Nicholas
Squire, Robin Wolfson, Mark
Stanbrook, Ivor Wood, Timothy
Steen, Anthony Woodcock, Mike
Stern, Michael Yeo, Tim
Stevens, Lewis Young, Sir George (Acton)
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood) Tellers for the Noes:
Sumberg, David Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones and
Summerson, Hugo Mr. Robert Boscawen.
Tapsell, Sir Peter

Question accordingly negatived.

Further consideration of the adjourned.—[Mr. Dorrell.]

Bill, as amended (in the Standing further considered tomorrow.