§ 2.50 p.m.
§ LORD BYERS rose to call attention to the urgent need to defend the welfare services by introducing some element of selectivity in the granting of benefits and subsidies and to ensure that financial assistance is made available to those who really need it; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I will not follow the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, by suggesting that the Government are more selective in their immigration policy than they are in other fields, but in phrasing the Motion which I am now moving I referred to the need to defend the welfare services by the introduction of the principle of selectivity. I make no apology for couching the Motion in those rather provocative terms, because it has done what I want it to do; namely, to attract noble Lords and noble Baronesses who are well versed in the social services to take part in this debate.
§ I should make it clear that what I am particularly anxious to achieve to-day is not a narrow debate but a wide-ringing one on the future of the welfare services over the next twenty to thirty years, and the extent, if any, to which the principle of selectivity can be applied. By that, I mean the principle which will ensure that people who are in need get really adequate benefits, while trying, if possible and if it is desirable, to achieve some saving on the total social security 591 budget by eliminating grants and benefits to those in relatively high income groups. I may be told that this is administratively undesirable or that it is administratively impossible. I am willing to listen, but I think that your Lordships' House is a forum which is well qualified to debate objectively and without partisanship a problem of this sort.
I start from the statement which the Prime Minister made before the recent cuts which he announced as a result of the adverse balance of payments, when he said, referring to the social services as well as to everything else:
Nothing will be exempt; nothing will be sacrosanct.
There are many of us who feel that if the social service benefits were carefully worked out to be adequate and confined to those who needed them, then such a system ought to be sacrosanct and it should not be subject to cuts which can vary according to the strength or weakness of the economy.
§ As I say, I do not know to what extent selectivity can in fact be applied to the social services, but I think there is some application, and I am justified in this by the action which was taken by the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday in the way in which he dealt with family allowances. It has always seemed to me to be odd that people with relatively high incomes should receive their family allowances and that they should then pay surtax on them, so that the money can be clawed back by the Treasury or the Inland Revenue. I should have thought that there would be a simpler way of doing it, and I applaud the attempt the Chancellor has made to give the real benefit to the 600,000 or so families who really require this help.
§ I wonder to what extent the country realises the mounting escalation of the annual cost of the social services to-day. Total State spending on social services and housing has gone up by more than 90 per cent. in the last seven years. I believe that current and capital expenditure by the Central Government and local authorities amounted to over £7,000 million to March of last year, compared with £3,700 million for the year ended March, 1960, and apparently it is still going up—the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—by something of the order of 592 £400 million or £500 million a year. So quite a problem has to be faced. Having said that, may I say that apparently we do not spend as high a percentage of our national income on social services as France, Germany and some other countries do. But, in detail, the figures are really quite staggering. Education went up from about £860 million over the period to nearly £2,000 million; housing from £445 million to over £1,000 million; National Health services doubled, from £800 million to £1,600 million, and general social security went up from £1,450 million to nearly £3,000 million.
§ This escalation will inevitably increase, and my fear is that unless we satisfy ourselves that the social services are properly geared to need and that real value is obtained for money, we shall find broad, savage cuts being made right across the board whenever we get into future economic difficulties. This may well be intolerable for people in the lower ranges of social welfare benefits where there is to-day a good deal of suffering and of injustice and, in some cases, even of downright poverty.
§ One of the difficulties is that the supported population—that is, the children, the pensioners and the students—is increasing at a faster rate than the working population, and it is in any case going to take an increasing share of the national economy to maintain even the present inadequate benefits, let alone to raise them. If, of course, we could get the rate of economic growth in this country which we have continually been promised by different Governments, then we could meet this increasing bill without causing inflation and without increasing taxation. But I am not prepared at this stage to say that the economic growth which we have been promised will inevitably be achieved. Therefore I come back to the principle underlying social welfare and what we ought to do over the next thirty or forty years.
§ Beveridge made a great step forward in our social welfare thinking. As we all know, he approached the problem from the point of view of achieving freedom from want; and he summed up his scheme as being one of social insurance against interruption and destruction of earning power and for special expenditure arising at birth, marriage and death. This 593 was to be achieved by a flat rate subsistence benefit and a flat rate contribution. We have moved a good distance away from that concept, although I am sure it was right in the context of the immediate post-war years to start at that point. In the Party to which I belong we have been thinking along different lines. We believe that at the lower levels of our welfare incomes there are still inadequate benefits and a good deal of poverty, particularly among some pensioners, some sick, particularly the long-term sick who need close attendance, widows and, in a separate category, children, particularly if one judges by some of the independent Reports which have been made.
§ We should like to move away from minimum subsistence towards the concept of a higher floor in the standard of welfare and benefits being more closely related to the national average standard of living. This is particularly true of pensions. One way of introducing an element of selectivity would be to scrap the present arrangements for financing social welfare and to substitute a social security tax instead of the present contribution. Such a tax—I am assuming that selective employment tax will be abandoned in the near future—would be more of a pay-roll tax. It would be imposed on and paid by the employers and employees as a percentage of wages and salaries, and to that extent would be selective or graduated. This tax, going up as the wage or salary increased, might be a form of selectivity which could be accepted. I believe that this method is much closer to the one used generally in the Common Market.
§ It might, I think, be worth considering in this context a Social Security Board, perhaps divorced from the Treasury, to administer such a fund and to keep it working on a proper businesslike basis. On the other hand, selectivity in relation to benefits would presumably mean applying a means test to all people who wished to receive benefits. I think we shall all agree that this would be wasteful and socially undesirable.
§ Another way that has been suggested is to freeze the benefits at their existing levels and, subject to normal inflation, ask people to undergo a means test if they wish to have anything in addition 594 to the present arrangements. But again I think that this is probably socially undesirable and administratively difficult. A further way of getting selectivity might well be to gear the benefits to the P.A.Y.E. code, and ignore the contributions which the higher income groups make to the cost of social security. This, I think, is something which could perhaps be considered in depth. But none of this is really satisfactory, and one is forced back to the conclusion that the time has come for each part of the social security system to be re-examined, both in the way in which it is financed and in the way in which the benefits are arrived at. In doing this, I believe that one should examine to what extent, if any, there is scope for the application of selectivity; and it would be a good thing to have an objective view of this, rather than that it should become a matter of Party politics.
§ On pensions, we have declared that the State should provide a substantial basic pension at a rate higher than at present, and probably something in the region of half the average national earnings for a married couple. But we believe that that might be the limit of the State's contribution, and that there should not be a State supplementary pension or a graduated scheme. What we do believe is right is to encourage employers to provide occupational schemes, and to encourage individuals to take advantage of them, in addition to the benefits they get from the State. It goes without saying that in all these cases it world be essential for the pensions to be transferable between jobs, so that the full benefits could be assured at any time. Again, the P.A.Y.E. code might be used on pensions to avoid people with very high incomes drawing their old-age pension. It seems to me an odd thing that the old-age pension of a Field Marshal, no matter how worthy, should be courted as a charge on the social security side, although there is an income there which is in the region of several thousand pounds a year. I make no criticism of people who take this old-age pension, but I cannot help feeling that the system which allows it is worthy of reconsideration.
§ I think that a rather different approach must be made to unemployment and sickness benefit. It is difficult to see what 595 alternatives there are to wage-related benefits and, in the case of greater need, supplementary payments accompanied by a means test. I wish we could find a better way, but I cannot see one. There are still remarkable anomalies, according to the reports which are made, between people who are in work with low wages and people who are unemployed having had a higher wage. This again is a matter worthy of consideration. What we want to avoid is a big drop in the standard of living of the family, when the wage-earner suddenly becomes sick or unemployed.
§ There is another area which has not yet been properly covered, and that consists of the various pockets of hidden poverty which have been shown up in various surveys. One important survey was that done by the Ministry of Social Security called, I think, The Circumstances of Families. I believe it is true that over half-a-million families with more than a million children are living below what is now regarded as the subsistence level. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Bowles, nods his head. Perhaps he will be good enough to correct that if I am wrong.
§ LORD BOWLES
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? He said that I nodded my head, but in fact I shook it which means that I disagreed with him.
§ LORD BYERS
I am sure that the nodding and shaking will have been noted in the OFFICIAL REPORT. But that, I understand, is a figure which has been quoted. But whatever the figure, I think it is possible that for something like £10 million or £15 million this situation could be put right and these families could be brought up to the subsistence level. A figure of that sort, if it is correct, in relation to the £7,000 million which we are spending on the whole social welfare system, is pretty small. I should like to find a way of making some 596 savings, if it is possible, in order to enable us to have the money to do that sort of thing. It is much more important to get the floor right than to get the ceiling right, and that is the emphasis which I believe we ought to put on it.
I am not sure to what extent the National Health Service could be reappraised with a view to saving some of the cost. I suppose that selectivity in this sense would mean making the recipient pay, either subject to a means test or in full, possibly mitigated by a rebate. I think there is a lot to be said for the basic Health Service remaining free. But I think it is possible to explore the chances of imposing charges for additional services which the patient can elect to have, as indeed already happens in respect of certain aspects of the Health Service, and to see whether there is not a field here for making some contribution possible. I would not argue in favour of that system. I only say that it is something which ought to be taken into consideration again. There are schemes such as B.U.P.A. and its equivalents. To what extent can these help to relieve the imposition of these extra charges which are mounting at such a colossal rate?
I am not going to deal with housing or education, and I am not going to deal with such detailed matters as home helps in which field I understand there is a very big problem. The noble Baroness, Lady Strange of Knokin, gave me some very interesting information and I apologise to her for not being able to use it. I believe the approach towards the social services should now be a new one. It should not be to ask ourselves continuously how much we can afford, or how we can patch up the present system. We should ask what is needed to give people a good standard of living in old age, widowhood, sickness and unemployment. Once that point has been reached and the target outlined, I think there should be a six, seven or eight-year plan to achieve the long-term goal by annual stages, and I believe we should then try to bring this into operation in such a way that the national economy can stand it without inflation.
The main foundation of this approach would be to set a well-considered goal, and to take definite steps towards reaching it each year. That is why I say that 597 I believe the time has come to have an objective inquiry to scrutinise the whole field of social security and welfare, item by item, to state where the limits of selectivity, if any, can begin and end, and to pronounce on the means of financing a welfare system which would provide a reasonable standard for those in need, and which the country should regard as sacrosanct for quite a long time to come. I believe that at this time, 25 years after Beveridge, we ought in the national interest to have an objective scrutiny of where we are going in the next 25 years. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.8 p.m.
§ LORD BOWLES
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, as I am sure are noble Lords on both sides of the House, for raising this very important and interesting subject in his, if I may say so, unusually impartial speech. As my noble friend behind me says, it was also short. The noble Lord is right in saying that probably we can discuss matters of this kind less querulously than would be done in another place, or even on political election platforms. Therefore, on behalf of the whole House, I thank the noble Lord for what he has said.
I think few people would disagree with what the noble Lord said about the importance of these services to the community as a whole, and the Government are indeed aware of the pace at which expenditure upon them has been rising in recent years. It may be helpful if I give the figures which will put this cost in perspective. The benefit expenditure of the Ministry of Social Security is now running at the rate of about £3,000 million a year. This takes account of the family allowance increases which are to come into force next month, and the further ones foreshadowed in yesterday's Budget. These will mean that expenditure on family allowances in 1968/69 will total about £275 million.
§ LORD BOWLES
Yes, gross, of course—I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn—because some of it will be raked back, as we know, from the income tax and surtax payers. The Ministry's expenditure on supplementary benefits will reach nearly £400 million in the same 598 year. Noble Lords may be interested to know that these cash figures are all rather more than double the equivalent benefit costs incurred for the year 1960/61, at the beginning of this decade.
It seems to me, my Lords, that there are three main factors which give rise to these extra costs, and I am sure the noble Lord would like to know what they are, in case he does not already. The first is the increasing number of beneficiaries. More births have meant that there are more children in the family allowances field and more receiving full-time education than there were 10 years ago. Similarly, the number of old people in the community is still rising. Secondly, both costs and wages generally have gone up. It now costs more to provide a school with a given number of places and to provide a hospital with a given number of beds than it did ten years ago. The cost of labour and materials and the salaries of the professional staff who run these services are all relevant here. Thirdly, the increasing expenditure reflects the determination of successive Governments to improve the welfare services and to ensure that provision for the least fortunate members of society is the best that we can afford. It is certainly the Government's intention that this should remain so.
The noble Lord urged that, faced with this rising cost, we must accept an increase in selectivity. This I take to mean, in the field of cash benefits, the concentration of benefits on the areas of greatest need. Where services such as health and education are concerned, the aim is rather different. These services must be universal in the sense that education must be available to every child and treatment must be available to everyone who is sick. But selectivity may still arise, because the State helps some citizens, but not all, to meet the expenses which they themselves incur.
The Government have a good deal of sympathy with the need for a degree of selectivity in channelling help to those in greatest need; and indeed since 1964 certain changes have been made in the direction of increasing selectivity where this can usefully be achieved. This may be achieved through individual means-testing, as in the supplementary benefits scheme. Supplementary benefits are payable on a test of means, and therefore 599 geared absolutely to helping those people whose resources are less than their requirements. This scheme superseded the former National Assistance arrangements in 1966. By offering benefits as of right payable under simpler conditions it immediately established itself as a more acceptable way of helping old people, in particular, than the earlier scheme had been. However, selectivity by individual means-testing is certainly not the best or the only means of picking out areas of need—and this, I think, is where there may be some disagreement in different parts of the House. It is also possible to be selective by category, and to channel benefits to broad groups of people who can be seen in general to share some special need.
My Lords, this is an approach to be preferred where it can be achieved. It does not run the risk, which still attends virtually all means-tested services, that the take-up of those who claim the benefits to which they are entitled will be poor unless great efforts are put into publicising and popularising the benefits available; and even where every possible effort in this direction is made, the take-up is nothing like satisfactory or complete so far as we are concerned. Moreover, any means-tested scheme involves very considerable administrative cost in staff terms alone. It also involves the dilemma that either the assessment of the claimant's means must depend largely on his own statement, which obviously opens up temptations for abuse, or recourse must be had to his employer, thus taking up the employer's time and resources with unproductive work. Means-testing produces an inevitably disincentive effect, as increasing earnings mean the loss of means-tested benefits; and it also brings about a wholly artificial division between those who qualify for the benefit or service concerned and those who just fail to do so even though their incomes are only a little higher. This last problem can be solved in some instances by a tapering arrangement, but only at the cost of increased complexity and additional administrative expense.
These problems can be avoided by adopting the alternative approach of selectivity by category, which is a 600 cardinal feature of the National Insurance scheme. This scheme, as noble Lords will know, does not involve detailed inquiries into the resources of individual claimants, but takes account of varying needs in that, for example, it pays higher benefits to people with dependants than to those without; it pays more for the children of widows than for children in general, and it pays less to sick people who are receiving free long-term hospital care than those who are not.
Another major source of cash benefits is the family allowances scheme. This has often been criticised—I think die noble Lord, Lord Byers, himself criticised it—as the most unselective of all, but perhaps I might make it clear. Since family allowances are subject to income tax and surtax, they have always been worth less to the better-off family than to people who pay no tax. Some people have argued that family allowances should be made more selective by the application of a means test, but for the reasons I have given this would not be the right approach. Instead, we are substantially enlarging the degree of selectivity by creating a closer link with income tax provision. As has been announced, the increases which are to take effect this year will be recovered in full from the standard-rate taxpayer and in part from taxpayers at the reduced rates. Thus the benefit of increased family allowances will be concentrated entirely on the lower income groups.
This greater measure of selectivity within the family allowances scheme will, I think, be welcomed on all sides of your Lordships' House. The method by which it is being achieved has notable administrative and practical advantages. All a woman has to do when she has her second baby is to send its birth certificate along to the local office, and she will be paid the family allowance. By using the existing machinery of the family allowances scheme and the tax system, it can be brought in quickly and cheaply without the need for a new administrative structure; and, by taxing the increase away from people who do not need it instead of offering a means-tested increase for which poor people must apply, we can be sure that the higher allowances will go to every one of the families for whom they are intended.
601 The state of affairs revealed in the Ministry of Social Security's survey of the circumstances of poor families, to which the noble Lord referred, which showed that an appreciable number of households (though about one-quarter of the figure the noble Lord mentioned is, I think he will find, much nearer the mark) had lower incomes from full-time work than a family in their circumstances would normally receive under the supplementary benefits scheme, will be substantially improved by this single step.
Another important measure of selectivity is the rate rebate scheme which the Government introduced in 1966. I think this is important, because all people on National Assistance, or on supplementary benefits now, of course, have their rates completely washed out. We find that one million householders, other than those covered by the supplementary benefits scheme, now take advantage of a system whereby local authority rates are rebated in full in cases where the ratepayer's income is £8 for a single person or £10 for a married couple, plus £1 10s. a week for each child. People with incomes above these limits may receive a partial refund of their rates. The Government have recently announced an increase in the level at which full rate rebate is obtainable. I think these figures are new to the House. For a married couple with three children this will go up from £14 10s. a week at present to 17 in the autumn. That is an important fact. These are some of the achievements that we are claiming to be proud of and of which I, for my part, am proud.
Her Majesty's Government are also firmly of the view that rent policies for council housing should, by adapting themselves to local circumstances, reflect the widely varying financial and family responsibilities of tenants, and that the substantial Exchequer subsidies paid towards the cost of council housing should be used to provide rent rebates according to need. The responsible Ministers issued fresh guidance to all housing authorities in England and Wales in June, 1967, on the general principles and practice on which sound rent rebate schemes can be based, asking them to adapt their rent policies where necessary to ensure that council tenants with low incomes or large families, or both, were not asked to pay higher rents than they 602 could reasonably afford. There must be scope for adjusting rents and rent rebate policies to local needs and conditions, and the Government believe that the general principles embodied in the Circular of June, 1967, which was drawn up in consultation with the local authority associations, will commend itself to all local authorities: and Her Majesty's Government are glad to note that the principles expounded are increasingly being adopted.
What then, it may be asked, is the difference between the two sides? I believe, my Lords, that the difference is that in tackling any problem in the welfare field the Government are willing to decide between a universal approach and a selective approach (where such a choice exists) entirely on the merits of the case. We do not believe that it is possible to be doctrinaire about where the best solution will lie and the noble Lord, Lord Byers, was not doctrinaire in his approach to this matter—and we have no prejudice against a selective answer, where this is what the facts demand. Indeed where means-tested schemes exist the Government are determined to make them work, and think it worth a major effort to ensure that selective help reaches the people to whom it is directed.
Accordingly, as my right honourable friend the Minister of Social Security said in another place on March 4, we are considering a general entitlement campaign to try to ensure that low-paid workers and their families are completely aware of the various forms of help available to them, and we shall advise them how to claim their entitlements. Incidentally, I must say that I feel this debate is so important that I hope that the debate in another place on the Budget will not get all the Press to-morrow. Some people seem to me to regard selectivity not merely as one tool among many in the welfare field but as the only course to follow; they turn to it instinctively in every context and on every occasion, almost elevating it into a dogma, and pursuing it even where it produces demonstrably the wrong results.
A suggestion sometimes canvassed—and one to which the noble Lord, Lord Byers, referred—is that no further increase should be made in the real value of the National Insurance retirement pension but 603 that the higher benefits should be available to old people who can claim them through the Supplementary Benefits Scheme. My Lords, selectivity of this kind just would not fit the facts. A survey carried out in 1965 by the Ministry of Social Security has established that, in addition to the 30 per cent. of retirement pensioners' households who receive supplementary benefits, there are something of the order of a further 45 per cent. or 50 per cent. who could either receive them if they claimed or (in most cases) have resources which are less than £2 above the level of supplementary benefits appropriate in their case. Any policy of freezing National Insurance benefits and raising Supplementary Benefits alone could soon mean that the means-tested scheme covered some 75 per cent. or 80 per cent. of pensioner households—4 million households in all, containing about 5 million pensioners. This means that the savings obtainable by selectivity of this kind would be very small, and would be counterbalanced by the extra administrative work of determining the exact resources of the great majority of pensioners.
§ LORD BYERS
My Lords, the noble Lord will recognise that, while I referred to that, I did not advocate it.
§ LORD BOWLES
My Lords, I do not think I meant to imply that he did; but he did say that the suggestion had been made in many quarters.
Even more seriously, the fact that the normal expectation of people coming up to retirement would be that their resources would need supplementation by a means-tested pension would undermine not only the contributory National Insurance scheme but private occupational provision as well. My Lords, there would be very little point in private saving if in a normal case the person who had saved would find himself little, if any, better off in retirement than someone who had not. Moreover, I suspect that those who cry loudest for selectivity would also be foremost in campaigning against a system which penalised thrift. Advocates of selectivity who claim that public opinion is on their side should also ask themselves whether the public is likely to favour means-testing for three-quarters of all retirement pensioner households. I am 604 glad to see that the noble Lord nods his head.
The Government's view, as noble Lords will know, is that while means-tested provision must remain for special areas of need, social security should be firmly based on a comprehensive insurance system which gives full benefit cover in the event of retirement or of the other main contingencies in which earnings are interrupted or cease altogether. Moreover, we do not accept what the noble Lord, Lord Byers, I think, suggested, that State provision can be left at a basic flat rate which employers may or may not supplement through occupational schemes. We consider that pensions and other National Insurance benefits should represent a reasonable proportion of the individual's previous earnings at work. The planning of a new scheme which will place not only pensions but the contributions required to finance them on to this earnings-related basis is well advanced, and the Government's proposals will be published in the form of a White Paper as soon as they are ready.
In conclusion, my Lords, I should again like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for moving his Motion and giving us the opportunity of a debate on welfare, I hope that he will accept that the Government appreciate the value of selectivity in welfare, but also that we take the view that it does not represent any kind of panacea. In many cases the choice between a universal and a selective solution to a welfare problem just does not exist: a common-sense answer is required and this, when found, represents some blend of the two approaches. However, we accept that where there exists a selective approach, either to the financing or the provision of a service, which can reasonably be adopted without destroying the aims of that service, it merits—and does receive—the most serious consideration. On this basis I hope that the noble Lord will agree to withdraw his Motion.
§ 3.28 p.m.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, I have to follow two excellent speeches which have been most informative and have covered a wide range. The noble Lord who opened the debate gave a most stimulating speech. He covered such a range of subjects that it would be imposible to follow him in detail. 605 Indeed, it was almost the ideal opening speech, because it trailed a coat of so many tails that there were plenty of tails for everybody to pick up.
It seems to me that there are really two approaches here and the noble Lord, on the whole, came down on the second one which I am going to mention. The first was to go on improving the existing schemes as far as possible; the second to have a look at the whole field and more or less scrap the thing and start again, if that is the recommendation that results from the Survey. That is obviously the radical approach and it is the approach one would have expected him to adopt. I am glad to say that my personal predilection is for that approach. It seems to me that this whole field of social welfare is one which, so far as possible, we ought to keep out of the political sphere. For that reason it would be a very good thing if one had an absolutely comprehensive review to show where all the plans that we have at present are leading and what is the prospective burden on the economy of them all; and then to produce new proposals for the future after this period, as the noble Lord said, of 25 years. That would be an objective inquiry and would take the matter right out of the field of politics. It might lead, as the noble Lord said, to something of the nature of a Social Security Board which would keep it out. I should welcome that and I have always said so.
My Lords, at times of economic crisis it is inevitable that all public expenditure should come under review. The noble Lord, Lord Byers, quoted the Prime Minister as saying that no expenditure is sacrosanct. I take that to mean that it is a question of priorities and of seeing that the best possible value is obtained for money. Second only—and one must always say this: it is very important that we should recognise it—to the need for solvency and national security, on which everything else depends, comes social welfare. As the noble Lord, Lord Byers, said, our aim has to be to defend the Welfare Services, and, I would add, not only defend them, but expand them. That is what the Government are seeking to do even in the present circumstances. But all the time we have to ensure that we are not placing an excessive strain on the economy and so retarding growth, 606 encouraging inflation, and inhibiting personal effort. I suggest that the first and most important way to defend the Welfare Services is to maintain a sound economic policy, and indeed a sound foreign policy, thereby reducing what I might describe as the external threats to social welfare.
The noble Lord was quite right in saying that there are also internal threats from within the welfare system itself. His prescription for reducing them is to introduce some element of selectivity. Of course if one wants to be selective, one can select either the kind of occurrence or risk to be covered, or the groups entitled to benefit—on this the noble Lord, Lord Bowles, laid stress—or again, the individual entitled to benefit. If one selects individuals, there is only one way, which is through a means test.
I think that people are a little apt to confuse need and means. People who are in need of hospital treatment, for example, are entitled to receive it irrespective of means. People who need help in the home are expected to pay the cost of the service to the extent that they can afford to do so. Indeed, social benefits can consist of cash benefits or benefits in kind. Among benefits in kind is dental treatment. Charges are made for dental but not for medical treatment. Incidentally, with dental treatment seems to me, it is not, as the noble Lord said, that the State helps the individual to pay the charge, but that the individual helps the State to pay the charge. Turning to cash benefits, there is of course a high degree of selectivity in the benefits, for example, for widowed mothers. These were very greatly extended under the previous Government and have been, to some extent, under the present Government. My Lords, there is the much less popular selection of widows entitled to widows' benefit. Here the pressure is to extend selection—to select more in, not to select more out.
Different questions arise regarding services in kind, in particular to what extent they should be subsidised cut of rates or by the Exchequer, or by both means, and what benefits are to be given in the form of remission of charges. This problem is particularly acute and controversial in respect of housing, which the noble Lord mentioned. We have rent 607 rebate schemes, but it is also a question of deciding how much householders occupying property other than council houses should help the occupants of council houses.
My Lords, I agree very much with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Bowles in hoping that we can avoid ranging ourselves either on the side of the universalists or on the side of the selectivists; though I think it fair to say that there are now very few who take either of these extreme postures. In principle most of us would agree in our more lucid moments that the State should provide only those services which individuals or communities cannot provide, or cannot economically provide, for themselves. In itself that is a discipline of selection, perhaps the most fundamental and important one.
I should like to say a word about the National Insurance scheme which was referred to by both noble Lords who have spoken. I believe strongly in the mutual schemes which have been developed in this century on the contributory principle—unemployment and sickness benefits, retirement pensions, and other benefits, There are, of course, gaps in the National Insurance scheme. The selection of groups and risks for inclusion leaves out entirely some groups and does not give as much benefit to other groups as most of us would wish. I have in mind particularly wives who are not insured in their own right because they devote themselves entirely to duties in the home. When they fall sick the household can get into very serious difficulties. For them there is no easy financial solution. Secondly, there are the chronic sick, those who fall ill and whose graduated benefit is exhausted after six months. They continue only with sickness benefit, although I think they can get a small addition of 9s. after they have been sick for two years. This is a subject that requires looking at. There is also the problem of the over-eighties, a subject which I will not go into to-day, as it was debated in another place quite recently. We can all make our selection and back our fancy in what we consider to be the gaps in the National Insurance scheme; but a common feature of them all is that they all involve more expenditure.
608 There is, my Lords, one group selected for special treatment, I think by history rather than by design. It is the group that comprises people who benefit under the Industrial Injuries Act because they suffer from a precribed industrial disease or from the result of an accident which occurred in the course of employment and because of it; and also, to be fair, because they paid an extra contribution. Their rate of basic benefit is higher than the National Insurance rate, and in addition they can receive other allowances, similar to those available to war pensioners. But if an insured person contracts a lingering illness, or suffers an accident outside his employment, he is not entitled to any of these benefits. What I think we have to consider is: should we stand on tradition, and the history of workmen's compensation and maintain this difference, or should we now accept as a principle that all forms of disability arising in civilian life should be treated alike? In other words, should we here apply the principle: "To each according to his need"? If we do, this again involves more expenditure. No doubt it would be for consideration in each case whether a test of means should be combined with the test of need. In the case of home-helps the principle has been adopted that help should be available for all in need but that those receiving it should pay for it in accordance with their means.
The noble Lord, Lord Byers, raised the question of how far this principle should be extended. My Lords, is it unreasonable to suggest (this is only a point of view that I am putting forward) that services provided by the taxpayer should not be paid for twice over by the user? For example, could it reasonably be expected that a taxpayer, already contributing substantially to the hospital services through taxation as well as by National Insurance contributions, should pay over and again when he uses those services? The whole purpose of his contribution, after all, is to avoid his having to face heavy expenditure suddenly and unexpectedly for himself or his family, should be have a serious accident or illness. Of course, he remains free to choose not to use the medical or educational services provided, if he thinks he can get better service elsewhere, and to pay for them himself. On the other hand, most people have a prescription or two during the year, and there is no reason of principle, 609 as we see it, why prescription charges should not be made, provided that the needy are exempted from them.
Although the noble Lord, Lord Byers, said that we could not consider this question only on the basis of what we can afford, we have always to think where the money is to be found to cover new groups that we may select for benefit or differential benefit. One source may be through economies in expenditure on sickness benefit. The Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday indicated a small economy of no payment for the first three days. It might be possible to transfer responsibility for the first week or two to employers, as is done to some extent in other countries. But the main target is bound to be retirement pensions. Not only do they absorb over two-thirds of the National Insurance Fund, but the proportion of pensioners to the total population is growing. So pensions are a sitting target.
I think that I should declare my own belief in this. Despite the growth of occupational pensions, most contributors, as a result of the experience of the last eighteen years, have come to regard their contributions to the National Insurance pension as the one investment which will certainly not lose its purchasing power, at least while the wealth and prosperity of this country does not enter into a decline. My view is that the purchasing power of the pension should be maintained, if at all possible, and contributions increased to ensure this. The question then arises: by how much more can contributions be increased?
I pointed out in a recent debate that contributions are very high in relation to some earnings—for example, for women earning £9 a week it is about 10 per cent. If it can be increased by more than is needed to maintain the purchasing power of the pension, then we have to consider to what benefits the extra money should be devoted. I believe that we have come to the point—I rather think we have passed it—where it is more important and fairer to provide the sort of benefits I have mentioned, particularly for wives and the chronic sick, than to raise the standard of living of retirement pensioners through contributions. If we can afford to do both, so much the better; but this is a question not only of priorities but also of cost. A penny or two on the 610 stamp would do far more for the neglected groups than for pensioners, and could be, I suggest, an act of charity in the best sense, as well as an act of providence.
As the noble Lord has said, before long—I believe it will be in the autumn—no doubt we shall be presented with a White Paper setting out the Government's proposals for graduated pensions. I am certainly not going to speculate on its contents, though the noble Lord gave some indication of what they were likely to be.
§ LORD BOWLES
My Lords, I cannot believe that I gave any indication whatever of what is likely to be in this White Paper. The noble Lord must have misunderstood something I said.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, I thought the noble Lord said that the Government were going to introduce a scheme for extended graduated pensions and that it would come before us before very long. He may have said a White paper. I would press him that, if we are to have a Bill, I should hope that we are going to have a White Paper. Otherwise it would be an extraordinary situation. I cannot remember any Bill of this kind being presented without a White Paper.
§ LORD BOWLES
My Lords, I said nothing about a Bill at all. I said that we hoped to produce a White Paper. I did not promise anything; I only expressed a hope, and I said nothing whatever about the contents of the White Paper or a Bill.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, we are getting into a bit of a tangle. I thought I said that the Government were going to produce a White Paper, not a Bill. Perhaps I may be allowed to continue.
From the national point of view it seems to me to be of prime importance to maintain the flow of savings, and this is what private pension schemes help to do. The great disadvantage of the National Insurance retirement pension scheme is that it is on a pay-as-you-go basis. It represents a straight transfer from those working to those retired. It raises home consumption but does nothing to increase production for export, now or in the future. It would be regrettable—even dangerous, in my view 611 —to divert contributions from private pension schemes to a public graduated pay-as-you-go scheme, and it would certainly be wrong to require people to contribute to both. Here is an area where selectivity is essential. The noble Lord, Lord Byers, indicated that in general he would rather leave the whole of this sphere to private provision. I am not convinced that this is possible because I think that there will always be an area in which it will be difficult, if not impossible, to arrange such private provision; and to that extent I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bowles.
Few would dispute that those for whom there is no occupational scheme equivalent in benefit to the State scheme should have a scheme organised for them under State auspices. I can think of no other way. But surely both coverage and contribution should be restricted to those who need further provision. In a free society it is doubtful whether anyone should be compelled to buy for himself more than a basic retirement pension, if he does not choose to do so; and that he must do for the reason that it is his duty to prevent his becoming a charge on the State. But beyond that he should be free to make a choice.
This distinction between insurance contributions and taxation is not just a matter of semantics. It is a fundamental matter of public finance. The weekly stamp payment is not just another tax, earmarked for a particular purpose. It is what it sets out to be—a National Insurance contribution for giving people National Insurance benefits. Beveridge conceived his scheme as an amalgamation of the various elements—health, unemployment and pension—and a further extension of the field of insurance.
It may be that circumstances have changed, both because of the decline in the value of money and because of the growth of the affluent society, at present seriously threatened, and that the insurance principle should be abandoned. I am not expressing any view on that. State insurance, though, is bound to differ from private insurance in important respects, if only because terms and conditions are fixed by law and not by contract. But one fundamental principle of insurance is that in return for equal con- 612 tributions equal benefits are payable for the same risks. Of course it is open to the State to exempt people in given circumstances from the contributions, or to allow people of small means to pay contributions at a lower rate. This, in effect, is what the present contracted-out contribution does. It means that those earning more than £9 a week pay more than those earning less than that. The cost of these exemptions is, in effect, met by the State subsidy of 25 per cent. of contributions. I also suggest that under any mutual scheme people should pay the same contributions for the same benefits, although the remission of part of the contribution should properly be made for those who cannot afford to pay the whole.
I would suggest to the House with great sincerity that as soon as a departure is made to a system of progressive contributions geared to income without proportionate benefits, the scheme ceases to be a mutual insurance scheme and might just as well be incorporated in the general system of taxation. Indeed, if such a departure is made, it seems to me inevitable that in the long run it will be absorbed in the general system of taxation, just as the Road Fund and other earmarked taxes have been. I am not saying that it is necessarily wrong to do that; I am merely putting before your Lordships this consideration. I feel that we should realise what we are doing if we make such a radical departure from the principles of insurance.
My Lords, I have left to the last the most obvious candidate for selectivity, supplementary allowances, which have already been referred to. According to the survey of the circumstances of families, there are estimated to be 160,000 families, comprising some 500,000 children, with incomes falling below the supplementary benefit scale rates. Of course, these are not the only people falling below those rates, but they comprise a large proportion of the least well off; and they have children. I understand that the increase of 7s. in family allowances, as it was then stated, may reduce the number falling below the supplementary benefit level by half. I should like to ask the noble Lord who is to reply to the debate by how much the increase of 10s. will still further reduce that number. The majority of the remainder will be those earning low wages, possibly because they are handicapped, and 613 about one in eight will be someone who is unemployed or sick and whose benefit is limited by the wage stop to what he would be earning if he were employed.
I accept that it would not be right either to pay people more when they are not working than when they are, or by supplementing their wages up to a given level, arbitrarily fixed from time to time, to give them no incentive to increase their earnings. In passing, I would express doubt as to whether it is possible, as Lord Byers suggested, to reach any really objective decision as to what that level at any given time should be. I think it is bound to be a matter of judgment.
Mr. Barney Hayhoe has put up a scheme the essence of which, as I understand it, is to add to the pay packet a family benefit payment of varying amounts depending on income and to account for it through P.A.Y.E. Another similar scheme appeared in the Lloyds Bank Review, put up by Professor Lees. I should like to ask the noble Lord who is to reply what consideration the Government are giving to such schemes. There is no intrinsic difficulty in them, provided that the Government are prepared to trust employers to make the appropriate additions to the paypacket on the basis of tax tables and code numbers and to account for these through P.A.Y.E. Other countries do it; we could.
For those who are not working, the Supplementary Benefits Commission could easily make the payment. The object should be to devise a selective scheme which would help to bridge the gap between family income and supplementary benefit settlements, would assist other families whose income is too low to profit by tax relief, and would avoid the absurdity of paying out to the mothers in the remaining cases and clawing back the money from the fathers. I appreciate that the reduction in family tax allowances introduces selectivity in the way of family allowances. But what a clumsy way this is to adopt—to pay the allowance out and then to claw it back.
I should like to ask the noble Lord, as this is a very topical matter, what happens if a family entitled to the family allowance does not draw it. Will they still have their tax relief reduced? Would 614 it not be much better to encourage families whose incomes are such that they are at present receiving full family tax relief not to draw the family allowances at all? Or would the Post Office perhaps go on strike because the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be taking away from them the work of paying out the family allowances? Surely it is perfectly easy for parents to write to the Ministry of Social Security and renounce their family allowance entitlement, and so save the Ministry of Social Security the trouble of sending them payment vouchers. I would ask the noble Lord to reply to this, and also to tell us what consideration is being given to these other matters.
I conclude by saying this. To-morrow we shall be debating a Scottish Bill to unite all local welfare services under one director of social work: services for the old, the sick, the children, the aftercare of prisoners and the Probation Service. The purpose is to give better and more comprehensive service and to deploy staff more effectively and economically. We have already had a takeover of the National Insurance Board by the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance, renamed the Ministry of Social Security. And this is the trend.
I look to the time when cash and care services will be combined. Is it sensible that there should be two Ministers and two Departments, Social Security and Health, one responsible for cash and the other responsible for care, competing with each other for public funds? Is it right that one Minister should, for example, propose an increase in cash benefits without having first to consider whether some of the money might not be better spent in improving care services? Many of those who are getting cash benefits are in need of care, and in a good many cases it is care rather than cash, or more care rather than more cash, that would help them. And all this could save money. If we are to make the right selections and get the proper balance of expenditure should not we have one Minister responsible for both cash and care? If so, in England and Wales the Minister of Health and Social Security would Le one person. The Ministry of Health would then be merged with the Ministry of Social Security; and in Scotland the appropriate arrangements would be made 615 under the Secretary of State. Both Ministries should have an insurance research unit precisely to do what the noble Lord, Lord Byers, has said; namely, to pinpoint the social problems, and assist the size and scope, whether in cash or in care. Without prior inquiry, informed selections cannot be made, nor can priorities be sensibly fixed.
I have tried to indicate that, while I agree on the need for selectivity, I do not believe it is the only way of defending the welfare services or the sole answer to these problems. Having said that, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Byers, very warmly on having raised this most important problem, which ought to be discussed in this House from time to time.
§ 3.58 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF LEICESTER
My Lords, I too should like to express gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for introducing a very altruistic subject on a day when it is difficult to avoid many selfish thoughts. I am sure we all want to sympathise with him in trying to hold our attention to these very long-term ends at a time when we are passing through what we hope may be a short-term crisis. I wondered at one time whether it would be safe for a Bishop to try to say anything about this subject, for fear that he should find himself caught in the meshes of Party political controversy. But the more I looked into it—and indeed this has been borne out by our debate to-day—the less this seemed to be in the narrow sense a Party political issue.
I turn to the only document that I could find published recently on this matter, which happened to be in the Liberal Party current affairs Bulletin, and, curiously enough, the article there ends by saying:I think that all I have said shows that the Liberals believe there is only a limited sphere in which selectivity can be applied.I thought it indicated some courage on the part of Lord Byers not in any way to be put off by that in bringing his Motion to our House to-day. Then one was familiar with the fact that selectivity had been associated with one particular Party in recent propaganda, but one could not help noticing the increasing degree of selectivity which was brought into a certain speech yesterday, and also has been em- 616 phasised by the speech from Her Majesty's Government's representative today. So I feel that this really is a matter where a great exchange of ideas is going on; and this is excellent.
Governments and Oppositions owe a lot to each other. Oppositions can give ideas a most valuable airing, and Governments can always plead the urgent practical necessities of a situation in order to help them popularise otherwise unpopular action. It certainly is true that throughout this century legislation which has been the subject of fierce battles has been the starting point from which new Governments begin to work, even when their members have been vigorously opposed to it during Opposition. I suppose that nobody was more conscious of this than the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he produced his Budget speech yesterday, and he must have seen his speech as one in sequence with all the long series of Budgets in this century, of which he has written so interestingly in his "Life of Asquith".
As has been said, we have a great deal of selectivity already in our system of social security: healthy, comparatively wealthy middle-aged persons with no dependent children contribute fully to the most expensive of the services, education and the Health Service, and cannot in the nature of things benefit from the provisions of the education service; nor can most of us from the maternity services or all the medical care that is provided for children. There is a great deal of selectivity already involved. But what I suppose we want is a more sensitive selectivity so as to bring the maximum of benefits to those with the maximum of need. We have to accept the fact that poverty is a very relative concept, and what will be regarded as poverty in any one period of history will be something quite different from what would have qualified for that word in another and less affluent period of social life.
It will always be a question: How much of our wealth should be left for private and individual spending, and how much should be given to what the Prime Minister, I believe, has called "the social wage"?—that amount of wealth that is devoted to redressing the balance between the wealthy and the poor. As soon as we begin talking about selectivity 617 we come up against this difficult phrase, "the means test", and everybody knows that this phrase has a very unhappy connotation in the minds of many of our people. The dangers and evils of the worst sort of means test have been fully recognised in recent years, and we should be very thankful for what has been done to overcome those evils. The Ministry of Social Security arrangements for paying the means-tested supplementary benefits and discretionary benefits to the elderly and the chronic sick mean that they are now collected in a way which is often indistinguishable from the collection of ordinary long-term pensions.
The Supplementary Benefits Commission went to enormous trouble to overcome the shame and distress which was suspected of being a factor in preventing many retirement pensioners from drawing the assistance to which they were entitled. The Church of England was glad to be able to work with the Ministry in the attempt to overcome the failure of many old people to apply for their means-tested benefits, and arrangements were made for the Ministry's pamphlet explaining the entitlement to go to every Church of England parish clergyman in the land with a covering leaflet, signed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, asking the clergy to co-operate in overcoming the lack of understanding and false feelings of shame that were thought to be preventing some elderly citizens from drawing the State assistance to which they were entitled.
We are aware, however, that any kind of means test as ordinarily understood is liable to cause unhappiness and distress, and we have recently been reminded that the half million or so children who qualify to receive free school meals experience considerable embarrassment to find themselves in a special class (I mean a social class) at that particular stage in their lives. There was no room for doubt after an inquiry that in a number of these cases, at any rate, there was a sense of shame at being what was known as a "school free dinners child". So we shall always want to be careful of means tests of any kind if we are to preserve that human dignity which is one of the objects of all our social legislation.
When we come to inquire how we could readjust our system so as to bring more of our available resources to bear 618 on those with the greatest need, and at the same time to avoid these embarrassments and reductions in self-respect and dignity which it is so difficult to avoid, I have very little, I am afraid, to contribute. But I should like to ventilate here, as perhaps others will before the debate is over, what has been called a new approach to the abolition of child poverty. Many will remember an article that appeared in The Times in December of last year by Sir John Walley, who was formerly Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (as it was then called). In it he adumbrated a system of child endowment which, I understand, already pertains in Sweden, if not elsewhere.
I read this article a number of times. I do not profess to have the technical knowledge to estimate its true worth or accuracy, but it seems to carry with it a possibility that should be properly investigated. In a sentence, it is that every child should receive an endowment of a very much higher financial value than the kind of child allowance we have so far been accustomed to, and that most of the cost of this should be met by the total abolition of child allowances in relation to income tax. There are all kinds of complications about this with which I do not propose to burden the House at this moment, but it appeared to me that there was something here very well worth looking at. It seemed to me to have a number of advantages. One was its great simplicity. At any rate, so far as I can understand it, it would not be impossibly difficult to work. It would have the advantage of getting away from the word "allowances".
It is a very strange thing how a social goal of one period becomes son thing to escape from in the next. Before family allowances were brought in they were thought of as something wonderful to fight for and to look forward to. Now, already, there is a slightly unpleasant feeling about the very term "family allowances", and I was attracted by the word "endowments" and the very sensible provisions (as it seemed to me) whereby they could be provided. These would make up for not only what we ordinarily understand by "family allowances" but all those social benefit; particularly connected with children, and it would have the means of solving the 619 unpleasant difficulty of the wage stop. These allowances or endowments would be for all children at all times, and I believe this is worth examining in a good deal of detail.
At the other end of the scale we ought to try to avoid stupidly extravagant anomalies in our social security system. May I give one example A few years ago a business executive, aged 54, who was married but with no children still dependent, was retired by his firm for health reasons, with a pension of about £5,000 a year. His investment income brought his total income high into the surtax bracket. He received a form about his entitlement to sickness benefit for himself and his wife. He attempted to decline this on ethical grounds but learned that in order to do so he would have to register either as unemployed or non-employed. In the latter case he would have to attend to stamping his insurance card weekly. He was surprised to find on his next tax return form that there was no place to declare the benefit, but he was pleased to note that to him it was thus worth double what it would be worth to the ordinary person. His medical prognosis is such that if he lives he will have drawn sickness benefit for himself and his wife weekly for eleven years before he becomes due for a retirement pension.
I might even quote from my own personal experience. Some years ago I had the misfortune to be sent to hospital, and I was in there for some time for an operation. One of the minor surprises was that I found myself receiving every week a nice little cheque from whichever Ministry was then responsible. I was pleased to get it, but without in any way being ostentatious I think I can say it was not a serious financial item in my life. No doubt many more in the same position would not need that particular kind of benefit at times like that, when one's stipend continued unabated, although I was doing very little to earn it.
Then there are the anomalies of middle-aged women who have to give up work in order to help aged relatives and who are not entirely provided for by the present system of tax allowances. It so happens that some of the notes for this speech were typed by a woman who 620 asked particularly if she might make a comment on the subject matter of the speech. I may say she was not my secretary, lest anybody should think there was that particular personal connection. She pointed out that at a certain time in her life her father had become old, one of her two sisters had had to give up work to look after him, and they had decided to support the sister from then on. One of them received an allowance because of the dependant father, as a sick dependant relative, but of course there was no allowance for the support of the third sister who really had taken on the major task for the family.
These are the types of problems that a more sensitive and more selective system would deal with. I might mention, as a last example, the case of unmarried mothers who, for one reason or another, would like to retain their children. Many unmarried mothers who decide to face the difficulties of bringing up their children themselves have to choose between staying at home and living on means-tested supplementary benefit, or leaving the daytime care of their children to others. It is recognised that it is usually better for young children to be with their mothers, and it is also very much cheaper for a child to be brought up by his own mother than to be in public care. So it would seem right, both on humanitarian grounds and on economic grounds, that unmarried mothers should receive as of right and without a means test from the State an allowance sufficient to keep mother and child at a standard currently regarded as acceptable. I offer these few thoughts to your Lordships as my expression of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for introducing this matter.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ LORD SOPER
My Lords, I was almost irresistibly attracted to this debate because of the words in the Motion "to defend the welfare services". Therefore I am the more grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for introducing it, as well as for the competent way in which it has already been developed in your Lordships' House to-day. The most Christian thing that has happened in my lifetime is the emergence of the widespread social services, and I can testify to the profound change for the good that has happened in the social ministries of the various 621 Churches, not least the Salvation Army, which has had to revolutionise its traditional practices in the large conurbations because of the emergence of these social services. The Old Kent Road, when I first knew it forty years ago, was a much worse place than it is to-day, and it would be impossible to measure the removal of human horror and misery which has been attendant upon the emergence of these services.
I am the more glad that this debate is not about the social services as such. I think we have already established that it is not a question of whether we should prefer universality to selectivity. There is a measure of selectivity already built into these welfare services. There is room—and already some of the arguments have been set forth—for changes, so that better selectivity (where desirable) may be achieved and there may be less selectivity where it is undesirable. In general principle I would make the plea, first of all, for the idea of universality as being preferable.
Biblically, it is certainly preferable. There can be no doubt that the Sermon on the Mount indicates that the divine social services are on a universal rather that a selective basis; the sun shines on the evil and the good, the rain falls on the just and the unjust, and if there be an argument that there is a certain amount of waste, the story of the feeding of the 5,000 clearly indicates that the twelve baskets full of remains left over did not invalidate the efficacy of the operation or its justification. But whereas there are ethical and theological reasons for preferring in general terms a universal benefit by right rather than a selective one by need—and I remember, as a follower of John Wesley, that it was he who said, "Go to those who need you, and especially to those who need you most"—I think there are other and good reasons in the pragmatic field for such a preference. It is perfectly obvious that any rough justice as provided by a social service will leave somebody out, and it seems to me the question has to be asked whether we are more concerned with the few people who get more than they deserve or with the larger number who, by a selective process, are likely to get less than they are entitled to receive. Generally, the argument for selectivity concentrates upon those who do not need the services rather than 622 thinking pre-eminently of the vast majority who do, and I should imagine that in any general provision for social services it is more likely that we shall under selectivity leave somebody out than it is undesirable, as it is, under a universal process, provide means and places and benefits for those who may not need them.
Therefore on those grounds I am in favour in principle of universality, with one addition, which I think has been adverted to by the right reverend Prelate. It is all very well to talk about the removal of the sense of shame that attaches itself to a means test. But those who have practical and intimate experience, particularly of old people, will need to be much more radically reassured on this point than at present. No one would accuse your Lordships' House of being entirely rational, and nobody would accuse anybody of being sensible all the time; and it is no insult to many old people to say that they have acquired prejudices and attitudes and superstitions over the years which it is almost impossible to eradicate. I should like to speak for those who still feel under what may in fact, and in any legislative procedure, not be a means test but is assumed still to be, that it really does cause a heap of trouble and suffering—and unnecessary suffering at that.
I believe in general in the principle of universality, though I am well aware that selectivity is also involved in any system of social welfare. Therefore, I should like to turn in gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, for the idea he took out of my head—I was afraid he was going to take the words out of my mouth, but he desisted. If we are to support and defend these social services, it is quite inadequate to think we can do so by a readjustment of cash benefits and payments alone. Cash and care are indisputably associated, and the defence of these services will better be promoted than by anything else when we approach the kind of solution the noble Lord suggested.
I would give four or five examples to support this case. I hope your Lordships will not attribute to me that characteristic of the character in David Copperfield who, whatever the subject under discussion, reverted to King Charles's head, if I talk again about 623 alcoholism. What is the use of offering cash payments to alcoholic families when what they most desperately need is the kind of custodial, or at any rate domiciliary, help that will enable them to spend the money not in the pub but on the ordinary commodities of life, and to give the family some chance at a later stage of rehabilitation? How grateful I am for the Government's preparation and assistance for the setting up of second-stage hostels for those dried out as alcoholics and now capable, under minor supervision, of rehabilitating themselves. To do this is to defend the social services.
I refer again to young criminals. When I was chairman for some time of an approved school I had no doubt at all that what was supremely needed for many of these youngsters when they emerged from the approved school was some kind of hostel accommodation with the maximum of freedom: not the old type of hostel with its common room which now becomes the place to sit and watch the television set, but the "bed-sit" with some kind of minor pastor or friend who would be in some measure a guide and philosopher, as well as friend, to those there.
I think again of old people. We make a profound mistake in thinking that old people will be all right if you give them enough money. The fact of the matter is that many old people are inadequate to the obvious demand of making ends meet, even if they have the money. We make a second mistake. We think they would like to be congregated in large houses in the country to watch the flowers grow, listen to the birds sing and survey the vistas of the countryside. They much prefer the smell of asphalt, to look at the trams and buses—it is nostalgic to remember trams—and to enjoy the kind of social environment to which they have been accustomed. We have a little hostel outside one of the principal theatres of London, and our people are as happy as sandboys or sandgirls watching the people going in and out.
I refer to unmarried mothers. I was grateful for what the right reverend Prelate said about them. What is the good of giving money to unmarried mothers if 624 they cannot find accommodation, somewhere to live? I believe there is a profound need for the kind of accommodation which we, luckily, are able to provide—and here I confess to an interest—where "bed-sits" are provided for these unmarried mothers and a fully equipped crêche is provided on the same premises. These are illustrations of the way in which we defend social services by making cash an auxiliary to this kind of care, and the marriage of the two really does subserve the interest with which we are concerned this afternoon. I hope, if I may make a last statement, that the Government may find it possible to support voluntary organisations, which are able to do this work, if I may say so, far better than the State itself. I very much hope, for instance, that the Government will find it possible to support a sort of information centre for alcoholism, which is of imperative need if people are to secure the services already available for them.
May I advert for a moment to the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, and say how heartily I agree that, where you have a proliferation of these particular agencies for the care of alcoholics, how imperative it is that there should be one central organisation to see that there is no overlapping and in some cases double-dealing. The other aspect is just as true: that in the care of young people, unmarried mothers and babies, old people, there is a need for little houses for two or three people within a conurbation and within the fellowship of a local church. If the money were available and support forthcoming, the services that are now social services could be immensely advanced not only by a more cohesive programme, and perhaps fertilised by an increased amount of selectivity, where possible, but above all by the subvention of funds whereby the largely unoccupied churches of our time might occupy themselves much more professionally and effectively than in spending their time speculating on metaphysics and seeking to contribute something to the Kingdom of God.
§ 4.27 p.m.
§ LORD BETHELL
My Lords, I must ask for particular indulgence, since I have to address your Lordships' House for the first time on such an involved subject. I will do my best not to make mistakes either in the figures or in observance of the customs of this House. 625 The latter error, if it occurs, I hope you will forgive.
I am going to confine myself to two or three particular points. The first was raised by the right reverend Prelate, and it concerns married couples with young children. At present they receive financial benefit in two main forms: by the family allowances and by the child tax allowance. I realise that the child tax allowance is not a welfare benefit; it is a remission of income tax, and therefore by tradition falls into a different category from the family allowance, which, it is said, is the Government's money. But I am going to suggest that both these allowances are in essence the same. The family allowances come originally from other people's tax. The child tax allowances are given back out of one's own tax. I would suggest that other people's tax and one's own tax, once they are paid, come to exactly the same thing, and I think we should do well to consider these two allowances together.
Your Lordships will be aware that the Prime Minister, in his Statement of January 16, introduced the principle of selectivity into family allowances and the principle of claw-back. He said he was considering extending this principle to cover the whole family allowance system, and I hope he will. May I give a few examples of what I mean? Let us take a married couple with three children. If this couple have an income of £600 a year, they get their child allowance of 32s. a week, rising to 38s. in October; but their remission of tax, since at that low level of income they pay no tax, is only £28. At £700 the remission is £51 6s. 8d. and there are similar levels up to about the £1,000 a year mark. This remission of tax compares unfavourably with the remission that one receives with an income of £1,500 a year, which is £152 12s. 6d., or at the top surtax level, £237 12s. 6d. All these families receive the same family allowance of 32s. a week. Admittedly those with the higher incomes would have some of it clawed back and would pay tax on it, but I think that those figures illustrate what I mean. Under the present system those with higher incomes receive, in real, practical terms, the greater benefit. I hope that this will be changed, either by an extension of claw-back as indicated by the Prime Minister, or preferably by 626 amalgamating the child allowance system with the child tax allowance system.
I feel that more selectivity would also be appropriate in payments made for the National Health Service by means of social security contributions. At present the sum of 3s. 4d. out of the stamp provides about £200 million towards the service, a little under one-seventh of the cost of the service. Has it not by now become an anomaly that this weekly amount is still paid, giving the impression to many people that it pays for the National Health Service, whereas in fact it pays for but a small part of it? Is this 3s. 4d. a week anything more than an overhang from the early 1940s, a weekly regressive tax? I suggest it would be better from the point of view both of administration and of social justice if the 3s. 4d. weekly contribution was abolished and the Health Service was financed out of general taxation, in the same way as State education, 100 per cent. instead of about 80 per cent.
I have one brief word to say about retirement pensions. There are many retired people I know who would rather give up their retirement pensions for ethical reasons. They feel, perhaps rightly, perhaps wrongly, that they should not deprive the Exchequer of money that they do not strictly need. Unfortunately, as the regulations stand, they cannot renounce their pensions. If they do, they are still taxed on the amount they are entitled to. This, they feel, is car tying self-denial too far.
It would surely be a useful selective reform and save administrative work and money, if they were allowed to give up their pensions together with the tax liability on them, temporarily of course, in case their circumstances should change for the worse. The main purpose of the social services is to achieve social justice, and justice clearly should be their main ingredient. But they also need simplicity, otherwise they become confusing to the user and costly to the administrator. It is in this realm of simplicity that I think changes could most easily be made.
§ 4.33 p.m.
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
My Lords, may I congratulate the noble Lord who has just made his first contribution in this House? It is quite clear that he has studied the question and that he 627 has the matter at heart, which is rather important in this debating chamber; and he has made a most useful, informative speech. I am sure that everybody here will agree with me that we look forward to hearing him again on other occasions.
May I thank the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for initiating this debate, and particularly for framing the Motion in such a way that we can make contributions on the subject of welfare, whether in the field of cash or care. I feel so far that cash has rather dominated the proceedings, and I propose to make a contribution on the subject of care, which I believe is near to the heart of many sections of our population. I am glad to see the noble Baroness, Lady Strange of Knokin here, because she has particularly asked for a certain matter to be ventilated. The noble Lord, Lord Byers, did not quite have time, but I hope I shall satisfy her with the contribution I might make also in her name, for I propose to comment upon three categories of people in the community who I believe are in urgent need of more care.
The first category I want to mention is the aged. I feel it is rather a misuse of words to describe the increasing expectation of life as a problem, but undoubtedly one of the most difficult administrative problems in our Health Service is adequately to cater for the needs of the aged. There are some here who, I am sure, will agree with me that even those in comfortable circumstances experience a difficulty in finding appropriate help when the disabilities of old age affect them. But when old age is accompanied by poverty, sickness and loneliness, the plight of the aged, particularly in our urban districts where people are ignorant of the name of their next-door neighbour, is no less than tragic. Occasionally some tragedy is mentioned in the local papers, and everybody living in the same road says, "How can that have happened in Britain?". But it does; and I want to stress again—I ask the House to forgive me if I am guilty of tedious repetition—the need to increase the domiliciary services, particularly in regard to domestic helps and nurses. That has been said in this House by many noble Lords; I know it has been said in another place for many years; but 628 if one is to judge from the statistics, it would appear either that these "treasures" are in short supply or, as I am inclined to believe is the fact, that there is persistent apathy in those places responsible for their recruitment.
Undoubtedly, the first line of defence against physical deterioration is the home help. But this involves a woman, already with family responsibilities, committing herself to a fixed number of hours, quite often having to visit homes some distance from her own. I understand that there are some authorities who operate a service which enables housewives to provide meals and keep an eye on old people in their immediate neighbourhood, with payment on an hourly basis. Why is not this permissive power made compulsory, and, in keeping with the times, a new service created which might be called the "neighbours' service"? I should like to call it the "good neighbours' service", but that sounds a little pretentious. Such a service would enable women living in densely populated areas to offer their services on an hourly basis, if necessary to tend old people or sick people living in their own road or the next road.
When we are faced with war, and we feel it of great importance to find somebody in the road who might be recruited as a warden, an overlooker of the needs of the people, we experience no difficulty at all, because the matter is of such urgency that people are prepared to make the effort. I think the time has come, with this increasing expectation of life and the desperate need of the old people in our community, when local authorities should adopt a different approach. Far from being a financial burden, it would be the means of delaying, and in many cases preventing the admission of an old person to hospital or some other institution, where the cost of a bed far exceeds any domicilary, expenditure; and it would be the means of saving the general practitioner endless telephone calls, desperately trying to find a bed or a home for some elderly patient whose relatives say that they can no longer look after, either because they are not living in the same neighbourhood or because the distance at which they are living makes it impossible for them to keep an eye on their old relatives. So I would again stress that the individual in our Welfare State who needs infinitely 629 more attention than he or she is getting is that one who is entirely helpless through a condition which is not pathological but physiological, old age.
I should like now to say something about our comparative failure to make adequate provision for those at the other end of the age scale. We are accustomed to hear frequent invitations on the radio from Government Departments to married women, or unsupported women responsible for the care of children, to fill some of the vacancies in the industrial or professional field. Yet what provision is made for the care of their children? Last night on the television there was again one of those features which indicated that so many women are anxious to do a little work outside the home but are unable to do so because of their home responsibilities. I find it difficult to understand how any Government Department can be so short-sighted as to ask for the help of married women in the country and fail to recognise that every married woman considers her family as her first priority. It is absolutely essential, if those women are to give some part-time service, that more accommodation is provided for their children. In 1948 there were 42,000 places in nurseries provided by local authorities, but in 1963 the figure had dropped to 21,000.
Although the number of illegitimate births had risen in 1965 to over 66,000, insufficient efforts are made to help the unsupported mother with the care of her child during the day. We heard the right reverend Prelate talk just now about the difficulties of the mother with the illegitimate child. Doors are shut against her. Directly it is found that there is no man prepared to pay the rent, landladies find some excuse for not accepting a mother with an illegitimate child. She has these difficulties to start with, but the Government fail absolutely to provide sufficient accommodation so that she can leave her child during the day and go out to work to earn enough to pay the rent, which perhaps is a little more than she would need if she were married.
In 1963 a special report was called for from local authorities on their plans for developing community services up to 1972. Many authorities stated their intention of gradually closing down all nur- 630 series. Others had no plans at all, and relatively few had planned facilities. Indeed, I believe that in Wale; and Northern Ireland no nurseries exist at all. Overall, it appears that by 1972 there will be an increase of 1 per cent. of available places, which does not take into account the increase in population. The shortage of places in nursery schools is already borne out by the many waiting lists, even for priority groups.
The daily minder scheme, which promised well, has also failed to live up to expectations. It is now known that many children are being cared for by daily minders in conditions which are detrimental to their health and welfare. Directly a boy becomes a delinquent the newspapers have headlines, we debate it, another place debates it, and the education authorities become excited and wonder why. Yet we in this country are, now prepared to let hundreds and thousands of children be cared for by daily minders, very often with standards little better than those in the 19th century, which we used to read about, when the cotton workers had to leave their babies with daily minders. Yet what do we do?—nothing at all. The Government fail to provide an alternative. I have given the figures which show that the accommodation that should be provided for these children will not exist if something is not done to improve the position.
I now come to my third category, and some noble Lords will ask: Does this come within welfare? There is going to be a new category of people who will need our consideration. I refer to a category of people who will come into being when the Divorce Bill, now in another place, is passed through Parliament, unless it is amended considerably. I am referring to the middle-aged and elderly woman who, though innocent of any matrimonial offence, will be compulsorily divorced if the Divorce Bill is passed. This may well be regarded as a welfare matter because such a woman, after having served her family for many years, will lose her widow's pension. She has no nest egg. All she can save is through that little Act which I had the privilege of piloting, to which your Lordships gave your assent, and which finally went through the other place—the Married Women's Property Act 1964. The only nest egg that such a woman can have will be half the 631 savings which she can effect out of the housekeeping money. The Divorce Bill, which has had its Second Reading in another place, will mean that the middle-aged and elderly woman will be compelled to surrender her widow's pension to the next wife. If the husband finds himself unable to support two families, the first wife will have to depend on supplementary benefits.
I remember what Lord Hodson said when we debated this matter a few years ago. He said that when a man has two women the only woman whose family is supported is the one who is there on Friday night when he gets his money. Let us be completely realistic about this, my Lords. These women, who are going to be discarded in middle age or when they are elderly, will lose their widow's pension and will have to depend upon supplementary benefits. So this is indeed a welfare matter, and it is not a matter which brooks delay because if the Divorce Bill reaches the Statute Book in its present form we shall have not only the easiest divorce measure in the whole world, but also one which incorporates the greatest social injustice.
The family is the partnership of man and woman based on their functional difference. The work of the wife in the home, tending the children, cooking, washing and nursing, enables the husband to earn money outside the home. I hope that the Government will now consider a matrimonial property law which will protect the partner who has served the family well for many years, and who is subsequently discarded late in life with little earning capacity.
Most European countries, certain States in the United States, and even South American countries, have for many years recognised community of property which provides, on the dissolution of marriage, for equal division between husband and wife of goods acquired during the marriage. It is not a new provision that is operating in those countries. Some of the Scandinavian countries introduced community of property in 1925. Britain is lagging behind about doing justice to the housewife, and it seems to me, when we are to-day discussing welfare, that her welfare should be taken into consideration. I feel that this is an appropriate time to reform the matrimonial law in 632 order to mitigate the harsh provisions of the new Divorce Bill.
§ 4.49 p.m.
§ LORD ILFORD
My Lords, I should like to join in the congratulations which have been offered to the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, on his first appearance in your Lordships' House. If his future contributions to our proceedings are as well-informed and pleasantly delivered as his speech this afternoon, I can assure him that his intervention will always be welcomed by your Lordships. I should like to say a word of thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for having selected this subject for our discussion this afternoon. He spoke of the terms of his Motion as being provocative. I think I would have looked upon them as being dramatic rather than provocative. They conjure up the spectacle of the noble Lord in the role of Sir Galahad going forward to defend the social services with the sword of selectivity.
The welfare system in this country has been built up upon the principle of universality. That principle was inherited, in the first place, from Lord Beveridge. Beveridge aimed at providing what he called freedom from want or subsistence level. If the benefit was to be no higher than that, it perhaps did not matter very much that its application should be universal and should include persons who were in no need of it. Today, we have moved a long way from "subsistence level" and "freedom from want". The aim today is that no family should sink into poverty, but that a standard of modest comfort should be assured to all. That is a very different thing from the "subsistence level" standard of Lord Beveridge, and it is really the change from the modest aims of subsistence level to the aims of today that has forced upon us the consideration of this issue of universality or selectivity.
In his speech this afternoon, the noble Lord drew attention to the cost of the principal social services. I think that even some of your Lordships may have been astonished at the extent to which the cost has risen, and is rising now. It has become more and more evident that if the standard aimed at is to be modest comfort and not merely subsistence or freedom from need, a new basis 633 for paying for these services will have to be found. The principle of universality, where the benefit is paid irrespective of means or needs of the applicant, imposes upon public funds a burden which might well prove to be insupportable. That would lead to an agitation—I hope we shall never see it, but it would inevitably lead to an agitation—to curtail social benefits. It is really to avoid a situation of that sort that this afternoon the noble Lord and those of your Lordships who have spoken (except, perhaps, the noble Lord, Lord Soper, who believes in universality still) have emphasised the need for some review of the means of paying for the social services, which are costing the country such a growing and staggering amount.
The present basis of payment, based as it is upon a universal right to receive benefit irrespective of means or of needs, produces some rather fantastic results. Indeed, I thought that the most fantastic incident was the proposal which was made for the increase of family allowances, which came before your Lordships' House in November last. The number of families living in circumstances in which child poverty might arise—that is to say, with resources below the standards of the Supplementary Benefits Commission—was 160,000 families. In order to pay higher family allowances to 160,000 families, it was proposed to pay the same rate of increase to nearly 4 million families. I am very glad that that astonishing result was corrected in the Budget yesterday. I do not like the method by which it is corrected. To me, it is a bad principle that when a social service is paid to one section of the community the cost of paying it should be concentrated upon another section. If a person benefits from public funds, then public funds ought to bear the cost of the benefit and it ought not to be placed upon the shoulders of another section of the community. I hope that the present method of reviewing the payment of family allowances to those families who will be subject to an adjustment of their income tax will be looked at again, and that a fairer and more just method of dealing with it will be found.
My Lords, the most disappointing feature of the present situation is that with all the expenditure, all this elaborate heirarchy of social administration, we 634 have not succeeded yet in abolishing poverty. Of course, poverty will never be abolished, for the very good reason that the causes of poverty are so various. It is really impossible to claim that, except by a very carefully adjusted assistance, it is possible to eliminate poverty in all the innumerable forms in which it makes itself apparent.
But there are certain classes of persons who are in poverty about which there has been much concern in recent months. There are, first of all, the low earners, including those men who are on what is called the "wage-stop". It is very difficult to decide how these men can be treated fairly. A man goes on the wage-stop because the scale of supplementary benefit to which he is entitled is higher than he would be able to earn if he were in full-time employment in his ordinary trade. Now in a case of that sort the payment of supplementary benefit would really become a supplement to the wages. Since the days of Speedham Lamb, it has been a principle of all social administration, as it has been of the old Poor Law, that a payment in supplement of wages ought not to be made. When I was responsible for making these payments, I was never quite convinced that that principle was as sound as it was usually accepted to be, but I found that it was very generally and universally accepted. I hope it will be possible to bring some relief to these households through the increase in family allowances. The next class of persons are the children in families where earnings are not necessarily low, but are below what is needed to maintain a large family in health and comfort.
Then there are people who will not, or who in fact do not, collect such benefits as they are entitled to. They are the persons who make what the Minister called a "bad take-up". When I was at the Assistance Board it was constantly urged on me that we ought to change the name of the Assistance Board and call it by some different name because it was the name that was preventing people from coming to the Board to ask for what they were entitled to receive. I never did it for this reason. I looked back on the long history of changing of names: Outdoor Relief became Public Assistance, but it did not divest it of the disagreeable associations that had 635 gathered round it in the days of the Poor Law; Public Assistance became Unemployment Assistance and later National Assistance; but the change did not in any way affect people's approach to it.
What I think keeps people away and produces the "bad take-up" of which the Minister spoke is the unwillingness of people to accept a sum of money as a result of a disclosure of means. I believe that what has been happening about the rebate of rates has illustrated that. Local authorities have found that a large number of people who are known to be entitled to rebate of their rates have not come forward to claim it. And they have not come forward, I believe, for the same reason that persons were unwilling to claim National Assistance when I was at the National Assistance Board. I believe that feeling will die away. I am glad to hear that the Bishops were invited to help eliminate it. I am quite sure that the work the clergy did was of great value. I saw some of it, because when I was at the Board we made an approach to the Church, and I was very grateful for what the clergy endeavoured to do to get over this feeling which, to some extent, one respects. I rather respect the sense of independence of these old people. I am sorry that they should have it, but I respect the fact that they have it and are not willing simply to take what is offered irrespective of the origins.
In addition to this class, we are told that there are still a very large number of persons living in poverty. Social students claim that something like 7½million persons are still living in poverty. It is difficult to believe that the figure could be so high; it is almost one in seven of the population. Nevertheless, the surveys these social students have carried out have prompted them to publish these figures, and it may be that there are a large number of persons still living in poverty about whom not much is known. I believe that some means must be found of ascertaining the needs of these persons.
There are various proposals in the field about which I should like to say something. The principal agency is, of course, the Supplementary Benefits Commission. I was grateful for what the right 636 reverend Prelate had to say about the work of that Commission. I hope he has not entirely forgotten their predecessors, the National Assistance Board. I must be pardoned if I am moved by some little affection for a Department in which I spent ten years. The Board, by insistance on training and by making sure that the staff really understood how the Board wanted the work conducted, built up a staff who earned and richly deserved the confidence which the population whom they served felt in them. I am grateful for the tribute to their work which was paid by the right reverend Prelate this afternoon.
There are various proposals in the field for meeting these difficulties. There are those who say that it is possible, by a special form of income tax return, to obtain the necessary information upon which to base the entitlement to benefit. The difficulty I see there is that the income tax return form would have to include information about a great many subjects which are not included in the return now. The most important of these from the point of view of the Supplementary Benefits Board is, of course, rent. One of the essential and necessary characteristics of every payment of social benefit must be that the payment is flexible; that is to say, it must be adjusted to take account of the needs of the individual to whom it is being paid. A flat rate fails to eliminate the individual's need. The factor which varies most in the household budget is the factor of rent. In the North of England rents are very low. In the South they are a great deal higher. Consequently. a flat rate of benefit which would do justice in the North will not necessarily do justice in the South.
The advantage of the system which is followed by the Supplementary Benefits Commission and by its predecessors has been that it has always included rent as part of the assessment of need. Consequently, a family which has a high rent gets a higher payment than a family with a low rent. There are other needs, too. Many old people are recommended by their doctors to follow a special diet, and always this is more expensive than a normal one. One has to take account of that, too, in fixing their supplementary benefit allowance, and so it is I think all through the field of social service that 637 one must bear in mind always that whatever payment is made it must be adjusted to the special needs of the individual. There is a school of thought—I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Byers, who referred to this—which takes the view that it might be possible to assess the allowance through the P.A.Y.E. system. The assessment would be made on the code number included in the P.A.Y.E. return. The difficulty there seems to be very much the difficulty which one encounters with the income tax forms. The code does not include many factors which are vital in determining the need or otherwise of the applicant. It may be that I am mistaken—I do not know. But I think it a great mistake to assume that these things can be done without some special knowledge and familiarity with the administrative work done inside the Department.
My Lords, I come now to my last point. I am quite sure that discussion of the welfare services is not kept outside programmes of the political Parties. I have nothing against political Parties—I am a Party man myself, and have been for a good many years. But there are some subjects which are better kept out of that field, if possible; and the social security service, I believe, is one of them. One does not like to see what sometimes takes on the appearance of a competition in these matters between the political Parties. Only four years ago the Labour Party was promising assistance as of right without any means test at all. Events have proved that it was promising more than it could perform. I am afraid that happens.
I think, my Lords, that it would be very much better if the Government appointed a pretty high level Royal Commission to examine the whole working of the social services, and in particular this problem of selectivity or universality, with a special instruction to report on that aspect of the problem. I think that that would be the best way to find a solution to the very difficult and involved problems which we are discussing this afternoon. Beveridge is dead. But the momentum of Beveridge goes on. What we want is another Beveridge, something to take the place of the basis on which our social services was founded at the time of the Beveridge Report. My Lords, I hope that the Minister who is to reply 638 to the debate will give us some assurance that that point will be brought to the notice of the Government. I hare that eventually we shall hear that that course has been followed, that we are to have a comprehensive investigation into the whole problem of the social services and a recommendation regarding the basis upon which they are to be paid for.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ LORD ROYLE
My Lords, may I begin by joining other noble Lords in offering congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, on his maiden speech? If he will permit me to offer one piece of advice, I would suggest that next time he makes his speech a little longer; for we were just begining to enjoy it when he concluded. There were so many things in the speech of the noble Lord with which everyone on this side of your Lordships' House would be in total agreement that I think it might be a good idea if, on the next occasion, the noble Lord made his speech from these Benches.
I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, is leaving the Chamber immediately as I wanted to pay him a compliment. As a member of another place, I recall his chairmanship of the National Assistance Board. I am quite sure that any of us who were in the other place during his tenure of that office owe a very deep debt of gratitude to the noble Lord for the spirit and sympathy which he brought to his duties. He was always so approachable. When we wrote to him we received personal replies, and many of our constituency problems were solved by his own actions. I wanted to say that to the noble Lord; and I thought that spirit was again apparent this afternoon, particularly in the last passages of his speech. I want the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, to know that we remember those days and we are very grateful to him for all that he did in that appointment.
I am indebted, as is everyone else, to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for having introduced this Motion. I am grateful to the noble Lord for having said at the commencement of his speech that he did not want the debate to be confined by the terms of the Motion: he loped that it would go much wider. The noble Lord is going to have a shock, because I 639 shall go very wide indeed. I have been led into this by the speeches of my noble friends Lord Soper and Lady Summerskill. I want to concentrate on the problems of the elderly. I may in this respect be biased by my own age, but I prefer the word "elderly" to "aged". I am in that period of life and I believe that, alongside housing, the care of the elderly is the greatest social problem of our period. It must arouse more than interest from the national Government, but it is, from an administrative point of view, essentially the responsibility of local authority and, as I wish to stress, voluntary effort.
This so-called affluent society, my Lords, owes much to the present elderly for the standard of life achieved to-day, a standard which was denied to the elderly in the period between two wars, and in the misery of industrial depression which they endured, particularly in the early 1930s. It occurs to me that younger people to-day might have a deeper appreciation of how the sacrifices of that generation brought about the affluence which is enjoyed to-day. I wish to concentrate more on the voluntary aspects because those efforts are so close to the needs of the people we have in mind. Far too much money subscribed for our many charitable activities goes out in administrative costs, in advertising and in high salaries. Money which has been given by very generous people is swallowed up.
What l have to say, my Lords, is largely dictated by experiences in my old constituency in the City of Salford. I will not weary your Lordships by describing that city, but it may be something new in your Lordships House that a speech should be devoted to the work of a particular city. Much has been written about and shown of Salford, greatly to the disgust of the inhabitants, and, briefly, I would remind your Lordships of its character. There are 5,200 acres of industrialism and 150,000 inhabitants. There are over-populated slums and a hotch-potch of Victorian housing. These conditions proved to be a challenge to enlightened councillors, officials and voluntary workers. I will come back to that city in a moment, but here is a national problem.
640 We have to recall that in 1900, 4.7 per cent. of our population was over 65. By 1961 the proportion had reached 11.9 per cent. To-day it is well over 12 per cent., and it is estimated that by 1978 the figure will be 14.8 per cent. By then there will be about 7¼million people in this country over the age of 65. My noble friend Lady Summerskill referred to the expectation of life. In 1906 it was 48 years for males and 52 for females. It is now 68 for males and 73 for females. I never can understand the relationship between the female and male figures. Psychologists probably have the right answer to it, but I have not. However, the figures I have given show the extent of the problem of old age. It has been said that a nation may be judged by its treatment of its elderly citizens. I wonder whether we measure up to it.
I return to the City of Salford and I hope that I may be pardoned for my pride in its effort. It began with the Civic Welfare Committee, led by enthusiastic officers, and none more so than the present occupant of the directorship of civic welfare—and I deliberately use his name—Mr. James Roberts, a man who deserves not only local but national recognition. He is paid for his job, which he does with ability and sympathy. My knowledge of his approach to his duties makes me realise how far we have come from the old workhouse days, from public assistance, from the poor relief of the early days of my own public life. The Committee and their officers have introduced into their application of their statutory duties an elasticity which is beyond praise. The director himself was not satisfied to go along within the limits of his employment and the financial limits of his Committee, and there was formed what is called the Companionship Circle for the Elderly and he took over the responsibility of the honorary secretaryship.
That Circle has gathered about it, in this city of 150,000 people, 2,000 voluntary workers who in various ways render purely voluntary service. Salford Corporation were probably the pioneers of establishing homes for the elderly. They concentrate in the main on the conversion of large houses, rather than on building those of a modern institutional style, and it is impossible for one who knows these homes to describe the happiness of the residents and the kindness and care of their staffs. There are 15 homes, housing 641 600 men and women. In addition, the Committee carry out all their statutory duties with zeal and elasticity. They have a record which places them very high in the league of civic welfare accomplishment—in fact I would place them top of the league. They do things like house repairs. For instance, a widow who was left with a house of her own but was unable to afford to do anything to it has been helped. The Committee have gone along and found money to put new guttering on her terrace cottage. This is in addition to the other work: that is what I mean by "elasticity".
Another example is their issue of two postcards. The first one, which perhaps I may read to your Lordships, is sent out by the Ministry of Social Security at the desire of the Civic Welfare Committee along with the first notice of award to a pensioner. It states:Are you in need? Are you lonely? If so, this can help you.The Civic Welfare Committee in Salford is responsible for the Welfare Services of elderly and handicapped persons.My officers at the Civil Welfare Office, Broughton Road, Salford, 6, who are tactful, kindly and understanding, are available at all times to help you in every way on problems, in distress, or by making available for you from different sources varied types of assistance according to your personal needs.The Civic Welfare Committee is anxious that every elderly person in this city should be made aware of how and where help for ageing citizens can be obtained, and I suggest, therefore, that you notify me immediately you are within the definition of an elderly person, i.e., of pensionable age, when I will be only too pleased to arrange for a visitor from this Department to call and have a chat with you in the near future.Attached to that is a pre-paid postcard to send to the Committee. It reads, with blanks for completion:The occupier of … appears to me to be in need of welfare.It is addressed to the Director of Civic Welfare.
At Salford it is not a question of waiting for old people to come along, but of searching them out. We know the independent spirit which exists among many old people. The people in possession of these postcards, who carry them about in their pockets and hand them out, are doctors, ministers of all denominations, corner shopkeepers, coalmen, milkmen, postmen, rent collectors and many others. This is how it is being done.
642 I come back to the question of accommodation. Not all elderly people can be housed in council homes, though many have been provided by the local authority. As my noble friend Lord Soper indicated, thousands of old people do not IA ant to be in any kind of home. They want their own houses. The Companionship Circle for the Elderly has raised money, and to start with has bought two large houses at Southport, which are run as hostels. In one house 35 aged and handicapped persons have enjoyed holidays for nearly 18 years. For 7 years the other house has received 25 elderly people for two weeks holiday throughout the year. The benefit of seaside air away from the bronchial atmosphere of a city like Salford cannot be described.
But more important are the voluntary efforts for people in their own homes. My goodness, we hear a lot to-day about the ill-doing of university students—or a minority of them. The students at Manchester and Salford Universities head the team in Salford for the help of the elderly people, and they are supported by senior grammar school pupils and technical college students. They go out decorating homes, tidying gardens, acting as sitters-in to give company to elderly people in the evenings—a team of regular visitors to try to do something towards abolishing loneliness. It ought to be said that all that is being done in Salford on the basis of voluntary and statutory effort is in no way an attempt to relieve people of their own responsibilities, but simply to assist them, as necessary, to deal with their own problems within their capabilities, and making available facilities to ensure a fair share of life in the community for the aged, many of whom never enjoy the things which are within reach of most of us.
My Lords, in my pride at the accomplishments of the people I used to represent, I could go on for a very long time and show in detail the work that is being done. But I will not bore the House. Sufficient to say, in conclusion, that the scheme works. We have sociological surveys and we have been bombarded with masses of statistics; but here is a town that is doing something about this problem. The Ministry of Social Security and the welfare committees of local authorities can keep up their good work, but I still want to say 643 that I believe that voluntary work, with its intimate knowledge of individual needs and problems, has still a large part to play in this land of ours.
The day may come—I do not know—when our country will be so well off (thinking about it to-day one wonders when it will come) that the Welfare State will be able to cover all these things and give an adequate service to the elderly. But we are a long way from that time. Meanwhile, my hope is that many more cities and towns will by voluntary effort emulate the lead set by this city. It is a city which has been publicised by Love on the Dole, A Taste of Honey, and other books, plays, films and documentaries giving an exaggerated impression of misery, but in that same city there is an unrivalled effort to help the less fortunate.
If apologies are necessary for this type of speech, concentrating on one particular part, I tender that apology; but I think Britain ought to know more about the activities of Salford in the social field, and particularly so far as the elderly are concerned. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, that I have gone a long way from where he began, but I hope he will forgive me.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ LORD DONALDSON OF KINGSBRIDGE
My Lords, may I begin by adding my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, on his most impressive maiden speech. He showed a use of figures which my noble friend Lord Royle was quite right in saying that we should be glad to have on this side of the House. I have no difficulty in supporting the noble Lord, Lord Byers, in the first part of his Motion, but the question of selectivity against universality has been pretty widely discussed. I have prepared some very convincing arguments on the subject, but I think they have mostly been deployed and it would be wearisome to repeat them.
I should like to turn to the second point in the Motion:…to ensure that financial assistance is made available to those who really need it".That, of course, is the key to the door which many speakers have opened to-day, to get away from the first and rather drier point on to our special hobby-horses. 644 The hobby-horse of my noble friend Lord Royle was a most encouraging one, and if we could hear similar stories from other cities we should be in a better position than we are to-day.
If we accept, as I certainly do, that we are to select categories of people who are in the greatest need and concentrate our resources on them, then our object surely must be to give them help substantial enough to have some chance of pulling them through the particular troubles in which they find themselves. Help in this context, as was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, and developed by my noble friend Lord Soper, means more than money. In that drab area of society where individuals and families teeter along a knife-edge between their survival and total collapse, little can be done without money. But money by itself is not enough; it is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition, and in all I have to say I want to stress above all things the need for more.
In the second place, the selection of a group or category for concentrated aid is not, as was suggested by noble friend Lord Bowles, the end of it. There is the question of what he called the take-up—can you get the aid to the people concerned? Certainly most people, however feckless, will totter round to the Ministry of Social Security and draw their supplementary benefits. But in many cases at the end of the scale if this is not accompanied by something a little more in the way of personal attention and advice it will be largely wasted; because the Ministry of Social Security does not aim very high, and I do not think it ought to aim very high. It aims at the bare necessities of life.
The smaller the income, the more skill is required to maintain and feed a family; and almost by definition the families who find themselves drawing these poverty line benefits are the very families who have already shown themselves quite incompetent to manage their affairs. We know that they exist, but there are difficulties in finding them. They will not come forward, as a rule, and identify themselves. Perhaps the officials who distribute the benefits may recognise them; but they are very busy people. One way of finding them is by the use of my noble friend Lord Royle's reply-paid postcards. This 645 is an absolute essential before you can be sure that money is not wasted. It is a fact, I think, that there are a certain number of individuals and families which cannot confront life without considerable support in both money and personal friendship and advice. These are the raw material of the prison population. It may be said that it is their own fault; and to the extent that it is due to their own inadequacies, this is true. To what extent we can blame people for being what they are raises philosophical problems right outside the scope of this debate. But I think that the most ferocious hawks among your Lordships, however irritated you may be by the cooings of a shameless dove like myself, would not wish to see innocent children suffering for their parents' failings, or an innocent wife suffering for her husband's failings.
Let me illustrate my point a little further by discussing a corner of the Welfare State which is only recently beginning to receive attention. Incidentally, the task of those of us who have been focusing attention on this corner is considerably eased by the presence at the Home Office of my noble friend Lord Stonham, because nothing that we say is stronger or more critical than what he said before he became gamekeeper. We are determined to help him, even to the extent of importunity, in his firm intention to put right what we all know to be wrong. I am referring to those people whose distress is caused by their falling foul of the law. These can be categorised into three groups: single men, young boys and girls, adolescents, and families. My noble friend Lord Soper has dealt with the first two groups, and I shall confine myself largely to the third.
Here the question of selectivity arises almost in reverse. Families of this kind do not, except in rare circumstances, apply for help. The only selection there is is self-selection, and the result is that the props and crutches which society supplies, and which goodness knows! are meagre enough, are apt to be improperly used. The sudden removal of the wage-earner from a young family is obviously a severe shock, at any rate when it occurs for the first time, even if he has been a bad husband and a bad worker. The wife finds herself physically, psychologically and financially deprived.
646 I must not develop the theme of the problems of prisoners' families, because we are discussing selectivity and rot the Welfare Service, but your Lordships will not find it difficult to realise that they are often, indeed usually, severe. If your Lordships have any doubts, may I recommend Mrs. Pauline Morris's book, Prisoners and Their Families, which supplies ample evidence. For every wife living comfortably on her husband's ill-gotten gains, there are a hundred suffering from these hopeless inadequacies (for they are inadequate even as criminals); and if this group, this sub-group, one might say, of the larger category of problem families is among those selected for special treatment, and surely it must be, then if the help is not to be dissipated ineffectively attention must be paid to these two points referred to several times in the debate. Someone must go out and find then and when they are found they must be offered help of a personal kind, as wag as money.
There is only one medium in this particular field through which these things can be done, and that is the Probation Service. This is part of our penal system, and not part of the Welfare Services, and must be regarded as outside the scope of this debate. But it is perhaps worth mentioning, in passing, that a recent survey suggested that in only one-third of the existing probation offices is a routine effort made to make contact with the family of a man on conviction; and that shows how many are missed. But, of course, the Probation Service does not work in a vacuum; it works through volunteers, through wives' groups, through housing associations, through the Women's Royal Voluntary Service, through the family service units, and countless other voluntary bodies; and these are the people who must be used to make the contact, working always under the direction of the Probation Service, to give the personal support which as required.
But the skilled workers who bear the strain, the professionals employed by these voluntary societies, often have to spend up to half their time trying to raise enough money to keep going at all, and the same thing is done by many probation officers to help the associations. This is absurd; it is a feckless waste of trained manpower. When we are reallocating the 647 money which we hope Lord Byers will save by our selective approach, we must devote some of it, not to direct aid, but to the kind of indirect aid which makes the direct aid fully effective. To be fair, there seems to be some understanding in the Home Office of this need, and I am hopeful for the future.
What I am saying applies not only to prisoners' families, but to all those special categories where the problems are wholly or partly self-induced. There are many people in special need as a result of accident or act of God who are perfectly capable of looking after themselves if they are given enough money to do it, but there will always remain the fringe, which rises numerically with the population and out of proportion to that rise—the fringe of inadequate people who cannot look after themselves. I am sure we must be more selective in our approach to the distribution of benefits, but to make sure that our distribution is effective we must strengthen the professional agencies, chiefly the Ministry of Social Security, whose local representatives should have much wider discretionary power, and the Probation Service, who must be encouraged, indeed directed, to pay ever more attention to the family problems of their clients. Finally, special assistance should be made available to any voluntary bodies which are engaged in work in support of the family, so that vigorous efforts can be made to get the help to the families who most need it, and then, through personal support, to help them solve their appalling problems. If these things are done, my Lords, the change of emphasis called for by the noble Lord, Lord Byers, will not be wasted.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ LORD AUCKLAND
My Lords, I should like to join in the congratulations which have been expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, on his studied and informative maiden speech. I think it is proof, if proof were needed, that the younger generation of our Parliamentarians in both Houses are continuing to take a real interest in this very important subject. We are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for enabling us to discuss it at a particularly opportune moment, following the extremely stiff dose of medicine which the Chancellor of the Exchequer rightly administered to the 648 nation yesterday. It is for this reason that, as has been pointed out by a number of noble Lords, the word "selectivity" presents a difficulty: because the wages and incomes structure of this country has changed enormously over the last thirty years. The very rich of thirty years ago are not necessarily very rich to-day; the very poor of thirty years ago, or their equivalents, are, thank goodness!, in many cases a good deal more affluent to-day. I think that one provision of the Budget Statement which will command universal support is the increase of the tax exemption allowance of persons over 65.
I should like to deal more with the health aspect of this question, rather than the actual social security side. I must confess that I find the National Insurance and social security subject one of immense complication, and I agree with my noble friend Lord Ilford that some kind of comprehensive study, whether it be by Royal Commission or in some other way, is needed to go into the various National Insurance aspects in this country and somehow to collate them into something which is far more understandable by the majority of people.
We in this country face a population higher than it has ever been; a waiting list for hospital beds almost the highest, if not the highest of all time; and I think this is a problem which comes well within the ambit of the Motion on our Order Paper to-day. Those who live in an area, as I do, where there is a colony of mental hospitals know full well how many old people there are in these hospitals. Some can talk and discuss things very rationally. They all seem very happy, and in almost every case they are extremely well looked after, often by a staff who work very long hours. I and others have mentioned that point in this House before, and I make no apology for mentioning it again within the terms of this Motion. Indeed, I hope it will be mentioned in future, because I believe the nation has a right and a duty to know these things, to supplement the occasional story in the Press and elsewhere that people in these hospitals are ill treated. That may well happen at times, but the vast majority are very well looked after.
But the point is that many of these people could live at home if only the 649 family could care for them. What we have to discuss is how and why: how the family could care for them, and why they are often not able to do so. It is largely a case of money, because often these people need fairly extensive treatment and the money is not always available. In some cases they also need constant looking after; and again quite often members of the family physically cannot do this, with the result that there is an enormous strain, not only on hospital beds but on the nursing and the local authority services.
I should like now to say a few words about the chronic sick, because these people come well within the ambit of this Motion. The other place debated this matter last Friday. I listened to some of that debate, and I was appalled at the very small number of Members of the other place who were present. I know that it is not in order to attack the other place, and I do not wish to do so. But here is a subject of national importance—and all credit to those who were present and to those who spoke! But I think Parliament will be criticised if the sight that I saw there last Friday occurs too often, because there were so few Members present. However, there was an excellent debate initiated by my honourable friend the Member for Moray and Nairn, whom I happen to know very well personally.
Some very disturbing figures were mentioned in that debate. There are something like 650,000 people who are disabled and on the Ministry of Labour register. There may be others who are not on the register, and I should like to reinforce the plea that was made during that debate from both sides of the House. Although there is a register of disabled kept by the Ministry, as I understand it there is no central register. I can see the difficulties, but I think it would help if there were some kind of centralised register of these people and, if necessary, of the categories of disablement in which they find themselves.
The chronic sick, of course, take a number of forms. Cystic fibrosis is one particularly nasty illness from which children suffer. Some of your Lordships may have seen, last Sunday evening, an 650 appeal on television by a well-known star in the entertainment world, whom I have known personally for many years and who does a great deal of work for a number of charities of all kinds. This illness is a form of congestion of the lungs and is very often fatal, although I believe that medicine has now reached the stage where it is at least possible to prolong the life of the child for some years, but the mother, or whoever looks after the child, has to treat the child, among other forms of treatment, slapping its back three or four times a day. This imposes an enormous strain on a mother, why may well have several children in the family. There is also an enormous physical strain, and I should like to ask the Government what kind of financial provisions are made, or will be made, for this kind of family.
There are a number of forms of chronic sickness, and here again there hits been an appeal to the Minister to define the term "chronic sick", and I believe that there is a real urgency for such a definition. There are cases of young married women who are paralysed or otherwise chronically sick, where the husband has to look after his wife and the family, with very little or no income coming into the house.
My Lords, this is only one aspect of the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Byers, but I submit that it is these people who really need help. They need help because, in a great many cases, the people afflicted must be kept constantly warm. If they are paralysed, a machine to help them to breathe must be kept working, and of course the electricity bills are considerable. One possible solution would be a grant to construct a house so that wheel chairs and other objects can easily be moved. This may well save a lot of physical strain and in the long run may decrease the financial support necessary. We have h card a great deal this afternoon abort the elderly, and I immediately support all that has been said in that connection, but I hope that the Government will also give serious thought, within the terms of this Motion, to the chronic sick, because at the present time medical research has still to provide a cure, or even a prolongation of life, for these unfortunate people.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ LORD COLLISON
My Lords, I also express my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for bringing this question of selectivity before your Lordships' House, and I apologise to him for not being in the Chamber when he initiated the debate. It is also a matter of regret to me that I was not able to hear the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, but I shall certainly read what he said in Hansard to-morrow most carefully, particularly in view of the many complimentary remarks that have been made.
As we all know, in recent months there has been a great deal of selectivity in applying social welfare, and one of the reasons why I decided to speak to-day is because I hope that I can help to clear up some misunderstandings which I think have developed as to the views of the workers, the T.U.C., on this matter. I must also declare a certain interest as I am a member of the National Insurance Advisory Committee, of which my noble friend Lord Evans is the distinguished chairman. This Committee recently issued a report on the question of unemployment benefit and contribution credits for occupational pensioners, to which I made a dissenting note. However, I do not wish to go into that particular matter to-day.
In the first place, I believe that to be at all constructive or productive, discussion on this question of selectivity cannot be on an "all or nothing" basis. I do not think there can be a clear-cut choice over the whole field of social security between what is termed the universal approach as against the selective approach if one means by those terms giving help to all alike, regardless of need, or channelling help to those in particular need of it, or again between comprehensive contributory benefits on the one hand and selective provision in areas of special need on the other. I think the issue and the problem is much too complicated to be disposed of so simply.
We already have, as we all know, a comprehensive scheme of contributory National Insurance benefits which provides retirement pensions, sickness and unemployment pay, and widow's benefits, and let me say straightaway that any attempt to introduce a means test into 652 National Insurance cash benefits would be completely unacceptable to myself or to the trade union movement. But to my knowledge at no time have the Government proposed such a change. Their aim, as it seems to me, and on the contrary, has been to strengthen and not to weaken the contributory principle. In fact retirement pensions account for some two-thirds of all National Insurance expenditure, and I personally believe that what happens to retirement pensions is the key to what happens and will happen to the rest of the National Insurance scheme.
In making this point I want to make it clear that my opposition to a means test solution of the proper provision for old age is not based upon doctrinaire considerations. Nor is it based on memories of the callous indignities of the old Poor Law as it operated in conditions of mass unemployment in the 1930s. On the contrary, it is based on what I think is a realistic assessment of how best to make proper provision for the great majority of retirement pensioners and others in need under the social insurance scheme. As has been said this afternoon, and repeatedly said, retirement pensioners are not an affluent section of our society. If they were, perhaps the arguments for a means test in social insurance might carry more weight. But in fact the great majority are people with very little income over and above their pensions. For example, four-fifths of women pensioners have incomes below or only just above the supplementary pension level. Quite clearly, for these and most other old people it is the National Insurance pension which is crucial in determining the level of their income.
As regards National Insurance benefits, therefore, I am convinced that the arguments against the means test are conclusive, and that improvements in the non-contributory benefits, say the supplementary benefits, are acceptable only as a short-term solution to meet the immediate problem of existing need among the old people and others dependent upon national assistance. I believe that the long-term aim must be to build up a new superannuation scheme which will provide the retired with pensions above the non-contributory level. But, of course, social security covers a much wider field, and it certainly does not follow that because I oppose means tested 653 cash benefits I am therefore opposed to concentrating special resources to meet special needs in all the fields of social security provision. Selective action in this sense has, I think, an important part to play in the development of social security.
A recent survey of family needs has confirmed the existence of poverty among lower income families on a scale which I believe is totally unacceptable to our so-called affluent society even under the present stringency. In mid-1966, of the 7 million families with children in England, Scotland and Wales, no fewer than half a million families, with some 1¼ million children, were living on incomes at or below existing supplementary benefit level, and a further, and to my mind no less serious, finding of the survey was the number of those families not receiving National Assistance or receiving it at a reduced rate and who therefore were living even below the National Assistance level. Indeed, some 140,000 families, or about one-third of those below supplementary benefit level, were debarred from receiving National Assistance simply because the father was in a full-time job and the wage stop operated.
These figures, I submit, present in uncompromising terms the seriousness of the problems of low paid workers whose full-time earnings are insufficient to meet even minimum family needs. That is just one case of the broader social welfare problems which we face. There are, of course, many other areas, and many of these will have been mentioned in this debate, where a special concentration of resources will be required to meet special need. There is this question of rates. There is the problem of deserted wives, the wives of prisoners just mentioned. All these problems have to be tackled by a responsible society. But then comes the question as to how the money is to be found. Quite frankly, returning to the problem of the low income family, I cannot see that any Government will be prepared to find the money needed to increase the income of low income families to a proper and acceptable level if the income of every other family regardless of need is to be increased by the same amount. Indeed, I think it would be wrong.
654 Therefore, in considering how the necessary selectivity can be achieved, I believe that the Government have made the right approach by applying selectivity by an adjustment of income tax, which in effect recovers the family allowances paid to the better-off families—and this was the proposition which we put to the Government by the T.U.C. In an attempt to meet this need or go towards meeting it, the Government made their proposals for a 7s. increase in all family allowances to become fully operative in April. This has now been supplemented, as we heard yesterday, by a further 3s. Although these proposals do not go anywhere near what the T.U.C. suggested and will clearly not fully solve the problem, nevertheless I welcome them as a step in the right direction, although of course I hope this is only to be the first step towards wider measures to assist families in need. At the same time, I fully accept that the problem of earnings which are insufficient to meet family needs cannot be tackled by family allowances alone, I believe that this problem must be considered in the wider context of incomes policy, as I know consideration is given to it.
In conclusion, my position is simply this: in the field of National Insurance I am totally opposed to a means tested cash benefit. These benefits laid down should be paid by right. There is a certain selectivity even in this field because, as your Lordships know, the cash benefits laid down vary for a single man and a married man and a man with dependants, and of course when one gets supplementary benefits these are purely selective; and you cannot take selectivity, in my view, any further in that particular sphere. Secondly, with regard to other areas of special need, I believe that selectivity, operated in some such manner as I have described with regard to family allowances, has an important part to play in the development of social security. Finally, I am anxious to see the contributory National Insurance Scheme developed fully on a wage-related basis so that acceptable income levels can be assured by right for the retired, but also, of course, for sick and unemployed pensioners.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ LORD SANDFORD
My Lords, I should like to start by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, on his maiden 655 speech and to say how glad we are to have him speaking from these Benches. and how much we hope that he will soon speak again.
I start with the proposition that the best we can do to help those who cannot help themselves is, first, to get those who can provide for themselves to do so. We should therefore make it a primary condition of employment that each member of the working population should, with the help of his employer, invest through insurance, through an occupational pension fund, transferable of course, and through other forms of savings, in his own and his family's future security, not in lieu of the basic State pension but as a supplement to it. Whatever it is practicable for a fit person in full employment to provide for, he should be made responsible for; certainly, for example, for his own family home, if it is practicable, and for his own retirement. Such an investment in the future security of themselves and their families by as many people as is practicable will not only be a relief to the demands that may later be laid upon the social services, but also be a spur to the growth of the economy. Furthermore, people subscribe far more readily to their own family's security than they do to any general and compulsory scheme of taxation or contributions.
So I start with the point that the old and basic principle of individual and family responsibility must be retained, reinstated and encouraged in every way that is possible. Everything that it is practicable for individual families to provide by their personal savings for their personal use ought to be provided by them. If this is not done, then there will be no hope whatever either of providing adequately such services as schools and hospitals—services which all of us need from time to time, but which none of us individually can provide for our own personal use. Nor will there be any possibility of ever effectively meeting the special needs of those who cannot help themselves, of which we have been hearing so many examples this afternoon.
Our debate has rightly, as I am sure the noble Lord. Lord Byers, hoped, focused attention on several special categories of people who, being unable to help themselves, ought to be able to 656 look to the rest of the community for more special help than they are at present getting. We have heard, as examples, chronically disabled housewives, elderly pensioners, chronically sick, various kinds of widows, divorcees, large families of low wage-earners, the homeless, schoolchildren in depressed areas, wives of prisoners, and so on. Each group of needy has its own champions and each group of champions has its own solution; and every now and then the Government respond to pressure from one or another of these and put a new patch into what is now looking like a very patchy patchwork of social provisions.
The noble Lord, Lord Byers, invited us to make this a wide-ranging debate. At this point I should like to leave the special question of selectivity and turn to the more general issues of the social services, because I do not believe that we can go on like this, patching the provisions here and there as special needs arise. In fact, if we were not such ingenious and incorrigible improvisers, I believe that the whole of our social services would by now have broken down. Just consider the difficulties that they are now labouring under. As I think Lord Soper was the first to point out, the cash benefits are handled by one central authority (until recently it was two), now the Ministry of Social Security, with its local branches in the Provinces. Care is undertaken by three quite distinct and separate agencies. Care in hospitals is the responsibility of the Hospital Boards, which are rooted neither in the central government nor in local government. Some care in the community is the responsibility of the health and welfare departments of the local authorities. Medical care is exercised by the general practitioner. Dental care is exercised by dentists. All these are independent of the first two, and they are independent of each other.
The Ministry of Health has varying degrees of responsibility for these last agencies, but yet shares general responsibility for the social services with the Ministry of Social Security. But there are two exceptions to that: the Children's Service, a most important segment of the social services, and the Probation Service are under the Home Office. Housing belongs to yet another Ministry. Then, 657 there are those parts of the social services which are to be found in the schools and come under the Ministry of Education.
If these handicaps and this disjointedness were not enough, there is the fact that those who serve in the different branches of the social services are all separately recruited, trained under different systems and deployed differently. The research that goes on takes the form, more often than not, of ad hoc surveys. We have had two, at least, mentioned this afternoon. Research is, however, going on more or less independently in the universities, and more still under the auspices of various charitable trusts. Important sectors of social work remain detached, though being done, I believe quite effectively, by the churches and certain voluntary bodies. These two groups also underpin the statutory agencies with a whole mass of supplementary services.
To me, the wonder is that this straggling system works at all. Certainly, it is no wonder that it lacks some of the refinements, such as selectivity and sensitivity towards those who are in real need. I believe that a major reorganisation of the whole structure is the only way to secure further improvements from now on, to get not only the selectivity about which we have all been talking and about which we all feel so strongly but also the sensitivity. These now seem to be common cause among us all—all, perhaps, with the exception of Lord Soper who, if I understand him aright, is still a universalist.
Last week we were talking about defence, an important subject and an item in our national life which altogether, Army, Navy, Air Force and supporting services, takes no more than 6½ per cent. of our gross national product. Now, to-day, we are talking about the welfare services—health, education, housing and pension benefits, which together, as the noble Lord, Lord Byers, started by reminding us, tot up to £7,000 million, that is, 20 per cent. of our national income. With this amount of money at stake, it really is time that we reviewed and overhauled these services, to improve their efficiency; to make sure that we, or rather the needy, are getting value of 658 this enormous sum of money; to make sure that what we are providing is really going to those who need it.
This, I think, is the main reason why we are all so indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for raising this issue this afternoon. In this connection, hope that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, when he replies, will be able to tell us, for example, about one sector in ret and to which there is a good deal of public concern namely, which local councils are now known to be operating sensible rent rebate schemes. The last time I saw the figures we knew only the details of about two-thirds of these and only 60 per cent. of those were operating schemes to bring the subsidies to bear where they were needed rather than spreading them over the whole of their council housing tenants.
There has, of course, been a review of the social services under this Government, but I cannot help thinking it has been a little more like a railway siding than a review, into which spare Ministers have been shunted when they were not wanted or when they had been finished with. I do not know whether if ere is anything in the rumour that Mr. George Brown is going next to be cast in the role of the Beveridge of to-day. But it certainly is imperative that a new structure should be established if any of the refinements for which the noble Lord, Lord Byers, and others are asking, are to be forthcoming.
In this new structure there are five features which can be discerned as being necessary. The first one, which was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn, is that feature which provides a single door into the local social services for any client who goes to them. This is a feature towards which the, Bill with which we shall be dealing tomorrow, the Social Work (Scotland) Bill. looks forward. As your Lordships know, we shall see a step in that Bill whereby a single local authority department is set up, through which the clients coming to it can be offered a wide range—not yet the whole range—of welfare services, including, I very much hope, the voluntary as well as the statutory services. I know that my noble friends from Scotland have a welcome waiting for this Bill, but it 659 is a welcome hedged around with considerable misgivings on a number of important points. But we must leave those till to-morrow.
The second feature which a reformation of the social services must contain is, I am sure, an integration of the local health services. How can we give an individual the best service that he or she really needs as long as G.Ps., hospitals and local welfare services remain divided, as they now are, into three or more parts? The Committee which sat under Sir Arthur Porritt, and which I think reported nearly six years ago, made a useful inquiry into the possibilities of integration. But the Government's response so far—if it can be so called—in the Health Services and Public Health Bill is, I believe, an inadequate one. If, as I expect, the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, says in his reply that we now have to wait for the Seebohm Committee Report, I hope he will assure us that when the recommendations are received they will be studied with dispatch and acted upon as quickly as possible.
The third feature which we must look for is an integration of the social welfare Ministries. It really cannot be possible to formulate and apply a proper comprehensive social policy which will meet social needs, or, better still, anticipate social needs as they come up, while the main responsibility remains split between two Ministries and spreads over into two or three others. It has been a forward step, and the Government are to be congratulated on it, to bring together the Departments dealing with cash benefits—the National Assistance Board and the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance. But Conservatives would have gone still further and, having merged those, would also have merged them with the Ministry of Health and brought cash and care together, as my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn said, thereby creating a comprehensive social service Ministry. From that point the further development is possible—which certainly deserves investigation and consideration—of an independent Social Services Board, independent of politics.
The next point, which I am sure must be given greater attention in any new structure of the social services, is far greater provision for social research and development. We cannot devise proper 660 benefits, the right benefits, for each individual client and confer them on those who really need them, without much better central research on the social services and much better social reconnaissance into the social condition of families in the community. So that a central social research set-up is urgently needed, and a form of continuing local reconnaissance into the state of the community at large, to pinpoint the changing needs as they come up, to investigate their causes and to devise the most suitable remedies for them.
This must have its strength in the local community, with the central research going on at Whitehall, but with strong organisation in each locality as well. Here, I am sure, the clergy and doctors, local societies and community organisations ought to be brought in in the way that the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, and the noble Lord, Lord Royle, were describing, so that they are brought into the formulation of policy from the grass roots.
Finally, in view of the large amounts of public money that are at stake, I am sure we must look forward to an inspectorate of the social services. How can we be sure that those in need are getting value for our money, without a far more penetrating and continuing investigation and inspection of all our social services? An inspectorate comparable to that which we have in our schools or for our police is surely needed to establish, for example, the criteria of efficiency in the use of hospital beds—and there is a tremendous variation up and down the country in the way they are used—and criteria for efficiency in the use of temporary paid and voluntary manpower. This subject was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill. All these matters need to be assessed and worked out for a whole host of services into which we at present pour millions of pounds—£900 million a year goes into our hospital services alone—without our ever knowing for certain whether anyone gets full value from them.
To sum up, we on these Benches would agree entirely with the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Byers, in that we want more selectivity in order to defend and make the welfare services more efficient. But we would agree that that is feasible 661 only under two conditions: first, the reinstatement and the encouragement of a personal responsibility to invest in the future security of one's own family; and, secondly, a thorough reformation of the whole structure of the social services on the lines that I have just set out. We had thought, and the electorate were certainly led to expect, that members of the Party opposite would tackle this reform of the social services. But, sad to say, our experience of the last three-and-a-half years now casts some doubt upon this. For the sake of the social services I hope that it will not be necessary to wait very much longer.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF HOUSING AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT (LORD KENNET)
My Lords, as many speakers have said, the whole House is grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, for his Motion which has given rise to an extremely useful debate. Both he and the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, seemed in different degrees to be in favour of scrapping the lot and starting again by means of a Royal Commission or some vast overhaul. Of course, the case for this is very attractive, and the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, put it with enormous persuasion just now.
It is always a question of judgment, when you have a system which has grown up over the years and is a bit of a patchwork, when you should have an overall inquiry into it. Of course, you cannot scrap it before you have the overall inquiry, and when you get a field as vast and as complex as this the very procedure of putting into effect any amalgamation which may come out of an overall inquiry is itself attended by certain risks. In other words, there are strong arguments on the other side against—at any rate, now—stopping everything while we think, and then starting up afresh.
The noble Lords, Lord Drumalbyn and Lord Sandford, both mentioned the idea of a Social Security Board, by which I take it they have in mind something rather like the Swedish system, whereby there is a Minister, in a very small Ministry, a little apart from a large and powerful permanent Board. I think that perhaps it was in their minds that this would help to insulate the administration of the social 662 security services from politics. I am not sure that it would do that, because such a Board must be subject to ministerial direction, and a Minister who is minded to play politics with the social services (I do not think any recent Ministers have been very much minded to do this, but a Minister might be so minded) could play politics as well, or almost as well, by giving directions to a semi-independent board as he could by handling it direct from a very large and omnipresent Ministry, or series of Ministries, such as we have at present.
On the question of merging Ministries, I think the Scottish initiative is something which we in England shall do well to watch as it develops. The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, spoke of the undesirability of having Ministers competing for cash in this field. I do not know how it was in Conservative days, but can assure him that it is not like that now. They do not compete. Traditionally, one does not say in Parliament exactly how the machinery of Cabinet Committees, and so on, works, but I can assure the House that we have a pretty good structure for ensuring that the way priorities are settled as between this and that branch of the social services does not at any point degenerate into competition.
May I now turn to some of the specific points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn? He brought up the Ministry of Social Security's family circumstances inquiry of a couple of year; ago, and he asked how that would have been affected if the new family allowance levels had been in effect. As he said, that inquiry showed that there were 160,000 families, containing about 500,000 children, who were at that time (which was the summer of 1966) below the supplementary benefit level. If family allowances had been 7s. higher at that time, they would have lifted four out of ten families, containing about half the children, up to or above the supplementary benefit level. If family allowances had been 10s. higher at that time, they would have lifted half the families, containing about six out of ten of the children, up to or above that level. I cannot say that this is what would happen now, because, for various reasons, the number of families below the supplementary benefit level fluctuates; but I think the most valid comparison I can give him is that 663 which I have just given—what would have happened in 1966. We may be sure that it would not be too far from that now; and that, of course, is largely the purpose of the recently announced increases.
The noble Lord mentioned, and asked me to comment on, two alternative schemes in this field, the Hayhoe scheme and the Dennis Lees scheme in the Lloyds Bank Review. On the first of these two schemes, the view of the Government is that it is somewhat sketchy, and if the noble Lord will excuse me I do not propose to take up the time of the House by commenting on it in detail at the moment. On the second scheme, the Lloyds Bank Review scheme, the Government were interested to note (I do not want to sound negative about this, but the author himself said it) what Professor Lees said. He said that whether his scheme was administratively feasible and would have the effects intended was quite another matter. In that, he meant another matter from the degree of certainty which he had been able to bring to bear on previous assertions. He stressed, as all wise men should in this field, the gap between theory and delivery; and the noble Lord will no doubt have seen that Professor Titmuss took a much more pessimistic view of this in an article in the New Statesman last September. I think it would be wrong if I were to raise hope that easy or early solutions are likely to be found along these lines in this field.
As regards the topic of income tax in reverse, which has not been mentioned much—and I myself was rather glad to notice that it was not mentioned much in this debate—the great difficulty here, of course, is that income tax deals with last year's income, and family and other allowances deal with this year's difficulties, and they may not coincide.
Lord Drumalbyn's third specific question was about the renunciation of family allowances by people who do not need them. He asked: What happens if a family renounce their family allowances, to save the work in issuing them and in recovering some of them in tax? By the way, I hope we can avoid this terminology of "clawing back". It sounds so excessively violent and unpleasant. I think 664 that probably the "omnium gatherum" phrase of "give and take" is for this scheme more neutral emotionally and more accurate in the social intention behind it. The point about doing without family allowances is that already a family can decline to take their family allowances and can so advise the Inland Revenue so that tax from them is not deducted. Whether this arrangement should be extended and put on a more formal basis in the context of greater selectivity in future is something which the Government will be considering.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester described the present ferment of ideas in this field—and how right he was! This debate is part of it, and the Government welcome it. I would repeat what has been said before, and that is to tender the thanks of the Government to the Church for the circular, which he described, to the parish priests about means-testing, and all that. He also touched briefly on the question of school meals and the embarrassment which may be getting us a poor uptake in this field, if it is embarrassment. I should just like to inform the House what is being done about this, because there is a certain amount of research and thought going forward on this rather difficult problem.
Only last autumn the Department of Education and Science took three steps about it. First of all, the Secretary of State prepared a personal message to the parents of all schoolchildren, telling them in broad terms who could become entitled to free school meals for their children and how they could apply for them. This was sent out as a leaflet by local education authorities to schools, and children took them home to their parents. Secondly, local education authorities were asked to review their existing arrangements for providing free meals and to report what had been done, particularly about avoiding embarrassment to children who were getting them. Thirdly, and obviously of greatest importance in the longer term, a team of social scientists at the London School of Economics have been commissioned to undertake a research project to throw light on precisely this problem—the reasons why the free school meals are not being taken up, or are not being taken up enough. The result of this research is not yet ready.
665 I think that any noble Lord who knows schools, or even who uses his imagination, can see how very difficult it is to devise a better system than simply some children trotting up and handing in their money and other children not trotting up and handing it in. If you think of vouchers, you immediately run into the problem of a sort of illicit currency in the school. These things, which are worth a meal, may also turn out to be worth money, and you could get a kind of "prison camp economy", with little green tickets being used instead of shillings and half-crowns, and that is a difficulty. But, in general, the Government are very much aware of the need to overcome this very real problem, and I think we may look to the L.S.E. research project as one of the main contributions to overcoming it.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? I wonder whether the same kind of steps have been taken in Scotland, and whether there is a separate inquiry going on there, or whether it is thought that the findings of the London School of Economics will be applicable in Scotland.
§ LORD KENNET
I am very much afraid I do not know the answer to that question, but if I may write to the noble Lord later I will let him know.
The noble Lord, Lord Soper—as, indeed, did many other noble Lords—made concrete suggestions which I should like an opportunity to look into, and I will write to him later. I must join with all noble Lords who spoke after him in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, on his extremely workmanlike and well-documented maiden speech. I do not know whether he is going to accept the invitation of my noble friend to come over to this side and join us, but if he does not we shall have to look out.
My noble friend Lady Summerskill spoke in very constructive and concrete terms about the development of the domiciliary service, this idea of a "neighbour" or "good neighbour" service. Of course, the general tendency in long-term hospital planning is towards keeping people out; and I think we should all agree with what she said about that. It costs less, and it is nice for people not to go into hospital until it is quite un- 666 avoidable. I should like to look it and cause to be examined in more detail what my noble friend said, and write to her.
I turn now to my noble friend's second point about the divorced woman and the possible impact on the welfare services of the present divorce proposals before Parliament. I hope the House will agree that in general we should examine this Bill when it comes and not now; and also we should be in a bad position to say what effect it is likely to have on the welfare services until we know the provisions. But I would say that divorced women, although they lose their widow's benefit rights, can take up their husband's National Insurance record for the period of the marriage. Assuming they have a full record themselves before marriage, which is normal, they will have full pension rights up to the date of the divorce, and the nearer the woman is to tie age of sixty—and I know this is something which worried the noble Baroness, this question of the middle-aged and elderly women—the shorter will be the period for which she must contribute herself in order to get a full pension. So the picture is not nearly so black as it appears.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, my noble friend speaks as if this is something which is irrevocable, as if this will come about if the divorce proposals go through. But is it not something that the Government could look into, to see possibly whether the position of the divorced woman could not be ameliorated in that respect? It is not final.
§ LORD KENNET
Of course, the Divorce Bill is a Private Member's Bill; but in so far as it is a Bill which contains provisions for compulsory divorce it does not contain provisions for the compulsory pauperisation of the divorced wife of a man who would be capable of maintaining her. On the other side, I think it might be difficult to know what one should start to examine as regards the effects on the welfare services before one knows what it is in the Bill, and under what conditions a divorce may be brought in the future in circumstances where it is not now. I think it is clear that it will be hard to know what to look at.
My Lords, turning to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, with his long experience in the administration of what 667 are now supplementary benefits, I was interested in what he had to say about the history of the names and also to know that he had opposed the change of name. I sometimes wonder how long it will be before we have to change the name again. Clearly, it will not be quite yet, but when we face the question, "Supplementary to what?" there will immediately arise the choice of another name. But I think that for the moment it is an improvement on the one that went before, and that we shall, as usual, run through the life span of any such name until we can endure it no longer. But we shall see.
The noble Lord put with marvellous succinctness the whole problem of means-testing in his phrase, "unwillingness of people to accept a sum of money as a result of a disclosure of their means". That is exactly what it is. We all know that unwillingness exists, and we know that it is difficult to find a way round it. I join the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, in hoping that it will die away, because it is difficult to see otherwise a means of getting the money to where it ought to be.
The noble Lord, Lord Auckland, raised the question of the definition of the chronic sick. As he knows, this matter is very much under discussion at the moment by my right honourable friend the Minister of Health and doctors and chemists, in the context of the exemptions for the reintroduced prescription charges. It would be wrong for me to say more. I think it is general knowledge that it is hard to define chronic sickness; it is hard to decide who should carry a slip of paper, to whom, saying what, in order to establish these exemptions. But I understand that the discussions are proceeding in a fairly hopeful way and that it will not he too long before they reach a definition of the chronic sick or the conditions concerned for this purpose. Whether they will be applicable for other purposes is something which is not yet clear.
The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, asked which local housing authorities are operating sensible rent rebate schemes. The proportion of the housing authorities in the country who are operating rebate schemes is still under one-half. Of course which of those are sensible is a difficult matter to determine. It could be that if 668 he and I were to sit down to review the present situation we should not agree on what was sensible. For that reason I do not think I can hold out any hope of any formal communication to your Lordships in the future, saying perhaps that 20 per cent. are sensible, 20 per cent. are rather sensible and 20 per cent. are foolish, because—although, as your Lordships know, the Ministry of Housing has twice issued a circular on how to establish the detailed criteria—the criteria themselves must vary from place to place in accordance with the judgment of social justice entertained by the majority of members on the councils concerned.
My Lords I have not covered all or nearly all the points which have been raised. They were so numerous and diverse—and the noble Lord, Lord Byers intended they should be and I applaud his intention—I am going to look through Hansard to-morrow and if there are any specific inquiries which I have left unanswered I will write to the noble Lord who put them.
I should like to end with a general reflection about selectivity and universality, one which has not been taken very much, if at all, into account in this debate. It is about the cost of selectivity. The more selectivity you get, the less money you actually "dish out" in payment. But more selectivity means more civil servants, who have to be employed in order that there should be selectivity; and the more you pay them, and the more premises you need to house them. It is difficult to set a balance. For this reason, among others (and I am bearing in mind what the noble Lord, Lord Collison, said about the T.U.C.) the Government have chosen to keep selectivity as far as possible to a selective choice of categories; to get away as far as possible from selecting "Tom" from "Dick" and to get into a procedure where we can say, "This category, and this sub-category of that category, and this sub-sub-category"—but all categories which can be identified without having to go probing around saying, "O.K., how much do you get?"; to select to a finer and finer category and choose which are in need of more money for this or that reason; to introduce selectivity by fine sub-categories and not individuals.
669 As to the cost of running schemes, it is striking. I should like to point out to the House that the family allowances scheme, which is not selective and which helps 4 million households a week, employs 1,250 staff in the Ministry of Social Security. The supplementary benefit scheme which is individually selective, helps 2½ million households a week, only a little over a half of the other, and it takes 16,000 officials to administer. This is a very striking contrast. This is the administrative cost of selectivity. I think for that reason the Government are justified in avoiding further refinement down to individual levels—quite apart from the unchangeable fact of human nature that, in Lord Ilford's words, people are not willing to accept a sum of money based on the disclosure of their private means.
If I may, I will end by reminding the House of what the noble Lord, Lord Soper, said about how the divine social services were universal. But, of course, the resources of divine grace are infinite. Our own resources of mundane wealth are finite, and I hope the House will agree in general that, by and large, allowing for the difficult and complicated history of this matter, the Government are not doing too badly in apportioning them.
§ 6.49 p.m.
§ LORD BYERS
My Lords, I think that all of us will agree that this debate has been valuable for the interesting and most useful statements which have been elicited from the spokesman from the Government Benches. It has also resulted in some important contributions from noble Lords and from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester and the noble Baroness. Lady Summerskill. In fact I think that by having a 670 provocative Motion I succeeded in getting the sort of people to contribute to the debate that I wanted, and I am most grateful to them for having done so. I, too, should like to offer my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Bethel on a short but very effective intervention, and I am sure that we shall hear much more from the noble Lord in future.
My Lords, I am convinced that there is a pretty limited scope for further selectivity in the welfare services, but what has been said to-day reinforces me in the view that the time has come, or is approaching, when we ought to take another lock, an objective look, at where we are going in the handling of the welfare services of this country. It is not a question of stopping or scrapping. It is a question of starting soon to set in motion the, very difficult machinery to survey something of this magnitude which at the present moment involves something like £7,500 million a year. I know that it the moment the Government have a great many problems on their mind, most of them self-created. I should not dream of adding to them, so, with your Lordships' leave, I should like to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.