HL Deb 06 August 1975 vol 363 cc1750-8

Clause 14, page 7, line 32, at end insert—("(2) Regulations may—

  1. (a) provide for an invalidity pension to be payable to a pensioner who, whilst continuing to be incapacitated for normal full-time 1751 work, becomes capable of undertaking light work in circumstances which satisfy prescribed conditions;
  2. (b) prescribe the amount such a pensioner may earn before his pension is affected in any way; and
  3. (c) prescribe the effect any earnings additional to the amount referred to in paragraph (b) above will have on a pensioner's entitlement to invalidity pension.")

The Commons disagree to this Amendment for the following Reason:

Because it would be inconsistent with the purposes for which invalidity pension is provided under the Social Security Act 1975 and would tend to the imposition on the National Insurance Fund of a burden which it should not be made to accept at the present time.


My Lords, I beg to move that this House doth not insist on their Amendment No. 1 to which the Commons have disagreed for the following reason: because it would be inconsistent with the purposes for which invalidity pension is provided under the Social Security Act 1975 and would tend to the imposition on the National Insurance Fund of a burden which it should not be made to accept at the present time.

I do not wish to burden your Lordships by going over all the previous ground that our debates on this Amendment have covered. Your Lordships will know that we have covered this ground on a number of occasions and perhaps with your permission I could take it fairly briefly. I think we are all fully aware of the arguments, both from the Government side and from the Opposition. I should simply say that the Amendment could have been left on the Statute Book and the regulation-making power it contained not used, and it would be a very simple way of dealing with the situation. The view of the Government has been that the proper course to take was to seek to reverse the decision which your Lordships had previously taken. The fundamental reason for this view is, as your Lordships will know, that there can be no compatibility between, on the one hand, benefits which are made available to some 10 million claimants a year because the claimants are incapable of work, and on the other hand an earnings rule on the lines of the retirement pensions earning rule related to the performance of part-time or light work.

We have covered this ground on a number of occasions. I find it extremely difficult to put it in another way and as your Lordships will know the so-called therapeutic earnings limit is designed to deal with a very small category of beneficiaries who can be accepted as being incapable of work despite the fact that they have been able to perform a minimal amount of work but in strictly prescribed circumstances.

I want to emphasise what I have said on previous occasions, the therapeutic allowance is not really designed to enable those who are totally incapacitated to earn money, but it has done so under a medical certificate under medical guidance and approval because it is felt that for many reasons, not least among them psychological reasons, it is desirable, and of therapeutic value, to help the person perhaps to feel that he or she is in a position to do something to earn some money.

In conclusion I think I should refer once again, as my honourable friend did in another place, to an undertaking which the Government have given, and I want to emphasise this undertaking because perhaps it is something new. We have not dealt with this matter lightly. I know it will not meet with the approval of everybody in your Lordships' House, but we have given a great deal of attention and thought to it, and what I want to do tonight is to repeat an assurance which my honourable friend gave in another place. We will study the problems of the disabled person who is capable of some work, and in this study we will draw on the experience of those who are professionally and personally involved.

We recognise that there may well be a number—perhaps a substantial number—of people who have been designated as totally incapacitated for work but who may be able to do some work. Obviously, in their interests, in the interests of the community, let alone the interests of the Government, it is desirable that they should be encouraged to do it but at the moment—and I want to emphasise this—we are dealing with total incapacity. We have to do some rethinking about this. We want to make a study of the problems of the disabled person who is capable of some work, and in this study to draw on the experience of those who are professionally and personally involved. I am happy to repeat this undertaking in your Lordships' House in order to assure your Lordships that without any commitment as to the outcome—and it would be wrong for me to put it in any other way—the Government will take full account of the views expressed not only in your Lordships' House but in other places. I hope that, with that assurance, your Lordships will feel able to accept the view of another place on this matter. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House doth not insist on their Amendment No. 1 to which the Commons have disagreed.—(Lord Wells-Pestell.)

7.20 p.m.


My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, for explaining the reasons given by another place on this Amendment. Your Lordships will remember, of course, that a great deal of time was spent on this Amendment both on Committee and on Report. I think I should take the opportunity of thanking the noble Lord for taking a great deal of trouble to listen to the case on this, and for communicating with both his right honourable friend and his honourable friend who dealt with this point in another place.

My Lords, the House will be glad to hear, and I am quite sure that colleagues in the welfare sphere outside the House will also be glad to hear, that a study of therapeutic earnings is to be undertaken by Her Majesty's Government, which follows up exactly what was said in another place. But there is one point on which we disagree. We disagree with the statement of the honourable friend of the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell. If I may quote his exact words, he said: …to sum up, we disagree with the Lords Amendment because it envisages radical changes which cannot be adopted without a great deal more thought and examination of complex conditions. Those changes would bring into invalidity benefit many people not now entitled to it and add several millions of pounds to present costs without any rehabilitation gain."—[Official Report, Commons, 4/8/75; col. 38.] Those last few words, "without any rehabilitation gain", are ones which we have contested throughout because we have felt that it would be a positive gain to include certain categories. The noble Lord has met us on this point because he has said that a study is to be undertaken to review the condition, the situation of a person defined in the term "incapable of work". This is so fundamental, and I should like to thank the Government for having taken action on this matter.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, will remember that he was good enough to communicate with me on this definition in February of this year. I thank him for his reply, but I should like to stress once again that we are not totally satisfied, and look forward to hearing the results of this exploration of the field.

7.26 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw and the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy De Knayth and Lady Masham of llton, are very concerned that they have not found it possible to be here today, and would wish to apologise for that, and for the fact that they were unable to hear the statement of the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, on Amendments that they proposed, and on which they attained a majority in your Lordships' House a couple of weeks ago. The Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, would have been of enormous help to a group of people whom the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, admitted were very few in number. It would have given them the opportunity of achieving even a limited measure of independence.

For my own part, I think this is a lamentable decision and if I may say so, it runs counter to all the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell. I dislike disagreeing with him because I know where his heart is in relation to these people. Indeed, he has given us some hope with this inquiry, for which I am grateful, that a new look will be given to this. But all the efforts of the last 20-odd years during which I have been in one or other Chamber of Parliament have been devoted to getting away from the idea that someone handicapped was isolated and away in a hospital or a home, sometimes a young person in a geriatric unit because there was nowhere else to put them. Over the past few years, all efforts have been towards endeavouring to rehabilitate the disabled, or those who appeared to be permanently handicapped; and all the efforts of medical specialists and social workers in recent years have been directed not to writing-off these people but to enabling the disabled to use every scrap of their mental and physical capacity to the utmost advantage in order to see whether there was some way of getting that prime achievement and that bit of financial independence. Those covered by the Amendments are a very small minority of a minority of totally handicapped people. Their spur is their desire to contribute by their own efforts, in order not to have to take everything from the family and the State.

My Lords. I believe that this miserably low level of £7 is a shocking deterrent to remunerative occupational therapy which can, for some handicapped people over the years, with all the new methods and appliances and new treatments, become the channel through which those people, a very small number, may graduate to full employment and financial independence. To limit the amount which the invalided pensioner incapable of full-time employment can earn to £7, and if they do a modicum of part-time or light work and earn more than £7 then they lose their entire pension, is unfair and short-sighted. Take the accountant who has lost all the facility to write but still has his mental faculties. He is standing or sitting over a little local shopkeeper who does not begin to know about PAYE or VAT and the accountant can tell him how to do it. He is a man who was a professional and quite rightly he is giving the shopkeeper good advice and help. The shopkeeper writes down what the wage packet and the PAYE should be and the accountant, to his great joy, is pursuing as best he can his former profession, although he may no longer be able to hold a pen or travel to and from the office.

As I said in a previous debate there are some who are knitting garments, some are addressing envelopes. I think we should take into account wages as they have risen in this last year. Accepting that this is only part-time work, if these people did two or three hours a day, five days a week, to keep within that £7 and not lose their pension, they would have to be paid less per hour than we have to pay a charwoman who comes in to wash up or make the beds. Most of these people were stricken through no fault of their own. I think we should salute their merit and courage. We should improve their situations by allowing them, if they are capable, to earn just a little more, and make this modest concession.

I fully accept the parlous economic state and, indeed, the cuts that have to be made in the Social Services and other Departments. But the reason we were given for the rejection of this Amendment was that it would impose on the National Insurance Fund. I can tell the Minister how he can meet this money. If the Minister for Social Security more actively pursued those who abuse the services and benefits we grant, and defaulting husbands who leave their families to be looked after by the National Assistance while they seek remunerative employment away from their own abode, then I believe we could more than save the very modest amount of money that would be required to set a higher limit on what these people could earn without losing their invalidity allowance. This is modest aid for these very courageous citizens who want to stand on their own feet and who reflect all the attributes which everyone on both sides of this House most admires. I speak for our absent colleagues, some with personal knowledge of physical handicaps, who asked me to speak on their behalf this afternoon. I know that they will be saddened by this position, as indeed I am myself.


My Lords, I also regret that this Amendment has not been agreed to in another place, particularly as it was so drafted as to be permissive and not mandatory. In discussion of the Amendment in another place, the Minister put the argument which has been put again tonight by the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, that the invalidity pension is paid only to those who are incapable of work. If they do light work then they are not incapable of work and if they can earn £7 a week, as they may at the present moment, then they are surely not incapable of work either. We are told, of course, that these are therapeutic earnings, but it seems to me that there has been no satisfactory answer to the question why should the limit of therapeutic earnings not be higher, and why should the invalidity pension not be tapered off as the earnings rise?

In the course of his remarks in the debate in another place, the Minister appeared to be saying that he was prepared to consider both those propositions. That is why I find it a little difficult to understand why the Government had some objection in principle to the Amendment as it was worded. The other point mentioned in the Commons Reason is the question of immediate expenditure, and it is said that the Amendment, would tend to the imposition on the National Insurance Fund of a burden which it should not be made to accept at the present time". But the fact that the Amendment was permissive and not mandatory meant that it was not necessary to activate it at the present time in the immediate crisis, if this was felt by the Government not to be possible, but the structure was there to do so whenever they felt that it could be implemented.

It was significant that in the discussion in another place there was no Back-Bench speaker who supported the Government's point of view, although of course a majority supported it in the vote. But I would not be at all surprised if the supporters of the present Government were in opposition instead, if they voted the other way. It seems to me, as far as they are concerned, that it is a question of saying with St. Paul, The good that I would I do not; the evil that I would not, that I do. I welcome the fact that there is to be a study of the therapeutic earnings. I am quite sure that we shall come back to this proposal at some time in the future and that eventually it will be adopted.


My Lords, I think I have the right of reply. I do not really want to exercise it but the noble Lord, Lord Banks, tempts me to do so. I can assure him that one of the things a Government want when in office is as few Members of their own side to speak, because there are so many on the other side who wish to do so. In matters of this kind, if any business is to be achieved at all, the fewer people who speak on the Government side the more desirable, having regard to the fact that there will always be a large number on the Opposition.

I do not want to go over the ground again. The noble Lord, Lord Sandys, talked about the question of rehabilitation. There will be no rehabilitation in respect of those who are already working full-time in sheltered employment. I think this is what the Government had in mind when they said that there will be no rehabilitation. All that the noble Baroness, Lady Hornsby-Smith, has said only goes to indicate how important it is that we should have a study. I do not want to go over the ground again about the totally incapacitated. To me it is so simple that I find it extremely difficult to understand why noble Lords cannot grasp the fact that if a person has been held to be totally incapacitated for work he or she should be able to earn money. It is so simple to me that I cannot understand how other people cannot see that.


My Lords, if I may interrupt for one minute, we all understand that very well, but if the noble Lord was over on this side he would not understand it either.


Obviously, the noble Lord and I will have to get together at some later stage. Some of us have experienced total incapacity; some of us have been in the position where we have needed some encouragement to use our hands and our limbs and the therapeutic allowance has been a tremendous psychological advantage, because we have been told that we cannot do anything at all. This is the whole purpose of the therapeutic allowance. I do not think it would be helped by making it £13, £14 or £15. We have to be able to assess the ability of each person who is in receipt of an invalidity pension, and it may well be that we shall come to the conclusion that it is the wrong term. It may well be that we shall have to look at it more as a long term sickness benefit. Perhaps that would be the better way of dealing with it. The Government are grateful for everything that has been said tonight. It only reinforces the view to which we have come, perhaps belatedly, that we must look at this matter, we must have a study, and I give the assurance of the Government on this matter. I hope that noble Lords will accept this and that they will accept the Commons view of this matter.