§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Lord MELCHETT
My Lords, I beg to move that the Supplementary Benefits (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 1976, laid before this House on 4th November, 1976, be approved. Because of the urgency involved, this 714 order has been made without a draft having been approved by a Resolution of each House of Parliament. The order, which came into operation on 15th November 1976, must now be approved if it is to continue to have effect.
First, I should like to make it clear that the order maintains the important principle that there should be exact parity between cash social services in Northern Ireland and those in Great Britain. It enacts for Northern Ireland provisions comparable to those enacted for the rest of the United Kingdom by the Supplementary Benefit (Amendment) Act 1976. Like the Great Britain Act, the order has two objects. The first part of the order amends the Supplementary Benefits Act (Northern Ireland) 1966 to provide that from 15th November of this year the parent in a one-parent family receiving supplementary benefit is able to earn up to £6 a week before benefit is reduced. Before that date a parent was permitted to earn £4 a week without any reduction in his or her supplementary benefit if there was no requirement to register for employment. Those parents required to register for employment—they were few in number—could earn only £2 a week before their benefit was reduced. Both groups may now earn £6 a week without affecting the amount of supplementary benefit payable.
The second part of the order provides that certain small disregards attached to children's allowances payable with widows' pensions are discontinued. These disregards were introduced in 1964 when an increase was made in the children's allowances payable with widowed mother's allowance, industrial death benefit, and war widows' and similar pensions, at a time when no other benefit increases were being made. In order that these beneficiaries would receive the full amount of the increase, it was decided that, in calculating entitlement to national assistance, the amount of the increase should be disregarded. When the supplementary benefit scheme was introduced in 1966 these disregards were continued. They are now 38p for each of the first two children and 28p for subsequent children. With the increases being provided for in the first part of the order, the opportunity to discontinue the disregards for all new claimants is now being taken.
715 Existing claimants who already have the benefit of these disregards will, of course, not lose them. The order provides that they remain for those who have what are now to be referred to as "preserved 1976 rights". This means that claimants who now have the disregards will continue to receive them for as long as they continue to receive supplementary benefit in conjunction with the widow's benefit or other benefit involved. If the widow enters hospital and payment of supplementary benefit ceases, that gap in entitlement, of whatever duration, will not affect her preserved rights. Other gaps in entitlement, due, for example, to spells of employment, will not affect her preserved rights if they are not longer than 13 weeks.
I come now to the financial effects of the order. About 100 one-parent families receiving supplementary benefit in Northern Ireland have earnings of more than £4 a week and have received increased benefit as a result of the new provisions. The extra cost in a full year is expected to be about £11,000. There are also one-parent families whose income, including parttime earnings, put them outside the scope of the supplementary benefit scheme before the increased disregard provided for in the order became effective, and some additional expenditure will arise in these cases. Discontinuing the disregards will eventually result in a saving of some £24,000 in a full year, but this will not be achieved immediately, as the existence of preserved rights will mean that it will take many years for the disegards completely to disappear from the system.
I hope that this brief outline has been an adequate explanation of the substance of the order, which commend to your Lordships' House. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Supplementary Benefits (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 1976, laid before the House on 4th November, be approved.—(Lord Melchett.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.