§ 3.30 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of STATE, DEPARTMENT of EDUCATION and SCIENCE (Baroness Young)
My Lords, I beg to move that the draft Social Security Benefits (Up-rating) Order 1980, which was laid before this House on 17th July, be approved.
Following discussions with the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, we have accepted his suggestion that it would be for the convenience of the House if I now spoke to all seven instruments together, although, of course, each will be moved separately. I should explain that when I move each order it will be open to noble Lords to make points on each if they so wish. One consequence of this arrangement is that the explanation I shall be giving in introducing these orders will perhaps not be quite as detailed as it would have been had I been introducing seven separate orders. This is in order to keep my remarks to a reasonable length. We shall, however, do our best to answer the points that are raised in the course of the debate, and my noble friend Lord Cullen will be winding up at the conclusion.
These instruments fall into three main groups. First, there are the up-rating instruments; that is to say, those increasing the levels of national insurance and industrial injury benefits, child benefit, and family income supplement—FIS—next November. Second, there are the instruments giving effect to the first stage of the reform of the supplementary benefit system provided for in the Social Security Act 1980. And third, there is a group of two miscellaneous instruments. I turn straightaway to the up-rating instruments, and I would draw the House's attention to the report of the Government Actuary which was laid with the benefits up-rating order, in accordance with the statutory requirements. A full list of the main increases in benefits under this order is to be found in Appendix Ito the Government Actuary's report, but it may be helpful 1272 to your Lordships if I refer to some of the main items.
The standard rate of retirement pension for a single person goes up from £23.30 to £27.15, and for a married couple from £37.30 to £43.45. Widow's pension also goes up from £23.30 a week to £27.15; the higher rate of attendance allowance goes up from £18.60 to £21.65 and mobility allowance from £12 to £14.50 a week. The standard rate of invalidity benefit will rise from £23.30 to £26 for a single person and from £37.30 to £41.60 for a married couple. The standard rate of sickness and unemployment benefits will rise from £18.50 to £20.65 a week for a single person and from £29.95 to £33.40 for a married couple. These new rates take account of the provisions of the Social Security Act 1980 and the Social Security (No. 2) Act 1980. For this reason, the order could not be laid until both these Acts had received the Royal Assent.
Your Lordships have spent a long time discussing the provisions of those Acts. I do not wish to repeat what was said in those discussions, but the Government have had to face the economic facts of life. We have had to make hard decisions and have had to find savings in benefits in order to contribute to the Government's overall economic objectives. I accept that this includes provisions which we would have preferred not to make at all—provisions increasing short-term benefits and invalidity benefits by 5 percentage points less than the main long-term benefits and to up-rate pensions and other long-term benefits in line with prices, rather than prices or earnings, and to put back the up-rating date to the last week in November. It was, however, inevitable that the social security budget, costing some £20 billion annually, could not be exempt from economies, and I repeat now what I said at an earlier stage, during the passage of both the Social Security Act 1980 and the Social Security (No. 2) Act, that they in no sense add up to the end of the welfare state. Indeed, social security expenditure amounts even now to £1,000 for every household in the country.
Despite these changes, we have done as much as we can for those most in need. We have protected the position of retirement pensioners and widows by keeping the link with prices; we have maintained 1273 the "safety net" by raising the supplementary allowance in line with prices while aligning the supplementary pension with the retirement pension; and we have given additional help to the severely disabled by increasing mobility allowance substantially more than prices.
The new rates of benefit were announced by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services in another place in March. They were based on estimates made at the time of the Budget that prices would rise by 16½per cent. between the up-rating date in November 1979 and the up-rating date in November this year. However, as my right honourable friend made clear in the debate on the order in another place last week, it is at the time of laying the order that the law requires him to make the best estimate he can of the increases necessary to restore the value of the benefit in question. And this he has done. As he explained in last week's debate in another place, he has taken the best advice available to him on this matter and he set out the factors which he took into account which led him to be satisfied that a 16½ per cent. increase is the best estimate of the increase needed at the time of the up-rating next November to restore the value of the benefits in question to the value they had at the time of the last up-rating in November 1979. Sixteen and a half per cent., therefore, is the figure on which the increase in retirement pensions and other long-term benefits, apart from invalidity benefit, is based, while short-term benefits and invalidity benefit will go up by 11.5 per cent., the 5 per cent. abatement being in lieu of full taxation of these benefits.
At this stage I should like to say a few words about the Government Actuary's report. Comment on the report has focused on the forecast surplus of £687 million in the National Insurance Fund over the financial year 1980–81. But it is wrong to leap to the conclusion that, far from making cuts in the social security programme, we could afford to expand it. First, there is the sheer uncertainty of such forecasts. For example, in December 1978, the Government Actuary forecast a small surplus for 1979–80 of £34 million. The latest report shows a surplus of £542 million for that year. Much the same happened in earlier years. 1274 The surplus or deficit in the year is the difference between two very large aggregates: the income from contributions and other sources and the payment of benefits. Quite small percentage changes on either side of the equation can produce very large fluctuations in the surplus. In any case, the surplus as a percentage of the actual outgo of the fund is a very small margin—much smaller than in many previous years. In 1974–75 it was 12.5 per cent. The surplus forecast for the current year is only 4.4 per cent. of the estimated outgo—18 weeks' worth of benefit compared with 86 weeks' worth in 1960 and 26 weeks' worth in 1970. So let me stress that there is absolutely nothing in the Government Actuary's report which causes the Government in any way to modify the view we have taken that it was only prudent and responsible to reduce the cost of the social security programme.
I turn now to the Child Benefit (Up-rating) Regulations. Here again, the increases are as forecast in the Budget. Child benefit goes up by 75p from £4 to £4.75 per child per week and the premium for one-parent families will go up by 50p from £2.50 to £3 per family per week. These increases bring the total annual expenditure on child benefit to some £3,000 million in a year. Of course, this was not as much as some had hoped for, but it was as much as the Government felt could be afforded at the present time. The Government's support for the child benefit scheme was underlined by the Secretary of State for Social Services in another place when he made the important announcement that it is the Government's intention, subject to economic and other circumstances, to up-rate child benefit each year so as to maintain its value. This, I believe, is a very important statement made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.
I turn to now the Family Income Supplements (Computation) Regulations. FIS plays a key role as a benefit aimed at low income families at work. Because of the need to retain incentives for such families, the Government are making proportionately larger increases in FIS than in most other benefits. The maximum weekly rate for a one-child family is increased from £13.50 to £17 with a further £1.50 for each additional child, instead of the existing £1. From November, we anticipate that the average number receiving 1275 FIS will rise to about 95,000 families, compared with around 85,000 this year. The average weekly payment will rise to about £10 next year, compared with £7.50 at present. £10 will be almost exactly double the average weekly rate when we took office in May 1979.
These then are the up-rating instruments and I return to the point I made earlier—the need to be realistic about public expenditure levels. The primary need is to tackle inflation and to get the economy moving once again. We must keep these savings in perspective. The up-rating of benefits as a whole, including supplementary benefits to which I shall refer shortly, will raise expenditure on social security benefits by £3,000 million in a full year. This is an enormous sum by any standards.
I now come to the two miscellaneous instruments. The Pensioners' Lump Sum Payments Order deals with the Christmas bonus which we are repeating this year, as Conservative Administrations have done each year since we introduced it. But now we have introduced a statutory requirement to pay bonuses each year. I know that the bonus is greatly welcomed by pensioners and others who receive it who find even this modest help around Christmas most useful.
The other Instrument—Married Women and Widows (Special Provisions) Amendment Regulations—makes some technical changes which have been approved by the National Insturance Advisory Committee. To make the position clear, I can tell the House that the regulations do no more than bring the law into line with what both we and our predecessors thought had always been the position.
I now turn to the Supplementary Benefit (Requirements) Regulations 1980 and the Supplementary Benefit (Resources) Regulations 1980. My Lords, these two instruments contain the main provisions determining how a claimant's weekly entitlement to supplementary benefit is to be worked out. They are made under the Supplementary Benefits Act 1976, in the form given to it by the substantial amendments brought about by the Social Security Act 1980. Provision for the other type of benefit—single payments to meet exceptional needs—is set out in the 1276 Supplementary Benefit (Single Payments) Regulations 1980, which was also laid before Parliament with these two instruments.
These regulations and those laid with them represent a vital change in the legal structure of the scheme following the review of the scheme initiated by the party opposite. From now on the rules on benefit will be in published regulations, and will confer a clear entitlement. We are getting away from secret guidance. We are getting away from an adjudication system where there was no determining authority capable of establishing precedent and case law. Claimants should now know where they stand. The public—who pay for this scheme, and whose trust in it has been shaken by all manner of myths about what payments can and cannot be made for—will know where they stand.
Within the new legal structure based on clear entitlement defined in published rules, we need a more exact code of rules which reduces to an absolute minimum the discretion which has produced uncertainty and conflict between claimants and staff. Present discretion has led to great variations in practice between different localities in the amounts of extra payments and in how frequently they were given, variations bearing little relation to the true needs of claimants.
The requirements regulations set out the scale rates of benefit, other than those for pensioners, which the Act aligns with the national insurance pension rates. What we have done in most cases is to codify the Supplementary Benefit Commission's policy. This applies, for instance to Regulation 4, which defines "normal requirements"—the things for which the scale rates provide. This regulation is central to the new structure, since, by making explicit what these normal requirements are, it makes clear that extra payments will not, except in the abnormal case, be made for such items.
One important change to which I would draw your Lordships' attention is this: the number of scale rates for children is reduced from five to three—and beneficially so: for instance, those aged 0–4 will get the higher rate applicable to those aged 5–10. And when we come on in Regulation 7 to the conditions for 1277 entitlement to the long-term rate, there is another significant change: the qualifying period is reduced from two years to one year. And, as a smaller but useful easement, young people getting noncontributory invalidity pension in periods between their 16th and 18th birthdays will be able to count such periods towards qualification for the long-term supplementary benefit rate.
The regulations go on to give details of the two other components—additional requirements for people with extra costs for heating, diet, laundry and so on; and housing requirements—such as rent, rates and mortgage interest. If the sum of these requirements exceeds the claimant's resources, the balance is payable as supplementary benefit.
As regards the resources regulations, these adopt a change suggested in the Review Report—a single cut-off figure of £2,000. Up to that figure, capital has no effect on benefit; above it, there is no entitlement at all. The regulations deal also with the calculation of income from earnings, other benefits and other sources, what is to be ignored, what counts in full and what is disregarded in part. So far as disregards are concerned there is now a £4 disregard on earnings, and a further £4 on other income. In addition, lone parents will have one half of earnings between £4 and £20 disregarded, giving a maximum of £12—a valuable boost for those lone parents who do part-time work.
Although not strictly the subject of this debate, I ought also to mention the single payments regulations. They set out the items, usually unforeseen, nonrecurring costs, for which weekly benefit does not provide and for which extra sums are to be given—funeral expenses, maternity expenses, removals, furniture and so on. In the final two parts, they set out the exceptional cases in which payments can be made for things normally covered by weekly benefit—clothing, for example, where a need arises otherwise than from normal wear and tear; and they also provide a fall-back power to make payments in circumstances not covered by the regulations where this is necessary to prevent serious risk or serious damage to the health or safety of the claimant or his family. I am well aware that these last provisions have been criticised as too restrictive, but I must return to what 1278 I said at the beginning of my remarks. If we are to have clear legal entitlements, any long-stop must be carefully circumscribed, otherwise we shall return to a situation in which discretionary uncertainties develop and once again threaten the whole scheme.
I should add, of course, that there are further regulations yet to come in addition to those laid on 17th July. These will cover administrative matters such as the procedures for claiming and making payments, and appeal tribunal rules, and also further conditions about entitlement—for example, registration and availability for employment—and the rules for payment in cases of urgent need. My right honourable friend hopes to lay these regulations within the next two months or so.
My Lords, I am conscious that I have covered a lot of ground, a lot of detail and rather technical ground fairly quickly, but this, I think, is an inevitable consequence of dealing with the orders all together. In my remarks I have attempted to set out briefly and, I hope, clearly the purpose of the orders before your Lordships' House. I should make clear that they follow upon the two Social Security Acts which have recently passed your Lordships' House and which have been debated very extensively. I commend these instruments to the House.
§ Moved, That the draft Social Security Benefits (Up-rating) Order 1980, laid before the House on 17th July, be approved.—(Baroness Young.)
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ Lord WELLS-PESTELL
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness the Minister for being prepared to take these orders altogether because some need more comment than others. It would be a saving in time if we considered them in the way that she has been good enough to agree. I will not be speaking to all the orders; I will be dealing with some and my noble friend Lord Wallace of Coslany will be dealing with the others.
Some of the regulations I have found very simple to understand; others I have found rather complicated, and perhaps I could take this opportunity of saying that I hope that they will be produced in a simple manner, easily understandable to 1279 all those who are likely to be interested. When we were discussing this matter my understanding was that there would be a supplementary benefit handbook available, and I am assuming that the regulations that do not apply will appear in some other form so that those who are interested will be able to read them very clearly. This is essential because we spent a good deal of time in Committee on both Bills emphasising the importance of the need for social workers and others who will be dealing with claimants to he able to understand what it is all about.
It may well be thought pointless to refer to what was said by the Government before and during the general election of last year. There must come a time when we have to accept the fact that what happened in May of last year happened. We have come to learn that we all know that the Government won but there is no doubt in the minds of some of my noble friends and I that a large section of the community lost as a result. I have in mind the child benefit allowance which we discussed very fully. I must take this opportunity of saying that we on this side of your Lordships' Chamber—and I believe those in other parts of the House—regard the No. 1 and No. 2 Social Security Bills as being both evil and against the interests of that section of the community that can least afford to suffer the cuts.
The child benefit allowance was introduced by a Labour Government and was due to be increased in November of 1979, although it was increased in the previous April of that year. The electors were encouraged to believe that the Conservative Party, if returned to power, would increase child benefit. There is ample evidence—even though it may not have been expressly stated in the manifesto—that this is what they promised to do.
The fact remains that the Government failed to do so. When the benefit is increased this coming November, 19 months will have elapsed at a time of increasing inflation. In November next, as the noble Baroness has told us, it will be raised from £4 a week to £4.75. If we work that out, it is less than 9 per cent. of the Government's own inflation forecast. Yet they spend so much time pointing out that, with the exception of certain benefits, benefits are going to be 1280 increased by 16½ per cent. When I say 9 per cent. less than the Government's own inflation forecast, that is assuming that the inflation rate next November will be only 16½ per cent. There seems very little hope or possibility of it coming down to that rate.
The benefit needs an increase of £1.20p to restore it to its real value, not '75p. It is not disputed by the Government that such an increase is needed to restore the benefit to its real value. I find it extremely difficult that the Government which attach so much importance, so they say, to the family and to children in particular, could not find other money to restore the benefit to its real value. The Government did not argue—and I hope they will not do so—that families with children did as well as anyone out of the budget or that families are better off now than they would have been under the old system of family allowances and child tax allowances. If anybody thinks so, then I ask them to look at the percentage of the increase in income after tax. They will see that a married couple with two children are worse off today than a couple with two children with earnings, taken in the 1979–80 period, of £3,000 a year, £5,000, £6,000, £9,000, £12,000, £15,000 or £25,000 a year. A couple with two children are now worse off than anyone else at a comparable incomes level.
Failure to increase the child benefit allowance in April meant that the £4 a week child benefit is only worth at the present moment about £3.15p per week. The noble Baroness has dealt with increases in family income supplement as well as child benefit and also in child benefit premium. Let me say that obviously any increase, whether or not it is adequate, is not only welcome but it is important. But the child benefit premium only helps about 4 per cent. of all working families in poverty.
As for the family income supplement, it is going to provide—and we must not disguise the fact—a really significant help. Such families and those of us on this side of the House welcome it. But we must bear in mind that family income supplement recipients are, happily, very small in number. The noble Baroness mentioned that something like 95,000 families would benefit: but what she did not say is that over half of those receiving family 1281 income supplement are one-parent families. The others are two-parent families where the increase in family incomes supplement is inadequate and does not do as much as we ought to be doing for them.
I want to say just a word or two about this 16½ per cent. I wonder whether the Minister has any up-to-date information regarding the Government's view about the amount of inflation next November. I also want to ask whether it is true that the Treasury has already forecast an error of 2 per cent. and that it will be 181, per cent. in November. I ask whether this will be the figure and, if so, whether the Government are proposing to make good the shortfall should it arise.
There is another point which I must ask your Lordships to look at. The Government, as the noble Baroness the Minister quite rightly said, fixed the last week in November for these benefits to be increased. That means that the past year, for people receiving retirement pensions and every other pension and benefit that this country gives, will have lasted 54 weeks, because it will be 54 weeks since they received the previous uprating in 1979. By a deliberate act of policy—do not let us mince words about this—they Government will have succeeded in depriving pensioners of two weeks' increase and, by doing so, they have saved £125 million. Those extra two weeks mean a loss of £12.30 to a married couple on pension because the pension rate for a married couple will be going up by £6.15 per week.
While the Government claim that pensions will increase in November next by 16½ per cent., is that a true figure, bearing in mind that it will be 54 weeks since the last uprating? Does not the 16½ per cent. become 16 per cent.? It is not so much that I am arguing over half a percentage point, but one-half per cent. is one-half per cent. and we might just as well state the position accurately. Can the Government truthfully deny that, while these regulations will benefit about 500,000 people, four times that number—about 2 million—will lose benefits?
As I say, I have no intention of fighting the battles that we fought over the first and second Social Security Bills, but I believe that it will go down in history as 1282 one of the worst possible things that a Conservative Government have ever done. We have taken away in many instances from the poor of this country and given to the rich. Never since 1930 have we had two distinct nations as we have at the present moment: the rich on one side and the exceptionally poor on the other.
Your Lordships may well feel that this is not the time to have an economic debate but, as I understand the position—although, so far as I know, though I may be wrong the figure has never been mentioned in your Lordships' House—a million unemployed in this country must be costing us not far short of £2,000 million a year and, as we have two million unemployed, the cost cannot be far short of £4,000 million a year. If my figures are right, we are paying out that vast sum of money to people who in return are unable to do anything to improve the economic position of the country. That money should be used in promoting industry and production, not in paying for idleness. In the Government Actuary's Report, the figure for the amount to be paid out in 1980–81 on unemployment alone is, I think, something like £992 million, but we have to take into account those who are not drawing benefit for one reason or another, those who are on supplementary benefit, and so on. We are paying out a tremendous amount and I think we have to look at the amount we are paying out for which we are getting nothing in return.
The only other thing I want to ask is this: can the noble Baroness say whether her right honourable friend the Secretary of State has yet named the chairman of the new Social Security Advisory Committee? My final word is that I hope the Secretary of State and the Department of Health and Social Security—a very able and competent department, if I may say so, and anyone who has had anything to do with that department will, when they cease to have anything to do with it, come away with sheer admiration for the skill, competence and ability found there—will see that there is some kind of pamphlet, handbook, or both, where these regulations are spelt out in words of one syllable, if that is possible. Such a thing would be of supreme importance to the vast army of social workers who will have to assist people in the future.
§ 4.8 p m
§ Lord BANKS
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Baroness for the very comprehensive and clear explanation of the nature and purpose of these seven orders which she has given to us. We arc, as she said, trying to cover a great deal of ground in one debate and, while it is true that we have discussed much of the background to these orders in the debates which have taken place on the two Social Security Bills which have been through this House, nevertheless I cannot help feeling that the supplementary benefit regulations will require a more detailed scrutiny than we shall be able to give them today. So far as the Pensioners' Lump Sum Payments Order is concerned, I do not propose to say anything about that, because my noble friend Lord Grey intends to say a word about it.
Turning to the following order, we on these Benches have made our attitude very clear already regarding certain features of it. We have made it clear that we regret the failure to make good the previous shortfalls and that we are worried about future shortfalls, particularly as the inflation rate may, as the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, pointed out, be in excess of 16½ per cent. over the 12½-month period which will have elapsed since the previous uprating. We have made it clear that we object to the cut in the real value of those benefits which are to suffer the abatement. We do not feel that the savings that will achieve are really necessary. The Government say that the social security budget is too large, but half of it is largely self-financing through the earnings-related contributions, the Treasury contributing only 18 per cent. of the cost of national insurance benefits, which make up half the total. There is no indication that this formula is not capable of providing the means to make available national insurance benefits without any cuts in real value.
The fact that the employers' and the employees' contributions are earnings related, with the Government's contribution being in constant relationship, means that the national insurance revenue next year must bear the same relationship to earnings up to the top limit as this year's does, and that is surely not a cause for alarm. There was a surplus last year in 1284 the National Insurance Fund. There is an estimated surplus at the moment, with all the qualifications which the noble Baroness rightly put upon that, which is much higher than the anticipated saving in the current year from the Social Security (No. 2) Bill. So expenditure is being kept within the limits provided by the revenue.
It is argued that the surplus is small in relation to benefits and is not itself sufficient justification for increases, and I would certainly accept that. But, equally, a surplus in a pay-as-you-go scheme is no excuse for cuts in benefit, either. There are two possible reservations to that statement. First, we know there is a possibility that unemployment may go considerably higher than it now is, and that might necessitate some adjustment in contribution rates. Secondly, we know that the reserve, while it is increasing in actual terms, is declining as a percentage of annual expenditure. But it is still substantial and the question should be raised as to whether it really is necessary to have a reserve of £5,000 million in a pay-as-you-go scheme. Even if it is felt that cuts are necessary, for quite other reasons to do with the public sector borrowing requirement and general economic strategy, by removing the upper limit on contributions enough would have been provided to make unnecessary the Social Security (No. 2) Bill.
The substantial increase in family income supplement will bring welcome help to low income families where the breadwinner is in employment. However, the increase in family income supplement, and the abolition of the 25 per cent. income tax band, have serious implications for the poverty trap. The Low Pay Unit have estimated that three-quarters of taxpayers in receipt of family income supplement were paying tax at 25 per cent. last year. A quarter of this group have been lifted out of tax, but the remaining 37,000, who used to pay tax at 25 per cent., will now pay it at 30 per cent. The House may feel that it is somewhat absurd for people in receipt of special assistance of the nature of family income supplement to be paying tax at all.
It is a fact that a couple with two children would be better off earning £55 a week than earning £75 a week, and a couple with four children would be better 1285 off earning £55 a week than £95 a week. That is an indication of the nature of the poverty trap which is exaggerated by increases in family income supplement, valuable though they may be for their limited but important purpose. All this underlines the need to get away from means-tested benefit to a tax credit system.
I should now like to say a word about child benefit. We have already expressed from these Benches regret that child benefit was not raised sufficiently to take full account of inflation since the previous uprating. As the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, made clear, to achieve that it would have needed to be put at £5…20 per week instead of £4…75. I certainly welcome the qualified assurance to maintain the value of child benefit which has been given by the Secretary of State, but it was a qualified assurance.
As the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, said, the position of anyone with children has been declining, as compared with the position of single people and childless couples, for some time and it is through child benefit that we must hope to remedy that situation. The increase in the child benefit premium for the first child of a single-parent family is welcome, but it helps only 4 per cent. of families in poverty, and single-parent families would be helped even more by a further increase in child benefit, because that would be paid for all children and not merely for the first.
This is an unhappy time for the social security system. I should certainly not want to use any exaggerated phrases, such as accusing the Government of dismantling the welfare state. Clearly that is not what is happening. But I believe very strongly that nibbling away at the welfare state (if I may mix my metaphors a little) will introduce an element of comparative hardship and unfairness, which I regret very much. It will cause benefits which were not adequate in the first place to be even less so, and will, regrettably, push more on to means-tested benefits.
Before I close, I should like to say a word about the supplementary benefit regulations. It is very important that the operation of these regulations should be monitored very carefully, and that there should be regular reports to both 1286 Houses. The main object, of course, is to reduce discretion. The burden on the supplementary benefit system, when 10 per cent. of the population rely on it, in some way or another, has become very great and made the exercise of discretion on the old pattern very difficult to sustain. But I should have preferred a major effort to reduce the numbers on supplementary benefit, rather than an effort to adapt supplementary benefit to the present situation. And by the abatement, and in other ways, the Government are actually increasing the numbers on supplementary benefit. Again, this is an argument for moving as soon as possible to a tax credit system which will take people off supplementary benefit.
Another object of the review of the supplementary benefit system is to simplify, but will the claimant really understand the situation any better as a result of these regulations? Perhaps the House will permit me just to quote one sentence from page 5 of the Supplementary Benefit (Requirements) Regulations. What it says is this:(2) Subject to paragraph (3), where a person to whom paragraph (1) applies is a claimant who satisfies the conditions of paragraph (2) of regulation 5 except that, contrary to sub-paragraph (b) of that paragraph, he shares responsibility for, or control of, the expenditure there referred to with another member of the same household, the weekly amount of his normal requirements applicable under paragraph 1 or 2 of Schedule I shall be increased by the difference between that amount and the corresponding rate (long-term or ordinary as the case may be) for householders divided by the number of persons in the household satisfying the condition of regulation 5(2)(c) who share responsibility or control.I am not suggesting that that does not make perfectly good sense. But I am suggesting that it is not calculated to make the position immediately clear to the potential claimant. I hope, as the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, said, that the supplementary benefit handbook will be available in time for November, with an explanation of what this difficult wording actually means for the ordinary claimant.
The third object was to provide clearly defined rights. So far as that is done, it is of course welcome but a large amount of discretion still remains. This will be particularly so in the early stages when there is no case law to help guide the benefit officers. This will necessitate, in the early stages, notes of guidance for 1287 benefit officers and I should like to ask whether those notes of guidance will be published.
May I draw the attention of the House to two examples of the discretion which remains in these regulations. In the Supplementary Benefit (Requirements) Regulations, Regulation 9(4) allows a benefit officer to award a reasonable amount for board and lodging accommodation of "no more than suitable standard". That leaves much discretion and would appear to allow the benefit officer to award board and lodging to less than suitable standard if he should decide to do so. In any case, what is "suitable standard"? Secondly, Regulation 27(2) of the single payments regulations, which are not before us this afternoon but to which the noble Baroness referred, allows a benefit officer to make a payment for clothing which shall not exceed "prescribed amounts listed". The implication is that the benefit officer is free to make a payment which is less than the amount laid down.
I should like to put a question to the Government: where the regulations make benefit conditional on the benefit officer's opinion and the claimant appeals, has the claimant a full right of appeal against that opinion, with tribunals not bound by the benefit officer's opinion? Although much discretion will remain, particularly in the early days, tightening up the areas of discretion without increasing the scale rates would seem to mean that fewer people will be eligible for exceptional needs payments. Furthermore, no single payments will be made for those above supplementary benefit level. Can the Government confirm that those who would be on supplementary benefit but for the fact that they are in receipt of rent rebates or allowances will be eligible for exceptional needs payments?
During the discussion on the two Bills we spoke of home help and laundry costs: of the decision not to allow supplementary benefit to cover payments to local authorities for home helps and of the fact that 143,000 sick and disabled people will receive 30p per week less for their laundry costs. These are examples of the rough justice, I think it was called, which some people will suffer under the regulations. A heating allowance, under 1288 the Supplementary Benefit (Requirements) Regulations is stated to be available to those with serious physical illness. The introduction of the word "physical" is, I think, a departure and I wonder what the significance of the use of that word is. Does it cover, for example, mental illness, which might mean that a person was confined to his home and in need of assistance with heating? In conclusion, I would return to my first point. The regulations must be very carefully monitored to see how they operate in practice, and Parliament must watch this carefully and be prepared to make such adjustments as experience may suggest are essential.
§ 4.24 p.m.
§ Lord BOYD-CARPENTER
My Lords, I have always been a great admirer of the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, and it is therefore agreeable to be able to begin by saying how wholeheartedly I agree with one of the things which he said in his speech. That was when he said that those who had had the good fortune to serve in the Department of Health and Social Security, or its predecessors, had inevitably a very high regard for the calibre and quality of the staff of that department. I should like very strongly to endorse that. I have always held the private view that with the possible exception of the Treasury, the staff of the social security departments are of the highest level of ability in the whole of Whitehall. With that quality, I hope that they will be able, as the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, suggested, to produce a clear, understandable handbook about these highly complex regulations. I have always regarded it as the mark of the real expert to be able to set out complex facts in clear and simple English. I hope that my noble friend will set her departmental staffs that task, because it is important that those involved should have a reasonable chance of understanding what their rights are.
My noble friend the Minister puzzled me on one small matter which perhaps she or her noble friend can clear up. She said that there was to be a further crop of regulations and that they would be laid in the next two months. As I understand it, it is not permissible to lay orders during the Recess. As I also understand it, we are due to rise this Friday, and even this hard-working House is not due back 1289 until 6th October. So perhaps somebody on the Government Bench could explain what exactly was meant by the indication that these further orders would be laid in the next two months.
May I also make a grumble which the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, will remember that I regularly made when he was the Minister concerned. That is in respect of the lump sum order. I was very sorry to see that it still excludes war pensioners as such. The noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, will remember that for several years I urged on him and his colleagues that this exclusion was wrong. He explained to me, and subsequent ministers have explained to me, that war pensioners entitled to some additional allowance also get the £l0 Christmas bonus, the lump sum. But it still remains the position under this order that alone, really, among the beneficiaries of our system the man who has just a war pension does not receive this £10 bonus. The amount is not large, but the thought behind the allowance is a pleasant one: of showing that even government, even a social security department, has a human face. A small payment at Christmas has a touch of warmth and humanity about it, which is a nice thing to find, but I should like it to include those who have a war pension only.
The contrast is made the stronger by reason of the fact that the, as it were, opposite number to war pensioners—the industrial injury pensioners—receive it. This makes very pointed the exclusion of the war pensioner who has a war pension and nothing else. Comparisons in this field are odious, but I think that the House would probably agree with me that the war pensioner—the person actually disabled in the armed service of his country —is the most deserving type of all and the one to whom we owe the greatest and most direct debt.
Despite the steady obstruction and resistance of successive Ministers in successive Governments, I do hope that just a touch of humanity in this respect will one day break through. I can say to my noble friend that inevitably, in the course of nature, the number of war pensioners is diminishing and that the financial consequences of a concession here would not be of really earth-shaking quality. It would however, remedy what I still believe to be 1290 an anomaly and a blemish on the Christmas bonus system.
I have another doubt of a rather wider ranging character. I wonder whether the restriction of discretion in respect of supplementary benefit may not be going a little too far. I fully understand the argument—we had it on the Bill—for having a clear-cut system which everybody can understand, but under the older system the managers of the local social security offices (national assistance offices as they used to be called) had acquired an enormous experience and understanding of all the complexities of human need and the discretion which they exercised was almost always exercised with good sense as well as with humanity. I just express a doubt as to whether that discretion, despite the two examples quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Banks, has not been unduly restricted and I hope that one of my noble friends will indicate, when they reply, that this particular aspect of the changes is being watched very closely.
No ingenuity that the human mind is capable of—not even in the department—can conceivably foresee all the chances and changes that may afflict a few individuals in a population of 50 million people, and as a final reserve in a case of possible hardship from some unusual concatenation of circumstances a discretion in the hands of sensible, experienced local officials is quite a valuable safeguard and one that I suggest should not easily be forgone.
Having said that, I find myself in agreement with the general effect of these regulations. I fully understand and sympathise with the feelings which the noble Baroness herself expressed; namely, that this is not an easy time for social security administrators. It is much nicer to be a social security administrator at a time when the national income is rising, when reduced levels of taxation produce an increased yield and when there is more of the national wealth to share with all, including the least fortunate. That is a relatively happy situation. It is much less happy when on the whole the view of most responsible opinion is that all public expenditure, including social security expenditure, has to be restrained and therefore Ministers are driven to sort out which are the priorities which must be preserved at all costs and which are the directions in 1291 which benefits must be less than one would otherwise like them to be.
It is not a task that I think any of us envy the Ministers who have to handle it, and once again I wish to express dissent on the financial side of this from the views of the noble Lord, Lord Banks. I do not think the fact that the national insurance fund is, as he told us, self-financing really takes the argument very far. By whatever method the money used in benefits is raised, be it from the Exchequer contribution, be it from the employers' contribution—which is now very heavy and, to some extent, is a tax on employment—or the employees' contribution, in whatever way it is raised it is still a charge on national resources and therefore it is the duty of the Government not merely to say, "There is a certain amount of money in this particular till, therefore let us spend it", but to judge the expenditure in the general context of the position of the national economy and the national finances as a whole. As I understand it, that is what Her Majesty's Government are trying to do.
I would not say for one moment that they have got it 100 per cent. right. There are directions—and I have indicated two of them—where I have some doubts, but I think the House as a whole will feel that they have a most unenviable task and I believe a great many of us, at any rate, will feel, with all the difficulties that there are, that the Government have the balance about right. In any event, should these matters be taken (as I hope they will not be) to a Division, I should find no difficulty whatever in supporting my noble friend.
§ 4.35 p.m.
Lord WALLACE of COSLANY
My Lords, first, may I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Banks. I was completely unaware that the orchestration of the Opposition duets had been changed and that is why I leapt to the Box when in fact the noble Lord, Lord Banks, had the right to speak. As indicated by my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell, I shall address my remarks to the lump sum payments, supplementary benefit resources and supplementary benefit requirements. So far as the Christmas bonus is concerned, I do not object to it as such, although it 1292 seems to me that it would be far better to provide an adequate retirement pension rather than to hand out something which is intended to classify the Government of the day as a benevolent Father Christmas, which in the light of the present Government's Scrooge—like approach to social security in the two new Acts makes it a somewhat cynical farce. It could be argued, with the present high rate of inflation, that the sum of £10 should be increased. That is a reasonable point; however, I do not intend to develop it but to be thankful for small mercies. I should, of course, declare an interest in that I shall receive my £10 pocket money in due course.
What I feel is disgraceful is that the Government have reduced the value of the £10 bonus by the delaying of the November increase by two weeks for, in the reason advanced by the Government, natural slippage. Actually, it is one week for slippage and one week to save money. Taking that into account and the rate of inflation, the value of the £10 bonus has been severely eroded, if not almost wiped out.
I now turn to the other two orders—requirements and resources. The Secretary of State, in a press release on 17th July, stated:These regulations "—he was, of course, referring to all the regulations before the House at the moment—set out claimants' rights fully and precisely for the first time and with the force of law"."Fully and precisely "and" with the force of law"—legal jargon, certainly, and precisely within a legal framework means that plain language is forsaken. It is claimed that claimants will now know their rights. How on earth they will manage to understand these regulations is beyond me. I have had a terrific problem over the weekend in trying to understand them myself. The responsibility of interpretation will now rest with individual benefit officers under the new system. They themselves will need legal advisers to thread their way through regulations without the facility of wide discretion. I understand that a code will be available under the regulations. To those who want to assist the average person to claim their rights, it will be a costly and involved business. I believe 1293 that the set of regulations before the House costs £8 or more, and I understand that there are more to come.
We are told that leaflets in plain language will be available to help people to understand. The quantity and variety of these will he considerable if the Government do their job properly. Have they estimated the cost? It must be considerable. The Government claim that they are simplifying the whole system of supplementary benefit. In fact, by introducing masses of regulations which are difficult to comprehend they are making it more difficult for people to claim, reducing the number of claimants by so doing and thus saving more money, which basically is the object of the exercise.
Regulation 12(2), paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) and Regulation 13(2), (3) and (4) of the Supplementary Benefit (Requirements) Regulations remove from benefit people who are involved in a trade dispute. In their rush to hit trade unionists and please their supporters, the Government have overlooked the harsh anomalies that their actions will cause. Take the case of a wife who is working, perhaps part-time, and whose husband is sick or unemployed and in receipt of the heating allowance. If the wife is involved in a strike, but is not necessarily on strike herself, the allowance will be stopped. This is one example, but others could arise. This is harsh to a degree. Perhaps the Government might deal with such anomalies. It is possible that we shall have to face more regulations amending the present regulations. This, I am sure, will be the pattern, creating further complexities on top of the complexities already existing in the present regulations.
Let us take another example of a mother visiting a sick child in hospital, where the child has been for a long time, and the mother needs help with fares to the hospital, or the frail and elderly husband or wife visiting a sick spouse. The regulations have been redrawn in a supposed effort to clarify which people can claim a contribution towards expenses. I quote from Schedule 3, Part I, the amended printed version, 16, Hospital fares:Person, A, who regularly visits another person, B, who is a patient in any hospital or similar institution where—Then I turn to col. (2), Weekly amount:
and B has been a patient for a continuous period of not more than eight weeks;
- (a) A and B are not members of the same assessment unit but—
- (i) were members of the same household prior to the hospitalisation of B; or
- (ii) are close relatives;
- (b) either—
- (i) A and B are partners, or,
- (ii) A is a dependant of a relevant person who is either B or B's partner,… an amount determined in accordance with subparagraph (a) in this column less the whole of the difference, except for an amount equal to 20 per cent. of the long-term rate for householders, between the long-term or ordinary rate for couples applicable to B or B's partner and the corresponding rate (long-term or ordinary as the case may be) for householders.Well, this is supposed to make it possible for the frail and elderly to realise what their rights are when visiting someone in hospital. All I can say is that it is as clear as mud, and if noble Lords can understand it they are better men than I am.
The resources regulations also set a cash resources limit of £2,000, not a large sum these days. Any total savings over that figure cuts out entitlement. This goes hard for the unemployed man who has been careful and thrifty over the years as against another in the same former job but who over the years has not bothered to save. Not a new story on supplementary benefit, but why penalise the thrifty'? Overnight some 7,000 pensioners will lose their supplementary benefit because they have capital of over £2,000. As we have been told, the figure of £2,000 was first proposed in the 1978 report on social assistance. Surely the effect of inflation should have been taken into account. A figure of £3,000 or more would be fairer.
I would also draw the attention of the House to Regulation 4(4) of the resources regulations:Where a person performs an unpaid service I'm another person who has the means to pay for that service and for which in the ordinary course he would pay, an amount calculated by reference to comparable employment and the means of that other person may be treated as if it were actually paid to and possessed by the first-mentioned person.I had better explain this; I will try to elucidate it for the benefit of your Lordships. This means if an elderly neighbour on supplementary benefit of another pensioner or sick person decides to help his friend by maintaining the other 1295 person's garden, he can by this act of kindness reduce or stop the neighbour's supplementary benefit, because it could be argued that the other person had the means to pay for the service although it was freely given without charge. Although I agree that something like this did exist under the old system, to read it set out in cold print is the absolute limit. Of course, in spite of this ridiculous regulation such acts of neighbourly kindness will continue undetected, but an offence is being committed against a regulation hacked by the force of law. What an opportunity for the nosey vindictive type of neighbour that does exist. Why not withdraw this heartless regulation denying Christian charity and penalising an act of good neighbourliness.
These orders are the beginning of an orgy of regulations. It is impossible to regulate for human situations of distress in a completely legal form. Discretion within set reasonable limits is the more humane way. The Government will not get rid either of wild and unfounded charges of large-scale abuse of social security. Their supporters in the past in political campaigns have spread the poison. Abuse must be dealt with, but the main mass of people in receipt of supplementary benefit are genuine cases of need. I would ask: Are the Government still continuing their policy of encouraging snoopers?
These regulations do not give rights; they give the anxieties of confusion and in many cases reduction of help. We must remember that the people who apply for supplementary benefit are mainly those who have suffered sudden misfortune or are facing up to real poverty, some for the first time. Many are in a desperate state of despair. Many are proud and pride has to be swallowed to apply for benefit. This particularly applies to the elderly, who in many cases are reluctant and have to be persuaded to apply for help as a right. The complexities of these orders will not help those public spirited people who help, advise and persuade. Certainly it will not help those who are sensitive over applying for their rights. Discretionary powers backed by reasonable guidelines are the answer—not regulations backed by the force of law.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, I do not want to interrupt anybody, because I know there are a number of noble Lords who want to speak, but an enormous number of questions have been asked, and I wonder whether it would be for the convenience of the House if some of them were answered at this point before my noble friend Lord Cullen winds up at the end. If this is agreeable, I suggest that my noble friend Lord Sandys should speak now, and then the noble Lord on the Liberal Benches and any other noble Lord who wants to speak. Otherwise, we are accumulating rather a lot of questions to be answered at the end.
§ Lord SANDYS
My Lords, perhaps I may be allowed to reply to a number of questions put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell. Of course, the House will be familiar, during the course of both the Social Security (No. 1) and the Social Security (No. 2) Bills, with the exaggerated language which the noble Lord used on those occasions. I recollect that he cast himself in the role of Guy Fawkes on one occasion, and I think on another echoed the views of his right honourable and honourable friends in another place in Standing Committee who cast themselves in the roles of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I believe that this is perhaps his true role, because the unhappy affliction of those two wellknown personalities was that they destroyed the very thing which was their aim and object.
If I may turn my attention specifically to the noble Lord's questions, he asked when there would be an announcement over the chairman of the Social Security Advisory Committee. May I tell him that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State hopes to be in a position to announce the name of the chairman of the Social Security Advisory Committee before the House rises for the Summer Recess. As regards the handbook on supplementary benefits, I should like to advise the noble Lord that there will be such a handbook and a wide range of explanatory leaflets. I think that the noble Lord and his noble friends have been very much concerned about that. The aim is to make the leaflets and the handbook as clear and as helpful as possible.
1297 As regards child benefit, upon which the noble Lord dwelt at some length, I remind him of the words of my noble friend Lady Young when she said, when referring to the increases:These increases bring the total annual expenditure on child benefit to £3,300 million a year".The increase in child benefit will be, as she announced, 75p a week for each child in November 1980, and that will give a 20 per cent. increase in the child benefit addition altogether. That is a very substantial amount, but it is less than the Government hoped they would be able to make it and we recognise that it is less than the sum needed to bring it up to its original purchasing power.
The noble Lord also asked whether the Treasury had made an error of 2 per cent. I can assure him that there is no reason to expect that there is an error of that amount. We have come a great deal closer to the November date since this matter was raised in another place. I can assure the noble Lord that, so far as the Government are concerned, and to the best belief of my honourable and right honourable friends, we are on target.
The question of supplementary benefit was another matter raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, and, I think, by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter. I draw your Lordships' attention to the press release, a copy of which I think my noble friend placed in his hands, dated 17th July. On page III there is a very useful indication of gainers and losers. I shall not read it all out, but the indications are as follows. We believe that the position is fragmented, but it has been proved to be somewhat better than was forecast at one time. I shall refer to one small part. It says that the latest information, from which we can estimate the numbers of claimants who will gain or lose by the various changes being made, relates to the end of 1978. Details of these estimates were given in a written reply to the honourable Member for Perry Barr on 7th December 1979, volume 976, column 371. Some people, of course, will both gain and lose and a tentative estimate is that about three-quarters of a million people will gain, that 1¾ million people will lose and that half a million will be unaffected. That is, to the best of our belief, the present position. I hope that the noble Lord 1298 has had the opportunity to study those figures.
§ Lord WELLS-PESTELL
My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, sits down, am I correct in thinking that what he is saying is that, while he may well disagree with my figure of 2 million people being likely to suffer, he acknowledges that while some will gain 1¾ million people will suffer? Is that what he is saying?
§ Lord SANDYS
My Lords, that is perfectly true to the best of our belief, but it may be only at the margin.
My Lords, we on these Benches welcome any provisions made for pensioners, but we are very disappointed that the Christmas bonus has not been increased in spite of inflation and of what the noble Lord, Lord Cullen of Ashbourne, said in your Lordships' House last year, that the Government have the power to increase the bonus if it is considered appropriate. Would the Minister agree that there is justification this year for such an increase? Each year, and especially this year, the value of the bonus decreases. Is it not time that the bonus was indexed to bring it in line with real values? The rate has remained fixed through three Governments. We feel that the bonus is no substitute for a realistic basic pension.
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ Baroness PHILLIPS
My Lords, I wish to intervene on two very short points and if I do not receive an answer immediately I shall quite understand. The first concerns the younger widow. I have searched all the regulations very carefully and I cannot find any reference to the increase other than the statement on, I think, page 10 which refers to the widow's pension and to the increase to which the noble Minister referred. It then says something about 30 per cent. of the sum being the lower permanent rate. I worked out 30 per cent. of £27.50 and it seems to me that it is only about £9. The Minister will remember that the younger widow is the one who comes in under 50. She receives a lower rate pro rata—if she is 40 she receives a very low sum, if she is 41 she receives a little more and so on. But, unlike with other pensions, she does not receive the full 1299 pension when she is 50: she does not receive the full pension until she receives the retirement pension. So, it is important to know exactly what she will receive.
The other point concerns the death grant on page 6. While searching for information about the widows I came across another matter. It is curious that the death grant payment is related to men of a higher age than women. Surely, if the man dies there will be more need for the money than if the woman dies. Generally speaking, the man will have been the breadwinner. Surely the Government could not have deliberately put the age higher in order not to pay out so much? I am sure that they could not have thought of that. It is only £15 anyway, so it will not go very far.
I searched through the other leaflet which dealt with married women and widows hoping to find information about the younger widow, but instead I found a curious paragraph which related to the interrelated benefits. Paragraph 2(2) says that hitherto the specification was that the woman was married to the man when he died. But now apparently there will be an insertion which says thatand since his death she has not remarried…I am not clear whether that means that she loses only the earnings-related or the whole pension. I think that it behoves us to search these regulations very carefully because as these provisions are not in the Act but in regulations, it seems only too easy that certain rather curious facets of this matter might slip through.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Lord CULLEN of ASH BOURNE
My Lords, we have had a very interesting debate. Social security is always a complicated subject and no one ever takes part in these debates unless he or she is very expert. Personally, I have found it interesting. I propose to be as short as possible and to answer as best I can such questions as have been asked of me.
The noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, mentioned one point—I am not sure whether we have dealt with it—about the increase in child benefit.—It is now equivalent to just over 11 per cent. a year, 1300 which is the same rate as the increase in the married tax allowance. I did not know whether the noble Lord was quite clear on that. The improvements in the premium for one-parent families and in family income supplement concentrate resources on the poorest working families. Overall, the Government have improved family support as much as they feel able to at this stage.
The noble Lord, Lord Banks, asked a number of questions. He asked about benefit officers' opinion. I am advised that a benefit officer's opinion will be appealable and will not bind the appellate authorities. The noble Lord referred to monitoring, and I can assure noble Lords that my right honourable friend will be keeping a close eye on the operation of the new regulations by statistics and by internal and external research.
My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked about the orders which will be laid in the next two months. I am told that Negative Resolution orders may be laid during the Recess. They can, of course, be prayed against when the House resumes. I hope that that satisfies my noble friend.
§ Lord BOYD-CARPENTER
My Lords, if my noble friend will allow me, is the House to understand that it will be only negative procedure orders which will be laid in the group referred to by his noble friend the Minister?
§ Lord CULLEN of ASHBOURNE
My Lords, I understand that that is so. The noble Lord, Lord Banks, spoke of the complexity of language in the regulations. The wording of the regulations is inevitably difficult, but I can assure the House that there will be a new and fuller handbook, together with the usual leaflets, plus a new one on single payments. Therefore, it will not be necessary for claimants to have to try to understand the complicated language of the regulations.
The noble Lord also referred to the Notes of Guidance to Benefit Officers. This guidance will be issued by the chief benefit officer. He, like all benefit officers, is an independant authority, and it will be for him to decide whether and what to publish. Case law developed by commissioners will, as now, be published.
1301 The noble Lord referred to heating. These allowances will be payable solely on grounds of physical disability or illness. This follows the current commission policy, which is to give extra help where extra heating is needed for reasons of physical frailty or handicap. The noble Lord also spoke about family income supplement. Improvements in F1S ought not to be held back because of the concern about the poverty trap. I agree that improvements may mean that more families are affected, but for an individual family the position is not worsened in practice because FIS continues for the year regardless of changes in circumstances; so incentive to work is not destroyed and families are better off.
The noble Lord spoke about rent and rate rebates. Where a person is not claiming benefit but would be entitled if he made a claim in the proper manner, he will be able to get a single payment. If he is receiving housing rebates, those will be taken into account. So whether he is entitled to supplementary benefit will depend on his needs and his other resources. Several noble Lords have spoken about the Christmas bonus, including my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, who has spoken on this subject before now. In fact, I am rather chary about replying to my noble friend. He put down a Written Question on the subject in June 1979, which I answered to the best of my ability, but he has returned to the attack once more and I do not know whether this reply will help him; so I think that I should offer to write to him more fully than I can reply at this moment.
My reply is that war disablement pensioners are not treated less beneficially than industrial injuries pensioners. Broadly, they have to satisfy the same conditions—the receipt of a qualifying benefit. The qualifying benefits include unemployability supplement or constant attendance allowance under the War Pensions and Industrial Injuries Schemes. War pensioners have preference, in that they can receive the bonus if they are over pension age and retired but not in receipt of a qualifying pension.
The noble Earl, Lord Grey, suggested that it was high time the Christmas bonus was increased. This is a matter which comes up frequently, and I can remember the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, re- 1302 plying to this on a number of occasions in the past. I can only say that it is not presently planned to do so. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Coslany, referred to strikers and the harsh provisions. These regulations simply reproduce the policy as it has been operated for many years, including periods when the noble Lord's party has been in power. The noble Lord also referred to notional resources. I must point out to him that the provision to which he drew attention is permissive. Of course, it is not directed against neighbourly kindness.
Lord WALLACE of COSLANY
My Lords, with respect to the noble Lord, I do not quite accept that. In point of fact there is a deliberate reduction this time. I think that the noble Lord is completely wrong.
§ Lord CULLEN of ASHBOURNE
My Lords, as a matter of fact we are in some difficulty over the acoustics in this House, and I have had some difficulty in hearing what the noble Lord said. If he would like to make his point on this again, I should be very glad to try to reply to it.
Lord WALLACE of COSLANY
My Lords, I shall have to remember what I said for I passed my notes to Hansard because I have some sympathy with them. The point is that if a husband is ill at home and is in receipt of a heating allowance, if the wife is out at work—either whole or part-time—and she becomes involved in a strike (she may not be actually involved as a striker), the allowance would be withdrawn on those grounds.
§ Lord CULLEN of ASHBOURNE
My Lords, somehow I think it would be better for us to read what the noble Lord said in Hansard and then I shall write to him. Referring to what the noble Lord mentioned as regards notional resources, I must point out to him that the provision to which he drew attention is permissive. Of course it is not directed against neighbourly kindness but against work which is in the nature of regular but unpaid employment—it is a very necessary safeguard. I feel that the noble Lord probably asked a number of other questions which we did not pick up. I promise to write to him, having read Hansard tomorrow.
1303 The noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, asked about younger widows. The widow under 40 without children does not get a continuing pension. This has always been the position in the national insurance scheme.
§ Lord CULLEN of ASHBOURNE
My Lords, again I had probably better write to the noble Baroness. I know that there is a differing rate between 40 and 50 and it changes as you go up from 40 to 50, but again I am not sure that I have quite got the question. I think the noble Baroness also mentioned the death grant. I am afraid I shall have to write to the noble Baroness on that too because I cannot read the memorandum I have here. I feel that I have quite a lot of other questions to answer, which I shall do, if I may, by letter.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, I am not quite sure of the procedure at this point, but I felt that it might be for the convenience of the House if I move one by one the regulations in case there are further points anyone wishes to raise on them. In moving the first regulation I should like to mention the work that has been done by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments in reviewing each order and reporting on it. In the case of these orders they drew special attention only to the No. 7 Supplementary Benefit Requirements Regulations, but I know that the committee has done a great deal of valuable work and I am sure that it would be the wish of us all that this should be placed on the record. I beg to move the first order, the Social Security Benefits (Up-rating) Order 1980, standing in my name on the Order Paper.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.