§ 2.59 p.m.
§ Report received.
§ Clause 1 [Up-rating orders]:
Lord Banks moved Amendment No. 1:
Page 2, line 3, after ("date") insert ("and to compensate for any failure to restore their value at the previous uprating").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 1 and, with the permission of the House, speak to Amendment No. 2. Similar amendments in our joint names were put down by my noble friend Lord Kilmarnock and myself in Committee. My noble friend Lord Kilmarnock moved the amendment in Committee. The object of Clause 1(3) is to take account of the fact that benefits were uprated in 1980 by 1 per cent. more than would have been the case if the estimate of the general level of prices had turned out to be accurate. The Government overestimated the rate of inflation and by this subsection they claw back the small addition to benefits which they inadvertently gave.
§ The object of this amendment is to ensure that if at any time in the future the Government should underestimate the rate of inflation the shortfall would be made good. We feel it necessary to seek to do this because the Government have not always made good shortfalls in the past. While it is true that they did 87 make good a shortfall which occurred with regard to long-term benefits in November 1978, they did not make good the shortfall with regard to short-term benefits which occurred at the same time and which meant a loss for the single person of 25p per week and for the married couple of 40p per week. Nor did they make good the shortfall on long-term benefits in November 1979, which meant a loss of 45p per week to the single person and of 70p per week to the married couple.
§ When my noble friend Lord Kilmarnock advanced this case during the Committee stage, the noble Baroness put forward some arguments to resist these amendments. My noble friend, though by no means satisfied, felt it right that we should seek time to examine these arguments carefully, and he accordingly withdrew the amendments. We have now carefully considered the arguments put forward by the noble Baroness and find that we are quite unable to accept them.
§ First, the noble Baroness says that the Government have the power now to make good shortfalls, but your Lordships will see at once that there is a world of difference between having the power to do something if one chooses and being compelled to do it. The Government had the power, since it derives from Section 125 of the 1975 Act, when they refused to make good the shortfall with regard to short-term benefits in 1978 and the shortfall with regard to long-term benefits in 1979. They chose not to use the power; and the object of this amendment is to deny them that choice.
Secondly, the noble Baroness said that the Prime Minister had given a pledge that long-term benefits, including pensions, would be increased in line with inflation. I have no doubt that it is the intention of the Government to maintain that pledge. Pledges, however, can be broken without further legislation and presumably we are legislating for a longer period than the lifetime of the present Government. If the Government have given a pledge, what objection can they have to putting it into legislative form? Why not put it into the Bill? The reason would appear to be that the Government wish to have a free hand with regard to the short-term benefits such as unemployment benefit and sickness benefit. When replying to the case put by the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, in Committee, the noble Baroness said this at column 543, on 16th June 1981:
As regards short-term benefits the Government's view is that if the situation arose the position could be properly considered only in the light of the amount of the shortfall and the economic circumstances of the time.".
In other words, the Government wish to be free to allow the real value of short-term benefits to decline, if that should be the effect of their own calculations. It is bad enough to have the reduction of the real value of benefits by design, as in the case of the recent 5 per cent. abatement, but it is surely intolerable to have a reduction of the real value of benefits by inadvertence and contrary to the Government's first intention.
§ According to "City Comment" in the Daily Telegraph on 12th June, inflation could be running at 12 per cent. to 13 per cent. in the final quarter of this 88 year. We all hope it will not be running as high as that, but the possibility has been mentioned in responsible quarters. If the rate of inflation for the year were to be 12 per cent. instead of the 10 per cent. on which the proposed increases are based, this would mean a loss of 40p per week for the single unemployed person and of 65p per week for a couple. Surely the unemployed and the sick should be safeguarded against such a possibility and its cumulative effect in future years by a provision to make good any shortfall for all benefits. I beg to move.
§ Lord Kilmarnock
My Lords, it would be superfluous to make a long speech at this stage of the Bill. With his usual thoroughness, the noble Lord, Lord Banks, has already explained the situation with the utmost clarity, but I am afraid I have to say that I was not made entirely happy by the answers given to me by the noble Baroness after I had proposed a similar amendment at Committee stage. She spoke of the power under Section 125 of the original Act and to this she coupled the Government's pledge to keep pensions and other long-term benefits in line with prices, and said in effect that that was a sufficient guarantee. It is clear that Section 125, as amended by this Bill, gives the Secretary of State power to make an uprating order which may be in excess of his original estimate. It is to be presumed that he will come forward with something more than the 10 per cent. referred to by the noble Baroness at Second Reading. My concern here is that at the time of the uprating order the Secretary of State may again underestimate and make an order for, say, 11 per cent. But if the outcome is 12 per cent. he will be stuck with the 11 per cent. uprating order as the basis for his next review and, if he is to keep the Government's word, then in the following Session he will have to bring forward another Bill which will say: "For 11 per cent. read 12 per cent". He may wish to do this, but there may be problems of time or of resources or he may have the Treasury breathing down his neck. It is not so easy to give back as it is to claw back. In the meantime approximately 10 million people will be waiting anxiously to hear what their rate is going to be in the next round.
By this amendment all this palaver and uncertainty would be avoided. He would be able to make an automatic adjustment to the last uprating order, thereby keeping faith and being seen to keep faith with his promises to the country. On these grounds, I consider this to be a thoroughly desirable amendment which does no more than make it easier for the Government to carry out what they are pledged to do, and I hope that if the noble Lord, Lord Banks, should decide to press this to a Division noble Lords on all sides of the House will support him in the Division Lobby.
§ Baroness Jeger
My Lords, I rise to pledge the support of my noble friends and myself to this amendment. It seems only logical and fair that if we are to have this connection between the value of pensions and the amount of pensions paid, we certainly have to look at the value of the pension. We have had previous debates about the effect of the present Bill on pensions and other benefits. I shall not go over those arguments 89 again but I must emphasise to the House that, if we look at the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum to the Bill, it says quite clearly that,The effects of Clause 1 will be to reduce public expenditure on those specified benefits to which section 125(3) and section 126(A) of the Social Security Act 1975 apply by about £60 million in 1981–82 and £165 million in 1982–83".That means that the poor, the disabled, the recipients of these benefits, are going to be docked of £60 million this year and £165 million next year. Surely that was not the intention of the Government.
I like to believe in the compassion and understanding of noble Lords opposite, but unless they accept this amendment—which we fully support—the effect of Clause 1 will be to deprive the poorest and the most disabled people in this country of £60 million this year and £165 million next year. Those are not my figures and they are not my words. I am quoting from the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum to the Bill. It is with those thoughts in mind that I commend the amendment to the House, and I hope that Members on all sides will see that the only decent, compassionate and kind thing to do is to support the amendment.
§ 3.11 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Baroness Young)
My Lords, I have listened with great care to what the noble Lord, Lord Banks, the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, have said on this amendment. But the House should be in no doubt whatever that, if this amendment were carried, it would fundamentally affect the Bill and would alter in a very real way the Government's proposals.
As the House knows, the effect of Clause 1 of the Bill, if conventional timing is followed, will be that the benefit rates announced by the Secretary of State at the time of the Budget will be set out in the uprating order and will be the rates paid from the following November. The estimate of inflation, on which the rates are based, will be that made at the time of the Budget. This pattern, which is precisely that followed in practice for some years past, under a Labour Government as well as under our own, means that both the levels and the cost of the uprating are known well in advance, which has advantages for everyone. When there is no legislation affecting the uprating, the announcement and the uprating order are likely to be quite close to each other. But, in any case, the uprating process has to begin in May; that is, not much more than a month after the traditional Budget date.
As the noble Lord, Lord Banks, pointed out, the estimate of inflation could be wrong—everyone, I think, accepts that—and it is true whatever the timing may be. It is not always possible to forecast accurately, although in the past the forecasts of price increases have been remarkably accurate. However, last year the forecast of inflation was wrong and was too high. This year's estimate, although based on the best evidence, could, of course, prove to be slightly wrong in one direction or the other. If it were too low, there would be a shortfall in November. That possibility is not in dispute, and the same is true of all future years. But as I explained to your Lordships at Committee stage, we are fully committed to maintaining the level of pensions in line with inflation, and, indeed, to 90 improving them beyond that level when economic circumstances permit.
I am sorry, but I feel it only right to repeat once again the pledge made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, who said in another place on 25th November 1980—and this has been repeated on very many occasions since then by her and by other Ministers—we shall price protect pensions over the lifetime of this Parliament, and this does, of course, mean making good any shortfall in one uprating at the subsequent uprating. The shortfall undertaking is quite clear and specific. I think it only right just to reiterate the arguments that we have had before, so that there will be no doubt about them.
In order to keep this undertaking, further legislation is not needed. There is already power, in the Social Security Act 1975, to which the noble Lord, Lord Banks, drew attention, for shortfalls to be made good. I have accepted that that is not a duty, but it is a power and it does enable a shortfall to be made good. Section 125 of that Act, as it is now and as it will be when it is amended by this Bill, sets only the "floor" to the uprating; that is, the price-protection from the previous uprating. It leaves it entirely open to the Secretary of State to do more than this—to make good a shortfall at the previous uprating or, indeed, for any other reason.
If I may say so, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Banks, misunderstood what happened when we made good a shortfall in November 1979 on long-term benefits. It is very important that noble Lords should know that the matter of the shortfall in that case was by reference to earnings, at a time when the relationship with earnings was being legislated out of the system. This does not in any way count against our undertaking to price-protect long-term benefits, which we did, and, indeed, in November 1979 we uprated 1.9 per cent. extra in order to make good the shortfall on prices. The shortfall that is being talked about is not a shortfall on prices; it is a shortfall on earnings. That is quite separate and it is a point which we have accepted and have put in previous Bills. Therefore, it is not a matter for discussions at this stage of this Bill.
My right honourable friend the Prime Minister's remark concerned pensions and other related long-term benefits, such as disablement benefits. It might be helpful to the House if I gave the list. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister's pledge includes, in addition to retirement pensions, widows' benefits, industrial death benefits (widows and widowers) war and industrial injuries disablement benefits, war widows' pensions, attendance allowance, invalid care allowance, non-contributory invalidity pensions, supplementary pensions, invalidity benefit and unemployability supplement. The invalidity benefit and the unemployability supplement are covered in the sense of price-protection at their existing levels until last year's abatement is made good, and price protection at the restored level once abatement has been made good. I should just like to say a brief word about short-term benefits—
§ Baroness Jeger
My Lords, I appreciate the noble Baroness's courtesy in giving way. I am very puzzled about the Prime Minister's statement, in view of the fact that the financial effect of this Bill is to save £60 91 million. Where is that £60 million coming from, except out of the pockets of the poor, the disabled and the pensioners?
§ Baroness Young
My Lords, I hope I can answer that point. I think that we are talking about two quite separate things. The point that I was answering from the noble Lord, Lord Banks, and the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, was a reference to the shortfall that we made good in November 1979. That was a shortfall on prices, which we promised to make good and we did make good. The noble Baroness identified a shortfall in November 1979, which I accept is a shortfall. It was a shortfall on earnings. The whole point about the pledge that my right honourable friend has given, and that we have repeated, is that long-term benefits will keep up with prices and I have identified these.
What the noble Baroness is referring to in regard to this Bill is that the "floor" on which we base the uprating this year, in regard to the total pension, will be 1 per cent. less than it would have been in order to keep up with the level of inflation, because last year it was 1 per cent. more. But that is in no way going back on the pledge, because in total the pensions and other long-term benefits will have kept up with prices over this period, and this Bill is regulating something which was a commitment to more expenditure last year. The savings, to which the noble Baroness has referred, are the savings from the difference between what is in this Bill and what would have been in this Bill, if there had not been the index change of 1 per cent. That is the saving. But it does not in any way invalidate the argument about long-term benefits keeping up with prices over the lifetime of a Parliament.
If I may comment on short-term benefits, before concluding my remarks, when we debated this matter in the Committee stage I said that if the situation arose the position could be properly considered only in the light of the amount of the shortfall and of the economic circumstances at the time. If I may take two benefits as cases in point, neither child benefit nor mobility allowance are dealt with in the main uprating provisions of the Act, but both are subject to review. We have made it clear that we hope to price-protect child benefit, as we did this year. My right honourable friend has given undertakings that, as economic circumstances allow, we shall continue to do so—something to which we all attach great importance. There has been a substantial increase in the mobility allowance—in fact, above the price rises that we have had. It will have gone up by 65 per cent. since this Government came into office. Therefore it has increased considerably more than other benefits. I quote these as examples of how these matters can work.
In preparation for the discussion on today's amendments I re-read very carefully our debate at the Committee stage. The House should recognise that we debated this matter very fully at the previous stage, that we voted upon it and that the Government's decision was upheld. I accept that the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, gave notice that he might raise this matter again. However, after the explanations and the assurances which I have given, that it is the Government's view that the existing power, taken together 92 with our very firm pledge on price protection and on shortfall, makes these amendments quite unnecessary, I hope very much that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw them.
§ Baroness Wootton of Abinger
My Lords, the amendment is perfectly simple and clear and apparently expresses a principle with which the noble Baroness is in agreement. She has given the House some tremendously complicated figures which at short notice it is very difficult to follow and which seem to produce a result which is contrary to that contained in the amendment.
The amendment makes it perfectly clear people will be compensated for any failure to restore the value of those sums at the previous up-rating. This seems to be a perfectly simple principle and I do not yet understand how it can cost £65 million to carry it out—and £165 million on the second occasion is, I think, the Bill's intention. Surely the amendment is consistent with all the figures which the noble Baroness has given showing how the Government are carrying out this principle. All we want is that principle to be laid down in the Bill so that it is intelligible and clear.
§ Lord Wells-Pestell
My Lords, I hope the noble Baroness the Minister will not mind my saying that I think she has made this particular matter unnecessarily complicated. I recognise—the House will know the reason why—that matters relating to social security are so complicated that sometimes it is necessary for a Minister to erect a number of smoke-screens. But they do not help in this situation.
The issue could not be more simple: will the Government give an undertaking that in the event of there being a shortfall in pensions they will make it good at the earliest opportunity? I think I am right in saying that at the Committee stage, and again today, the noble Baroness said that it is the Government's intention to make good shortfalls because they are pledged to keep pensions in line with prices. She went on to say that this power is clearly set down in Section 125 of the principal Act, the 1975 Act. If that power is there it can be used, but the House wants a simple undertaking from the noble Baroness on behalf of the Government, who, we are told, are anxious to keep pensions in line with prices, that, in the event of pensions falling below prices, this Government will automatically come to the House and restore them to their proper level. It is as simple as that.
§ Lord Banks
My Lords, I should like to thank most warmly all those noble Lords who have spoken in support of the amendment. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for her reply. However, it did not convince me that this amendment is unnecessary. The noble Baroness said that the amendment would fundamentally alter the Bill. I cannot see why this is so. In fact, in respect of a particular year the Bill says that since the level was placed too high for that year—there was a miscalculation—there must be a clawback in respect of that year. All my amendment says is that that principle should apply in reverse if there is a shortfall. This does not seem to me to be a fundamental departure from the nature of the Bill.
There is a pledge, certainly, with regard to long-term benefits. If there is a pledge, and one so strongly 93 reiterated, one does not see why it cannot be incorporated in the Bill so that not only the present Government but successive Governments, until there might be some other legislation, will be bound by it. We know that there is a power to do this if the Government choose to do it, but we also know that they have not always done it in the past. The fact that on one occasion it was a question of earnings, not prices, seems to me to be irrelevant, since at that time it was part of the criteria, which it no longer is. In the past, therefore, the Government have not always chosen to use the power to act. We want to make sure that they always are obliged to do so if there is a shortfall.
I feel that the case against the amendment has not been made out and that the case for it is very strong. Because of that, I should like to test the opinion of the House.
§ 3.27 p.m.
§ On Question, whether the said amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 100; Not-Contents, 120.94
|Airedale, L.||Leathers, V.|
|Amherst, E.||Listowel, E.|
|Amulree, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.|
|Ardwick, L.||Lovell-Davis, L.|
|Avebury, L.||McCarthy, L.|
|Bacon, B.||McNair, L.|
|Banks, L.||Melchett, L.|
|Barrington, V.||Milford, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Mishcon, L.|
|Bishopston, L.||Molloy, L.|
|Blease, L.||Noel-Baker, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Northfield, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Oram, L.|
|Boyle of Handsworth, L.||Peart, L.|
|Briginshaw, L.||Plant, L.|
|Brockway, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Byers, L.||Rathcreedan, L.|
|Caradon, L.||Redcliffe-Maud, L.|
|Chichester, Bp.||Rhodes, L.|
|Chitnis, L.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|Clancarty, E.||Rugby, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Clifford of Chudleigh, L.||Seear, B.|
|Collison, L.||Sefton of Garston, L.|
|Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Crowther-Hunt, L.||Shinwell, L.|
|David, B.||Simon, V.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Somers, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Soper, L.|
|Evans of Claughton, L.||Stamp, L.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Flowers, L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Gaitskell, B.||Stone, L.|
|Gardiner, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Strauss, L.|
|Gosford, E.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Grey, E.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Hale, L.||Tordoff, L.|
|Hampton, L. [Teller.]||Underhill, L.|
|Henderson, L.||Vernon, L.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Wade, L.|
|Ilchester, E.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Jacques, L.||Walston, L.|
|Jeger, B.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Jenkins of Putney, L.||Wigoder, L.|
|John-Mackie, L.||Willis, L.|
|Kennet, L.||Wilson of Radcliffe, L.|
|Kilmarnock, L. [Teller.]||Wootton of Abinger, B.|
|Kings Norton, L.||Young of Dartington, L.|
|Ailesbury, M.||Hornsby-Smith, B.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Hylton-Foster, B.|
|Alport, L.||Inglewood, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Ironside, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Kemsley, V.|
|Avon, E.||Killearn, L.|
|Balfour of Inchrye, L.||Kimberley, E.|
|Barnby, L.||Kinloss, Ly.|
|Bellwin, L.||Kinnaird, L.|
|Beloff, L.||Lane-Fox, B.|
|Belstead, L.||Lauderdale, E.|
|Berkeley, B.||Long, V.|
|Bessborough, E.||Loudoun, C.|
|Birdwood, L.||Lyell, L.|
|Blake, L.||McAlpine of Moffat, L.|
|Bradford, E.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.|
|Caccia, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|Caithness, E.||Mansfield, E.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Marley, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Marshall of Leeds, L.|
|Chelwood, L.||Mersey, V.|
|Clitheroe, L.||Milverton, L.|
|Clwyd, L.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Mottistone, L.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Craigton, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Crathorne, L.||Northchurch, B.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Daventry, V.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Davidson, V.||Porritt, L.|
|De Freyne, L.||Radnor, E.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Rankeillour, L.|
|Digby, L.||Renton, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Rochdale, V.|
|Dudley, B.||Romney, E.|
|Dundee, E.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Eccles, V.||Saint Oswald, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Sandys, L. [Teller.]|
|Exeter, M.||Sharples, B.|
|Faithfull, B.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Ferrier, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Stodart of Leaston, L.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Strathcarron, L.|
|Gainford, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Gardner of Parkes, B.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Gibson-Watt, L.||Strathspey, L.|
|Glenarthur, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Gormanston, V.||Swansea, L.|
|Gowrie, E.||Tenby, V.|
|Gridley, L.||Thorneycroft, L.|
|Grimston of Westbury, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.||Trenchard, V.|
|Hankey, L.||Vaizey, L.|
|Hawke, L.||Vickers, B.|
|Henley, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Hereford, V.||Westbury, L.|
|Hillingdon, L.||Wynford, L.|
|Home of the Hirsel, L.||Young, B.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ [Amendment No. 2 not moved.]
§ 3.37 p.m.
Lord Wallace of Coslany moved Amendment No. 3:
After Clause 4, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Take up of benefits
§ . The Secretary of State shall periodically investigate the failure of entitled persons to take up benefits and shall subsequently make or cause to be made in each House of Parliament a statement of the actions he is taking or proposes to take to 95 acquaint persons eligible to claim benefits to which they are entitled, their right to claim and to encourage them to do so.").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment is non-controversial, non-political and, I am sure, most acceptable to your Lordships' House. The amendment itself is a modified version of one that I moved in Committee and withdrew for further consideration. On reflection, I felt that the original amendment was too tightly linked to Clause 1 and gave little freedom of action by the Secretary of State. The amendment now before your Lordships' House is less vigorously worded, and although it confers a specific duty upon the Secretary of State it does extend discretionary powers so far as timing is concerned by using the words:
shall periodically investigate
shall subsequently make or cause to be made".
Thus, it gives the Secretary of State wider discretion as to when he will act.
§ The actual form of the proposed periodical investigation of failure to take up is, of course, one for the Minister to decide, but I have not the slightest doubt that he would use voluntary organisations, such as the National Association of Citizens' Advice Bureaux, the Disability Alliance, and others. There is no doubt that there is concern about the failure to take up benefits by many deserving people who are entitled to them. This was evidenced in speeches made at Committee stage, when regional variations in take-up were stressed by some of the speakers. While there is ample evidence for some regional surveys by voluntary organisations, there are very few up-to-date statistics about the rate of take-up of benefits and allowances, particularly those relating to supplementary pensions and supplementary allowances, where the figures show 73 per cent. and 76 per cent. take-up respectively in 1977.
§ So far as I can trace there is no information available about disablement benefits. On child benefits for one-parent families, the estimated rate of take-up in 1980 was 60 per cent. One could go on, but the fact is that there is a serious lack of up-to-date official statistics on the failure to take up benefits and allowances.
It would seem that the failure to take up benefits is most evident in the case of disabled people. In reports of surveys carried out by the National Association of Citizens' Advice Bureaux and the Disability Alliance dated March 1981 this fact is indeed highlighted, and I will give quotations from the Citizens' Advice Bureaux Survey which was held in Chapeltown, Leeds. I quote:
However, not all the cases had a happy ending. An 81 year old woman living alone and suffering from arteriosclerosis and fluid on the legs was found to be underclaiming benefits by about £20 a week. But she was unwilling to claim this money as she felt grateful for what she had already received from the State and did not want to be labelled as a 'scrounger'.".
I quote again:
It is ironic that this report should come out in 1981, the International Year of Disabled People, for it highlights very effectively the fact that disabled people are one of the most underprivileged sections of the community".
So said Dot Moss, the organiser of Chapeltown CAB.
She went on to say:
It is vital that they have access to advice about the benefits and services available to them. It is not enough for us to wait for people to refer themselves to us for advice. If people are unaware that they are underclaiming they just struggle on".
The next quotation comes from the Disability Alliance survey in North Yorkshire—and I quote:
Indeed, in the North Yorkshire project some people refused to apply for benefits to which they seemed entitled, despite receiving much advice and encouragement; they were frightened that their relatives, doctors, social workers and the officials at the DHSS would think they were 'scrounging'.".
A further quotation:—
The Disability Alliance report also highlights just how complex is the system of benefits for people with disabilities. Different benefits are awarded on the basis of different tests, such as incapacity for work, inability to walk, need for attendance, or personal income and savings. Each benefit involves a separate application form, assessment or medical examination and a separate appeal if the benefit is refused. This makes it much harder for people with disabilities to know what their rights are, and to claim them without help from expert advisers".
It is with some degree of interest—I have given the noble Lord notice—that I observe that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, has a Question tabled for Wednesday almost identically on that very subject, and I know of the noble Lord's deep interest in this subject.
§ It will be noted that the fear of being labelled as a scrounger arises and the effect of the Government's campaign against fraudulent claims is bound to increase that fear. I am not against the attack on people making fraudulent claims at all, but to me it is purely a question of justice. It is right and just for those making fraudulent claims to be penalised and the Bill covers that point. It is also just that decent people, fully legally entitled to claim, should be given every help and facility to receive their just rights. The Bill does not cover that point and that is why the new clause is submitted. It embodies an important principle of the right to claim to be freely and readily available to those in genuine need.
§ We cannot let innocent people suffer through ignorance, fear or, indeed, pride. There is no logical reason whatever why the Government should reject this clause. True, its acceptance could—and should—lead to additional outlay on benefits but to reject the clause on financial grounds in my opinion would be completely and absolutely immoral. I beg to move.
Lord Campbell of Croy
My Lords, perhaps I may just say a word because the noble Lord referred to the International Year of the Disabled and I am the chairman for Scotland of the International Year—in fact, the only representative from the four parts of the United Kingdom who has been a Member of both Houses of Parliament. Of course, the noble Lord is right in saying that the system of benefits is extremely complicated for disabled people and I am one of those who have been advocating a rationalisation and simplification, but let us remember the reason for it. It is that the National Health Service and the national insurance system, when they first came in, simply did not apply to a large number of very severely disabled people; those, for example, who were born disabled or who became disabled in early youth, because if you had never worked, or been available for work, you were not in the national insurance system. You did not even 97 have a national insurance number; people did not know you existed because there was no register of such people.
Therefore, the complications have largely arisen because a number of parliamentarians in this House and in the other House have pressed for the gaps to be filled. In those days there were no benefits which were non-contributory. There was only national assistance, now replaced by supplementary benefits and therefore it is because the gaps have now been filled by invalidity benefit, by mobility allowance, by attendance allowance—benefits which are non-contributory—that the system has become so complicated. When you take into account the fact as to whether some of these are taxed or not taxed, whether, if you are eligible for some of them you then cease to be eligible for others which have nothing to do with disability but are benefits, such as the family income supplement, that is what makes life so complicated.
So I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Coslany, to remember that it is because we have made progress over the past dozen years that the system has become so complicated. Let us by all means try to simplify it and to rationalise it in the future, but it should be remembered that Governments of all complexions have made the system evolve in this way. The result is a large number of new beneficiaries—for example, housewives who became disabled in the past had absolutely no benefit whereas now they receive benefit, subject to various medical tests and other things. None the less, it has made the system complicated.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Coslany, was good enough to refer to the Question which I am asking tomorrow, and I think I should mention that although my Question is related to the new clause moved by the noble Lord, it is in fact wider than that. There is a little overlapping, but my Question is a good deal wider because I am concerned not merely with those people who fail to claim; I am concerned with the very much larger number of people who try to claim, or on whose behalf a claim is made, but who are defeated by the utter complexity of the law. The law runs to something over 1,000 pages of statutes and regulations.
Mind you, my Lords, I think that Parliament has itself to blame; indeed both Houses are to blame for this, in that instead of clearly stating the purpose of the statutes and of the regulations we have enacted legislation, and Government departments have enacted it, in such a way as to try to cover every hypothetical case. That is one of the reasons—perhaps the main reason—for the complexity, and that is why I say quite frankly that I am not content with the noble Lord's new clause. I do not think it would get us far enough and I would hate to surrender the wider claim that I am making merely by having this new clause added to the Bill. I am asking for, if you like, a complete recasting of the whole of the law relating to benefits and allowances, so that, as my noble friend Lord Campbell has pointed out, there is a better hope of people who are or should be, entitled to claim being able to establish their claims instead of being defeated, time and again, by complete obscurity and complexity.
§ Baroness Young
My Lords, I am sure that we have 98 all listened with great interest, not only to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Coslany, but to the two speeches by my noble friends Lord Campbell and Lord Renton. I begin by saying that the Government have a great deal of sympathy with the principle underlying this amendment and I agreed with a great deal of what has been said. I agree, too, that the amendment is an improvement on the one we had before. I have considered the matter carefully, but I shall have to ask your Lordships not to accept the amendment. Before I go on to explain that, I should like to offer a positive suggestion to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, which I hope he will regard as being made in a helpful spirit, because it is designed to meet at any rate part of the purpose of his amendment.
First, it is not necessary to enact a statutory requirement to look at take-up and to report to Parliament on take-up levels and the measures adopted to encourage take-up. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services and his Department devote a good deal of effort to take-up issues—quite properly so, for all the reasons the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, has put forward—and the results have been regularly reported to Parliament in response to questioning or in the course of debate. I do not think I am breaking any parliamentary secrets if I note that some of the questions in response to which details have been given seem to have been very conveniently timed in relation to Ministers' having information to give. Noble Lords will be familiar with this. But whether timed for the convenience or the inconvenience of Ministers, the process of parliamentary questioning has served very effectively to give Parliament an up-to-date picture of what is being done and the needs to which action is directed. It has also publicised independent reports when these have suggested that people are not claiming their entitlements. Family income supplement, one-parent benefit and supplementary benefit have figured prominently in recent Answers; but they have not stood alone.
There are two other guarantees that these matters are not overlooked. As your Lordships will know, the Social Services Select Committee in another place has been taking a keen and consistent interest in this subject and has been asking some very detailed questions. The questions and answers will be published and they enable the Select Committee to follow up and monitor progress—concentrating on problem areas, in respect of which it has already had details of publicity and information expenditure, and/or take-up. Secondly, the new Social Security Advisory Committee, set up as an independent advisory body under legislation last year, has been emphasising the importance of good communications and looking critically at forms, et cetera, during its visits and discussions, as well as concerning itself with take-up more generally. Its breadth of membership means that it is well placed, for example, to represent the special interests of disabled claimants and beneficiaries, members of the immigrant communities, and residents in the various parts of the United Kingdom.
I hope that what I have said may persuade your Lordships that it is not necessary to legislate further, but I promised to say to those who favour the principle of the amendment something which they might think helpful. I believe that what is being sought here is a 99 general statement, based on operational experience, of where the problems are thought to lie, and about the overall take-up strategy—the strategy for information and advice—perhaps with special reference to the areas where problems have been identified. Much of this ground has already been covered in replies to individual Questions or to the Select Committee. I would suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Coslany, that he might care to table a Question before the end of the Session. We should then be glad to respond with a statement about the main social security benefits and the general approach to information and advice on social security. The possibility of handling the matter in the same way in future years, if this seemed to be a positive and helpful approach, could then be considered.
It might be helpful in response to the various points made to give some of the details on take-up. Quite a lot is already on the record. I have thought it right to respond at some length on the general issues. Family income supplement take-up has indeed been shown to be lower over a period of years than had been believed to be the case, the point to which the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, drew attention. But it must be said that the latest evidence for the year ending September 1979, from the Family Finances Survey for that year, shows that the figures, as given by my honourable friend Mrs. Chalker in another place earlier this month, are in fact 50 per cent. Since then there have been two take-up campaigns at uprating time of which the 1980 campaign was particularly successful. In addition there are widely distributed posters, special notifications to those getting other benefits, plans for two new leaflets later this year, and a substantial increase in the publicity budget. Further steps are being considered.
With regard to supplementary benefit, the position is well described in the Supplementary Benefits Commission's paper on take-up. Broadly speaking, about 75 per cent. of those eligible claim and about 83 per cent. of the amount which could be paid is actually claimed. Notifications to contributory beneficiaries, widespread posters, vastly improved leaflets—and perhaps I might draw the noble Lord's attention to the one I have here, which is one of the simplest and clearest leaflets I have yet seen; the claimants only have to fill in the name and address and indicate that they wish to apply—clearer and fuller explanations, much greater publication of information about the scheme, have all helped towards take-up improvement recently.
With regard to one-parent benefit, the catalogue of measures is a long one. May I just say that special efforts are being made to contact those with other benefits who may be eligible for this one. Information has been distributed to social service and social work departments, clinics, courts, and of course the citizens' advice bureaux; and the change of name and the enhancement of amount have undoubtedly helped very considerably.
As regards benefits for the chronically sick and disabled people, and in particular the handicap benefits this special year is in itself providing a publicity boost. A number of conferences, for example the RADAR conference in October, are featuring cash benefits on their agenda. The department has co-operated with 100 the Disablement Income Group in its production of two new leaflets for handicapped school-leavers, and with the Disability Alliance in its valuable handbook. The official Help for Handicapped People leaflet has been revised and I am glad to say that the revision has been praised. A lot of information is passed on by direct or indirect contacts between disabled people and their families; and the effect of research, such as that sponsored by the DHSS, into the use made of mobility allowance for adults and for young people, is to show the value of a benefit and to improve its take-up.
May I just say a word about fraud and abuse, which has been mentioned? Of course I recognise that exaggerated emphasis on either abuse or indeed on take-up can produce adverse effects in terms of one or the other; but there is nothing inherently inconsistent in the view that those who are entitled to benefits should get them and those who are not entitled should not get them. I understand that pensioners, unemployed people and disabled people with no political axe to grind have advocated strict measures against fraud and abuse, because they too are concerned that abuse will bring the whole scheme itself into disrepute.
My Lords, I have given a very long answer, but I felt it was right to go over the ground. I hoped to reassure your Lordships, to indicate the Government's thinking on these matters and the sympathy that we have expressed. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, will consider what I have said about asking a Question. I do believe this would meet the spirit of his amendment. I hope that with that assurance he will feel that his amendment is unnecessary.
Lord Wallace of Coslany
My Lords, first I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Renton, for what he has said. I hope that I have not spoilt his Question. I hope that he receives a very favourable Answer and I can assure him of my very warm support in all that he does in that field. I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young, has been generous and sympathetic in her reply. I put down the amendment simply because I feel strongly about this matter. However, I am very pleased indeed that she has suggested that I put down a Question. No doubt we shall get some reasonable opportunity to get advice on the matter and the Question will be put down to suit the Government's convenience. I thank the noble Baroness very much indeed for that offer, which, naturally, I would rather accept than divide the House and take up your Lordships' time. This is a positive reaction and I thank the noble Baroness very much indeed. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.