HL Deb 17 November 1981 vol 425 cc405-6

3.2 p.m.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have yet received the results of the inquiry by the Supplementary Benefit Policy Inspectorate into the operation of the new capital cut-off rule, of which the House was informed on 12th March 1981, and whether they intend to modify the present requirement to include the surrender value of insurance policies in assessing savings.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Lord Elton)

My Lords, the report by the Supplementary Benefit Policy Inspectorate of their inquiry into the operation of the supplementary benefit capital rule should be received by Ministers shortly. In the light of that report, and of the many views which have been expressed on this subject, the Government will consider what changes, if any, may be desirable.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for that reply, may I ask him whether he agrees that we are now dealing with a new group of people for whom supplementary benefit was not originally intended; namely, the long-term unemployed: people who forfeit their right to national insurance unemployment pay after 12 months, and must then fall back on their savings until those are reduced below the figure of £2,000? Does the noble Lord think that it is right that prudent people, who have become unemployed through no fault of their own, should be forced to spend the minimal surrender values of I their insurance policies before qualifying for supplementary benefit, despite the fact that others who own valuable unmortgaged properties do not have to sell those before qualifying?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the supplementary benefit scheme was not designed for any specific category but for all who fell to a certain level of need. As to the specific questions about mortgages and life insurance policies, I can tell the noble Lord that when we have the report we will certainly look at those questions. But I must say that to distinguish between different kinds of investment would of course be an important change in principle.

Lord Roberthall

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that the supplementary benefit scheme was designed for conditions quite different from those which obtain today? When it was arranged it was extremely likely that anybody out of work could get a job, but nobody can say that the 3 million who are unemployed can get jobs. Is not that the difference in the situation?

Lord Elton

The difference, my Lords, is that there are more people who qualify now than there were formerly.

Lord Monson

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that there are, to my certain knowledge, unemployed people whose life savings of a little over £2,000 are tied up in building society share schemes which cannot be touched under any circumstances for five years? They are, therefore, in the appalling position (a) of being unemployed, (b) of not being able to get at their modest savings, and (c) of being ineligible for supplementary benefit under the Government's rules.

Lord Elton

My Lords, when the Government have the report they will consider particular issues such as that brought by the noble Lord to the Government's attention.