§ 8.30 p.m.
§ House again in Committee on Clause 11.
Lord Kilmarnock moved Amendment No. 47:
Page 15, line 20, at end insert ("except for those people with mental disorders, as defined in section 1 of the Mental Health Act 1983, for whom the applicable age shall be 30;")
§ The noble Lord said: We return to the question of the severe disablement allowance. Before we interrupted discussion on this Committee stage, the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, had moved that the qualifying age should be raised to 25 for everyone. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, told him that that was considered to be too expensive. The amendment that I am moving is more limited in scope. It seeks to raise the age from 20 to 30 for a specific group of people. They are people with mental disorders as defined in Section 1 of the Mental Health Act 1983.
§ The noble Lord, Lord Stallard, was perfectly right in one thing that he said —that although we are grateful for the offer which the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, made about further consultation on certain matters, we should not slide over things during the course of the Committee stage. So my object in moving this amendment is to put down a marker for discussions with him in the first place, and then, if they are unsuccessful, for a return to the matter at Report stage.
§ It is the case with the mentally disordered that the cut-off at the age of 20 is, in my submission, particularly damaging. That is so on two grounds. The mentally disordered, of course, encompass both the mentally handicapped and the mentally ill. In the case 515 of the mentally handicapped, it is well known that their social development is more retarded than that of the average member of the population. In the case of the mentally ill —this is a point which has already been raised more than once this evening —the age at which most of them are first admitted to hospital is often over 20. Those are two substantial reasons why the age of 20 is not suitable for this group.
§ There are also educational considerations. As I have said, mentally handicapped people develop slowly. Often they stay at school until 19, and thereafter may attend a college. That could have the effect of extending, over a considerable period of years, their education and incorporation into the normal activities of society. They might well continue their education up to 25, at a further education college. Therefore, the effect of setting the age at 20 could well be to discourage this process, to discourage mentally disordered people, in particular mentally handicapped people, from attending special schools and from continuing, between age 20 and 25, their training in some form of activity. In fact, we are building into the Bill, as it is drafted, a disincentive to work.
§ A similar problem exists with people with mental illnesses. We are seeing more and more people who have never worked because of the unemployment situation experiencing their first hospitalisation after 20. After illness, the effect of getting back into work, or obtaining work for the first time, may be similar to that in the case of the mentally handicapped person, except that, because not already on SDA, he will not have the therapeutic earnings concession as he struggles to become fit for work. The mentally handicapped person. who is eligible for SDA before 20, will obtain the therapeutic earnings concession while working towards fuller employment and the mentally ill person will not.
§ Those seem to me to be very substantial reasons for my submission that the age of 20 is quite inappropriate to this group of people. If the Government are going to argue against this on grounds of cost, may I say it is quite obvious that the cost would be nothing like that of raising the general age to 25. I have here an estimate —I can say only that it is an estimate —that there are about 160 physically and/or mentally handicapped 16- to 19-year-olds in the ILEA special schools. I am afraid I have not got a breakdown of the figures as between physical handicap and mental handicap; nor can I extrapolate that figure over the country at large. But I think it will be clear to the noble Lord that in financial terms the number will not be prohibitively great.
§ The noble Lord has often told us about his special interest in the mentally disordered, and he has a special responsibility for them. He should consider this amendment sympathetically. I will tell him right away that I am not going to press it to a Division. I am putting it down as a marker for future discussion with him. and possibly for raising it again at Report stage if that discussion is not successful. I should like to commend the amendment to him. in view of his particular responsibilities for the mentally disordered. I beg to move.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
My noble friend Lord Ennals is unable to stay for the end of today's proceedings, and 516 he apologises for that. He hopes that the subject matter of this amendment will find its way on to the agenda of business with the Minister. The noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, has advanced the case in support of the amendment, and there is very little that I can add to that case. Earlier in the day we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, and many other noble Lords that they consider the age of 20 generally to be inappropriate. During the course of the afternoon we have had certain reassurances from the Minister.
I wish to make one point which I do not think was made earlier. It appears to me that, if we agree the age threshold at 20, many young people will be placed on the horns of a dilemma: do they continue with their training. their treatment and their education and run the risk that they will be stranded so far as the SDA is concerned? Do they do that? Long term it is very much in their interest that they should receive training and education, so that they can be integrated into our community. Do they place that at risk, or —and we are in times of great difficulty —do they nevertheless accept the training, the treatment and the education and put their SDA at risk?
It appears to me that in life we can make a mistake when we have to take certain decisions. Here we are dealing with people who have the whole of life ahead of them. If they make a mistake in deciding to go for the SDA, or to continue with treatment and educational training. that is a mistake that cannot be rectified in the short term and it will be with them throughout their lives. I do not think it is right that people should be put in that position at the age of 20, when they have the whole of their lives before them. But I very much support the amendment which has been moved by the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, and I trust that it will find its way on to the Minister's business agenda.
Lord Glenarthur: I have listened with care to the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, and. yes, I certainly do have a special responsibility for the mentally handicapped and the mentally ill, and so I have looked particularly carefully at this amendment and will continue to take very seriously indeed what noble Lords say.
Those who would gain from the concession which the noble Lord advocates would be the people with a mental disorder who became continuously incapable of work between the ages of 20 and 30 and who were not sufficiently disabled to qualify under the 80 per cent. disablement test. The numbers and costs involved —and the noble Lord. Lord Kilmarnock, particularly asked about costs —are uncertain, but it is worth noting that in many cases the person concerned is likely to have been working and paying national insurance contributions and, consequently, he or she could expect to qualify for contributory sickness and invalidity benefits.
Although I am sure that we all sympathise with the sentiment which lies behind the noble Lord's amendment, I must ask your Lordships to look carefully at its implications. It would mean drawing a distinction between claimants according to whether their incapacity was bodily or mental. The household 517 duties test has been criticised by nearly everyone as being entirely arbitrary in its effect. I believe that this amendment would introduce a new anomaly no less arbitrary than the household duties test. Those excluded from the concession would in my view have a genuine sense of grievance. I do not believe that this is a position which would command acceptance; and such further concessions would, of course, increase the cost.
Perhaps at this point I might say a few words about the numbers who will qualify for SDA, since it is worries on that score that lie behind this amendment. On Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, pointed out that around 60 per cent. (that is, 81,500) of the 145,000 who currently qualify for NCIP are shown as suffering from a mental disorder, and he went on to suggest that as many as 26,500 of them would not in future qualify for SDA. I should first confirm that all those already drawing NCIP or HNCIP when SDA is to be introduced will automatically be transferred to the new benefit, and this will continue in payment simply on a test of incapacity for work. Consequently, no-one will actually lose benefit.
As regards those who will newly qualfify for SDA in future, the available information suggests that the large majority of those who newly qualify for NCIP at present have been continuously incapable of work since before age 20, and consequently they will continue to be entitled to SDA simply on a test of incapacity for work. This applies as much to those who presently qualify for NCIP because of mental disorder as to other groups. The statistics do not distinguish between those suffering from mental handicap, which generally arises at birth or in the early developmental years, or other forms of illness. But it is likely that the large majority of the 81,500 currently drawing NCIP because of mental disorder fall within the former category. And it is precisely for such people, the congentially handicapped or those disabled in childhood, that the age 20 rule for SDA has been designed —to preserve benefit entitlement based simply on a test of incapacity for work. Overall, therefore, we estimate that the number who will qualify for SDA in future under the easier under-20 rule, including those suffering from mental disorders, will be broadly equivalent to the number who presently qualify for NCIP.
There may be some men and single women who would at present qualify for NCIP but who in future will have to be 80 per cent. disabled to qualify for SDA. We estimate, however, that the number will be small and most will still be entitled to supplementary benefit. I should also make it clear that national insurance credits which could count towards a retirement pension can still be awarded, whether or not benefit is payable, subject only to the production of satisfactory evidence of incapacity for work. I might also point out that single women drawing SDA on the under-20 rule will in future retain the benefit when they marry. At present about 750 women a year lose NCIP on marriage because they fail the household duties test for HNCIP.
I note the fears that have been expressed, and I hope that I have allayed some of them so far as concerns the way in which the introduction of SDA will affect the 518 mentally ill. I fully accept that we cannot guarantee that our estimates of the number of people likely to qualify for SDA will be correct. As my honourable friend the Minister for the Disabled has repeatedly made clear in another place, our statistics in this area are not as comprehensive as we should like. We have had to make the best estimate on available information. In the longer term, the new survey of disabled people commissioned recently by my right honourable friend should throw more light on this area, but I do not believe it would have been right to have remained with the existing unsatisfactory benefit until then.
In view of this uncertainty over numbers we have undertaken to monitor very carefully the start of the new scheme. If it transpired that particular groups of beneficiaries were adversely affected by the new benefit we would, of course, look carefully at possible remedies. I am sure it is sensible to proceed in this way rather than to provide at the outset a concession to deal with a problem which might not arise, and, what is more, a concession which would in itself create an anomaly at least as discriminatory, if not more so, than the household duties test. Therefore, with that explanation, I hope that the noble Lord will not press his amendment.
§ Lord Kilmarnock
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur. I have already said that I am not going to press the amendment at this stage. But it seems to me that even this brief discussion has turned up a number of problems to which we should address ourselves.
The noble Lord referred to the mentally ill who already have a contributions record. It would certainly be interesting to get more information about them and to find out roughly the number of people concerned. The noble Lord said that those already on NCIP will be automatically transferred. If that is the case, then it takes care of the current situation; but it does not have any effect on the future. The noble Lord himself referred to the paucity of Government statistics. I think I am quoting him correctly as saying, "They are not as comprehensive as we should like". I was glad to hear him say that the uncertainty over numbers would lead to monitoring once the scheme was under way. That is something of which we would obviously approve.
Before the next stage of consultations on this subject it would he useful if the noble Lord could try to get a slightly more accurate statistical base from which we could try to identify the numbers who are likely to be involved in this particular problem; that is to say, the problem of the mentally ill, with the problem of the mentally handicapped being taken separately.
Furthermore, the noble Lord said that there is always the fallback position of supplementary benefit. That, of course, is perfectly true. But the noble Lord would probably agree with me that the safety net of supplementary benefit already has a great many more fish in it than it was ever intended to bear. So I do not think we can consider that to be necessarily a desirable way out of the problem. That really is the worst fallback position, the worst way out of the problem.
I hope that the noble Lord will bear all these factors in mind before we come to discuss this matter. If we cannot come to any satisfactory accommodation on it, 519 we shall certainly have to return to it at the report stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 48, 49 and 50 not moved.]
§ 8.50 p.m.
Lord Kilmarnock moved Amendment No. 51:
Page 16, line 7, after ("faculty") insert ("or a mental disorder as defined in subsection (2)(b) above.").
§ The noble Lord said: I understand that it is suggested in the groupings that amendments Nos. 51 and 54 should be taken together. It seems to me that Amendment No. 51 is really consequential upon Amendment No. 47, to which I have just spoken. As Amendment No. 51 refers to mental disorder, perhaps we may take it as a useful bridge to Amendment No. 54, to which I should like to speak, if that is for the convenience of the Committee.
Amendment No. 54: Page 17, line 6, at end insert —
(e) shall contain new criteria for assessment of levels of disability due to mental disorder as defined in subsection (2)(b) above and these criteria shall be published for consultation with interested parties prior to the coming into force of the Regulations.").
§ We pass here into the area of the criteria. During the discussion on earlier amendments, there was some criticism of the inadequacy of the industrial disablement method of assessment for people who are likely to be or who will have to be assessed under this new scheme. The most serious problem with the new proposals is the way of determining disability by requiring an assessment at 80 per cent. disability before the benefit can be paid. The method of assessment is based on the schedule of prescribed degrees of disablement of the industrial injuries scheme and on the war pension scheme. In our view this is wholly inappropriate for considering disablement through mental disorder, and I am talking about mental disorder. It would seem that this process is not really objective in determining disability due to physical disorder and is certainly inappropriate for those physical disorders due to heart disease, arthritis and other such disabling conditions. The process can only be seen as objective in terms of industrial accidents and loss of faculty, which is what it was designed for.
Whatever level of percentage disability is eventually determined, considerable work needs to be put into considering the criteria on which the disability is to be determined. The proposals that the criteria for considering mental disorder should be, to quote the DHSS:
similar to those that are already used when people claim industrial disablement benefit or a war pension",
are in our view totally inadequate. Even after extensive consideration and research, it will still be difficult to determine criteria which have any objectivity when considering the level of disability of a person with mental disorder in comparison to:
normally healthy people of the same age and sex".
§ It has been suggested that a possible approach to the level of disability of a mentally disordered person would be for an independent multidisciplinary assessment by a panel including a psychiatrist, a social 520 worker and other competent professionals with experience of mental health problems. I shall leave on one side for the moment the question of the percentage of disablement, and whether or not it should be 80 per cent. I shall later propose that it should be 60 per cent.
From what I have said, I think that the noble Lord will have to acknowledge that this is a very unsatisfactory way of assessing mental disorder. I believe that the noble Lord. Lord Campbell of Croy, tabled Amendment No. 53, which he said he would not move, in which he suggested adding the words:
or meets other criteria which may be prescribed in regulations".
§ It will be seen that my Amendment, No. 54, goes a bit further and is rather more specific than that in relation to this particular group. Whether or not it is in exactly the right form, I frankly do not know, but I believe that this is a matter that we shall have to discuss in greater detail. I hope that we can put it on the agenda for the discussions that we shall have with the noble Lord. Again, if we are unable to reach a satisfactory solution, we shall certainly have to revert to the matter on Report. I beg to move.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
Again, I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock. Our attention has been drawn to the fact that the experience of the industrial and war disablement assessment shows that those suffering from chronic mental illness tend to get a very low percentage assessment. That may suggest that the process of assessment is inappropriate and inadequate. Indeed, there is support for these figures from another source. It is worrying that at 31st May 1982 the number of HNCIP cases who were suffering from mental disorder came to no more than about 5.5 per cent. of the total cases.
Therefore, that prompts the worrying question whether the doctors are applying the right assessments. That is why I particularly welcome Amendment No. 54. It appears to me that Amendment No. 54 is pointing the Committee in the direction in which we ought to be moving if we are to do justice to those people who are disabled as the result of mental disorder. Therefore, it gives me pleasure to support the amendment.
§ Lord Glenarthur
The additional disablement test for those who first become incapable of work after the age of 20 is intended to concentrate the available resources on the most severely disabled. In assessing disablement, we propose to use the same criteria as currently apply with success in the industrial injuries and war pensions fields. I shall elaborate on that in a moment.
I think that there has been a good deal of misunderstanding about the way in which these criteria will apply, especially in relation to the assessment of mental handicap or mental illness. There is no question of the additional disablement test being conceived solely, or even principally, in terms of skeletal or muscular factors. Any illness, disease or disability will constitute a relevant loss of physical or mental faculty for SDA purposes.
With this in mind, there would seem to be little purpose in adding to the Bill a specific reference to disablement arising from mental disorder as the noble Lord. Lord Kilmarnock, suggests in Amendment No. 521 51. There is nothing in the definition of "mental disorder" as contained in Section 1 of the Mental Health Act 1983 which is not already covered by the concept of a "loss of mental faculty".
In assessing the level of disablement there is no question of the adjudicating medical authorities taking account only of those injuries for which a degree of disablement is prescribed in regulations. People may have been misled by the fact that the schedule of disabilities necessarily concentrates on loss of limbs, or parts of limbs, and also on blindness and deafness. They say that percentage assessment is inappropriate for diseases, particularly mental handicap or illness. But the assessment of disability due to disease is part of war pensions and industrial injuries, and there is experience in these schemes of the assessment of a wide range of conditions. The schedule simply provides a series of reference points, or a framework within which the assessment of other conditions fits. according to the clinical judgment of the doctor concerned and in comparison with a normal healthy person of the same age and sex.
I accept that in terms of published statistics, which generally relate to the primary disabling condition, mental illness has not until now figured very high among the conditions assessed by our doctors. But they certainly do not lack experience. I have to tell those of your Lordships who are concerned that what we do at present with war pensioners has no bearing on the issue that more than 10,000 war pensioners have a primary disabling condition which is of a psychiatric nature, and that our doctors estimate that around 10 per cent. of the general run of war pensions cases falling for assessment each year have some psychiatric component. For certain categories, such as the 1,000 assessments each year for ex-Far East prisoners of war, the proportion is as high as 60 per cent. Similarly, in the industrial injuries scheme it is not unusual for our doctors to have to take account of the psychiatric effects of a physical injury. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Prys Davies, from my particular responsibility also for war pensioners, that the doctors bend over backwards to try to help. They are fully apprised of the conditions. I am certain that this will he carried forward in the new benefits which we now propose.
It might be helpful if I explained in a little more detail how our doctors go about assessing mental illness and mental handicap. When dealing with these subjects, the adjudicating medical practitioner will aim to build up a complete picture of the condition based not only on statements provided by the claimant and those who care for him but on doctors' reports, hospital case notes, and information obtained from special schools, social services departments, and other bodies.
The factors that will be taken into account include the extent to which the claimant can carry on the functions of every-day living without help or prompting, the way he spends his time, and the degree of involvement and comprehension he shows in responding to people and activities. Obviously, assessment will vary considerably according to individual circumstances. A claimant who, though capable of carrying out all the functions of every-day living unaided can do so only when instructed and has 522 not the initiative to perform them without prompting, will probably be assessed as 100 per cent. disabled.
I accept that there is no perfect way of assessing disablement. But, in building on the criteria which have been successfully applied for many years with general public acceptance in the industrial injuries and war pension schemes, I am confident that the 80 per cent. disablement test will provide a much fairer and more objective basis of benefit provision then the present household duties test for HNCIP.
I ought to repeat what the Social Security Advisory Committee have said in commenting on the 80 per cent. disablement test. They said:We are aware that there has been long experience of the use of this test for industrial injuries and war pensions purposes, and, if it can successfully be applied to the kind of civilian disablements most likely to be encountered in NCIP/HNCIP, we would regard SDA and the loss of faculty test as a potentially important building block in the development of a comprehensive benefit system. As you know, in our second report we proposed a loss of faculty assessment ourselves as the basis of one of our two suggestions for a partial incapacity benefit".I do not agree that the assessment of disability due to loss of mental faculty is so deficient or arbitrary a system that we need to consider alternatives. We believe that the test can be successfully applied to SDA and we shall of course be carefully monitoring the new system with a view to improving its administration and operation in this and other respects. We shall do everything possible to ensure that a body of expertise is built up from what is available at present. I am sure that it is sensible to proceed on this basis rather than to enter into further consultations which could seriously delay the ending of the much disliked household duties test. the abolition of which we have spoken about so often this afternoon. I hope that, with that rather greater definition of how we shall look at mental illness and mental handicap, the noble Lord will feel a little reassured.
§ Lord Kilmarnock
I am grateful to the noble Lord for the care he has taken in answering this amendment. I take on board some of the points he has made. He said that industrial and war injuries cover a wide range of disabilities. He said that any loss or impairment, however incurred, will be considered, and that that will of course include the loss of mental faculty, although the question of how we are to measure this still seems to me to be rather in the air.
He has spoken of the Government's proposal as a framework. He mentioned 10,000 war pensioners who are already suffering from mental disorders of some kind, though one wonders whether civilian mental disorders are likely to be of the same type. He said that doctors do not lack experience in this field.
They are all points which it was reasonable for him to make, and I was glad to hear him make them, but I still think that in this particularly tricky field we are going to need some additional safeguard. He talked about the adjudicating medical practitioner taking all sorts of things into account. For applications under mental disorder it would be advisable to have a special panel with a psychiatrist and a social worker, perhaps with some guidelines, who could assist the adjudicating medical practitioner on how to apply the regulations.
523 The noble Lord referred to the phrase, "a building block", used by the Social Security Advisory Committee. That is a good indication of where we ought to go. A building block is by no means the end of the edifice. It is the beginning of it. When we discuss these things first of all privately with him and later at Report stage I hope that we shall be able to put one or two more blocks on to this initial building block in order to arrive at a satisfactory way of assessing mental disorder. On that understanding, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 9.6 p.m.
Lord Kilmarnock moved Amendment No. 52:
Page 16, line 8, leave out ("80") and insert ("60").
§ The noble Lord said: Here we come back to the percentage of disablement. I am prepared to accept that this is almost inevitably going to be a rather rough and ready form of measurement, but I would submit that 80 per cent. is too high. The severe disablement allowance mixes incapacity and disablement. That is one of the criticisms which has been levelled at it. Many people at 80 per cent. or higher loss of faculty on the industrial injuries scale are perfectly capable of work and indeed hold down demanding jobs. Everyone who is wholly blind is assessed at 100 per cent., but a significant number of blind people are able to work, and do work.
§ On the other hand, many illnesses can render somebody incapable of work but do not lead to an identifiable loss of faculty. The inference to be drawn from the proposal is that incapacity caused by initial or congenital disablement is somehow worthier than incapacity caused by illness or by injury arising later in life which is in effect no less incapacitating.
§ The DHSS claims that there is no history of public disquiet and concern over the loss of faculty test. The public at large, however, is not involved, because the test is only used for war and industrial disablement and, ever since 1979, for vaccine damage claimants. It is almost impossible for one person assessed on either scale to discover whether someone with a similar disability has received the same assessment, and the cases that have been seen, for example, by RADAR have often appeared extremely arbitrary, especially at the lower level.
§ The special disablement allowance boards will be expected to assess disablement arising from illnesses which are rare, if not unknown, in the industrial injuries scheme. Very few back injuries, which render somebody incapable fo work, reach 80 per cent., nor would such disabling conditions as high blood pressure. How would the boards assess somebody with epilepsy which prevents him from taking employment or somebody with multiple sclerosis whose functional loss varies from week to week? I am aware that this is a point that has already been raised and I do not think that it ought to be dropped.
§ The noble Lord is aware that RADAR has advanced the view that there should be a new comprehensive benefit based on disablement, but this should be kept entirely separate from benefits for incapacity. The distinction between disablement and incapacity is a 524 fundamental one which ought to be maintained. The attempt to distinguish in regard to people receiving incapacity benefit on the basis of their disablement is quite unjustifiable; in effect it is almost impossible so to distinguish. This is a point which I am sure we shall argue again more fully in your Lordships' Chamber on another occasion. In the present Bill we can only strive to improve it.
Since the Social Security Advisory Commitee has been prayed in aid on a number of occasions and various interpretations of its general view on the Bill have been advanced by different noble Lords, I should like to point out that in regard to this issue the committee was particularly concerned. On page 2 of the deputy chairman's letter to the Minister, from which I have already quoted —the letter is undated, but I think the noble Lord knows which letter it is —it is stated:
The main concern we ourselves have, and which we believe is shared by the main organisations concerned with disabled people, is that the illnesses and disabilities with which doctors have experience in the industrial injuries and war pensions scheme are very different from the conditions they will encounter in SDA, and may not easily be susceptible to the same kind of measures. We are of course aware that the doctors concerned with war pensions applications have had experience in assessing mental illnesses and other problems, whose effect is much less obvious than the amputations which dominate the scheduled degrees of loss of faculty. We also know that there are no prescribed degrees, the standard of comparison is with the capacities of a fit person of the same age and sex. However, this must inevitably be a somewhat subjective judgment which —particularly in the case of mental illness or handicap or a progressive weakening disease —does not readily lend itself to precise degrees. It may consequently he harder to be seen to achieve an acceptable standard of national consistency in these cases than it is to assess the consequences of injuries. Morover" —
This is an important point —
since the consequence of failure to meet the 80 per cent. rate is not simply a reduction in benefit, as with the industrial and war pensions scheme, but total debarment from access to benefit, the fairness of application of the test will necessarily command attention".
§ I am sorry to have read that out in full, but it strikes me as being an important paragraph in the committee's submission to the Minister.
The letter later states that the committee would accept an 80 per cent. test, but it is also stressed that,
we should have been happier with a 60 per cent. level which would probably encompass most of those who could be described as severely disabled".
§ I think that is an important point to put on the record. I shall not press this amendment, either, but I want to have it there for future discussion and so as to be able to return to it at Report stage if we do not get the satisfaction that we hope to get from the Government on this point. I beg to move.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
One does not require a great deal of foresight to see that in practice the test of 80 per cent. is likely to be felt to be unjust by a large number of disabled people. We are really building up problems for the future. I was impressed by a number of the questions asked by one of the organisations for the disabled relative to the application of the 80 per cent. test. That organisation asked whether one can measure, with any degree of accuracy, the loss of faculty suffered by people with congenital handicaps, such as the mentally handicapped. That was one of the questions.
525 Another was: at what stage does the loss of faculty of a person suffering from multiple sclerosis move from 70 per cent. to 75 per cent. and to the magical 80 per cent.? That leads us to the difficulty which the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, has indicated; namely, that with the 80 per cent. test we are in an all or nothing situation. If the disabled person's loss of faculty is assessed at 80 per cent., he receives the full allowance; if it is assessed at 75 per cent., which is still a high degree of loss of faculty, he receives nothing. It is this that will lead to a sense of unfairness among those persons with a high degree of loss of faculty but who fall short of the 80 per cent. and therefore will receive nothing.
There are two possible ways of attempting to deal with a thoroughly unsatisfactory position; either, as the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, has indicated, one reduces the threshold to a lower figure fixed at a level which will ensure that all persons with substantial loss of faculty will be eligible for the benefit —that is one way, and the amendment suggests that that be fixed at 60 per cent. —or one ensures that the benefit graduated between 60 per cent. and 80 per cent. Indeed, I read in one of the documents from the organisations for the disabled that it should be graduated between 40 per cent. and 80 per cent. At least if you have a graduated scheme of benefit you do not have a person with substantial loss of faculty who gets precisely nothing.
We hope that the Government will have second thoughts and will accept that the proposed scheme —the all-or-nothing scheme —will lead to a sense of unfairness, a sense of resentment and, indeed, a sense of injustice among the disabled.
The Earl of Caithness
There are a number of reasons for setting the level of disablement at 80 per cent. It broadly equates with the functional tests for mobility and attendance allowance, and it corresponds to the level of impairment needed to qualify under the vaccine damage payments scheme. We think that 80 per cent. loss of faculty is therefore a fairly clearly defined level in terms of medical assessment, and is generally acceptable as a fair measure of severe disability. Consequently, given that a line has to be drawn somewhere, setting it at 80 per cent. is a sensible and reasonable way of ensuring that the limited resources available are directed at the group with the highest priority for help.
There has been a great deal of misunderstanding about the test, and in this context I should explain that the fact that a person is even 100 per cent. disabled does not mean that there is absolutely nothing that he or she can do. For example, under the general benefit regulations someone who is totally blind or is totally deaf will automatically be assessed as 100 per cent. disabled. People who have lost both legs or hands, or a hand and a foot, will also automatically be assessed as 100 per cent. Other disabling conditions will be assessed in relation to the prescribed degrees of disablement laid down in regulations and by comparing the claimant with a person of the same age and sex whose physical and mental condition is normal.
It is proposed to use the powers in paragraph 6 of Schedule 3 to the Bill to introduce regulations which 526 will enable the adjudication officer to dispense with a reference for a medical examination and to determine the disablement questions himself in prescribed circumstances. We intend that this will apply where a claimant is registered blind or partially sighted; where he is receiving attendance or mobility allowance or war pensioners' mobility supplement; where there is already an industrial injuries or war pensions assessment of at least 80 per cent.; where an award has been made under the vaccine damage scheme; or where a claimant has an invalid trike, car or private car allowance under the NHS or war pensioners' vehicle scheme.
We estimate that reducing the level of disablement from 80 per cent. to 60 per cent. for those whose incapacity for work begins over age 20 would bring in an extra 40,000 beneficiaries over and above those already expected to qualify for SDA, at an additional cost of some £40 million a year. We have to reiterate that resources on this scale are simply not available at present. As it is, we estimate that the 80 per cent. disablement test will initially bring in an extra 20,000 beneficiaries (as a cost of an extra £20 million) and that the number of married women who will in future qualify for SDA will be some 10 per cent. higher than the number who presently qualify for HNCIP. These are considerable steps forward at a time when resources are severely limited. It is in fact an 11 per cent. addition to the present 1983-84 costs for NCIP and HNCIP. The amendment would require a 200 per cent. increase in the provision of additional funds.
The noble Lords, Lord Kilmarnock and Lord PrysDavies, stated that those who do not get the 80 per cent. will, as it were, miss out. Surely, if one follows their argument through to its logical conclusion, those who do not get the 60 per cent. will also miss out. We have to draw the line somewhere, and we believe that 80 per cent. is right. The noble Lord, Lord PrysDavies, also mentioned the 75 per cent. disablement or nothing. In fact, I am pleased to be able to tell him that assessments will be rounded up to the nearest 10 per cent.; in other words, 75 per cent. would be rounded up to 80 per cent.
Let me conclude by saying that we shall of course monitor the new scheme very carefully, and if it transpires that take-up falls substantially short of our expectations we shall be prepared to re-examine the rules, including the percentage disablement test, if it appeared appropriate. Any further changes, however, would depend on priorities at the time and on available resources. I hope that for these reasons the noble Lords will be able to reconsider their thoughts on this amendment and withdraw it.
§ Lord Kilmarnock
I am grateful to the noble Earl for what he has said. He says that 80 per cent. is sensible and reasonable, hut, of course, it depends on one's interpretation of "sensible and reasonable", because it may vary a little bit. I take his point that you can have 100 per cent. disablement, as in the case of the blind, where people are still able to work.
He talked about the money, and it is quite fair that he should bring that forward. He talked about an additional £40 million, so what he is telling us is that the line being drawn here is really an actuarial line and not one which is addressed to the special problems of disability.
The Earl of Caithness
If the noble Lord will forgive me, when he reads Hansard tomorrow he will see that I put it forward on good medical grounds that are already established and used.
§ Lord Kilmarnock
It seems to me that the question of our disagreement about the disablement line (which is what we are talking about at the moment) really takes us back to the earlier amendment on the establishment of better criteria. If we could establish better criteria for certain groups which do not fit particularly well into the 80 per cent. category, we might help to take care of the problem to some extent. That is something, as I have said, that we should like to revert to at a later stage.
I was glad the noble Earl said that there would be rounding-up, and I was glad that we have it on the record that 75 per cent. will be interpreted as 80 per cent. That is a useful hit of enlightenment that the noble Earl has given us, and I am grateful to him for that.
On the point of monitoring, we must continue to do that, but it is no use having monitoring if the Government would not consent, at the end of six months or a year or whatever the monitoring period is, to show some signs of flexibility if the system is not working as well as might be expected. I will say no more for the moment. I have told the noble Earl I shall withdraw the amendment, and we shall probably want to come back and dicuss this hard line of 80 per cent. when we meet the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 53 to 56 not moved.]
Lord Stallard moved Amendment No. 56A:
Leave out Clause 11 and insert —
§ ("Amendments to subsections (2) and (7) of s. 36 1975 Act.
- (a) in subsection (2) the words "and a woman" to "normal household duties" are repealed, and
- (b) in subsection (7) the words "as incapable of performing normal household duites" are repealed.").
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move this amendment and, in doing so, I would say straightaway that it is different, as noble Lords will have noted, from Amendment No. 56, in so far as this amendment would virtually revert to the status quo. That is why I did not participate in the debate on the recent amendment, because there appeared to be a contradiction at that stage.
§ The amendment standing in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and myself would in fact retain the status quo but with the abolition of the household duties test, with no further qualifications. It is an important amendment to all those who have taken an interest in the Bill, certainly outside your Lordships' House; and it gives an opportunity for that point of view to be stated in this Committee, which is an important thing to do.
§ I should like also to reiterate that I congratulate the Government on the attempt to abolish the household duties test. It has to he said that that attempt was at least a step in the right direction, and it gave us the opportunity to discuss it. That it went wrong, or that 528 it has not gone right, is a point which we might develop in the course of the discussion. That is why my amendment would remove the second test of eligibility for married women. The first test is the incapacity of married women to work. I would take away the second test which would introduce a number of hazards which would be even worse than the existing situation.
§ Noble Lords on all sides of the Committee will recall the campaign mounted by organisations and individuals, both outside and inside each House of Parliament, and by all parties to abolish the household duties test. This was mentioned at length at Second Reading. Among other reasons, it was based upon an outmoded assumption concerning the status of married women today. In an article in New Society of 24th May 1984 Lady Howe quotes figures showing that 60 per cent. of married women are in paid employment. Between the ages of 34 and 49 the figure rises to nearly 70 per cent. Other statistics show just how much society is changing. We have to recognise and accept this change in relation to married women.
§ I was among the first to welcome the proposal to abolish the household duties test when it was announced on 1st December 1983. I was a little surprised, to say the least, that legislation relating to the severe disablement allowance (Clause 11) was published the following day. I shall not labour the point. but in reply to a previous amendment the Minister mentioned the consultative process. But we did not envisage that kind of consultative process.
§ We were assured, both in reply to questions and in debates in the other place, that when the report of the review, which took three and a half years to complete, was published, there would be a debate on it. The debate did not take place. Nor were there consultations of the kind for which we had asked. In other words, there ought to have been consultations with the organisations involved, not the kind of consultations envisaged in the previous amendment. As the noble Lord rightly said, that kind of consultation did take place. However, consultation with outside bodies did not take place after the report had been published; nor did the promised debate take place, either in the other place or here. I take the view that both a debate and consultation still have to take place if we are to reach an acceptable situation.
§ The clause will result in a major change in the social security system as we know it. I have always taken the view that the voluntary organisations ought to be consulted about any major change. If that consultation had taken place, I doubt whether the Government would have come forward with such a set of unsatisfactory proposals. They would probably have come back with a proposal to phase out the present household duties test over a period as they worked towards the more comprehensive disablement income situation which they had stated in their manifestoes in 1979 and thereafter.
§ Therefore both this amendment and the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, are probably the only opportunities —though very inadequate opportunities, in my view —that either House has had to debate this extremely import change in the social security system, to discuss the alternatives, and to listen to organisations such as 529 the Disablement Income Group, the Spastics Society, MENCAP, MIND, RADAR and others which have expressed serious reservations about Clause 11.
§ Some of these organisations have even abstained from suggesting amendments because they feel that the clause cannot be adequately amended and ought not to have been included in the Bill. They would far rather have the existing system and hold consultations as to how to bring about improvements.
§ The new test proposed in the Bill will abolish the household duties test and end discrimination against some disabled married women, by introducing a second test for everyone who is over the age of 20. But not all disabled married women (and we have heard this in respect of other amendments) who would be eligible for the existing HNCIP will be eligible for the proposed severe disablement allowance. The Government estimate that around 16,000 disabled married women who are incapable of work and who would have passed the household duties test, and who would thus have been eligible for HNCIP, will not be eligible for SDA. I submit that one form of discrimination against some married women is being replaced with discrimination between other groups of disabled —including married women.
§ First, there are those who apply for SDA before they are 20 years of age and who will have to pass only one test. Those who apply after the age of 20 will have to pass both the test of incapacity for work and the 80 per cent. disability test —so there is discrimination there. There are also those disabled in adulthood with an adequate contribution record, who will qualify for invalidity pension on the basis of incapacity for work. But those without an adequate contribution record will have to show incapacity for work and 80 per cent. diability to qualify for SDA. Again, there is discrimination between groups.
§ Married women will still be discriminated against because although the severe disablement allowance will bring 21,000 married women into benefit, as my noble friend Lord Ennals said, it will leave 219,000 married women "out in the cold". Again, there is discrimination. On the basis of figures I have obtained from the Disability Alliance, I understand that in future years only 500 extra married women per year are expected to qualify for SDA at a cost of £1/2 million; and 1,280 women per year who would have qualified for HNCIP will receive no benefit at all.
Here, it is apposite to quote the Disablement Income Group. Their review of the new tests states:
A test of degree of disablement is wholly inappropriate in the context of a benefit for total incapacity for work. Some people who are merely 20 per cent. disabled may be unable to work on account of their disabilities, whereas some people who are 100 per cent. disabled may be quite capable of earning a very good living. There is no correlation between degree of disablement as measured by the industrial injuries scale and capacity to work and earning ability. It is therefore illogical to connect the two in respect of an incomes maintenance benefit for those whose disabilities prevent them from doing any work".
§ They go on to elaborate upon that argument.
§ The change proposed will discriminate against everyone except those under 20 years of age with an inadequate contribution record. That is a situation we have all been arguing against for many years. As has been suggested, it might have been better to have left 530 the arrangement as it was and to have discussed a phasing out or some other alternative. In time, following the introduction of a disablement cost allowance, it might have been possible to float off all the substantially disabled people from supplementary benefit. That would have been something to consider. But it will not be possible now, with the introduction of the severe disablement allowance. Indeed, the new allowance will lead to more disabled people having to apply for supplementary benefit. Instead of taking them away from it in line with one of our original ideals, this change will force more and more disabled people onto supplementary benefit for income maintenance; there will be many who cannot work but who are less than 80 per cent. disabled and who are more than 20 years of age.
The proposals contained in this clause complicate still further an already over-complicated social security system. In my view, they will not take us any nearer a
more coherent system of benefits for disabled people".
§ Those words should appear in quotes because I have taken them directly from the Conservative Party election manifesto of 1979. They take us no nearer to that ideal, although it was promised by the present Administration.
§ I am heartened by the number of letters I have received since putting down this amendment —from all the organisations I have mentioned and a number of others —because it seeks to end discrimination against those without a contribution record, which both the household duties test and SDA do. I beg to move.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ Lord Glenarthur
The issues at the heart of these amendments have received considerable attention during the course of the debate today and I do not propose to go over all that ground in detail again. We have never made any secret of the fact —and this seems to be something shared by the noble Lord, Lord Ennals; and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Stallard. heard him earlier —that abolishing the household duties test and permitting married women to receive NCIP simply on the basis of incapacity for work was not a viable option. It was not a viable option because it would bring in about 240,000 additional beneficiaries over and above those already drawing NCIP and HNCIP and it would increase expenditure by £275 million a year at current benefit rates. We have continually made clear that money on this scale is not available, and even if jit was I am far from convinced that spending it in this way would be the best use of scarce resources. There are many competing pressures for improvements in the field of benefits for disabled people and the extension of NCIP to married women is only one. Perhaps I can give the noble Lord a few examples: £275 million in all would pay for the introduction of a blindness allowance at £100 million, the extension of invalid care allowance to married women at £60 million and a partial incapacity benefit along the lines of that suggested by the Social Security Advisory Committee. It would go a considerable way towards paying for the removal of upper age limits for mobility allowance. For those who 531 become incapable of work later in life, it is right to concentrate resources on the most severely disabled where the disability is greatest —as is the additional cost to the disabled person and his or her family. The household duties test achieves this at present but does so in a way generally regarded as unsatisfactory.
The new disablement test represents a fair, rational, non-discriminatory alternative to SDA and constitutes a considerable improvement on the present position. It will initially enable a further 21,000 disabled people to qualify for benefit for the first time and this at an extra cost of £20 million. The Government take pride in the fact that we have been able to find these additional resources at a time of financial stringency. It is an illustration of our concern for disabled people. Expenditure on benefits for the long-term sick and disabled was estimated at £3.95 billion in 1983 –84 and that is an increase of about 30 per cent. in real terms since 1978 –79.
Our proposals for SDA represent another step towards what the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, mentioned and that is our declared aim of achieving in the long term a more coherent system of benefits for disabled people. I hope that if the noble Lord presses his amendment to a Division it will be rejected.
§ Lord Stallard
I am grateful to the noble Lord for that reply. I do not agree with all that he has said. Time is against me, otherwise I should like to go into this discussion about £275 million. I could make many suggestions as to where we could save perhaps far more than that. It would not be very difficult to think of some examples. I stick to my view. I rather think that this scheme, admirable as it may be in parts, was 532 bodged up in order to comply with the EC directive. It had to be done in a rush because something had to be done; and the Government took the opportunity at the same time to develop this scheme that would save money. If that sounds cynical, that is how I view much of the present Government's approach to social security spending and benefits in general. I have umpteen quotes from Ministers and Secretaries of State to say that everthing has to be on a nil-cost basis and that we have to save money wherever we can. It was inevitable when they were presented with this directive and they had to do something that they took the opportunity to say: "We have to do it. Let us do it. We are under pressure from our own people as well and we can save money at the same time".
They came up with what was from their point of view an admirable scheme, but I do not accept it. I think it goes against all the long-term ideals and aims of the disablement movement itself and those of us who support them in moving towards a disablement income policy. In fact, I think it goes against the Conservative Party's 1979 manifesto commitment, which was repeated in 1983.
I do not think we shall ever agree on those points tonight, so for the time being I am quite prepared to withdraw the amendment and reserve my position for the Report stage.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 11 agreed to.
§ Schedule 4 [Severe disablement allowance]:
§ [Amendments Nos. 57–59 not moved.]
§ Schedule 4 agreed to.533
§ 9.41 p.m.
Baroness Jeger moved Amendment No. 59A:
After Clause 11, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Uprating of blind allowance.
§ . Persons in receipt of the blind allowance shall be paid an uprating of this allowance linked to the increase in other statutory benefits.").
§ The noble Baroness said: In the immortal words of Goethe, "Time is infinitely long", but I gather that it is not infinite tonight because we are asked to finish at about eleven o'clock, and so there is still plenty of time for us to discuss Amendment No. 59A.
§ I make no apology for taking some time in this amendment because in doing so I must say that I think the Government have behaved disgracefully in the management of this legislation. There should have been three Bills. There should have been a Bill on the opticians, there should have been a Bill on the health services, and there should have been a third Bill on social security provisions. Because everything has been jammed into one Bill we come only at this late hour, towards the end of the proceedings, to discuss social security provisions. It is no fault of this side of the Committee that we are only now beginning to discuss some of these important points about social security. I have sat here through three days of the Committee stage like a sort of transvestite Trappist, and I cannot be accused of having taken up a great deal of time.
§ I am now moving what I think is an important amendment. I am asking that persons in receipt of the blind allowance shall be paid an uprating of this allowance linked to the increase in other statutory benefits. I do not think that the blind people of this country, whom I am trying to represent in some modest way tonight, will think that twenty to ten is a very dark and difficult hour.
§ I think it is very important that the Government should make up their minds about the allowance for blind people. It has been traditional in our social security arrangements that there should be some special consideration for blind people. Going right back to the Blind Persons Acts of 1920 and 1938 there was a scheme (it was part of the national assistance scheme and involved a continuation of local authority practices) under which there should be special help for blind people. Between 1948 and 1980 there were separate blind scale rates. The adult rate in July 1948 exceeded the ordinary scale rate by 15 shillings —if I may use that old-fashioned term. Then an extra allowance was set at £1 5s. —what I think I should call £1.25 —in November 1969. This was incorporated as part of the supplementary benefit as an addition for a blind person in 1980. If that extra allowance had been increased in line with the movement in the retail price index, it would now have been £8.21.
§ The noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, told me on 21st March 1984, in answer to a Parliamentary Question, that the Government have no plans to review the allowance. It was very disappointing, when the upratings were announced at the beginning of this week. that there was still nothing for blind people. I know we have been discussing today all sorts of 534 disability and the last thing one wants to do is differentiate between one disability and another, but I have only tried to suggest that there is something traditional in our arrangements of special help for blind people.
§ The latest figures that I have been able to get suggest that there are about 41,000 people on supplementary benefit who are also getting the additional allowance —but of £1.25 a week! How can this possibly make up for the extra expenses which blind people have to incur with their inability to make do and mend, to go about without help and to shop around? We are in a situation where, if there is any imagination or understanding, we must surely all agree —and there could be nothing less of a political point —that blind people have special expenses and need special help. As I have sought to suggest, this has been accepted since about 1920.
§ There are blind people who, very bravely, go to work. Many of them are assisted because they have dogs to help them. However, these are not dogs which can be fed on a few biscuits a week. It is very expensive to keep a guide dog. The veterinary fees and the food that these very special dogs need are an enormous expense. When we have these people trying to fulfil their lives as citizens and then being told that the £1.25 is the only extra they can get, I honestly feel that it is time for your Lordships to look again at this matter sympathetically.
§ I will he perfectly fair. There is a blind person's tax allowance of £360 a year which I understand, although I can never add up, is worth about £108 to a standard rate taxpayer. Therefore, there seems to be a very strong case for the Government to look at this again. There are about 130,000 registered blind people in the United Kingdom, according to the statutory definition. I know that many of them are above retirement age but there are also many younger people who need extra help. If the Government are saying that they are looking at disablement right across the board and that they are not doing anything special for blind people, then let them have the courage to abolish the £1.25 allowance. However, if they accept the principle of a blind allowance and say, "We will go on handing out these pennies", they must revise their policy.
§ Some blind people are, of course, getting an attendance allowance and there are others, as I have said, who are trying to work. But blindness imposes great additional expenditure. Blind people often need special equipment for their telephones. They need help with travel and with services. A blind person may have to spend more than £70 on a special braille typewriter, whereas a sighted person can manage with a cheap ball pen. The Government provide a wheelchair free for a person who requires one but do not provide a blind person with even a free white cane. A blind person must pay for his own disability and, in the case of the cane, that can cost between 98p and £5 according to the sophistication of the cane. Those are just a few examples.535
§ I propose this amendment with all good will. I am sure that the Minister is sympathetic, but I feel it is time for the Government to decide whether they are going to help blind people. If so, there must be an uprating in accordance with the other allowances. If they are not going to help blind people, they might as well say so and abolish this pitiful £1.25. I beg to move.
§ Lord Banks
I should like to support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness. As she pointed out, blind people on supplementary benefit receive £1.25 per week supplement. That is quite clearly a derisory sum. When I raised this matter on an Unstarred Question in February the Minister said that he understood that it had been at that level for 22 years, and that if it was uprated it would now be £8 a week. That is not very much; but what we have to realise is that, while we were prepared to pay £8 a week 22 years ago, we are prepared to pay only £1.25 a week now in terms of real value. What we have really said is that the blind should have less and less as time has gone on.
In the course of the debate on that Unstarred Question I suggested that it might be an idea for the Government to turn the tax allowance into a positive cash payment, as has been done in the case of child benefit. That would have provided a little more — £2 per week —and it would have gone to every blind person. But even that was not possible: it would have cost £14 million.
The trouble is that Governments are inclined to let some national insurance benefits run down. They uprate some and they leave others to decline in value, like this benefit and the death benefit. Then they leave it so long that when people say that it is outrageous and ought to be put right they say that they cannot put it right because it would cost too much money to do it.
I believe that national insurance benefits should be uprated every year, at least in accordance with prices. If Parliament decides that a benefit is no longer necessary, or no longer necessary at the same level, and takes a positive view on that, that is a different matter. But what happens at the moment is that Parliament does not take any view about it at all and it is allowed to decline. I think that the least we can do is to see that from now on, at any rate, the small amount which is paid under supplementary benefit to the blind is index-linked.
§ Lord Kilmarnock
The noble Lord, Lord Banks, has referred to the Unstarred Question which he introduced on 22nd February in your Lordships' House, when we last had a debate on this subject, to which I also made a modest contribution. I think we must say to the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, that we are grateful to her for raising the matter again. It is obviously not a matter that can be left to lie without any further action being taken.
It is obviously true that if the allowance to which the noble Baroness has referred — £1.25 —were updated in line with inflation, it would be something in the region of £8. Unfortunately, even that would not cover the (I 536 think) 50,000-odd blind people who, I seem to remember, we calculated derived no benefit either from the supplementary benefit addition or from the tax allowance because they were below the tax threshold.
It seems to me that the noble Lord, Lord Banks, has made an unanswerable case for the annual uprating of benefits. If they had been annually uprated, we should not have been landed with this absurd gap between£1.25 and £8, which obviously in financial terms is extremely difficult to bridge. That is incontestable. I think the whole picture is extraordinarily unsatisfactory. It must lead us back to the necessity for a blind person's allowance which would take these people out of supplementary benefit. That surely must be the only way ahead.
Let me refer to what the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, said to me at column 841 on 22nd February. He referred to an estimate of the number of people which I now see is 59,000, who receive no state help. He went on to say:I am afraid I cannot give the figure".That is odd because he had already given it.The noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, raised this as well. He is probably right when he says that the people who do not benefit from supplementary benefit or tax allowance are pensioners on small incomes or those who work on very low pay. There are, I am afraid, no definite figures for evidence on this matter".That is all that he had to say. The matter was, in effect, dismissed in those words. Whatever the calculations of people who fall into what I think has been called the blindness trap who neither get the allowance to which the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, referred, nor the tax allowance, it is obviously imperative that something must be done. I hope therefore that the Government will take the occasion of this short debate to address themselves once again to the problem and come up with something a little more positive than they have produced so far.
The Earl of Caithness
I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, for putting down the amendment. It would be sad if a Bill of this nature was to go through its Committee stage in your Lordships' House without her tremendous help and experience. On the question of how much the £1.25 allowance would be worth, the noble Baroness is right in saying that my noble friend Lord Glenarthur said that had it gone up in line with the retail price index since 1948, it would be £8.21. However, if it had gone up in line with the retail price index since it was last increased in 1969, it would be £6.
Our general policy is that benefits for disabled people should be aimed at the needs to which the individual's disability gives rise rather than at particular groups of disabled people. As the noble Baroness says, for historical reasons, an additional weekly sum is payable to those on supplementary benefit in respect of blindness although not for any other disability. But we have taken the view —this follows the view taken by previous governments —that an increase in the addition would not be a justified use of scarce resources. The main social security benefits for disabled people are not based on particular types of 537 disablement but on the extent to which a person's everyday life is affected.
Blind people can qualify for attendance and mobility allowance and sickness and invalidity pension in the same way as anyone else and the same will apply to severe disablement allowance. In addition, all supplementary benefit claimants are entitled where appropriate to additions to their benefit for special expenses on things like special diets, laundry and heavy wear and tear on clothing. The Government consider that this approach of concentrating on the basic needs rather than on particular disabilities is the right one, especially at a time of necessary constraint on what can be afforded for the social security budget as a whole.
I would confirm that the Government are, however, committed in the long term to the introduction of a coherent system of cash benefits for all disabled people including the blind.
The noble Baroness raised the question of guide dogs. I am sure that she is aware that those with guide dogs have every chance of getting help from the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association if the dog came from that home in the first place. An extra amount worth at present £5.35 a week for those on the ordinary scale rate or £6.85 for those on the long-term scale rate which includes pensioners is added to the supplementary benefit of blind non-householders, those living in someone else's household other than the boarders. This amount is uprated in line each year with the increase in the supplementary benefits scale rates.
We do not treat the matter of the blind with anything but the utmost seriousness. But we have followed a tradition of trying to concentrate resources where they are most effective and where they can be utilised to the best advantage. Given what I have said, I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to withdraw the amendment.
§ Baroness Jeger
The logic of what the noble Earl has said is that the blind allowance should be abolished altogether. He has said quite clearly that it is not justified as a special allowance and that it is the policy of the Government to concentrate help according to disability and not according to any particular category. It would be more honest if the Government were to come out clearly and abolish the blind allowance rather than say that it can stay at the miserable sum it is and cannot be increased.
I also take exception to the fact that the Minister seemed to be taking some credit for the work that the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association carries out. This is a voluntary association, and it is not for the Government to take any credit for it. In fact, it should be more of a disgrace to the Government that blind people have to rely so largely on this voluntary association to provide them with help with their dogs, and for veterinary fees, feeding and other expenses in connection with dogs for the blind. It is absolutely disgraceful that a Government Minister should suggest tonight that we need not worry about the situation because there is a voluntary organisation doing this work.
538 I am very disappointed at what the Minister has said. I am particularly disappointed because I know he is a sympathetic and kindly person. He cannot help the wretched policies of his Government. I should have liked to divide the Committee on this, because there are many noble Lords from all sides who understand these difficulties and who would be sympathetic. But in view of the time I will beg leave to withdraw the amendment tonight; but I promise the noble Earl that I will not forget it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 12 agreed to.
§ Clause 13 [Dependent children]:
§ On Question, Whether Clause 13 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ 10.2 p.m.
§ Lord Banks
Clause 13 implements Schedule 5, which phases out the short-term child dependency allowances. As I have explained before, we on these Benches support the replacement of the child dependency allowance by child benefit. Our complaint has been, and remains, that child benefit has not been increased sufficiently to compensate for the gradual withdrawal of the CDAs, a process which the schedule would complete. Thus the result has been to reduce the level of benefit. The total child support, that is, CDA plus child benefit, which is received by a short-term claimant is today £1.70 per week less than it would have been but for the policy pursued since 1980 by the present Government.
This Government policy has been strongly criticised by the Social Security Advisory Committee in its first annual report, in which it said:In principle, we fully support the objective of successive Governments that child benefit should replace child dependence additions to short-term contributory benefits. But we are equally clear that the present method of achieving this is wrong. The objective is a sound one only if there is no loss of income in real terms to families dependent on contributory benefits".The schedule also introduces a new restriction on the payment of CDAs to those on long-term benefits, other than widows. Where the claimant's spouse is earning more than £80 a week, no CDA will be payable for the first child. For each subsequent child the earnings limit is increased by £10. The long-term CDA is currently £7.60 per child. I understand that existing beneficiaries will not be affected by this, but it will apply to future claimants.
There is an earnings limit applied to the claimant if he or she is earning more than £65 a week, the principle there being that he or she is not fully retired. There is a discernible principle there, although it is not one that the Government accept because they are pledged to remove the earnings rule although they never seem to get round actually to doing so. There is an earnings limit applied to the claimant's spouse, if the claimant's spouse is earning more than £45, the argument there being that the spouse is not really a dependant. But a child remains a dependant. Therefore, there is no clear principle discernible here at all. It is simply a means test to ration a national insurance benefit and as such it is a breach of the national insurance principle. After all, we are dealing here with national insurance benefits, not with 539 supplementary benefits. We are dealing with benefits for which contributions have been paid.
Long-term CDAs have suffered in the same way as short-term CDAs from the change in the uprating method introduced in 1980. They are now worth £.2 .15 per week less than they would have been under the original uprating method. To revert to the short term for a moment, I point out that in 1979 the total benefit provided for two children whose parents were in receipt of unemployment pay, represented 38 per cent. of the benefit paid to the couple; it now represents only 30 per cent., and that is a disturbing trend.
It is for all those reasons that I am opposing the implementation of Schedule 5 and, therefore, opposing the proposal, That Clause 13 stand part of the Bill.
§ Baroness Jeger
I support the noble Lord, Lord Banks, in his proposition. It seems to me that in this clause we have an understanding of the Government's attitude to the problem of the abolition of child dependency and child allowances. The whole problem of child support is of the foremost importance in dealing with the question of family poverty. In fact, many of us want assessments not only increased to keep pace with inflation, but also to transcend inflation, because there will never be a real rise in the standard of living unless people are able to receive more than the increase in inflation. We want to look forward to an enriching of life for the whole family. It is in that context that some of us are looking at the Question, that Clause 13 stand part.
I want to be as brief as possible tonight, but I hope no briefer than the seriousness of the Question demands. I want to suggest to the Government that they are really not making a good case for their alleged support for family life and for child benefit and child support. Those who were below tax have not benefited at all from the changes in income tax; they are the poorest people and they will remain the poorest people. I gather that for those paying tax, the personal allowances will have increased 73 .,8 per cent. for married couples between 1979 and 1984, whereas child benefit will have increased 71 .3 per cent., and because I am not totally innumerate I have taken those figures from what the Secretary of State said at col. 25 of Hansard for 18th June. So it will be seen, even by my arithmetic, that personal tax allowances for people, whether or not they have any children at all, are running ahead of the increases in child benefit.
The Government have stated their intention to subsume—.that is an ugly word, but I think that we all know what it means—.these child dependency allowances and increase child benefit. But I have to ask the Minister whether this is happening. I understand that present child benefit is worth 10p more in real terms than it was in 1979. Under this clause the Government will be taking away in child dependency allowances at the lowest 15p a week, and more for some large families. So I cannot make that add up to any help for family life.
540 In 1981 the Social Security Advisory Committee said:We support the Government's objective of including short-term child dependency additions in child benefit, but only in so far as the overall value of child support for people on contributory benefits is maintained in real terms".I am waiting to hear the noble Lord the Minister say that that principle has been applied. But I am worried that there is a real loss of income, particularly in some larger families. I have quoted the figure of a loss of 15p a week for some families, but I understand that, where there are more children, there could be a loss of £.1 .70 a week. Of course, particular hardship will be felt among the children of the long-term unemployed. They form the biggest group of claimants with children, and they are also the one group which does not have access to the long-term scale rate. Now we are taking away from them even this child dependency allowance.
It is generally acknowledged that the Government might have some case for abolishing the child dependency allowance if only they were to do this by an equivalent up-rating of the child benefit. I understand the Government's attitude is that this allowance is so small—.as I have said, sometimes it is only 15p a week—it may as well be abolished. I believe that that is a very strange and a very mean attitude. The Government are saying, because they are so mean and are only giving these children 15p a week, that they may as well give them nothing. I should have thought that it would have been more logical to increase the allowance to make it worth while for the families receiving it.
In fact, it seems to me that, if the child dependency allowance had been upgraded with the other benefits, that 15p a week should by now be about £.1 .70. I am open to correction on this. If this allowance were to be subsumed in child benefit, that total sum should surely be more like £.8 .50 a week than the present £.6 .50. I wonder how much the Government are saving by this mean deprivation. The figures that I have—.and I took them from Hansard of another place—.show that the Government would save £.4 million gross, or £.2 million net (and I do not know the difference). I submit that that is a crumb in terms of Government finance. But this £.2 million (and I take the lower figure) is £.2 million taken from the pockets of the poorest families in this country. Where else does it come from? If, by docking this 15p a week, the Government say, "We save £.2 million", that is £.2 million less for the families concerned. I understand that the change will affect about 225,000 families and will include 425,000 children. Some may be compensated by higher supplementary benefit, if that is applicable, but what about the others?
I submit that this is a very mean change and I hope that the Government will greatly regret it, because, although I understand that there may be a case for trying to pull together all the different assistances for child support, this is not the way to do it, and I support the noble Lord, Lord Banks.
§ Lord Glenarthur
The short-term child dependency addition is paid mainly with unemployment and sickness benefits and it has been steadily reducing over the past few years as child benefit has been going up. 541 Child benefit is now set at £.6 .50 a week, having received a large rise last November of 65p from £.5 .85 a week to £.6 .50. It has always been the Government's intention that child benefit should eventually supersede the short-term addition to national insurance benefits and we have come to the conclusion that the time has now arrived to do this.
The addition is now set at 15p a week, so that with child benefit the unemployed or sick person receives a total of £.6 .65 for each child. When we abolish the short-term rate (this will be in November) there will be a simultaneous rise in child benefit of 35p—.and I hope that the noble Baroness is aware of this figure, because it is of some relevance to what she was saying—.bringing the rate up to £.6 .85.
In addition, I can say that any family on supplementary benefit will not lose by this proposal because anything that is lost from the withdrawal of short-term benefit child addition will be picked up by increased supplementary benefit. The noble Baroness referred to the numbers of families involved. I understand that 225,000 beneficiaries are concerned (mainly in receipt of unemployment benefit) with a total of 425,000 children affected. Of these about half will not suffer any financial loss because they are receiving supplementary benefit and will receive an increase to replace the 15p that they lose.
I know that the abolition of the short-term child dependency addition would have been much more acceptable had child benefit been set at a higher rate, but unfortunately it is an extremely expensive benefit and a rise of 50p a week would cost £.250 million in a full year. Extra expenditure on any benefit has always to be weighed against the need for expenditure elsewhere.
I now turn to the other matter introduced by Clause 13 to which the noble Lord, Lord Banks, referred. It is an earnings condition attached to the remaining child dependency addition; those paid with long-term benefit. The higher rate of addition, at present £.7 .60 a week for each qualifying child, is paid to the children of beneficiaries getting a long-term benefit; for example, retirement pension and widowed mother's allowance.
The noble Lord, Lord Banks, seemed to ask why should national insurance child support be subject to an earnings rule because generally children do not have an income. The earnings rule proposed will apply to the earnings of the spouse of the national insurance beneficiary. It is as well to remind ourselves that the extra benefit paid for a child is awarded in recognition of the child's dependency on the beneficiary, but where one of a couple has a high earnings and the other a national insurance benefit it is perfectly rational to consider the child as a dependant of the spouse with the earnings. In practice of course that will be the case.
Nor is it true to say that this is a back-door means of testing national insurance benefits. There has always been an earnings rule to determine entitlement to the extra benefit for an adult dependant. The proposed earnings rule for CDA simply ensures that the extra benefit paid for a child is limited to those beneficiaries for whom it was intended; beneficiaries who have children who really are dependent on them.
542 The noble Baroness asked about savings. There are some useful benefit savings. She quoted a figure of £ .2 million net, and that is correct. The earnings condition introduced for the higher rate of child dependency addition will reduce expenditure by about £ 5 million at once, rising to about £.18 million in 1986–87. The reason we will not save all this money at once is that we are giving full transitional protection to existing beneficiaries so that they can keep their child dependency additions on the same terms as they now have.
In answering this amendment and the points raised particularly by the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, I have been able to explain that child benefit will rise at the time that this particular benefit goes in November. I hope that she is reassured, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Banks, will not see fit to press that this clause shall not stand part of the Bill.
§ Lord Banks
I am grateful to the noble Lord for his reply. He spoke rather quickly, and I shall read it very carefully to make sure exactly what he said. He said, if I understood him correctly, that child benefit is going up. Yes, that is true, but what I was objecting to was child benefit not going up by the same amount to compensate for the withdrawal of the child dependency allowance. I gave figures in that respect. The increase in November, to which the noble Lord referred, is to compensate for inflation and not for the withdrawal of child dependency allowances. He spoke about increased supplementary benefit offsetting, to some extent, the withdrawal, but it is no satisfactory exchange to have supplementary benefit instead of a national insurance benefit to which one is entitled by right. I do not think very much of that argument.
The noble Lord seemed to suggest that the national insurance means test was quite usual, which it is not, and he quoted the earnings rule for adult dependants. The question is: Are adult dependants dependent, or are they not? If they are earning more than a certain amount they are not dependants. A point that I made in the course of my remarks to which the noble Lord did not pay any attention was that a child is always a dependant.
I think the noble Lord will gather that from what I have been able to understand him to say I am not particularly satisfied, but I will read his reply most carefully and in detail, and at present I shall not press my opposition to this clause standing part of the Bill any further.
§ Clause 13 agreed to.
§ Schedule 5 agreed to.
§ Clauses 14 and 15 agreed to.
§ 10.22 p.m.
Baroness Jeger moved Amendment No. 59B:
After Clause 15 insert the following new clause:
§ "Long-term supplementary benefit.
§ ("The long-term rate of supplementary benefit shall be paid in respect of unemployed persons under the age of 60 after 12 months of continuous unemployment.")
§ The noble Baroness said: This new clause would make it compulsory for the long-term rate of supplementary benefit to be paid to unemployed persons under the age of 60 after 12 months of 543 continuous unemployment I appreciate that this has been discussed in other contexts, and I am sure that some noble Lord will tell me that I am not strictly in order tonight in seeking to insert this new clause into the Bill. I do so because many of us were very disappointed that in the uprating that was announced on Monday there was no improvement for the longterm unemployed.
§ There are people in all parts of this Committee and in the other place who do not understand why longterm unemployed people should be expected to subsist on short-term benefits. I know that the benefit was originally limited for the under-60s because it was thought that to give a long-term benefit might be a disincentive to people seeking employment. I suggest that in the present climate of opinion that is no longer the situation. We are giving the long-term benefit to men over 60, but is there anyone in this Committee who does not know a man over 50 who will never get a job again? Do we not all appreciate that the longer a man or woman is out of work the poorer he gets? Savings are eroded, household goods wear out, clothes wear out; and the longer this misery lasts the poorer people get. It seems to me to be absolutely inconceivable that this is not obvious to every Member of your Lordships' Committee. It is certainly obvious to many voluntary bodies and to many people of all political opinions outside.
§ I can only come to the conclusion, perhaps sadly, that the present Government, having conscripted millions of people in this country into unemployment, are now not prepared to look after them. The 1982–.83 Social Security Advisory Committee has been quoted. I have quoted it and I make no apology for reminding Ministers that number one priority was given by that Committee to the long-term unemployed. I understand that in 1982 1.19 million people were out of work for more than a year; that 400,000 of them had been out of work for more than two years; and I am sure that by now those figures have increased. By 1973 the long-term rates of supplementary benefit were introduced for all except the unemployed. It seems to me that the question of reducing incentives no longer applies. I have already made that point so I hope that the noble Minister will not think it necessary to make it back at me.
The Social Security Advisory Committee said that,
The denial of the long-term rate to the majority of the unemployed seems to us to be wholly unjust
§ and recommended the long-term rate for unemployed claimants as a priority. I asked the noble Lord a couple of questions yesterday, which he did not seem to understand, for which I do not blame him. It seems to me that the whole heart of the problem with this Government is that the Treasury collects the money and the unfortunate Minister at the DHSS has to give it out but they do not seem sufficiently to talk to each other.
§ When I asked the noble Lord yesterday about the extra income that was coming into the Treasury as a result of the taxation of benefits and how much the Government had given away in income by the abolition of the unearned income surcharge and stamp duty, he said that he could not tell me about these figures. I tried to look them up and I can tell him that. 544 by the taxation of benefits the Government are collecting £725 million and that they have given away in unearned income surcharge relief and stamp duty relief £520 million. If we put those two figures together the sum is infinitely less than the money for which we are asking for the long-term unemployed.
§ The Prime Minister often talks about good housekeeping, but good housekeepers look at their income as well as their expenditure and have some sense of priorities about what they spend their money on. This seems to me to be the most appalling case of bad housekeeping because they are taking in money and not using it for those who are most in need.
§ Perhaps the noble Minister will tell the House what difference it would make to an unemployed person to get the long-term benefit rather than the short-term benefit. I understand that it amounts to £.7 30 a week for a single person and to more than £11 a week for a married couple—more if there are children. Having accepted the principle for the over 60s, because of the understanding that it will be difficult for them to get jobs in the future, why. if the Minister cannot afford to do everything we ask, can he not consider reducing the age to 50? If he does not know that it is difficult for men over 50 to get jobs, he does not know what life is about in present Tory Britain. I believe it would cost about £.90 million to reduce the age to 50, which is certainly not a large sum compared with the other sums to which I have referred.
§ The Social Security Advisory Committee said that if the Government could not accept the whole suggestion, they might start with families with children. It is absolutely impossible for logical, understanding and intelligent people to understand why there must be this brutal withholding of benefits from the long-term unemployed. The long-term unemployed are the poorest people in this country at the present time. They need most help.
§ Everything that the party opposite said in their election manifesto and their propaganda protested their concern for the poorest and those who are most in need—.and the concentration of help to those most in need—.but in this very important item they deny everything that they have represented. I submit to your Lordships that until the question of those most in poverty in this country—.the long-term unemployed—.is faced up to and dealt with, the Government are in disgrace with the people of this country.
§ Lord Kilmarnock
The noble Baroness seemed to fear that it might not be in order for her to seek to insert this new clause in this Bill before the Committee. I do not think that is the case at all. Social Security Bills are notoriously a ragbag of all sorts of measures, and I do not think there is any impropriety here. The difficulty that faces the noble Baroness is that she is, in the terms of her amendment, asking the Government to take the very large number of 1,191,000 people off short-term and on to long-term supplementary benefit, which is obviously a very expensive operation indeed.
Although we support the general thrust of her argument, we on these Benches would like to put forward a more moodest proposal, and indeed the noble Baroness herself seemed to be moving in that 545 direction towards the end of her speech when she suggested that perhaps those over 50 should be moved up to the long-term rate.
I have found what I consider to be some rather interesting figures in the Manpower Services Commission's Labour Market Quarterly Reportfor last month, which gives the current position of longterm unemployed by sex, age and duration in Great Britain for April 1984. These groups and subgroups are broken down into fairly small discrete blocks. It seems to me sensible to suggest to the Government the following. For example, of those who have been unemployed for over three years, 64,000 were 55 or over. It must be clear that these people are almost certainly never going to return to the labour market, and therefore it seems to me reasonable perhaps to make a start with that. The Government have already made a start by passing those over 60 on to the longterm rate. I would have thought the next group to go for would be those over 55 who have been unemployed for over three years. You can then move on to those over 55 who have been unemployed for between two and three years: they amount to 42,000. If you are still taking 55 as the age, you can then move up to those who have been unemployed for one year; and they are 68,000 in number. Those are three groups you can start to tackle.
One might have a different system of priorities. One might decide, having taken out the 42,000 who are over 55 and who have been unemployed for two years, to go back to those who had been unemployed for three years and take out the group between 45 and 54, who number 54,000.
I will not go into any more detail, but it seems to me that there are here some relatively small subgroups which could be tackled at no enormous cost to the Exchequer, and that this would be the proper way to go about it. In fact, I made a suggestion in slightly less detailed form to the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, when this question arose—on an Unstarred Question I think it was—only yesterday. But I shall be very glad to hear whether he would not agree with me that that would be a reasonable, proper and not unrealistic way for the Government to proceed in this matter.
§ 10.35 p.m.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
I support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, and spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock. Some of the figures are too selective when one looks at unemployment in the general sense. The noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, suggested that 177,000 ought to be added to those in receipt of long-term supplementary benefit. But there is a minimum of 3 .5 million unemployed people in this country. I am not suggesting that the 175,000 should be deducted from the 3.5 million. The noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, was not referring to those aged between 60 and 65 who probably form a substantial part of the total of 3 .5 million. It is safe to assume that this leaves 2 million to 21/2million people adrift and drawing unemployment benefit.
I do not know whether any noble Lord has suffered the trauma of unemployment in the last 12 months or two years. Because of electoral misfortune last year, I 546 happened to suffer unemployment for a few weeks, and I can tell your Lordships that it is the most devastating experience that anybody can suffer. Those who have worked hard and diligently all their lives who are suddenly, through no fault of their own, but because of national or international economic policies, or a combination of the two, thrown on the scrapheap after paying full national insurance subscriptions, and all that that implies, for 30 or 40 years do not take kindly to it.
One of the first acts of this Conservative Government in the previous Parliament was to "rat" on previous agreements and to do away with earnings-related benefits. Some of those who are now drawing the basic dole subscribed heavily towards them. Leaving the very young out of the global picture and concentrating on those aged 22, .23 and upwards, many of whom have families to keep, it is totally impossible to expect them to exist on minimum unemployment benefit.
Despite the persistent questioning of various Ministers on the Benches opposite, who always repeat that the Government's policies are working and that the policies they are pursuing are in the best interests of reducing unemployment in this country, the one fact which emerges beyond all argument is that the number of long-term unemployed is increasing month by month. We are not, therefore, dealing with a static figure. Only a week or two ago, the Minister of State admitted in this Chamber that I had been correct when I said that the Secretary of State in another place had indicated that there was no guarantee that jobs could be found for the 165,000 people who are expected to come on to the labour market between now and the end of the year. There has been a frank admission from the Secretary of State that the Government are not confident that they can find additional jobs to cater for those who are coming on to the labour market. What possible hope is there for people who have already been on the market for one year, two years or three years? What hope is there that, in the near future, they will be given an opportunity to earn a living once again, to keep their families, and to live with some dignity?
This particular proposal is one of the most important facets of the Bill. I regret most sincerely that this matter is being debated tonight in a Committee that is almost empty. I wish that some of the noble Lords of different parties who showed concern the other night, at a much later hour than this, in taking some freedom of action away from trade unions because it suited their particular idiom, would show as much concern about 31/3million people who have almost become the army of the forgotten.
People ask why it was that in this country only 32 per cent. of the electorate registered a vote in the European elections. Can anybody wonder that people lose hope and refuse to vote for anyone at all? This Chamber, to which I had the privilege of being appointed last year, has a tradition of having a heart that sometimes transcends the actions of the Government in the Commons. I submit that this is one of the occasions when it should have followed that tradition—.but the paucity of the attendance in the Committee this evening, by comparison with Monday 547 night, shows that noble Lords opposite have their priorities appallingly wrong.
§ Lord Glenarthur
I do not believe that there would be any merit in having a lengthy debate at this time of night on the relative attendance of either side of the Committee. Nor do I need to speak at considerable length about this particular issue. As the noble Baroness knows, this matter was raised yesterday. I then explained that although the Government are well aware of the arguments (and they have been explained admirably tonight) for extending the long-term scale rate to unemployed claimants after they have been receiving supplementary benefit at the ordinary rate for a year—.which is the usual proposal—.this would cost £.480 million, and that on cost grounds alone it would have to be ruled out.
There are other aspects, too. The amendment is technically defective because the extension of supplementary benefit long-term scale rates to the unemployed would require amendment to supplementary benefit legislation.
I do not have a great deal to add. All I can say is that the long-term scale rate was introduced in 1966 by a Labour Government, and no Labour Government extended it to the unemployed, either. We have reduced the qualifying period from two years to one year: we have given automatic entitlement to the longterm rate to all men aged 60 and over; and from 1983 we made receipt of long-term incapacity benefit a qualification for the long-term scale rate, thus solving the invalidity trap. All those steps have been at considerable cost.
I am aware of the concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, and I am aware, too, of the concern of the noble Baroness. The fact remains that these benefits cost a great deal of money. We have done a lot to help, and I hope that with that explanation the noble Lord will not press this amendment.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
I should like to press the noble Lord further in respect of the figure he used of £480 million as being the cost of some of the provisions for which we have asked. How does he consider £.480 million extra spent on the unemployed of this country would compare with the monolithic sums of money which the Government have found to ensure the quality of life of the Falkland islanders? Is there something different about the unemployed citizens of this country; are they second-rate citizens by comparison?
§ Lord Glenarthur
No one is suggesting that anybody is a second-rate citizen. The noble Lord is stepping very wide of the amendment. He is starting a debate on a totally different and much wider matter of economic policy and on questions concerning foreign affairs which have nothing to do with our debate on this particular amendment.
I can answer one point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, concerning the possible extension of the long-term scale rate to claimants age 50 or over, or even age 55 or over. To extend it to those age 50 or over would cost some £.90 million; to those age 55 or 548 over. £45 million. They are both appreciable sums of money. Unemployed people in this age group do not warrant priority over other unemployed people. In the case of men age 60 and over, they are not required to be available for work, as it is accepted that many will in effect have retired from work. It would certainly be too pessimistic to regard all unemployed people in their 50s as having retired fully from employment.
§ Lord Kilmarnock
Before the noble Lord sits down, my suggestion to him was of those over 55 who had been unemployed for three years, and I think that they would work out cheaper.
§ Lord Glenarthur
I do not have the figures for that group, but this is something we shall look at, and we shall do some calculations.
§ Baroness Jeger
It is all very well for the noble Lord to say that it is not right to regard unemployed men over 55 as retired, but the policies of this present Government are retiring very many men over 55. They are conscripting these people into unemployment. Then, to say calmly that the Government do not regard them as retired is really a very ungracious and unfair assessment of the situation. The noble Lord seemed in a hurry. He seemed to consider it late. I can tell him that those of us who have been honed in another place do not feel that this time of night is a bit late. We feel that these are very important matters and that the lateness of the hour should not detract from the importance of these questions.
The noble Lord said that to do what we asked would cost £.480 million. That should not be looked on as wanton expenditure. This £.480 million would go into the pockets of the long-term unemployed. It would go to expenditure; it would go to the purchase of goods. They might even be able to buy some more shoes, or be able to buy some new furniture. What else would they do with the money but spend it? That would generate demand, and would be good for the economy of the country. It should not be looked on as £.480 million put down the drain. This should be part of the rejuvenation of the economy, and I am sure that there would be good results, both in social terms and in economic terms.
Clearly we are not going to have a Division tonight, but I am sure that there are many people who are disappointed with what the noble Lord has said. I can assure him, in case he is unaware of it that the unemployed people in this country, and their families, will not forgive him for what he has said tonight. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave withdrawn,
§ Clause 16 [Constitution of panels for social security tribunals]:
§ Lord Dean of Beswick moved Amendment No. 59C:
Page 20, leave out lines 4 to 11 and insert—
("persons who appear to the President to represent employed earners; persons who appear to the President to represent employers and earners other than employed earners and persons who appear to the President to have knowledge or experience of conditions in the area concerned and of the problems of people living on low incomes.
(2A)Before appointing members of a panel, the President shall take into consideration recommendations from such local committees representing employers or employed earners or both, from organisations concerned with the interests of employers or employer earners or from such other organisations as he considers appropriate.
(2B)There should be on each Tribunal, drawn from the appropriate panel, one person nominated to that panel by an organisation or local committee concerned with the interests of employed earners.".")
§ The noble Lord said: This particular amendment, set down in my name and the names of the noble Lords, Lord McCarthy and Lord Scanlon, is another defence of the trade union movement and of some of the historical rights that successive Governments have accorded them and, in some cases, instituted—.and these were Governments of varying colours; not just Labour Governments but Conservative Governments and National Governments. This, too, is a very important amendment, and once again I have to repeat that I am sad that apparently it is not important enough to produce a bigger attendance on the other side of the Chamber, because it is trade union legislation. I have no doubt that if they considered it to be serious enough, the Back-Benchers on the other side would have been here in substantial numbers, as they were the other evening to carry out their coup d'état.
§ To move this amendment is going to take some time because there is a lot to it. One or two of us understand the history of what has taken place and how the tribunals came about. First of all, the Social Security Adjudications Act was passed in the last Parliament to provide for the amalgamation of the national insurance appeals tribunals and the supplementary benefits appeals tribunals into one set of social security appeals tribunals. I do not think anybody made the case as to why it was necessary to weld the two together. Nevertheless, the last Government must have deemed that it was desirable and went ahead with it.
§ That Bill, of course, included the necessary legislation to deal with this matter and, as originally presented, the relevant Bill at that time included a clause to end the separate workpeople's panels, but this was withdrawn prior to the dissolution of Parliament last year before the general election. The clause has been reintroduced in the present Social Security Bill. Instead of separate panels, the Bill proposes one panel to be composed of persons who appear to the president of the social security appeals tribunals to have knowledge or experience of conditions in the area and to be representative of persons living or working in the area.
§ The workpeople's panels and the national insurance and supplementary benefit appeals tribunals have different histories. Each consists of a chairman and two other members, each from a separate panel. In the national insurance appeals tribunals, the two members represent, respectively, employers and self-employed and employed earners. In the supplementary benefit appeals tribunals one panel consists of one member appearing to the Secretary of State to have knowledge or experience of the conditions in the area concerned and of the problems of people living on low incomes. The two bodies had somewhat similar functions and their terms of reference were drawn up slightly 550 differently. Other representative workpeople provide the trades councils with members.
§ The national insurance appeals tribunals go back to 1911 and reflect the source of contributions to the National Insurance Fund. The supplementary benefit appeals tribunal structure originated from the unemployment assistance tribunal set up as far back as 1934. They must have been almost as busy then as they are now under a similar type of Government. In its present form it dates back to 1948. It is widely agreed that the Secretary of State's member is generally a person of good standing in the community and that it is the trades council member who is likely to have the knowledge and experience included in the statutory description of the Secretary of State's panel.
§ What are the effects of the loss of trade unionists on that panel? It is proposed that trades councils and trade unions will still be able to nominate to the new single panels. However, in the selection of members for each tribunal as it sits there is no guarantee that a trade union nominee will be included, and the claimant is denied the right to have a representative of workpeople on the tribunal as a matter of right. In fact, it gives the chairman who is appointed as chairman for that year—
§ Lord Denham
I wonder whether the noble Lord would give way for just a moment. We obviously shall not get any further than the noble Lord's amendment tonight. I think he probably knows that we have to rise at 11 o'clock tonight. If we are to complete his amendment before that time, we obviously cannot move on to further amendments and we shall have to get a move on with this particular amendment.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
I am bound to tell the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip that shall I find it extremely difficult to finish the case on behalf of six million trade unionists by 11 o'clock. I can assure the Government Chief Whip that this is not a filibuster.
§ Lord Denham
I was trying to be helpful. I have to adjourn the House at 11 o'clock. I did not want to adjourn the House in the middle of the noble Lord's amendment and if he wishes to try to finish it by that time—
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.