HL Deb 16 December 1985 vol 469 cc553-65

4.20 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Baroness Trumpington)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I beg to repeat a Statement now being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Department of Health and Social Security. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a Statement on the Social Security White Paper which I am publishing today.

"In June the Government published a Green Paper which set out in detail the case for change, the Government's objectives for social security and our proposals for achieving them. That Green Paper marked a further stage in the process of review and public consultation which began two years ago in the autumn of 1983. The Government have four main aims.

"We want to see a simpler system of social security which provides a better service to the public. By common consent social security at present is too complex. There are some 30 benefits each with separate and frequently conflicting rules of entitlement, and supplementary benefit alone requires almost 40,000 staff to administer it.

"We want to see more people looking forward to greater independence in retirement. Only half the work-force currently have occupational pensions of their own. Our plans extend not only to occupational pensions but also for the first time provide a new right to personal pensions.

"We want a system which is financially secure. As the Government Actuary's report published with the White Paper demonstrates, the future cost of the state earnings related pension scheme will grow substantially—at the same time as the ratio of contributors to pensioners worsens. The Government believe that this problem must be tackled now.

"Above all we want to see more effective help going to those who most need it. More than half of those living on the lowest incomes today are in families with children. This includes both families where the parents are unemployed and also low income working families. Added to this people can still find themselves with less income in work than if they were unemployed. Others can find that a pay rise in work can actually make them worse off. The Government believe that urgent action is necessary to tackle these problems.

"Mr. Speaker, one of the major priorities of the Government's proposals is to make better provision for low income working families with children. Accordingly, we propose to abolish the present family income supplement and introduce a new benefit, family credit.

"Family credit is designed to ensure that families with children will be better off in work. It will be based on take-home or net pay—rather than gross earnings as with family income supplement—so that the worst effects of the poverty trap are eliminated.

"We expect that compared with family income supplement, family credit will give help to an extra 200,000 families. In other words, twice as many low income families with children will benefit from the new scheme. Family credit will be paid through the pay-packet, but it should be emphasised that child benefit will be paid in addition and that that payment will go as now direct to the mothers.

"We also intend to bring extra support to families who are not in work. This will be achieved through the new income support scheme. A family premium—a special higher level of benefit—will be paid on top of the basic income support rate and on top of the rates for individual children. One of the groups who will most gain from this change will be unemployed families with children.

"The income support scheme will replace supplementary benefit. The regular extra payments now made on the basis of detailed individual assessment will be absorbed into the main rates of benefit. As well as a premium for families with children, there will be an additional premium for lone parents and premiums for pensioners and the long-term sick and disabled. At the same time the capital rule, which at present is an inflexible £3,000 cut-off, will be substantially eased; and we will also ease the earnings rules for lone parents, disabled people and long-term unemployed families.

"While the broad pattern of income support will remain as set out in the Green Paper, we have modified our proposals in the light of consultations in two significant ways.

"First, the income support rate will still be based on age divisions at 18 and 25 for single people. However, in order to help young families with children in particular, we now intend to have the same rate for all couples over 18.

"Second, we intend to increase the help for families with more than one disabled child. The Green Paper proposed a double family premium where there was one or more disabled child. We have now decided to pay the extra premium for each disabled child in a household.

"This last change will reinforce the special attention which we give to disabled people in our proposals. They will benefit from the premium in income support and from a higher earnings disregard. Overall, disabled people on low incomes will benefit significantly from these proposals.

"However well designed the income support scheme may be, it cannot anticipate every special or emergency need. These needs will be dealt with by the social fund.

"Instead of the present small universal maternity and death grants—which have both remained at the same value for over 15 years—proper help will be available from the fund to all low income families, not just those on supplementary benefit. The grant for funeral expenses will ensure that the full cost of the funeral can be met and it is planned that the maternity grant should be set at about £75. Grants will also be given for community care purposes, for example to help someone leaving a long-stay hospital. In addition, the fund will provide loans to help claimants cope with items other than normal weekly needs.

"The main structure of our housing benefit proposals has been acknowledged as an important simplification of the scheme. Treating employed and unemployed people alike, and so getting rid of two separate systems in housing benefit, has been particularly welcomed.

"We shall go ahead with this but I intend, in response to consultations, to make two significant changes to the Green Paper proposals. First, I recognise the anxieties expressed about the effect of a single taper for rent and rates on owner-occupiers, particularly pensioners. I also recognise the concern of local authorities that a single taper would create administrative difficulties for them. We shall therefore keep separate tapers for rent and rates. This will still be a substantial simplification compared with the six tapers in the present system.

"Second, although the general power to run local housing benefit schemes will be ended, local authorities will retain their power to grant extra benefit to individual claimants in exceptional circumstances. I have also decided that they should retain their power to give special treatment to war pensioners.

"As we made clear in the Green Paper, we believe that the basis on which help is provided with rates needs to be changed. At present around 7 million householders receive help with some or all of their rates bill and up to 3 million householders pay no rates at all. We stand by the principle that everyone should make a contribution towards the cost of their local services. The White Paper therefore reaffirms the proposals that everyone should pay at least 20 per cent. of their rates, but the proposals which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will be bringing forward shortly on the reform of local taxation may affect the way this contribution is made.

"The Government will be carrying forward the proposals for directing widows' benefits to those who need them most and for making maternity allowance more flexible and more closely related to recent work. The new lump sum payment of £1,000 to widows will be tax-free and will be ignored when considering help with funeral expenses. The White Paper also proposes that maternity allowance, like statutory sick pay, should be paid through employers, and a consultation document will be published shortly.

"On timing, we will move to the first April uprating in 1987 and at that time we will introduce other changes like statutory maternity allowance and the new system of help with maternity and funeral costs. The main structural changes to income-related benefits and the other elements of the social fund will be introduced in April 1988. This recognises the arguments of employers and local authorities that the timetable must allow them to make proper preparations.

"As far as income-related benefits are concerned, a technical annex is published with the White Paper. The figures show the possible distributional effects of the changes but these can be no more than illustrative. The actual position at the time of change will depend among other things on the exact benefit rates decided for April 1988; and the illustrative figures take no account of any changes resulting from the reform of rates.

"As far as pensions policy is concerned, the Government Actuary's report published with the White Paper shows that if no action is taken, total pension costs will increase from under £15½ billion to nearly £49 billion provided that the basic pension is uprated by prices. If, as some urge, the basic pension is uprated in line with earnings then the total pension cost increases to nearly £73 billion which would require a national insurance contribution of 27½4 per cent. The cost of SERPS alone will increase from barely £200 million today to £25½ billion.

"The Government cannot ignore this vast pensions bill which is being handed down to our children. In the consultation a number of important organisations recognised this case but argued that rather than totally replacing SERPS the costs could be reduced by modifying its provisions.

"In testing whether a policy of modifying SERPS would be acceptable, the Government have two major objectives. First, we want to see the future cost of SERPS substantially reduced. Second, and even more fundamental, we want to see many more people in this country with their own pension. It is on the basis that both of these objectives can be achieved that the Government are prepared to change the proposals from those put forward in the Green Paper.

"The Government propose to modify the scheme so that costs in the next century can be afforded. As with the Green Paper proposals, the Government recognise the particular needs of those nearest retirement. The SERPS changes will not affect anyone retiring this century, nor anyone widowed this century. There will also be a transitional period as the new scheme comes into effect fully in 2010. The basic pension is entirely unaffected by these proposals and we will continue fully to protect its value.

"The changes to SERPS are that: occupational schemes contracted out of the state scheme should be responsible for inflation-proofing guaranteed minimum pensions in payment up to 3 per cent. a year: SERPS pensions should be based on a lifetime's earnings, not on the best 20 years as now. Special protection will be built in for women who have breaks in work to bring up families and for those who become disabled and people looking after them; SERPS pensions should be calculated on 20 per cent. of earnings rather than 25 per cent; widows and widowers over 65 should be allowed to inherit half their spouse's SERPS rights, rather than the full amount as now.

"However, policy on SERPS is only one part of the Government's pensions strategy. Our central aim is to provide many more people in this country with their own pension. The White Paper puts forward a six-point plan to achieve this.

"First, a special incentive will be given to encourage the setting up of new occupational pension schemes. This will consist of a reduction, or rebate, on national insurance contributions. An extra 2 per cent. rebate will be added to the existing rebate making a total incentive of almost 8 per cent. This special rebate will last for five years.

"Second, for the first time, every employee will be able to take a personal pension whether or not his employer runs an occupational scheme. The holder of a personal pension will also receive the special national insurance incentive and his contributions will qualify for tax relief.

"Third, for the first time, employers will be able to contract out of the state scheme by guaranteeing a level of contribution to an occupational scheme—rather than accept the unlimited liability of promising a 'final-salary' pension. These new arrangements will also open the way for more industrywide schemes.

"Fourth, building societies, banks and unit trusts will be able to provide personal pension savings schemes as well as group schemes.

Fifth, all members of occupational pension schemes will in future have the right to pay additional voluntary contributions in order to boost their income in retirement.

"Sixth, people with personal pensions will be fully covered by the new investor protection arrangements to be made for all financial services.

"These changes build on top of the reforms introduced by the 1985 Social Security Act which protect the rights of early leavers. The White Paper proposes that this protection will be extended to all members of schemes leaving after two years rather than five years as now. And anyone changing jobs will be able to transfer all his rights into a personal pension.

"Mr. Speaker, the effect of the White Paper proposals will be to direct substantially more help to low income families with children and to provide more help for disabled people on low incomes. We will take new steps to increase the spread of occupational pensions and give everyone the right to have a personal pension. We will provide a simpler and more effective benefit structure and have now embarked on the biggest computer project of its kind in Western Europe.

"Following this White Paper, the Government will introduce comprehensive legislation early in the new year. The aim will be to achieve a modern social security system directing help where that help is needed".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Baroness Jeger

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Minister for her most unwelcome Statement which it has taken 18 minutes to deliver. I want to say that I am glad that the noble Viscount the Leader of the House is here and that I think—I speak in a non-party way—that this is an abuse of the procedure of the House. When I first came here five years ago I was given to understand that when Statements were made they were to be the subject of only brief comment and questions from the Opposition on both Benches and they were not to be Second Reading speeches which initiated a debate. I fear that what we have had from the noble Baroness—and I know that it was not her fault—is a Second Reading speech on the White Paper.

It is objectionable, I think, to any sensible Member of your Lordships' House to have a Second Reading speech on a White Paper which none of us has seen. I think that the noble Viscount the Leader of the House should take on board this extraordinary procedure whereby a White Paper can be published and is available to the press and then I get a Statement, which is roughly a summary of it, in your Lordships' House where 99 per cent. of your Lordships have not seen it. I do not know what intelligent comment or question any of us can ask.

My protest is not personal because, as a life member of the National Union of Journalists, I can get anything; I could have got that yesterday; I could have got it this morning. But when my office rings up the Minister's office I am told, as a Member of your Lordships' House, that I cannot have it until after the Statement has been made. With a little protest here and there I got it just a little while ago, and the only time I have had to read it occurred because some of your Lordhips were so loquacious about the Shops Bill that I was sitting here with nothing else to do but to read the White Paper. Had your Lordships been a little brisker about dealing with the amendments to the Shops Bill, I should not have had time to read it at all.

I do most sincerely say, in a non-party way, that this is not how we should conduct the business of the House. We were put in a very difficult situation today. We should not have Statements of 18 minutes duration on a White Paper which the majority of Members have not had an opportunity of reading. Having said that, of couse, I must now discipline myself. Unlike the noble Baroness, who is subject to other disciplines, I will try to limit myself to a few questions, because I am hoping that the Leader of the House will make sure that adequate opportunity is given for debate as early as possible on this White Paper. I should like to ask the Leader of the House when we may be able to have a full debate on this important question.

I will try to be as brief as possible over the other questions I want to put. In view of the staff difficulties in the DHSS at present, I should like to know what provision is being made either for an increase in staff or for fewer staff in order to carry out the proposals. I have informed the Minister on another occasion that the Tavistock Square branch of her department is closing at 11 o'clock in the morning because they are so over-burdened. I think it is very important for us to know what arrangements are being made in regard to staff.

I have to ask the noble Baroness the Minister—and if she cannot answer now perhaps she will do so on a future occasion—why the invalid care allowance is apparently not being extended to married women, even though a case is before the EC court in Strasbourg. Also, many women want to know why the family income supplement is apparently paid to fathers, even though they may not be living with or supporting their families. Many women feel that the only way to make sure that this money goes to the children is to ensure that it goes not into the father's wage packet but into the mother's purse at the post office.

On the Social Fund, I should like to ask why there is no appeal. Apparently people are to apply for the help, as the noble Baroness the Minister has read out; but if they are refused they are to have no right of appeal. Moreover, their rights are not set out, so it can be just a matter of an individual's decision as to whether any help is given or not.

Then we have this question of 20 per cent. of rates which have to be paid by all people. I know the Minister has said that rates are being looked at again. I should have thought that the Government might have got their rates reform sorted out in the beginning before this imposte was levied on the poorest people. We are left with a feeling that this is basically a cost-cutting exercise: the Government want to take from the poor to give to the poorer, while the rich are still to prosper.

I very much regret that this White Paper comes before we even get the Green Paper on personal taxation. The Government seem to ignore the interdependence of taxation and benefits; and until we link these two aspects of fiscal policy together we are not going to get any sense into the whole plan. So far as SERPS is concerned, we are glad that there has been some amelioration, but of course we shall want to debate the details later because it seems from the Statement today that the people who are going to suffer from these changes are mainly women, and particularly widows. That does not seem to be fair at all.

I very much hope that before long we shall be able to go into these matters in more detail. I appeal to the Leader of the House to see that we are not put into this position again where we get a long Statement which is really a Second Reading speech, and then there is little time to look at the papers. That applies to all my noble friends. I, of course, have had some fore sight of the papers; but that is not good enough and it is not the way this House should be treated.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Banks

My Lords, I should like to join in thanking the noble Baroness for repeating this lengthy but important Statement. As we have heard, the Statement is accompanied by a White Paper but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, has said, we have not yet had time for consideration of that White Paper. We shall certainly want to consider it very carefully, and I hope that when we come to do so we shall find that the figures we need are contained in it. We did not find them in the Green Paper, and if they are not in the White Paper either certainly we shall be moved to protest. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, we look forward to an early debate on the White Paper, well in advance of legislation.

I should like to ask the noble Baroness whether the proposals contained in the White Paper are being submitted to the Social Security Advisory Committee, and, if so, what the time-scale for that is. We shall want to consider the overall impact of the proposals. I should like to ask whether a greater or a lesser amount will be spent in future on social security than would be the case if these proposals where not implemented, and by how much the figure will be higher or lower. Can the noble Baroness say how many losers there will be and how many gainers, and who in fact they are?

So far as pensions are concerned, we very much regret that there is to be no increase in the basic pension. When we saw the Green Paper we said that we could not agree to the abolition of SERPS without a substantial increase in the basic, and that we would certainly find it very difficult to agree to the curtailment of SERPS without a substantial increase in the basic. After all, the removal of the "best 20 years" rule takes away from SERPS one of the principal arguments in its favour. We shall look most carefully and with great interest at the inducements which are proposed for pension schemes and at the proposals for personal pensions. So far as I can see, they conform to the minimum proposals contained in the Government's consultative document on personal pensions, and perhaps the noble Baroness would confirm that that is so.

Turning for a moment to family benefit, I would ask if it is the Government's intention to allow child benefit to be a declining proportion of that. Do they intend to allow the real value of child benefit to decline, as has in fact happened this year? With regard to family credit, I very much regret that the payment is to be made through the pay-packet and not through the mother.

Can the noble Baroness tell us what rate of national insurance contribution is now proposed to replace the 16.5 per cent. plus 4 per cent. to a private scheme which was put forward in the Green Paper? I regret the retention of the contribution of 20 per cent. of the rates. I conclude by asking two further questions. Is it correct that the number of families suffering from marginal tax rates over 80 per cent. will be doubled? Finally, are the suggestions correct that the Bill, when it comes, will be largely enabling and that most of the changes will be effected by means of orders? Because if that were the case we should feel obliged to object most strongly.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, despite the fact that noble Lords seemed to have had very little time, they still managed to ask me a great number of questions. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, said, through the usual channels there will obviously be time for her to ask for further debate. But it must be through the usual channels. The noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, said that the Statement was too long. I would remind her that social security reform is a very important subject which deserves a fair and full Statement. I doubt very much whether the information necessary could have been got into less. Secondly, the noble Baroness could not have got the White Paper yesterday. It was not available to any lobby journalists yesterday.

She asked me a great number of questions. With regard to family credit, this is a major element in the new approach to helping working families on low incomes. Its links with employment need to be clearly visible. This is best done by paying it as part of take-home pay and showing it on the wage slip. Many people have argued that the tax and social security system should be more closely integrated. Payment through the pay packet is integral to such an approach. Indeed, if this step towards closer alignment is regarded as unacceptable, it is hard to see how we can ever move the systems more closely together. Most two-parent working families rely on one partner's wage packet and accept responsibility for deciding how it is to be used. This will still be the case when the take-home pay also includes family credit.

The benefits for non-working families—for instance, supplementary benefit—normally go to the husband and it is therefore reasonable to treat family credit families on the same basis, rather than expect the state to direct resources between family members. In fact, many of those receiving family credit will be lone parents where this sort of question will not arise. Even in some two-parent families, the recipient may be the mother, because she is working more than 24 hours; and of course all mothers will continue to get child benefit direct.

The provision in SERPS which allows widows and older widowers to inherit all of their partner's additional pension rights up to a ceiling of the maximum SERPS pension payable is widely recognised to be too generous and out of line with the provision for widows and widowers in employers' pension schemes. Such provisions are also expensive and give help indiscriminately. We believe that the changes are fully justified. They will not in any case affect anyone widowed this century, but will give those people who want a chance to build up alternative provisions.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, asked about appeal rights for the social fund. We have examined with care the points made in the consultation period, but we do not see how the traditional formal adjudication system that we have elsewhere in the benefit system fits with the approach of the social fund in handling special needs; for example, in relation to advances of money to claimants which are then recovered from their future benefit. The issues for decision imply local and informal decisions. Reviews will be handled in the same way.

I think that the noble Baroness also asked me what would happen when the budget of the social fund runs out. Did she?

Baroness Jeger

I do not think so.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the noble Baroness can have the answer, anyway. I will reply to her, because I am quite anxious to get that point on the record. We shall be aiming for flexibility in the operation of the budget so that local offices do not run out of money mid-year. However, it must be said that the idea of a budget is not new. Most organisations have to plan their spending over the whole financial year.

The noble Baroness also said that this is a cost-cutting exercise. The Government have all along made clear that the review was set up not as a cost-cutting exercise but to achieve better targeting of social security expenditure. In this context it is clear, as it was when the Green Paper was published, that there is scope for substantial economies in housing benefits, and the White Paper confirms that we expect to save about £450 million here.

On the other hand, on the basis of the illustrative figures now published, the cost of the new family credit will be about twice that of FIS, while the income support scheme will cost a little more than the supplementary benefit weekly scale rates and additional requirements. These figures are consistent with the provisional expenditure figures in the autumn statement which will be confirmed in the public expenditure White Paper. In the longer term the emerging costs of SERPS will be significantly reduced by the modifications now proposed. On the question of extra posts for staff, we are still considering how best the increased work during the transitional period can be coped with. However, it is clear that temporary, although substantial, increases in staff will be needed to bring in the new schemes effectively.

The noble Lord, Lord Banks, asked for figures in the White Paper. Perhaps he will look in the technical annex which shows the increases and decreases and turn to Table 6A on the timescale. Legislation will be very early in the new year and it will be a matter for Parliament rather than for the Social Security Advisory Committee.

The noble Lord, Lord Banks, also asked why should we not increase the basic pension. Our pledge to retain the real value of the basic pension stands, and we have done considerably better than that with our 5 per cent. real increase since we came to office. Basic pension will remain at the heart of state provision and, as we said in the Green Paper, if economic growth permits, future governments will be able to give all pensioners a share of increasing prosperity through the basic pension.

The overall effect of the changes—which was the subject of a further question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Banks—will mean getting a radically improved social security structure which is bound to mean increases and decreases in the amount of benefit that people get. We could avoid this in one of two ways: we could build a new structure on top of the old and face a huge increase in the already massive spending on social security; or we could do nothing to tackle the serious problems in the system. We have chosen the responsible course—action, but without imposing crippling demands on public spending.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, may I, despite the protests that have been made, express my gratitude to my noble friend for undertaking the physical endurance of reading this long and immensely important Statement. Listening to it, it seems to me that it is probably one of the most important Government Statements that has been made for many years and, if my noble friend will allow me to say so, it was absolutely right that it should be repeated in full to this House, because it would have been derogatory to the standing of the House had that not been done. Perhaps I may also support what was said by the noble Baroness opposite—that a debate on the White Paper is essential. May I, as my noble friend the Leader of the House is present, suggest that it be a two-day debate? It would be a pity if these complex matters were crowded into one day, with the House sitting late and the time for speeches restricted.

I have only one point to make on the merits. I should like to say to my noble friend how glad I am—and I think many people will be—that according to the Statement the treatment of SERPS now follows very much the line which was advocated from both sides of this House in our recent debate.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, as someone who takes an interest in social security affairs, I, too, should like to congratulate the noble Baroness on repeating the Statement which was made in another place, given the length of it. I should like to say, too, that, unlike my noble friend Lady Jeger, because I am also interested in the Shops Bill I did not even have a chance to read the White Paper during the debate on the first amendment on the Bill. So I had to rely to a large extent on scribbling notes as the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, was speaking.

I should like to agree with the noble Baroness that the system needs changing, that it is complex and that it is too bureaucratic. If there is anything more complex than the system it is the Statement we have heard this afternoon and some of the prepared replies to the questions which followed it. They did not simplify matters much—certainly not for me—and so I should like to ask the noble Baroness one or two questions.

The Statement, like the Green Papers which preceded it, is devoid of figures and devoid of any kind of statistics at all. The noble Baroness said at one point that the £3,000 cut-off would be substantially eased. How much is "substantially"? What does "substantially eased" mean? Many people would be interested to know, because we have argued long enough for the increase from £2,400 up to £3,000. We want to know what is a substantial increase on £3,000. The noble Baroness also mentioned the earnings rule. That is something about which we have been very vigilant ever since its abolition, certainly for pensioners, was included in the Conservative Party manifesto in 1979. Can she give us more information about the earnings rule as mentioned in the Statement this afternoon?

I, too, should certainly like to welcome the proposal about disabled children and the application to more than one disabled child in the same family. But I should like some figures. How does that compare with the present position? Will it improve the position or will it maintain the position? It is difficult to know what will happen until we have some statistics.

We welcome any increase in maternity benefit but this increase is not in line with the inflation that has taken place since the benefit was first increased. This is one of the few figures that is mentioned.

On the death grant, as one who participated in that long-drawn-out campaign to maintain and to improve the death grant, I notice that the noble Baroness does not give any figures. She says that the death grant will be maintained for those on low pay or for people who need it and that a full funeral can be given. Where I come from, funeral costs run between £700 and £800 for the most meagre funeral. Is she saying that there will be an across-the-board increase to that amount? I did not hear the noble Baroness say that but what does she mean by the increase in the death grant?

The noble Baroness mentioned the 20 per cent. contribution to the rates that will be imposed on everyone. My noble friend Lady Jeger said that that could cause a lot of hardship unless there are other mitigating benefits. Can the noble Baroness say something about that? I did not hear too many details on family credit but previous attempts to amalgamate benefits have been disastrous. I have awful memories of the housing benefit scheme and the chaos which followed the combination of benefits into that scheme. In fact, it still does not operate properly even now after years of attempts. Have we any assurance that the family credit will be given a little more consideration than the housing benefit scheme was given previously?

I could go on and ask another 10 or 12 questions because the Statement took nearly 20 minutes to read. The White Paper will probably be even longer. It will contain just as little information. The only chance we have of getting some information is by asking questions on the Statement this afternoon. My memory tells me that more than 8 million benefit claimants plus somewhere near 1 million MSC workers now rely almost totally on the social security net for their meagre existence. I therefore say that any attempts to worsen the situation of those people must be very carefully considered. It is the first time I have ever agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, who has just spoken but I agree that we should have at least a two-day debate and that it should be an early debate so that we can give this subject the attention it deserves.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, perhaps I may first of all thank my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter for his supportive remarks. It is not for me to comment on any possible debate, and he will well understand that. The noble Lord, Lord Stallard, gave a Second Reading speech; I cannot actually work out how many minutes he spoke for but I would commend his attention to the technical annex for figures. No doubt he will find some rewarding facts there.

The noble Lord asked about "substantially easing". The capital cut-off of £3,000 is to be increased to £6,000. With regard to the earnings rule, there are several changes including £15 a week for disabled people and £15 a week for long-term unemployed couples. He will know that at present it is only £4 a week plus work expenses. On the question of funerals, for low income families the cost of their funerals will be paid. As a little extra tit-bit for the noble Lord, the cost will not be deducted from the £1,000 widows' benefit.

Perhaps I may suggest that we now call this a day and reserve further discussion for a future debate of some kind.