HL Deb 23 June 1986 vol 477 cc26-31
Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, with the leave of the House I should like to repeat a Statement that is being made in another place by my right honourable friend. The Statement reads as follows:

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement about invalid care allowance.

"Invalid care allowance is intended to help people who care for severely disabled people at home. It is a non-contributory benefit and depends on the claimant caring for the disabled person for at least 35 hours a week. It was introduced by the then Labour Government in 1976 for men and single women who had given up their sole means of livelihood to look after a severely disabled relative. But the legislation specifically excluded married women from benefit.

"Since taking office this Government have extended invalid care allowance to those caring for non-relatives and have also increased the earnings limit. Clearly there has also been pressure to extend invalid care allowance to married women. A case concerning their exclusion is now before the European Court of Justice and a debate is expected very shortly in another place. The Government have therefore reviewed the exclusion and have decided that irrespective of the European Court decision the allowance should be extended to married women on the same terms as married men and single persons. Accordingly, the Government will very shortly introduce an amendment to the Social Security Bill to achieve this.

"The extension of invalid care allowance to married women will mean a very substantial expansion in the scope of the scheme. At present there are less than 11,000 beneficiaries and the cost of the allowance is £13 million. We expect up to 70,000 married women to claim ICA at an additional net cost of around £55 million in a full year.

"Mr. Speaker, the extension of the invalid care allowance to married women represents a very large improvement in the provision we are making for disabled people in the community. It will recognise the vital role that married women play in looking after disabled people. I hope the change will be welcomed on all sides of the House".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Baroness Jeger

My Lords, the Statement is welcome on all sides of the House. After the Government's recent disaster in the Division Lobbies, I am happy to be able to agree at least with something that is coming forward from the other side. I want to ask one or two questions. Will there be back pay for married women who have been looking after their invalid relations for many years; or when will be the starting date for the new rule? Will publicity be given to the change so that all married women in that position will know that they have a right to claim the benefit? It is most important to know about the back-pay provisions or whether there is to be a new starting date. Married women who have been caring for sick and invalid relations for many years should not be excluded from payment for that sacrifice.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, we on these Benches also very much welcome the Statement. It is the culmination of a movement to that end which has extended over a number of years. The Government say that they are making the extension, irrespective of the European Court decision, but it is widely expected that it will go against them. It seems to me that they are right to pre-empt it and to take the honourable step of extending the payment to married women.

The Government have given an estimate of an additional net cost of £55 million in a full year. It is worth putting that in the context of the amounts of money that are saved by home carers, and they are very considerable indeed. The value of home care has been estimated to be between £5.1 billion and £7.3 billion each year; that is to say, if those people were being cared for not at home but in a residential institution, the cost could be in that region. If only 10 per cent. of those who were cared for at home had instead to be looked after in residential institutions of one kind or another, the public cost would be over £1 billion. The £55 million of additional expenditure estimated by the Government, which we welcome, must be seen in that context.

Along with the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, I wish to ask about the starting date that the Government propose. Will they ensure that adequate publicity is given to the change? The figure of 70,000 married women is mentioned in the Statement; I have heard higher estimates. But it is important that all those entitled should come to know about the change. We should welcome an assurance from the noble Baroness.

We believe in the rather more comprehensive carers' benefit which I shall be proposing later, on, I think, Amendment No. 123 to the Social Security Bill. But our view has been that the extension of invalid care allowance is a vital first step in extending justice to carers, and therefore we are able to welcome the Statement.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for the welcome that they have given the Statement. They are right to do so. They both asked about arrears. Payment of arrears will need to be decided in the light of the European Court judgment. The noble Lord mentioned the estimates involved. The earlier estimate of £100 million net expenditure was based on a 1982 sample postal survey of attendance allowance beneficiaries, details of which were given in a Written Answer to my honourable friend the Member for Eastleigh on 27th January. However, we have now received 14,000 claims from married women in response to Mrs. Drake's case. Extrapolating from that and comparing the results with more recent data from the family expenditure survey, we have concluded that the 1982 results were unreliable and that £55 million net expenditure is a more accurate assessment, based on the 70,000 recipients.

4.15 p.m.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

My Lords, may I, as a member of the mobile Bench, give a very hearty welcome to the Statement?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, may I also welcome the Statement very warmly indeed both as a Member of this House and as a former chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission, which has been concerned about the provision since it was introduced in 1976? Much of the research which has led to the proposed change has emanated from the EOC.

May I also congratulate the Minister not only on the substance but also on the timing of the Statement? The witching hour is near. I understand that the European Court judgment is due at eleven o'clock tomorrow morning. It is greatly to be welcomed that the British Government have decided on their own initiative that the benefit is to be extended to married women; the case has been established on the merits of the argument and not on European law. I welcome that very much.

May I ask the Minister one or two questions? She said that the starting date will be determined in the light of the European Court judgment. Does that mean that if it goes against the Government and in favour of Mrs. Jackie Drake, who took the case to Europe, the starting date will go back to the commencement of the European directive on equality in social security? Will the noble Baroness confirm that that is the case?

Secondly, in the Statement the term "married women" is used; does that include cohabiting women, as that group has also been hitherto excluded? Thirdly, can she give us any idea of when the amendment will be brought forward? Will it be during the Committee stage of the Bill? How soon can we expect it? Finally, will the Minister acknowledge the enormous amount of work done not only by the EOC but also by the many organisations concerned with invalid care and the voluntary organisations which have given their support and backing?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, we have always accepted the aim in principle of the change. I am interested that Peers on the Benches opposite feel so deeply about this. Why then did the Labour Government specifically exclude married women? It is the exclusion, specifically in the Social Security Benefits Act 1975, which is before the European Court.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, I asked the Labour Government and subsequent Conservative Governments that question on a number of occasions.

Baroness Jeger

And so did I, my Lords.

Baroness Trumpington

I am delighted to hear it, my Lords. I am sorry that the Labour Government did not take notice of two such splendid noble Baronesses.

I cannot anticipate the judgment; the noble Baroness asks a hypothetical question, and I feel sure that she understands that. Yes, cohabiting women are included. Yes, I expect that there will be an amendment to the Social Security Bill, but I cannot give the exact timing of it. Lastly, yes, I appreciate the hard work that has been done on this matter.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, may I from these Benches also welcome this thoroughly sensible and wise Statement which has just been made? Is my noble friend aware that on the subject of back payments, experience in social administration suggests a good deal of caution, as the creation of precedents of always making back payments is apt to inhibit social progress? Will the Government have that in mind? Is my noble friend also aware that some of us are somewhat disturbed that important matters affecting the British social security system should be regarded by the European Court as being within its purview?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, we shall have to fulfil our legal obligations with regard to back payments in the light of the judgment. I am grateful to my noble friend for his words of welcome. He would probably not expect me to comment on his last remark.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, the noble Baroness challenged me to respond, and it was right that she should do so. I think that she sometimes has to do battle with the Treasury. That applied to the Labour Government. When the allowance was introduced we should very much have liked to introduce it for all, but that was not possible. At least we introduced it for some people and therefore we created a precedent whereby we have been able to have today's happy announcement.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, as one who has raised this question on many occasions in your Lordships' House as well as in the other place, may I also congratulate the noble Baroness on her Statement? I know that all the voluntary organisations for which I have spoken in the past, and for which I have raised the matter on a number of occasions, will also be pleased at the announcement. We are also pleased, I think, as the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, said, that the noble Baroness the Minister has anticipated the European Court's decision by agreeing to implement that part of the allowance for married women. To that extent we are entitled to say that, as that judgment is based on the fact that the United Kingdom was deemed to have been unlawfully excluding those women from the benefit since its inception on 30th December 1984, the same judgment will apply and back pay will have to go to 30th December 1984; otherwise we shall be deemed to be continuing the unlawful discrimination that has existed since then. I do not see why the noble Baroness is afraid of anticipating the judgment which is to be given tomorrow. She has already anticipated the first part of it; the second part follows logically. If it has been unlawful discrimination, it is still unlawful discrimination, and has been since 30th December 1984.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, this is still a hypothetical case. We shall naturally fulfil our obligations, but we cannot anticipate the European Court's judgment.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I also welcome the announcement. This is a matter that I have raised many times in the House. On Second Reading of the Social Security Bill I expressed the hope that the Government might make such a Statement before tomorrow's decision; it shows a generosity of spirit of which I consider the Government absolutely capable. I should also like to point out that this is just the last step. When I first began on this road, shortly after I arrived in this House in 1981, there were other tests—for example, the household duties test—and there were other discriminations against women. The Government have been able to deal with those. This was the last matter which was discriminatory. My name is one of four names down on an amendment on this subject to the Social Security Bill. I am therefore very pleased about the announcement.

With regard to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, I have read in the press that no one will be able to claim beyond the date for which they applied. All those women who have applied will be eligible, but they cannot receive payment beyond the date for which they have applied, whatever the decision. I am prepared to wait and see what happens on that. It may be that nothing can be confirmed until the decision is known. The suggestion in the press is that such married women as are entitled should claim as of now so that their claim will be at least from this date.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes does an immense amount of work for women here and abroad. I should like to pay a tribute to her for that and thank her for the welcome which she gave to the Statement. She quoted the press and that slightly surprised me because I hardly ever believe more than half of what I read in the press. I must ask everyone to be patient for a few weeks while we set up the organisation necessary to work out the result of the judgment. We shall clearly want to deal with the claims as quickly as we can.

Baroness Lane-Fox

My Lords, in view of the admission by the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, of the Labour Government's failure, may I congratulate the noble Baroness the Minister all the more on proving that this Government have at heart the interests of severely disabled people? I hope that the voluntary organisations, many of which do a great deal for us, will note that fact because too many are shaky about the great deal of help that has been given by this Government in a number of disablement cases. I am pleased to congratulate the noble Baroness the Minister on today's important Statement.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I am extremely grateful for my noble friend's words. I hope that the voluntary organisations which do so much good work will listen to them.