§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Consideration of amendments on Report resumed on Clause 9.302
Lord Stallard moved Amendment No.. 2:
Page 9, line 16, leave out ("paragraphs (a) and (aa)") and insert ("paragraph (a)").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, it might be for the convenience of the House, and certainly in the interests of time, if I were to link my remarks with Amendment No. 4.
§ We all accept the changes in Clause 9 to extend the age limit, although we have reservations on how far we extend it. However, the extension principle was welcomed. In my amendment I am concerned to abolish the age of 65 on first qualifying for mobility allowance. I should like to see. the 65 age limit abolished. The present rules create the ludicrous situation by which someone becoming disabled the day before his or her 65th birthday may receive mobility allowance for the next 10 or 15 years. But someone receiving precisely the same injuries the day after his or her 65th birthday will receive no benefit whatever. It is an anomalous and ridiculous situation for such people. I can find no logic or justification for that situation. It does not cost a person aged 65 and a day with disabilities any less to cope with those disabilities than it costs someone who is younger. Nor does it matter less to the older person to be able to get about because he is a day over 65.
§ I am particularly distressed at this assumption. It goes against all current trends in discussions that we are having on ageism. The assumption underlying the imposition of the upper limit on eligibility for first claims is that disability in old age—"old age" being 65—is the norm. That is not an assumption that has been accepted by people who are at this moment studying ageism from a more positive stance than hitherto. There is a school of thought, to which I subscribe, that does not accept that mobility requirements decrease at the age of 65. People are quite capable of performing a very useful, productive function in society long after 65. It is long after 75 for some. I look around me if I need proof of that. Noble Lords are mentally fit, active and alert but they may be a little unsteady on their pins. They are no less mentally alert and fit after 65. I therefore say that the 65 upper age limit goes against the trend. It is against the Government's stated policies.
§ As I understand it, the Government would like to enable elderly people to maintain maximum health and independence in later life. That is what it is about.
§ One may say that "later life" stops at 65. But one cannot say both. One cannot say that one is in favour of maximising independence and mobility in later life and then put a stop on it at the age of 65. That emphasies that life stops at 65 for social security legislation. I believe that the upper age limit of 65 is an anomaly. I suggest that it ought to be abolished. I hope that the House will accept this very modest amendment.
§ I sometimes become a little worried about discussions that take place on social security in your Lordships' House. I sometimes think that I am discussing a finance Bill rather than a Social Security Bill. The tendency seems to be to discuss finance first, second and always. If there is anything left, then we talk about compassion, but only in passing. 303 The main aspect is finance. How much will it cost? How much can we save? How much have we got? I am a little worried that we have the matter a little out of balance. Of course there has to be consideration of finance. One would be a fool if one did not accept that. One has to accept and understand that. One has to act within certain restraints. However, within those restraints we ought to be able to discuss priorities and to consider them and not all the time to be saying, "That is that. There will be no bother. We shall not budge."
§ It might be more honest if the Minister sometimes were to stand up and say, "I have to tell you before we start this Committee that I am under instructions to accept no amendments that cost more than the price of a first-class stamp. Therefore you are wasting your time if any of your amendments will cost money." That would be the honest situation. I become very depressed when I feel that atmosphere developing in a Committee.
§ I hope that it will not be the criterion this time. I hope that the Government will seriously consider this amendment in the light of current thinking on ageism on people over 65, and that they will see fit to accept the amendment. I beg to move.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, seek to extend mobility allowance to enable people to claim it at any time up to age 80, which he has just explained. The age limit of 80 for the payment of the allowance which we propose in Clause 9 would still apply.
I do not ever recall mentioning in Committee the subject of money. Indeed I was congratulated on the fact on several occasions. In fact I have the feeling that the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, did so himself. However, I do not think that one can go through a Social Security Bill without mentioning the subject of money. It is right that the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, should himself have requested a balanced approach with regard to money and other reasons for accepting or not accepting a particular amendment.
It was exactly because of money that when the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, introduced the mobility allowance he said that there would be an upper age limit for claiming mobility allowance. That has been maintained ever since. We estimate that the extension such as the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, requests would be very costly. The reasons for this are clear; locomotion disabilities are by far the most common of all disabilities, and their prevalence increases dramatically with age.
I should like to remind your Lordships of the figures from the OPCS disability surveys which I quoted in Committee. These show that the prevalance of locomotion disabilities is 31 per 1,000 in the 15 to 59 age group; 195 per 1,000 in the 60 to 74 age group; and 464 per 1,000 at age 75 or over.
This means that the proposed amendments would involve significant extra costs. We estimate that to extend the age limit in the way proposed would initially cost around £400 million a year with a steady rise well beyond that in the following years. In the light of the OPCS findings, it would not be appropriate to incur such large additional 304 expenditure in advance of our examination into the benefit system. I have mentioned the cost implications of the epidemiology of ageing, which mean that we cannot dismiss the rule which allows people to claim mobility allowance for the first time only for disability incurred before the age of 65.
There is also a very good practical reason, even though the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, in his short speech called it anomalous. The age limit is less arbitrary than it may seem. It is disability incurred during working life which casts the longest shadow because if it affects earning capacity, it affects people's capacity to save and to build up pension rights and to prepare for an old age in which sober realism indicates to us that reduced mobility is very likely. Mobility allowance therefore continues to be available to claimants disabled up to age 65 with a further year's grace in which to claim.
We shall of course have to consider what effect another part of the Government's programme has on this issue. It is the abolition of the ernings rule, and indeed the intended changes—when we make concrete proposals in legislation—for the equalisation of pension age, to which we are committed. For the moment I would say that we appreciate that there are difficult cases among people who find themselves just on the wrong side of the dividing line. But that will happen wherever a dividing line is drawn. In seeking to mitigate the effect of any dividing line, we have to consider whether the group in question does indeed have the highest priority for the resources available to us.
From what I have said, the House will realise that I am firmly persuaded that these are not matters which can be resolved here and now in response to these amendments. I must urge your Lordships that this must wait until after everyone concerned—I refer now to the list I mentioned at the end of the last amendment—disabled people's own organisations. government and parliament—have had the opportunity to consider carefully all the information which is now becoming available from the OPCS surveys. In the circumstances, although I have some sympathy with the noble Lord, we believe that this requires a lot more study. I am grateful to him for raising the issue.
§ Lord Stallard
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply and the detail that he has mentioned. I deliberately mentioned in my remarks the current approach to ageism and age. The Minister's reply simply restates old myths: that 65 is the dead end. There is a great school of thought that accepts that age expectancy is far longer now than it was when the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, first introduced his mobility allowance. That is a factor that has to be taken into account. The pension rules, the discussions and arguments and the implementation in some places of flexible retirement means that people can work beyond 65 and can become injured beyond 65. They could qualify for the mobility allowance in all kinds of circumstances beyong 65. Therefore that must be taken into account.
The earnings rule means that many more people will be encouraged to work beyond 65. One of the 305 Government's aims in abolishing the earnings rule is to allow older people who are fit and active to return to the workforce because of the shortage of youngsters. All these factors will have to be taken into account when we discuss positively our approach to the problems of the elderly. The Minister's reply could have been given to the original discussion in the 1970s when it was first raised. It is totally out of date with modern thinking and modern conditions. The only straw that the Government can clutch at is that the Minister says that there will be a review and that they will be thinking about this in the course of the surveys that are taking place. They are latching onto that. I accept that in good faith, and I shall wait until I see the results of that. In the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 5.45 p.m.
Baroness Jeger moved Amendment No. 3:
Page 9, line 17, leave out ("80") and insert ("85").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I hope that the Minister will believe me when I say that I am trying to help him. We find that it is extraordinary that there should be an upper age limit for the mobility allowance. As the Government have agreed that the age limit should be raised from 75 to 80, that seems to indicate to my simple mind that the Government do not have a philosophical objection to 80 year-olds driving.
§ I have put down the amendment suggesting the age of 85 rather than repeating the arguments for abolishing it altogether because I know that the noble Lord thinks in what I believe the other day he called quintiles. By suggesting this increase to 85 I was trying to come to terms and not to be absolute in the amendment.
Another affection which the Minister seems to have for quintiles was when he indicated in his reply at Committee that:
However, taking up the point we made on the previous amendment, we have a five-year period before we need to make a further change".—[Official Report, 22/6/89; col. 355]
§ Although the Minister might have a five-year period, all we old people probably will not have a five-year period before there is a change. It seems to me to be rather illogical to expect people to look forward in their old age to the Minister's words and think that perhaps it will be all right for me in another five years. That is not what life is like. It does not seem to have any logic or sense. I do not want the Minister to tell me how much it will all cost because we have heard enough about that this afternoon. I suggest that when he is having his discussions he will bear in mind that perhaps there is not a great deal of logic or sense in the proposal to give a five year increase. It would be much more generous and much more popular and kindly, as I know the Minister always likes to be, if he could see his way to further increases in the age allowance for this mobility allowance. I beg to move.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, I appreciate that the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness 306 seeks to make only a modest improvement to what we are proposing in Clause 9. I am grateful to her for that. In effect, it doubles from five to 10 years the proposed extension of the age limit up to which mobility allowance can be paid to those who have already qualified for it.
When we brought forward our proposal to extend the current limit from 75 to 80, we made it quite clear that it was an interim measure to prevent the oldest recipients of the allowance losing it from next November which otherwise would have happened. The five-year extension will give us more than enough time to consider the findings: of the OPCS disability surveys and to bring forward our long-term proposals and to implement them.
The noble Baroness groans, which gives me a clue at least to her thinking, which sometimes I do not get through any other method. But the fact is that it is over five years from today that elderly people will under the Bill stop drawing the allowance. Therefore it gives us a breathing space which I described earlier today and in Committee as more than enough time to discover where we go from here and how.
The five-year extension gives elderly recipients of the allowance the full opportunity to plan ahead for their mobility arrangements, in the knowledge that they will not lose their payments, which they will have been receiving for 10 years or more. The possibility of more far-reaching changes, and the age limits in particular, will, as I said to the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, figure very largely in our thinking on the review.
If it is any help to the noble Baroness—and I suspect it is not, which is why I am saying it—a quintile of 80 is 16.
§ Baroness Jeger
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, can he assure me that when I am 81 I shall not lose my mobility allowance? That might be very soon.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, the noble Baroness will not qualify, because as we discussed on the last amendment she was not eligible before she was 65.
§ Baroness Jeger
Yes, my Lords, that is another bad thing. In view of the explanation and the interesting discussion which we have had, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 4 not moved.]
§ Clause 10 [Extension to personal pensions of occupational pension provisions relating to the abatement of unemployment benefit and the meaning of "earnings".]:
§ [Amendment No. 5 not moved]307
§ Clause 11 [Unemployment benefit: requirement to seek employment actively.]:
§ [Amendment No. 6 not moved.]
Baroness Jeger moved Amendment No. 7:
After Clause 12, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Prescribed circumstances.
§ . In section 35(2) (attendance allowance) of the principal Act, after the words 'and (b)' there shall be inserted the words 'except in such circumstances as may be prescribed'.").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, we put down this amendment because we hoped that some ideas might be contributed towards the difficult matter which we discussed at Committee stage in relation to an amendment moved by the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, which concerns whether we ought to keep the six-months' rule for attendance allowances.
§ Your Lordships will recall that attendance allowance cannot be claimed by people who need total care unless they have been in that situation for six months. There are various complications about this sensitive matter. All of us on this side appreciated the Minister's approach. I say that in all seriousness.
§ We have had some discussions with the people concerned. It seems that the problem falls into two parts. There are those about whom great anxiety was expressed who do not survive six months after the diagnosis of their terminal illness.
§ This is a very difficult matter to translate into some legalistic formula. I know from my experience in our practice how one has very carefully to decide how to tell people that they are terminally ill. How does a doctor tell someone that they have not got six months, or that it will only be five months? How will the family react? How will the patient react? It seems to me that if we make an amendment to the attendance allowance regulations to give a definitive description of the unlikelihood of the patient surviving six months, that might be very difficult in some cases.
§ The second group of people about whom I am worried are those who have an acute illness which does not last for six months. It might be a stroke which incapacitates them for four or five months. During the whole of that time they might need total care, as set out in the previous legislation, but they cannot get it because they have not been ill enough for long enough. I have known cases of terrible traffic accidents where people have been totally incapable for three, four or five months. But, thanks to advances in medicine and treatments, they make a recovery. However, for the whole of the interim period of their very acute and serious illness we say, "You can't have an attendance allowance, you've got to linger on. If it lasts for six months, you will get it". I know that it is easy for noble Lords to say that we brought in the six months rule. The attendance allowance was introduced by the Labour Government, there was no such thing before we introduced it. I have a feeling however that social security allowances should all be looked on as growing provisions and that many changes occur in society. We all ought to have second thoughts on how things work out.308
I think it was Emerson who said:
…consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds".
§ Maybe we can be inconsistent this afternoon and say that we are not tied to the six months rule, we wish it had been revised before. I appreciate all the difficulties which face the Government in trying to deal with these very complicated, personal problems.
In putting down the amendment it seemed to me that rather than trying to prescribe the kinds of situations, illnesses and circumstances involved, the prospects of life or death of the people involved, perhaps we could give the power, as the amendment says,
except in such circumstances as may be prescribed.
§ Then we shall not be putting labels on people or making it a very legalistic matter.
§ I hope the noble Lord, Lord Trafford, will forgive me, in that again we are putting more work onto the doctors who can look at the provisions as set out in the previous legislation, which defines very closely the general state of patients who have to be in need of attendance. Then, perhaps at a later stage, we could find some form of words that would deal with these difficult problems. It is in that spirit that I move the amendment.
§ Baroness Faithfull
My Lords, if I remember rightly, at the last stage of the Bill my noble friend the Minister was very sympathetic to the whole matter of the recommendations made by the hospice movement. He said that he was willing to consider them and bring the consideration to the fore. I think that we have all received representations from the hospice movement that this is something, not of an emergency, but that cannot wait all that long, perhaps it cannot wait for another social security Bill next year. Therefore I wonder whether my noble friend the Minister would address his mind to a proposal being put forward, such as the noble Baroness has suggested.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, I am most grateful for the explanation of the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, about why we have been asked to consider the amendment today, and for the great sympathy which she showed in moving it. I hope that from what I said in Committee noble Lords understand that I share that sympathy. Nevertheless, I must admit that I remain uneasy both about the purpose and the timing of the amendment.
As regards consistency, I am about to demonstrate an inconsistency in that what I say now is rather different from what I was able to say in answer to Amendment No. 1. As my noble friend Lady Faithfull has pointed out, I am sure that we all remember vividly the debate in your Lordships' Committee on 22nd June about the problems of terminally ill people who satisfy the disablement criteria for attendance allowance, but who die before the six months qualifying period is complete. At the end of that debate I gave a clear declaration that the legislation necessary to tackle these problems without a six months qualifying period will be laid in the next social security Bill and that it will be implemented as soon as is practicable, after Royal 309 Assent to that Bill. I could not give that commitment on Amendment No. 1, and I believe firmly that it was that which got me into the gravest trouble. However, never mind.
That declaration was not made lightly; nor was it made as a delaying tactic. As I indicated on 22nd June, we are determined to tackle the problems of the terminally ill. We are also determined that in tackling those problems we get it right. What we need to do is to make sure that we reach all terminally ill people; not just those receiving hospice care, but also those for whom open recognition of death and the support needed cannot be so readily assumed. In a situation which inevitably involves difficult and sensitive judgments and entails an unequivocal statement that a person is dying, we have to ensure that the practical arrangements achieve what is intended and avoid distressing misunderstandings. To make sure that we do get it right, we need time to work out the details. In our estimate the earliest point in time that we can reasonably hope to achieve these objectives is in the next social security Bill.
I realise that there are many people, including Members of your Lordships' House, who would wish us to move very much faster on this issue. I believe that the amendment before us today is intended to do just that. But, sympathetic as I am to these aspirations, I am also concerned with practicalities. In practical terms, the amendment does not move things forward at all. It simply provides an enabling power to exempt people from the six months qualifying period and requires regulations to fill in the details. Whether by primary legislation or by regulations, we cannot move any faster on this issue than the timescale I have already outlined.
With that timescale, it would be premature now to fix the precise form which the legislation will take. It may well be that when we have resolved the practicalities of what we are committed to do for terminally ill people, the legislation will take the form proposed by this amendment. It is equally possible that it may need to be entirely contained in primary legislation. At this stage, we cannot be certain. However, I am certain that we should not, prematurely, be committed to one particular course.
We are firmly committed to tackling the problems of terminally ill people in the timescale I have mentioned. This will give us the opportunity we need to ensure that we make arrangements which effectively tackle the problems in a sympathetic and sensitive manner and which, above all, work. Achievement of these objectives will not be helped or speeded up by this amendment.
§ Baroness Jeger
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. He constantly referred to the terminally ill, whereas I share the anxiety of many people—as I tried to say in my brief contribution—for the acutely ill, for the survivors who have to endure the six months without help.
In conclusion, I hope that the Minister will put into the melting pot of his thinking that aspect of the problem as well. It is far more complicated and goes well beyond the other problem of the terminally 310 ill. I know that it causes great strain and distress in many households where people have to be on the six months probationary period before they receive the help that their relatives or family members need. I thank the Minister for his concern and his promise to go further, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment in the hope that the Minister will take on board that other, larger, question.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 13 [Disqualification for unemployment benefit]:
§ 6 p.m.
§ Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 8:
Page 12, line 12, at end insert ("or
(c) to seek or accept any employment in which, in the opinion of the adjudication officer, his normal earnings would have been so low that his financial circumstances would have deteriorated if he had accepted that employment.").
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, I hope that this is an improved version of an amendment which I moved in Committee. The Minister pointed out some drafting faults in that which I have endeavoured to correct.
I cannot do better than to rely on the Minister's own description of the effects of this amendment. He said that,
this amendment seeks to introduce into legislation the concept that a person should not be disqualified from receiving unemployment benefit if he turns down or fails to follow up an opportunity of employment which would leave urn less well off than if he had been on benefit".—[Official Report, 29/6/89; cols. 875–6.]
§ In that, I quibble only with the use of the word "introduced". The basic principle of this amendment is one stated by the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, when he was Secretary of State and which most of us believed until recently to be the law. It has come into question as a result of the general tightening up of case law, and the intention of this amendment is for the law again to be what, until very recently, we all believed it was.
§ I must say that, like the Minister, I am concerned about the total cost of the social security system. I watch what is before us to see whether there are matters which may make the cost rise where there is no need for it to do so. I believe that here we have a case of that sort because, apart from unemployment, one matter which contributes to the high cost of that system is the large number of people who claim benefit while in full-time work—a fact which tends to prove the willingness of most people to work.
§ I believe that we should notice that during the period of the tube strikes, there has been evidence that the work ethic in this country is very much alive and well. This is not a minimum wage amendment, but is a freedom of choice amendment and, as such, I should have thought that that would be well within the limits of the Government's expressed philosophy.
§ It is one thing to let people take a job which is below benefit level because they happen to want to work, it is quite another to force them to act against their own economic interests to take a job and to use the threat of deprivation of benefit to make them 311 do so. I should have thought that that attempt to make people act against their own economic interests was dead against this Government's philosophy. I believe that there is some reason to think that where people are worse off in work than on benefit, that is a case for saying that wages in that occupation have become too low.
In Committee the Minister expressed doubt about the idea of benefit subsidising low wage jobs. I read what the Minister said several times and I still wonder whether or not it amounts to a contradiction in terms. He said:
I do not believe that family credit subsidises employers paying low wages. It is there to help working families with children who do not have enough money coming in from their earnings".—[Official Report, 29/6/89; col. 878.]
§ I should have thought that that was a contradiction in terms, because an economic job should be one which can be taken by a mother or father with children. It is not a living wage unless that is the case. In fact, it is only in the case of part-time work that the Minister's statement would not be a contradiction in terms. If a job cannot pay a living wage, it is an uneconomic job. If we are going to use the benefit system to subsidise uneconomic jobs in a blanket way, that seems to me a colossal commitment to future expenditure. It seems to be a new Speenhamland system coming in here.
§ I shall take only one case by way of illustration. At present it is claimed by NALGO that 11 per cent. of local government white collar workers are eligible for income support. I know that from these Benches we have often argued for more generous Government treatment of the finances of local authorities. However, is that really the most efficient way to do that—a blanket subsidy to low-wage jobs, regardless of their efficiency and necessity? I believe that that could be done with a great deal more efficiency. In fact, I believe that this is a case where targeting has something to be said for it. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Turner of Camden
My Lords, I rise to support the amendment moved by the noble Earl, Lord Russell. As he said, the amendment is rather similar to amendments moved from these Benches when the Bill was in Committee, except that we return to it this afternoon having had the benefit of the Minister's reply last time round and, as the noble Earl said, the wording has been amended to take some account of what he then said.
We on these Benches are anxious to avoid claimants being forced into work at sub-standard pay, pay which in effect is being subsidised by the social security system and pay which enables bad employers to offer a rate below that which should be paid for any sort of work.
As we have repeatedly said, the evidence is that most unemployed people are quite realistic about the rates which they are likely to command in the labour market. If they have been unemployed for some time they are significantly less choosy about jobs and, in any event, as we have seen, there are restart programmes, counselling, monitoring and so on to ensure that those people know what they are likely to receive by way of remuneration.
312 Why should we not say quite explicitly on the face of the Bill that such claimants may not be compelled into sub-standard employment where they could well be receiving less than they would receive on benefit? Last time we debated this matter the Minister said that,we have ensured that in practice nearly everyone is better off in work than remaining on unemployment benefit or income support".—[Official Report, 29/6/89; col. 877.]Surely that is a desirable objective, but the people who should be ensuring that that is the case are those who are offering employment. I believe that to maintain a system where employers are enabled to employ people at sub-standard rates, rates at which people get into a cycle of deprivation and debt is, in the end, socially uneconomic because in those circumstances such people often present other social problems. They may become ill, and in extreme circumstances—and examples of this have been quoted to me by a number of voluntary organisations concerned in this sphere—there may be instances leading to suicide, and then families have to be taken care of by the social system.
Therefore, I appeal to the Minister this time to accept the revised wording. We have taken on board what he said last time and we think it quite inequitable that people should be forced to accept jobs by the threat of deprivation of benefit, jobs which are at a sub-standard level at which employers are being subsidised by the social ecurity system. I support the amendment.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, that is all very well, but the Bill does not do anything of the sort, as I hope to go on to explain. I should point out that although the noble Earl, Lord Russell, has tried to redraft this amendment, I am afraid that in terms of drafting it inevitably suffers from much the same deficiencies as did its predecessor, but I should not dream of dwelling on that.
The real charge here is that the Government are forcing people into work against their own economic interests. As I said, we are not doing that. Family credit ensures that very few people will be worse off in work than on social security benefits. However, the important matter is that no one will be forced.
While we believe it right that, immediately after becoming unemployed, a claimant should be able to concentrate on looking for work which offers a rate of pay similar to that which he has been receiving—and we are providing that by way of our concept of a "permitted period"—we do not believe that an automatic right to a certain level of pay is helpful thereafter.
We think the present legislation is unnecessarily restrictive and has an adverse effect on the availability of work. Employers seek to recruit the staff they need at rates of pay they can afford. If they cannot recruit staff at anything other than a so-called "rate for the job", this inevitably will have an adverse and unnecessary effect on their ability to develop their business and generate more jobs. The noble Baroness will agree that that cannot be in the interests of employers. It benefits no one.
An employer must be able to take into consideration how up to date are the abilities, skills 313 and experience of potential recruits in deciding what pay to offer them. It cannot be right that people should continue to expect to be paid on the basis of a job they left months or even years previously. Nor should they be encouraged to hold out such hopes. I believe the noble Baroness said that the majority of unemployed people do not; but this is a case where we are concerned not with the majority but with the minority who have unrealistic expectations of what they are worth.
Nevertheless, as I have said, recently unemployed people with skills that are still relevant to the labour market and who have experience that is still new can reasonably expect to look for a period of time for jobs in their usual occupation at rates of pay they used to receive. That is why we are allowing a "permitted period" ranging from seven days for only a tenuous link with a particular occupation—for example, a person whose first employment was very recent—to a maximum of three months in which claimants will be able to do just that.
After that period they will be expected to widen their scope but we intend to ensure that people will not be penalised for turning down ridiculous wages. We propose to provide specifically in regulations that good cause for failing to follow up a job opportunity advised to the claimant by the employment service cannot be shown where the failure arises from the claimant's expected financial position. To ensure, though, that unemployed applications for jobs are not taken advantage of by unscrupulous employers we intend to provide, through the regulations, that a claimant will not have to show good cause for refusing or failing to apply for a vacant situation, or refusing to accept such a situation when offered, where he learns of the vacancy from a potential employer.
I can, however, assure noble Lords that the employment service will seek to offer vacancies which are representaive in terms of pay and conditions of employment available in the labour market. They will ensure that the vacancy is one the person can do and fits not only his skills, experience and other qualifications, but also takes account of the length of time he has been unemployed. In addition, claimants will, as now, be made aware of the benefits they can claim when they are in work. Therefore, I believe that both the noble Earl and the noble Baroness are labouring under a misapprehension. I hope I have been able to show that there is absolutely no intention in the Bill of forcing people into work against their own economic interests.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, I connot claim to be satisfied with that reply. There is perhaps a misapprehension but I think there may be some question as to where it resides. I could not help wondering, in listening to that reply, whether, whether it was drafted for the amendment in Committee on suitable work. There is no attempt in this amendment to suggest that people should be able to look for a rate of pay that they have had in a specific job. The suggestion is only that they should not suffer a loss 314 of unemployment benefit by refusing a job which is below benefit level.
The Minister repeated again the point about unrealistic expectations which has been debated exhaustively already. However, leaving that aside, I find it hard to imagine that for a full-time job it is unrealistic to expect the equivalent of benefit level. That is a very limited expectation indeed. If that is to be classified as unrealistic we are getting dangerously near to returning to the days of sweated labour. I commend the amendment.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 8) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 79; Not-Contents, 129.315
|DIVISION NO. 2|
|Airedale, L.||Kinloss, Ly|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Lawrence, L.|
|Blackstone, B.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B|
|Bonham-Carter, L.||Lockwood, B.|
|Bottomley, L.||Macaulay of Bragar, L.|
|Briginshaw, L.||McNair, L.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Mason of Barnsley, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Murray of Epping Forest, L|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L||Nicol, B.|
|Carter, L. [Teller]||O'Neill of the Maine, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Peston, L.|
|Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.||Phillips, B.|
|Craigavon, V.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|David, B.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Rea, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Rochester, L|
|Ennals, L.||Russell, E. [Teller.]|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Ryder of Warsaw, B.|
|Faithfull, B.||Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.|
|Gallacher, L.||Seear, B.|
|Galpern, L.||Seebohm, L.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Serota, B.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Simon, V.|
|Grey, E.||Stallard, L.|
|Halsbury, E.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Hampton, L.||Swann, L.|
|Hanworth, V.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Hatch of Lusby, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Hayter, L.||Thomson of Monifieth, L.|
|Henderson of Brompton, L.||Tordoff, L.|
|Hirshfield, L.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Hylton, L.||Walston, L.|
|Jeger, B.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Jenkins of Hillhead, L.||Wilson of Rievaulx, L.|
|John-Mackie, L.||Winstanley, L.|
|Kennet, L.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Alexander of Weedon, L.||Boyd-Carpenter, L.|
|Allerton, L.||Brabazon of Tara, L.|
|Annaly, L.||Broadbridge, L.|
|Arran, E.||Brougham and Vaux, L.|
|Ashbourne, L.||Butterworth, L.|
|Beloff, L.||Caithness, E.|
|Belstead, L.||Campbell of Alloway, L.|
|Birdwood, L.||Campbell of Croy, L.|
|Blatch, B.||Carnegy of Lour, B.|
|Blyth, L.||Carnock, L.|
|Boardman, L.||Colville of Culross, V.|
|Borthwick, L.||Colwyn, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|Craigton, L.||Margadale, L.|
|Crickhowell, L.||Marley, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Marshall of Leeds, L.|
|Davidson, V. [Teller.]||Merrivale, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Milverton, L.|
|Derwent, L.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|Dilhorne, V.||Monteagle of Brandon, L.|
|Dundee, E.||Morris, L.|
|Eden of Winton, L.||Mottistone, L.|
|Effingham, E.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Elibank, L.||Munster, E.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Elles, B.||Newall, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Norfolk, D.|
|Elliott of Morpeth, L.||Norrie, L.|
|Elton, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Fanshawe of Richmond, L.||O'Hagan, L.|
|Ferrers, E.||Oppenheim-Barnes, B.|
|Fortescue, E.||Orkney, E.|
|Fraser of Carmyllie, L.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Pender, L.|
|Gainford, L.||Peyton of Yeovil, L.|
|Gardner of Parkes, B.||Pym, L.|
|Goold, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Greenway, L.||Rees, L.|
|Haig, E.||Renton, L.|
|Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.||Renwick, L.|
|Rippon of Hexham, L.|
|Hardinge of Penshurst, L.||Rodney, L.|
|Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Sanderson of Bowden, L.|
|Harvington, L.||Savile, L.|
|Havers, L.||Selborne, E.|
|Henley, L.||Sharples, B.|
|Hesketh, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Hives, L.||Stodart of Leaston, L.|
|Holderness, L.||Strange, B.|
|Home of the Hirsel, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Hooper, B.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Thomas of Swynnerton, L.|
|Ingrow, L.||Torrington, V.|
|Jenkin of Roding, L.||Trafford, L.|
|Johnston of Rockport, L.||Tranmire, L.|
|Joseph, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Keyes, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Killearn, L.||Ullswater, V.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Liverpool, E.||Westbury, L.|
|Long, V.||Wise, L.|
|Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Wynford, L.|
|Lyell, L.||Young, B.|
|McFadzean, L.||Young of Graffham, L.|
|Mackay of Clashfern, L.||Zouche of Haryngworth, L|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 6.23 p.m.
Lord Carter moved Amendment No. 9:
After Clause 13, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Invalidity benefit.
§ . In section 17(1)(d) of the Social Security Act 1975, as amended by the Social Security (No. 2) Act 1980, after the words "not more than 8 weeks" there shall be inserted "(or not more than 12 weeks, in the case of a trail work periiod as defined for the purpose of section 12 of the Social Security Act 1989" ").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a probing amendment to deal with a rather complicated point concerning the invalidity benefit. The Social Security Bill now provides an exemption from disqualification from employment benefit that will enable people to undertake a trial period of work of 12 weeks without jeopardising their entitlement to unemployment benefit. The proposed amendment would extend this trial work period to people in receipt of invalidity benefit.316
§ As the Bill stands it gives people, including the disabled, the right to go onto unemployment benefit without any penalty after a 12-week trial period. However, that does not help the person who, at the end of the trial period, is incapable of work. The invalidity benefit is much higher than the unemployment benefit and it is often higher than income support. But, once lost, as a result of the period at work, it takes 28 weeks to requalify. It is a real barrier for disabled people who are anxious to work again but who have families and financial responsibilities to consider, if they are unable to make the grade despite their best efforts.
§ We suggest that the trial work concept introduced for the purpose of entitlement to unemployment benefit can be extended equally helpfully to invalidity benefit. Until the Social Security (No. 2) Act 1980 introduced the eight-week linking period, sick or disabled people could have up to 13 weeks back at work without losing entitlement to invalidity benefit. Obviously, that can be very important to disabled people. For someone who has been off work for six months or more and then tries to find out whether he can again cope with a job, the period of 12 weeks will have a distinct edge on the period of eight weeks as the trial period.
§ I repeat, as it stands the Bill gives people, including those who are disabled, the right to go onto unemployment benefit without penalty after a 12-week trial period. But it does not help the person who is incapable of work when the trial period ends. The principle of the incentive to work should be extended to those whose disability or ill-health has given them reason to be apprehensive about returning to work in that they stand to lose most if they find themselves incapable of working and lose on their current benefit. As I have said, invalidity benefit is much higher than unemployment benefit, and it is often higher than income support. But, once lost, as a result of the period at work, it takes 28 weeks to requalify. That is a very real barrier to disabled people who are anxious to work again but who have families and financial responsibilities to consider, if they are unable to get back into work despite their best efforts.
§ The proposed amendment will extend the trial work period to the entitlement to invalidity benefit. The wording may not be exactly right because, as I have said, it is a probing amendment. I hope that the Minister will be able to respond helpfully on this rather complicated but important matter. I beg to move.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, I wish to begin by making a personal apology to the noble Lord, Lord Carter. I know that he was very keen to discuss this matter with me before today, but unfortunately our paths did not cross after he made the request. I would have told him that we have already come a long way along the road that he would have us take. This is to be found in Clause 13(4) of the Bill.
In essence this covers a new opportunity to take a job on trial. It will help any long-term unemployed persons whether able-bodied or not, to overcome natural apprehensions about taking up unfamiliar employment by providing a trial period for them to 317 give the new employment a try. If, after having given it a real chance, they are then unable to settle, they can come back onto unemployment benefit, or income support where appropriate, without suffering any voluntary unemployment sanction. This general approach applies equally to invalidity benefit for people who have to give up the attempt to restart work within eight weeks because they are still incapable. Indeed it is inevitable that those returning to invalidity benefit must have originally been long-term unemployed.
I come now to the noble Lord's amendment. As he has explained, he is concerned about the person who is unable and incapable of work and in receipt of invalidity benefit. Under the present rules, if an invalidity pensioner recovers sufficiently to take a job, but then falls sick again within eight weeks, he can go back on to invalidity benefit immediately. If the gap is longer than eight weeks, he will instead be entitled to either sickness benefit or statutory sick pay and will need to requalify for invalidity benefit. As invalidity benefit is payable at a higher rate than sickness benefit, there could be some reduction in benefit if he does not requalify for invalidity benefit. The noble Lord's amendment would extend from eight to 12 weeks the period under which a former invalidity pensioner who had taken a job under the job trial arrangements could return to invalidity benefit if he had to give up work because he fell sick.
The noble Lord, Lord Carter, wants us to go even further. I have to say to him, as I said to the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, in Committee, that the Government are equally concerned about helping the long-term sick and disabled back into the employment field where this is possible. Indeed it is a personal crusade of mine. However, it would clearly be anomalous to have a different linking rule in this area from that for other incapacity benefits. But I cannot go further today, because the Government are fully committed to reviewing the whole issue of the rules governing the incapacity and disability benefits in the light of the results of the OPCS surveys on disabilities.
All the rules governing incentives to work for the disabled will be looked at together once all the reports have been received and studied. We shall also need to take account of the Department of Employment's review of services for the disabled. I have to tell the noble Lord therefore that, while I am sympathetic to the aims of his amendment, it would not in the Government's view be sensible to introduce piecemeal provisions for specific categories of disabled people in advance of the consideration being given to the basic rules for incapacity and disability benefits as a whole.
As the noble Lord has said, this is an extremely complicated subject and no doubt he will want to read very carefully what I have just said.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. We could save a good deal of time on the Bill if on successive amendments he were to stand up and say, "OPCS" and then sit down. In the light of what he said, which I found fairly helpful, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.318
§ Clause 14 [Income support and unemployment]:
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Lord McNair moved Amendment No. 10:
Page 13, line 28, at end insert—
("(3) In regulation 71(1) of the Income Support (General) Regulations—
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, at first sight this is one of those obscure amendments which means nothing unless one is armed with the necessary regulations and documents. It is essentially very simple. We are talking about asylum-seekers —people who see themselves as refugees—and we are concerned about what happens to them during the time their applications for refugee status are being considered. We are not remotely concerned with the ideology of the regime from which they are fleeing but simply with refugees as defined in the 1951 convention of which we are a signatory nation.
§ The social security problem is that until the changes which came into force in April last year asylum-seekers were entitled to supplementary benefit except for a reduction during the first two weeks. After April 1988 they became entitled to income support but for some reason only to 90 per cent. of what was paid to nearly every other claimant. They were not then entitled to any of the premiums —family premium, one-parent premium, disablement premium and so on—except for the pensioner premium.
§ It is difficult not to suspect that the exception was made in favour of the pensioner premium because so very few of them would be in a position to claim it. However, there is some good news. As a result of what was said in another place and of representations made by the British Refugee Council and other bodies, the department has relented in the matter of premiums. For this concession all of us who are concerned with refugees say a sincer and heartfelt thank you. But the abatement, as it is called, in the personal allowance, cutting it to 90 per cent. of what other claimants receive, is still in force. It is this which we seek to remedy because we can see no possible justification for it.
§ Is it simply intended to penalise these people for being foreigners? That would sit very ill with the proud claims we so often hear about the traditional hospitality of this country towards the oppressed? Does it not ignore the fact that asylum-seekers, unlike other claimants, are not allowed to look for work or to take it? This abatement lasts for the full time during which the claimant's right to asylum is being assessed. It is seldom less than a year and is quite often more than two years. We are asking the noble Lord to tell us today that the Government are ready to take this last small step towards justice for asylum-seekers by agreeing that they should be paid the same personal allowance of income support as other people—100 per cent. and not 90 per cent. I beg to move.319
§ Baroness Jeger
My Lords, I rise briefly to support what the noble Lord has said. It is a matter of justice and fairness that people seeking asylum should not suffer deprivation. It does not cost them 90 per cent. of what it costs other people for rent and living expenses. While we welcome the concessions to which the noble Lord referred, we hope that the Government will take this further step of abolishing the 90 per cent. rate and making the payment equal for all. I support the amendment.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, I support the amendment. Some things do not change. One of them is the spirit in which entry into this country is sometimes approached. I am reminded of a friend who was parachuted behind the German lines at Arnhem. He had the misfortune to break his leg on landing. He crawled away after nightfall and made his way to France. When the Gestapo came to his hotel he leapt out of the window. He got in touch with the French Resistance and was taken across the Swiss frontier, discovering a minute before he crossed that the French Resistance had planted spying documents on him. He finally made his way to Portugal and after a three months' wait got a boat home. He had with him one bottle of sherry. He said, "The Customs impounded it and then I knew I was home." That is the same spirit behind this 90 per cent. regulation.
I have been trying to investigate the question which my noble friend raised. Why should there be this 90 per cent. rate? This is the usual problem of social security debates. If we wrote them up as a comedy we should entitle them "The wrong box". These refugees have been put into the wrong filing cabinet. They have been put into a category of special hardship cases for those who have been deprived of benefit as a penalty. In Committee in another place (at col. 674 of the Official Report of 21st February) the Minister said:The existing regulations ensure that if they would suffer hardship they will receive a regular, if reduced income. That reflects the fact that they are not strictly entitled to benefit. The reduction is not merely because they seek asylum; it applies to others too".Precisely, my Lords. These people have been put in a category of those who have suffered a penalty when they have done nothing to which a penalty should legitimately attach. This is simply a mistake in filing categories and I hope that it can be put right.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, I am glad that both noble Lords and the noble Baroness welcomed the Government concessions with regard to paying income support premiums at the full 100 per cent. rate to all people and not just to pensioners. The amendment covers more than just asylum-seekers. The Government intend to reduce the number of groups to whom these provisions apply by allowing seasonal workers in the off season to receive income support in the normal way as soon as the appropriate regulations can be introduced later this year.
The noble Lord, Lord McNair, was particularly concerned about the effect of this abatement on asylum-seekers. We must remember that asylum-seekers can seek a work permit after six months. In most cases this will be granted. The reason for the abatement is that even though income 320 support does not have a contribution or residence test, it is not intended that it should be freely available to everyone entering the country. People such as tourists, students, people visiting relatives, business people and those about whom the noble Lord is most concerned, asylum-seekers, are therefore excluded from normal income support because they have been granted limited leave or temporary admission by the immigration authorities. Instead they can claim under the urgent cases provisions. United Kingdom citizens whose source of income has been interrupted are likewise only temporarily without funds and are therefore not eligible for income support at the normal rate.
The logic of the 10 per cent. abatement is that there is no point in having rules which exclude people from benefit and then paying full benefit anyway by another route. Housing costs and children's allowances are paid at the full rate, and in future, as I said earlier, premiums will be payable. We are convinced that a 10 per cent. abatement of the applicable amounts for adults is still justified and reflects the fact that they are not entitled to full benefit under the normal rules. I hope that what I have said will enable the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.
§ Lord Hylton
My Lords, this is quite an important amendment. I am sure that it would be obvious to anyone who thought about it that the first six months in this country for an asylum seeker, who probably arrives totally destitute, will be the most difficult months of his stay, even if later he may be able to obtain normal work. Surely the regulations could distinguish between asylum seekers on the one hand and EC nationals and tourists on the other. I hope that the noble Lord who moved the amendment will not withdraw it too lightly.
§ Lord McNair
My Lords, I cannot possibly pretend to find the response encouraging. I too studied the matter as it was put forward in another place, and the noble Lord has more or less repeated what was said there. It is like a parent, asked by a recalcitrant child, "Why should I?" replying, "Because I say so". There is little more in the Government's position than that.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, made the point that I wished to raise as regards the first six months. Six months is a long time when a person is trying to live on an amount of between £20 and £30 a week. On the other hand, the evidence produce this evening suggests that there is not very much to be gained by asking the House to divide and thereby decide the matter. Therefore, most reluctantly, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Henderson of Brompton moved Amendment No. 11:
Page 13, line 28, at end insert—
("(3) In section 22 of the 1986 Act (income related benefits) after subsection (8) there shall be inserted—
(9) In relation to income support and housing benefit the applicable amount for a person in board and lodging accommodation shall include an amount in respect of his being a person in board and lodging accommodation.
(10) For the purposes of this section "board and lodging" accommodation means—
(11) Regulations may prescribe the circumstances in which the facilities for the preparation of food are deemed to be inadequate." ").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to move Amendment No. 11 which, I regret to say, is identical to an amendment which was moved in Committee by the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull. I say "regret" because I had hoped that the opinion expressed throughout the Chamber would have moved the Minister during the interval to put forward an amendment of his own. However, as I have not heard from him I find that my only course, with support from friends on all sides of the House, is to put down the amendment again in the hope that perhaps we may achieve some movement between now and Third Reading.
§ The amendment concerns the notorious and infamous concept of board and lodging which all of us find extremely offensive. I am sure that the Government share that view. I know that they are doing everything they can to phase out board and lodging. Meanwhile, a pressing problem has emerged since 10th April. The amendment is designed to reintroduce an additional amount or premium into the claimants' income support where people are boarders; that is, living in board and lodging accommodation as defined in subsection (10) of the amendment.
§ Under the old system those living in such accommodation received a special rate of benefit which included an "eating out" allowance. However, that allowance was ended on 10th April when the Government decided to switch the benefit to housing benefit. I fully understand the logic of that switch. As the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm, said in Committee, this is basically a housing problem. In the meantime, until the Government have managed to phase out board and lodging, which we all dislike, depressing deprivation is being experienced by those who have suddenly had their "eating out" allowance taken away.
§ I think that all Members of the Committee expressed the view, which is undeniable, that those living in board and lodging accommodation simply cannot be expected to eat out on the same allowance as all the other claimants who are in receipt of income support. I say that because they either have to buy expensive convenience food or they have to eat out. I defy the Minister to say that in those circumstances he would be able to eat out, or buy convenience food, on anything less than the old "eating out" allowance.322
I must say that I was most surprised when the Minister said in Committee, on 29th June at col. 893 of Hansard that,
the main point to remember is that meals allowances payable under the old rules were too generous".
§ As I understand it, the meals allowance payable under the old rules was about £27 a week; that is, £3 a day. Will the Minister tell us how you can eat out on that, especially if you have not even been provided with breakfast in your so-called board and lodging? How can a person survive on £3 a day, either taking in convenience foods or paying for meals at eating out places? That sum could not possibly be described as generous. Yet that is how he described it. It is in fact barely adequate. Moreover, the allowance has been taken away from these people since 10th April.
§ It is a crying shame that the allowance has been taken away. In my view, it is absolutely essential that it should be reinstated. This is, if the Government are successful in their policy of doing away with the concept of board and lodging, a problem of short duration. Indeed, it will disappear when they have succeeded in eliminating the condition which gives rise to the deprivation. It will of course cost something to do this now; but such cost will be constantly diminishing—diminishing in proportion as the Government are successful in their policy of doing away with board and lodging accommodation. In the meantime, this absolutely obvious hardship for those living in such conditions must be dealt with.
§ I asked the Minister in Committee what he was prepared to do about the matter. He said that he recognised the problem. But, he said, for some reason or other our amendment was inadequate for the purpose. In our turn, I think we recognised, bearing in mind his expertise and the advice which is available to him, that something was perhaps wrong with the amendment. In the meantime, however, what is he going to do about the matter and do quickly? This is an urgent problem and one which must be dealt with.
§ The allowance must be made available until the time comes—which I hope will be as soon as possible—when board and lodging is discontinued. Until that time, something along the lines we suggest must be done. In the circumstances, therefore, I make no apology for reintroducing the amendment in the same form as it was when moved in Committee. I beg to move.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, this appears to be another "wrong box" amendment. I say that because under the new system we have a separation into housing benefit, which is for lodging, and income support, which is for eating. And never, it seems, the twain shall meet, particularly if it is a case of bed and breakfast. Of course, those categories were based upon the notion that people live and eat at home, as of course people short of money normally do. As is fairly obvious, eating at home is a great deal cheaper than eating out, especially in London.
Until April of this year there was an extra £21.70 a week for meals for people living in board and lodging accommodation. That was little enough. I 323 do not know whether any of us could keep ourselves fed in London by eating out on £21.70 a week. However, now we do not even have that; we simply have eating out in London on income support.
It is, I think, the basic purpose of the social security system that everyone should have enough to eat. This amendment, and the next that we have to discuss, relates to two cases where that purpose is not being met. I have no doubt that we shall be told that we should await the result of the review of homelessness being undertaken by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. I wish him luck with that review, but I cannot see that we can get away from the bed and breakfast system until local authorities are able to spend their capital receipts. So far as I can see, that does not seem likely to be in the near future. Meanwhile, we want to keep the people concerned alive.
The noble Lord, Lord Trafford, argued at length on that point in Committee. I gave him notice that I would answer him tonight. At lunchtime, he expected to be in his place and I am sorry that he is unable to be here. He argued that passing the amendment might lead to rackets and to landlords putting up the rent. I regret to say that I believe that the noble Lord achieved overkill. We have here, in effect, a system which has been privatised. We have people providing a public service for private profit, and it is of the essence of that, where it happens, that the people doing it have an incentive to maximise their profits by cutting their costs—in fact, by providing a poorer quality sevice. That has been true, as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, once pointed out, since right back to the reign of Elizabeth I. It is the same story as that of the Dungeness lighthouse which was financed by tolls. With an incentive for cost-cutting, those who ran it used one candle as the lighthouse.
The noble Lord's arguments in fact went entirely against a privatised system of board and lodging. Granted that, I cannot see that there is any reason for supposing that there is more incentive to cut costs if the basic finance is adequate or that there is more incentive to raise rents if the amount of money is adequate. Of course, the argument about the incentive to raise rents applies with every annual uprating of social security benefits. If the noble Lord wishes to persist with that argument, he should stop the whole of the annual uprating for fear that someone might be encouraged to make a profit out of it. I believe that that is a little more than the noble Lord intended.
Meanwhile, we have a health problem, as my noble friend Lord Winstanley pointed out in Committee. Wherever there is a health problem, there is a problem of concealed costs. I wonder whether the Government save as much money out of the situation as they think they do.
So far as I know, no one has died of starvation on the streets of this country since 1649. I hope that it will stay that way. To ensure that it will, we should carry the amendment.
§ Lady Saltoun of Abernethy
My Lords, I must point out one thing: as the noble Earl, Lord Russell, said, one does not eat much on £27 a week if one has to 324 eat out; and one eats very little on £21 a week. I must ask the Minister to remember that when one eats in restaurants one has to pay VAT on every mouthful. When one buys food to cook at home, one does not.
§ Lord Seebohm
My Lords, I want to add little to what I said last time. The problem is mainly one of housing. With the best will in the world, it cannot be cured within three or four years even if the Government were to have an advanced building programme. What are the people to do during that time if they have no money for food?
§ Baroness Faithfull
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, for moving the amendment. I moved a similar one in Committee. I withdrew it, although it was supported on all sides, because I wanted to make further inquiries about the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Trafford; and the health of the children involved.
I am given to understand by a group of bed and breakfast places that the noble Lord's surmise would not have been true, as was said by the noble Earl, Lord Russell. Secondly, I have consulted the health visitors involved with some of the Bayswater bed and breakfast places. There is no doubt that the health of the children is suffering.
If a person is in ordinary board and lodgings they have easy access to a kitchen or at least one meal is provided for them. The bed and breakfast accommodation either has nowhere for cooking or the cooking facilities are four floors down and shared by a tremendous number of people. If one finds that one has forgotten the pepper or the salt and goes upstairs, by the time one returns the food has disappeared.
It is a distressing state of affairs for the people involved, and economically it is a bad state of affairs because, as the noble Earl, Lord Russell, said there are hidden losses. The health of the children and the mothers is suffering. That is the opinion of the health visitors who deal with the bed and breakfast places.
We pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Caithness who is well aware of the scandalous situation with regard to bed and breakfast accommodation. With all the goodwill in the world, he cannot do away with it within a few years. If we have to wait until he does away with the system the children's health will suffer; and the parents and the families will suffer. I support the amendment.
§ Lord Hylton
My Lords, I support the amendment. For the past 30 years or more we have suffered from acute local housing shortages and attendant homelessness. As a result, the housing problems have had to be picked up by social services departments and social security payments. I hope that the Government will be successful in their attempts to make it no longer necessary to use bed and breakfast accommodation, especially for families with children.
In the past I have drawn to the Government's attention the success story of Leicester city. Although it has severe housing problems, it has managed to minimise the use of bed and breakfast 325 accommodation by employing a whole range of other strategies. I have corresponded with the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and asked him why the Government do not reward those local authorities which use their housing resources efficiently by enabling them to spend, in the year of receipts, the proceeds they receive from selling council houses, flats and other assets. That is a situation which has obtained for many years in Northern Ireland. The Housing Executive, which is responsible for housing throughout the Province, has that facility. Why cannot it be granted to at least those English or Welsh authorities that have an acute problem, but that make the best possible use of their existing housing?
The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, has experience in the Department of the Environment. I hope that he will be highly sympathetic to the amendment.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Baroness Gardner of Parkes
My Lords, as we are all aware, the bed and breakfast system is unsatisfactory. Bayswater is full of people from other boroughs all over London who are in bed and breakfast accommodation, although it is Westminster accommodation. I have spoken previously about how children from Lambeth have to go there every day for various services although they live in Westminster.
Part of the problem lies in the fact that we are a free, democratic society. There are plenty of parts of the country with spare housing, but we cannot oblige people to leave London and to live there.
Last week, through my family, I received an appeal from a woman who did not want to be moved out of bed and breakfast. She was begging to stay in bed-and-breakfast accommodation in Leominster Square because she did not want to move out to Lewisham, which she did not like. Lewisham is not very far away. She had a very satisfactory housing offer but she did not want it.
People are very unreasonable in terms of being moved out of bed and breakfast. Although we think that bed and breakfast is unattractive and undesirable—and I think that it is unsatisfactory—obviously the people in it are more reluctant to move.
When I was Chairman of Social Services, people lived in those places even then. The council officer rang me and said that a woman would not move unless she was sure that she would have somewhere to bath the baby in the place that she was going to. He said that he could not give her a place where she could bath the baby in a separate bath. All he could do was offer her what he had, which was an acceptable standard of housing unit. I went to see the woman. She asked me to promise that she would have a place to bath the baby and I said that I could not promise that. I said that all I could promise was that we would buy a plastic bowl to put in the sink or bath in which to put the baby. She accepted that. She said: "At least you have been honest about what you are offering."
There is a degree of fear as to what these people are going to. No matter how bad the bed and breakfast is, 326 they grow used to the surroundings. They get used to the terrible job of taking children right across London for other services. However, they do not want to move to an area that they do not know, and they certainly do not want to move out of London. I do not know how that matter can be dealt with.
The problem of providing food is genuine. The suggestion was made at Committee stage of giving people cooking facilities. It would be a nightmare to consider providing those facilities in the type of bed-and-breakfast hotel that we are talking about because it is difficult enough as it is to police the safety standards of accommodation. If cooking facilities were put into those rooms, it would not be on. I am not sure whether this amendment is the answer. I do not know what the answer is.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, this amendment seeks to overturn arrangements that have been in force for just over three months, by modifying the way in which benefits are paid to people living in board and lodging accommodation.
The remarks of my noble friend Lady Gardner have put another complexion on this complicated matter. I should like to add a third. Much of the discussion today and during the debates on this amendment at Committee stage has centred on the position of homeless families. Your Lordships might therefore be led to believe that all boarders were homeless families. As I am sure many of your Lordships realise, that is by no means the case. Homeless families accounted for only 10 per cent. of all boarders. A large number of those in bed and breakfast accommodation were single young people. I feel that it would be prudent to remind the House of the position which existed before April and which led the Government to change the old arrangement.
The special rates of income support for boarders were a carry-over from the supplementary benefit scheme. They had created perverse financial incentives for many claimants, particularly the young, to seek boarder status at prices people in work would scarcely have been able to afford. Landlords were not blameless in this area. Many took advantage of the system by making higher charges without always providing extra services. Some, to their eternal discredit, went so far as to place advertisements in newspapers stating, "DHSS welcome" and "DHSS only".
The old rules included special meals allowances which were particularly generous when compared with normal income support. I was interested to hear a comment that the noble Earl, Lord Russell, made. He said that the £21.70—and I confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, that this is the figure that we are talking about—was in addition to normal income support. I was then asked how people could feed themselves on £3 a week. The point is that it is an extra £3 a week, and the normal income support rates apply. The income support rate, for single people aged 25 and over is £34.90, and £54.80 for a couple. They might also get premiums. That also puts a different complexion on this matter.
Claimants living in board and lodging could receive up to £ 29.40 per person per week for food alone, irrespective of age. That was clearly 327 anomalous when one considers that other claimants living in bedsits and flats, and with broadly similar lifestyles to boarders, received the basic rate of income support to cover all their living expenses, not just food, and without any extra money.
You will not be surprised, my Lords, to hear that all these factors resulted in a dramatic increase in the numbers of boarders and a consequent rise in public expenditure. In the period December 1982-December 1984 expenditure trebled.
All our evidence suggested that boarders lived in accommodation similar to that of other claimants in bedsits or flats. The only difference was that their benefit was calculated on a different basis because their landlord sometimes provided them with a meal, however inadequate that might be. Boarders received income support to help with both their accommodation charge and living expenses, whereas other claimants in rented accommodation and boarders in work received housing benefit for their accommodation costs. The changes introduced from April put boarders on a par with all other claimants in rented accommodation and are an important step in ensuring that the benefit system does not make distinctions based on the type of accommodation involved. All claimants now look to housing benefit for help with accommodation costs, and to income support for other living expenses.
Noble Lords have mentioned their concern about the levels of income support now paid to people in board and lodging accommodation. Your Lordships will appreciate that income support does not include specific amounts to cover individual items of expenditure, such as food. The rates set take account of a number of factors, includingl the level of income available to people who are not receiving benefit. They are intended to cover all normal day-to-day living expenses. Premiums are payable, in addition to the personal allowances, to help towards the extra living costs of certain vulnerable groups, for example, families, disabled people, and lone parents and pensioners.
This Government is committed to protecting those who need to live on income support. During our period in power supplementary benefit levels increased by over 5 per cent. in real terms. In setting the income support rates, an additional £220 million was committed to the budget. This has been maintained in real terms in this year's uprating. Commencing this week—a point we will be discussing later—16 and 17 year-olds on income support who, of necessity, have to live independently, will see an increase of nearly 32 per cent. in their benefit level.
Whatever rates are set, there will always be some people who are housed, or house themselves, at prices that cannot be afforded on the normal levels of income support. It is clearly not right for the benefit system to subsidise or encourage such behaviour. However, your Lordships will gather from what I have said that this is precisely what happened under the old rules. The board and lodging provisions created perverse incentives for claimants to seek, and landlords to provide, such accommodation.
328 Returning to the position of homeless families, I shall repeat what I said during Committee, at shorter length I hope; that the solution to the problem lies fairly and squarely in the hands of local authorities. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm, and my noble friend Lady Gardner, who made this point. There is no point in repeating the figures which I gave during our earlier debate on this question. Suffice it to say that improved management of the housing stock by local authorities would release other, more suitable and less expensive, forms of accommodation in which to house these unfortunate families. If, despite all our advice and guidance, local authorities insist on placing these families in unsuitable bed and breakfast accommodation, there is very little that the Government can do to prevent it.
Local authorities, on the other hand, can. In Committee some noble Lords suggested that income support was adequate if there were reasonable cooking facilities. In this connection I understand that the London Boroughs Association operates a bed and breakfast information exchange which monitors the standards of accommodation in hotels used by local authorities to place homeless families. It was set up and is run by the association and helps to ensure that families are placed in accommodation with adequate facilities, including cooking arrangements. This is an admirable situation and I should like to see it extended to other parts of the country, even though the problem is chiefly in London.
It is my strong view that local authorities should not be placing homeless families in bed and breakfast hotels. I think that this view is shared by the whole House. If they do so this arrangement should help to ensure that the kinds of difficulties to which noble Lords have referred are minimised. It may be that, where problems exist, the local authorities concerned are unaware of the information exchange and are not using its services.
Local authorities had over a year to prepare for the changes and homeless families placed by local authorities were entitled to up to three months transitional protecton to give them time to adjust to the new arrangements. I therefore see no good reason why these families should not have been rehoused.
As I said at the outset, this amendment seeks to overturn arrangements that have been in force for just three months. It would simply restore all the anomalies and problems of the old system, and I must therefore urge your Lordships to reject it.
§ Lord Henderson of Brompton
My Lords, I do not at all wish to press this amendment. I want the Minister to do something about the tragic situation which has come about since 10th April. However, what the Minister is doing is washing his hands of this problem. The Government are washing their hands of this problem. The Minister said that the solution lies fairly and squarely in the hands of the local authorities. That may be so, but what do we do in the meantime? The Minister is doing absolutely nothing. I gave him the opportunity in Committee to come back and do something ad interim, and all he says is that our amendment is no good because 329 it restores the situation that existed before 10th April. That may be so, but it is better to restore the situation before 10th April than do nothing, until the bed and breakfast scheme is eliminated.
All I am asking for is a transitional arrangement. I appeal even now to the Minister to consider bringing in a transitional arrangement until bed and breakfast is abolished. Will the Minister respond to that appeal?
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, I have already referred to the transitional arrangement which was in place for three months. I maintain my view that local authorities had plenty of time to get people out of bed and breakfast accommodation. They had accommodation of their own or accommodation which could be rented to achieve this. There is no excuse for local authorities placing people in bed and breakfast accommodation.
§ Lord Henderson of Brompton
My Lords, meanwhile the health problem which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, and buttressed by what the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, said about the suffering of mothers and children remains. Is the noble Lord content that that should be so? There is the concealed cost in future social services to redeem the lack of imagination by the Government to deal with this parlous situation. There is concealed cost and continuing health problems, but nothing is to be done in the interim and everything is blamed on local authorities. The Government are washing their hands of this problem. In these circumstances there is no alternative but to press the amendment.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 11) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 67; Not-Contents, 95.330
|DIVISION NO. 3|
|Addington, L.||Greenway, L.|
|Airedale, L.||Grey, E.|
|Allen of Abbeydale, L.||Hayter, L.|
|Barnett, L.||Henderson of Brompton, L [Teller.]|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.|
|Blackstone, B.||Hooson, L.|
|Blyth, L.||Houghton of Sowerby, L.|
|Bonham-Carter, L.||Hylton, L.|
|Bottomley, L.||Irving of Dartford, L.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Jeger, B.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Jenkins of Hillhead, L.|
|Carter, L. [Teller.]||Kinloss, Ly.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Lauderdale, E.|
|Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.||Lawrence, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Lockwood, B.|
|David, B.||McNair, L.|
|Davies of Penrhys, L.||Nicol, B.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Ogmore, L.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||O'Neill of the Maine, L.|
|Faithfull, B.||Peston, L.|
|Gallacher, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Galpern, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Rea, L.||Swann, L.|
|Rochester, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Russell, E.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Russell of Liverpool, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Seear, B.||Underhill, L.|
|Seebohm, L.||Walston, L.|
|Serota, B.||Willis, L.|
|Simon, V.||Winstanley, L.|
|Stallard, L.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Annaly, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Arran, E.||McFadzean, L.|
|Ashbourne, L.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.|
|Barber, L.||Margadale, L|
|Beloff, L.||Marley, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Marshall of Leeds, L.|
|Blatch, B.||Merrivale, L.|
|Bledisloe, V.||Milverton, L.|
|Boardman, L.||Mottistone, L.|
|Borthwick, L.||Munster, E.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Nelson of Stafford, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Newall, L.|
|Buttenvorth, L.||Norfolk, D.|
|Caithness, E.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Carnock, L.||O'Hagan, L.|
|Carr of Hadley, L.||Orkney, E.|
|Clitheroe, L.||Pender, L.|
|Colnbrook, L.||Plumb, L.|
|Colwyn, L.||Pym, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Craigton, L.||Renton, L.|
|Crickhowell, L.||Renwick, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Rodney, L.|
|Davidson, V. [Teller.]||Sanderson of Bowden, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Savile, L.|
|Dilhorne, V.||Sharpies, B.|
|Dundee, E.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Effingham, E.||Stockton, E.|
|Elibank, L.||Strange, B.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Elles, B.||Suffield, L.|
|Elliott of Morpeth, L.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Elton, L.||Thomas of Swynnerton, L.|
|Feversham, L.||Torrington, V.|
|Fortescue, E.||Trafford, L.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Gainford, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Haig, E.||Ullswater, V.|
|Harvington, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Henley, L.||Vinson, L.|
|Hesketh, L.||Westbury, L.|
|Hives, L.||Wise, L.|
|[ngrow, L.||Wynford, L.|
|Johnston of Rockport, L.||Young, B.|
|Keyes, L.||Young of GrafTham, L.|
|Killearn, L.||Zouche of Haryngworth, L|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, this may be a convenient moment to break the proceedings on the Social Security Bill. I suggest that we return to the Bill at 8.15 p.m. I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on question, Motion agreed to.