HC Deb 01 December 1983 vol 49 c604W
Mr. Heddle

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what progress his Department has made in its review of the household duties test.

Mr. Newton

An officials' report on the household duties test has now been received and is being published today. Copies have been placed in the Library of the House.

The present position is that non-contributory inval idiity pension, while available to men and single women who have been incapable of work for more than 196 days, is available to married women only on a further test of whether they can perform housework—the "household duties test". This has attracted widespread and persistent criticism, both on grounds of discrimination and because of the nature of the test itself.

The review concludes that the test is unsatisfactory both in concept and in operation. The Government wholeheartedly endorse that view.

After a careful examination of various options, the officials' report recommends that non-contributory invalidity pension should be replaced by a new benefit, available to married women on the same terms as to others.

It would be payable:

  • —to those already incapable of work by the age of 20, on a simple test of that incapacity
  • —to those becoming incapable of work after that age, if they are also 80 per cent. or more disabled by reference to the measure of loss of faculty successfully used in the industrial injuries and war pensions schemes
  • —to all existing recipients of non-contributory invalidity pension, including married women who have satisfied the household duties test

The new benefit would be at the same rate as the present non-contributory invalidity pension and other non-contributory maintenance benefits—currently £20.45 a week. The review estimates that, in the first year of full operation, such a benefit would cover some 20,000 people more than qualify at present for NCIP and HNCIP, and increase expenditure by about £20 million. In the longer run, since some people who would have qualified for the present benefits may not qualify for the new one, these figures may be expected to be somewhat lower: the review suggests a net effect of about 5,000 additional beneficiaries and £5 million extra cost in perhaps 30 or 40 years' time. However as has already been indicated, all existing beneficiaries will transfer to the new benefit, and will continue to receive it as long as they remain incapable of work.

The Government accept the review's recommendation, which they believe provides a sensible and practicable alternative to the household duties test, and offers a fairer basis of provision for disabled people who are outside the scope of contributory benefits.

We therefore intend as soon as possible to introduce legislation for a new benefit along these lines to be called severe disablement allowance, to be phased in from November 1984.