Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Earl Russell: I should be grateful if the Minister could clarify one figure she has just given us. She referred to an extra cost of £250 million. Is that over and above the present figure or is it the figure envisaged once this Bill has become law?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: It is the additional cost--if we accepted the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Rix--of moving the existing caseload fully over to IB.

As I say, we believe it is right to focus help on those who cannot come within the contributory system and who cannot have access to work by virtue of the fact that their disability was incurred before they were of working age. Those are the groups we feel we should be helping. We believe that other people--women as well as men, equally--who have access to the labour market and who can build up contributions should be expected to do so and that the right path for them is IB. If IB is not appropriate--possibly because of their responsibility as a lone parent for caring for children--they are eligible for income support with a disability premium which can be more generous than IB.

Lord Higgins: On the point just made by the noble Baroness, and following the point made by the noble Earl, does the £250 million figure include any adjustment for income support?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I am not sure that it does. I think it is a gross figure that we would need to net down for income support.

20 Jul 1999 : Column 822

My noble friend Lady Pitkeathley asked about carers. We recognise that people with caring responsibilities--people receiving ICA--might be unable to meet the new requirement, so carers who have been receiving ICA can use the credits that ICA brings to qualify for IB provided they have paid contributions at some point under the existing rules. Special provision will be made so that they can continue to qualify on this basis.

I hope the noble Lord, Lord Rix, will agree that the Government are focusing on meeting the financial needs of, and offering financial security to, those younger people who, because their disability was incurred at an early age, have never had access to the labour market. For the rest of the SDA cohort, we believe that the world has changed since 1974 when the non contributory invalidity benefit was introduced. We believe that, with all the changes I have enunciated, women are able to build up their own records. Therefore, while no one on the existing SDA will be affected, in future we expect them either to come through the IB network or, alternatively, in appropriate circumstances, through income support with disability premium, which is for the most part even more generous than IB, let alone IS itself. In the light of that, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Rix, will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Rix: I am most grateful to the Minister for her very detailed response, which I shall read in tomorrow's Hansard. I am grateful to noble Lords who have asked questions or have supported me in this amendment. I should be very glad to receive an accurate net figure of the costs involved. I think that the same would apply to the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, and probably to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy. However, in view of the impending clause stand part debate on Clause 60, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 60 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Ashley of Stoke: It is a great shame that this debate has now become muddled and muddied. In some cases answers have been given by the Minister to points not yet raised, although we are grateful to her for the trouble she has taken in trying to respond.

The problem with Clause 60 is that it will abolish SDA, which is now available to all who are, or become, too incapacitated to work but are not entitled to incapacity benefit. It has been estimated that some 16,000 people a year--10,000 of them women--will be affected. There is no doubt whatever that severe disability allowance has been one of our most successful and innovative benefits. It stems from the marvellous work of Megan du Boisson, who initiated the housewives' non contributory benefit. That was the basis for this splendid benefit. Above all, it is a safety net. It recognises needs and human rights and human dignity and it provides an income without contributions to all those disabled people who are unable to work for a whole variety of reasons and have not been able to participate in the larger national scheme.

20 Jul 1999 : Column 823

A major group of SDA beneficiaries are those whose disability has always prevented them from working. I warmly welcome the Government's proposals to give those people disabled at birth or in childhood the higher rate of incapacity benefit and to extend the age limit to 24. I commend the Government on that. But many would have benefited from the SDA had it been continued. Under the Government's proposals they will get nothing in the future. The safety net will be whisked away. After the age of 24, no disabled person will receive the non-means tested benefit for incapacity unless he fulfils the contributory conditions. Other parts of the Bill now make that even more difficult.

This clause puts a black ball over several vulnerable groups of people. Who are they? Who are these losers? Who are the people who looked so hopefully to a newly elected Government supported by the massed ranks of women MPs in Parliament? As we have already heard from some speakers, the vast majority of potential SDA recipients are women. True to disgraceful tradition and history, women will suffer most--and this under a Government supported in another place by a record number of women.

Women who look after children and become disabled will suffer. There is no doubt about that. They may have worked in the past. But under the proposed new rules only if they have worked and paid national insurance contributions in one of the previous two years will they receive incapacity benefit. Frequently, the women will have worked, or be working, at low rates of pay. That is the real problem. Women make up 80 per cent of the 2.5 million employees who earn below the lower earning limit. Therefore, they cannot build a contribution record. Clearly, SDA is crucial to those on low pay. Why are they suffering?

Carers are another major group. I am glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, has already taken part in the debate and has spoken so cogently, as she always does. Carers will suffer under these proposals.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Perhaps I may--

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My noble friend can reply to me in a moment. There is a welcome exemption for some carers who claim ICA. But my noble friend knows quite well that many women do not receive ICA. They are the people who will suffer. They are the last people whom this Government should be hitting.

Another major group that will lose out are severely disabled people who have an interrupted employment pattern and hence cannot meet the new contribution conditions for incapacity benefit. At present, all these vulnerable people can fall back on SDA. In future, they will be left without an income in their own right. The Government claim that people receiving SDA can top it up with income support, so why should not everyone be put through the means test as many will end up on the same level of benefit? In effect, the Government are saying that women who have been in low paid jobs or who have been carers can have their husband or their partner provide for them. That is what the Government's policy will generally mean. There is no IS if the family income is adequate and, if the husband or partner works,

20 Jul 1999 : Column 824

it generally will be. We are moving forward to an era where individual human rights are more recognised, but the Government are moving backwards towards a dependency status for disabled women. I cannot believe that my noble friend can justify that before the Committee.

This Committee stage presents us with the opportunity to explain our deep reservations. I am glad that my noble friend Lady Hollis is listening and will respond to the debate. We all respect and admire her, but the Government's policy is not infallible; nor is it set in stone. It needs to be responsive to the genuine problems of disabled people and to the views widely held in this House.

I do not propose to divide the Committee on this occasion as I want the Government to consider what has been said on all sides and to think again. But, as with earlier amendments, I shall table the same amendments at Report stage. If the Government are then unable to respond satisfactorily, I propose to divide the House.

4 p.m.

Lord Morris of Manchester: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, for making it possible for me to speak this early in the debate. They are aware that I am hosting this afternoon a reception in the House of Commons to mark the 25th anniversary of the Crossroads Care Attendant Scheme, which some 400 Members of Parliament and Peers are expected to attend. My noble friend Lady Hollis, with her customary understanding, also appreciates my difficulty of timing. If I have to leave the Chamber before the debate concludes I shall, of course, return as soon as possible.

When official rhetoric about it was in full flood, the boldest claim for this Bill was that, more than 50 years on, it revised and modernised Beveridge. But in truth, if Clause 60 remains in the Bill, we shall see a reversion to one of the worst features of Beveridge; namely, the denial to disabled married women, among others, of any entitlement to an income support benefit in their own right.

The fact is that Beveridge was revised and modernised by an historic decision of the last Labour government to provide a non-contributory income support benefit as of right for people who, because of severe disability, had never been able to work and pay national insurance contributions. Before that decision they were non-people in terms of statutory income support and it was the depth of public feeling about this--as my noble friend Lord Ashley recalled--that led the late Megan du Boisson and Berit Thornbury to found the Disablement Income Group in the 1960s.

In a letter, Sir Peter Large, who was DIG's parliamentary spokesman for many years, tells me today:

    "Berit Thornbury is as appalled as I am by the Government's proposal in Clause 60 to abolish the Severe Disablement Allowance (SDA), which now incorporates the Housewives' Non-Contributory Invalidity Pension you introduced in 1977 when you were Minister for Disabled People".

20 Jul 1999 : Column 825

He goes on to recall that prior to that date, if they had insufficient income to pay for help, husbands had to give up work to look after their disabled wives and any children they had. He predicts this will happen again if Clause 60 stays in the Bill--that a great many people will be forced from work on to welfare--and he adds:

    I had thought the Government's aim was to provide work for those who can and security for those who cannot.

    "You and I know what a financial disaster an accident or crippling disease can be for a family. Abolishing SDA will mean that the married woman and her husband and any children they have are reduced to poverty before the welfare state will help them.

    It is a weird and cruel 'reform' that turns the clock back to 1977 and consigns disabled married women once again to being nonentities in the social security system".

Thus Sir Peter Large sees Clause 60 not as reform of Beveridge but a return to one of the ugliest features of the system that his report informed. I have seen no more withering criticism of this clause.

My noble friend Lady Hollis has spoken of those who will benefit from the changes this Bill proposes, as I too have done in previous debates. More especially I welcomed the help envisaged for 20 to 24 year-olds in full-time education. But what of the losers? Some 30 per cent of SDA claimants who are not eligible for income support will be the main losers. They include every severely disabled person whose partner works on average more than 24 hours a week.

If their partners work fewer than 24 hours, the first £15 of income will be disregarded. Any earnings above £15 will be deducted pound for pound. Also ineligible are severely disabled people if they and their partners have savings of more than £8,000. Anton Obholzer of the Citizens Advice Bureaux has been most helpful in documenting the effects of Clause 60 by reference to the cases of individual disabled people known to the CAB. I want briefly to mention just two.

A London bureau reports the case of a married woman suffering from Guillan Barrie Syndrome, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. She is a wheelchair user and now receives £52.70 a week in severe disablement allowance. Her husband works 40 hours a week. She will thus not be entitled to income support when she loses her SDA. Nor, it appears, will she be able to claim earnings replacement benefit in her own right.

The second case, reported by a bureau in Kent, is that of a man in his early 40s who was made redundant after working and paying national insurance contributions since leaving school. To gain better qualifications he went to university for three years, took a degree and got a job. Tragically, before he could take up his appointment, he suffered severe head injuries in an accident. His years at university mean that he does not have a recent record of NI contributions. So under the proposals in the Bill he will be ineligible for incapacity benefit. Nor will he qualify for SDA because of his wife's hours of work. The CAB comments:

    "The Government have stated that they want disabled people to lead a fulfilling life with dignity. The CAB believes that abolishing SDA moves away from rather than towards this goal".

20 Jul 1999 : Column 826

My right honourable friend Alistair Darling, Secretary of State for Social Security, said in his "moral crusade" speech at Newham two days ago:

    "Failing to embrace radical reform would let down people who look to Labour to represent their needs".

But headlong retreat from the radical reform that created a non-contributory income benefit as of right for severely disabled housewives in the 1970s will be the consequence of keeping Clause 60 in this Bill.

What kind of radical reform is it that inflicts gratuitous and unmerited further hardship in the very sad cases drawn to my attention by the CAB? And what kind of moral crusade is it that hurts them at a time when so many more fortunate people in society have never had it so good?

I support the deletion from the Bill of Clause 60.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page