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Lord Higgins: My Lords, I am most grateful. Is it not also the case that there could be someone with a number of small part-time jobs in supermarkets, McDonald's, and so on, who cannot build up a contribution record because such jobs are separate? In those circumstances, should that person become disabled, he or she would be penalised as a result of this change.

9.30 p.m.

Baroness Hollis: Yes, my Lords. However, that is one of the arguments I was about to deal with. If the noble Lord will allow me, I shall extend it.

First, when severe disability allowance was introduced, DLA was rarely available, but now 80 per cent are receiving DLA. Secondly, the disability premium in income support was introduced in 1988. So, in answer to the point made by the noble Lord--namely, that it is fine if the woman has a spouse but what does she do if she is single--I should tell him that she would go on to income support with a disability premium and get a higher benefit than she would on SDA. Therefore, it would not be a case of that woman being exposed to hardship.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, I can tell him that in the past 20 years the number of women acquiring eligibility and claiming invalidity benefit has gone up from 84,000 to over half a million; in other words, 500,000. That is a sixfold increase. As a result of the minimum wage and changes to the lower earnings limit (LEL), introduced by this Government, 90 per cent of women who work more than 16 hours a week, and between 60 per cent and 70 per cent of women who work less than 16 hours a week, in whatever shape or form, will now build up contributory benefit entitlement. Not only will people currently on SDA be protected but also women will

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increasingly be building up their own contributions record. In addition, given the changes on LEL and the introduction of the national minimum wage, and so on, most women will be covered in their own right as, in my view, they should be.

That is the first change as regards what has happened to the world of work and the women in it. We should remember that seven out of eight married women do not stay at home looking after the children and doing nothing else; they look after their children, as that is a priority in their lives, but they also go out to work. Almost as many married women are working as married men. The assumption that somehow women are always at home looking after the children takes no account at all of the world of work and women's place in it. That place has been transformed in the past 20 or so years.

The second point I want to make is that there is extra help for disabled people which the Government are providing. We shall be spending up to £2 billion more on benefits for disabled people by the end of this Parliament. We are building on a commitment to comprehensive civil rights, helping disabled people to get into work through disabled person's tax credit. We have made a £200 million investment in a new deal for disabled people. There will be a further £18 million in the ONE programme. In addition, the most severely disabled people under 60 will receive the new disability income guarantee. In retirement, long-term disabled people with broken work records will be helped by our state second pension.

Within that context--what we are doing for disabled people in general and also for women in terms of encouraging them to build up their own contribution record to claim IB and not need SDA--we are going a long way. Of these amendments, Amendments Nos. 137 to 141 seek to extend the entitlement to IB under the new rules in Clause 60 to additional groups of disabled people.

Clause 60 ensures that disabled people aged under 20, or in certain circumstances under 25, will in future be entitled to IB. People with learning difficulties and with other forms of disability, either acquired at birth or at a very young age, will also benefit: they will be awarded IB. Amendment No. 144 would retain a severe disablement allowance for all claimants aged between 16 and 65: not just those who have been unable to build up a work record but those who have chosen not to build up such a record, including women like myself who have chosen to pay the married woman's reduced stamp.

The amendments before us would extend this generous treatment to other people of any age who, though they may not satisfy the current contribution conditions for IB will have the opportunity to work and to build up a contribution record earlier in their lives. In particular it is proposed that this should be extended to carers receiving ICA for a year, to parents and to people receiving DPTC or DWA.

Of course we recognise the valuable role of carers, and we are already protecting them. They will be passed forward to IB where they meet the appropriate

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contribution record. Carers who are receiving ICA will be able to use credits to qualify for IB provided they have worked and paid contributions at some stage in the past and would, on the basis of those contributions, have qualified for IB under the current rules. Carers are therefore protected and I do not believe that this amendment is necessary. I could continue with the concessions that we are proposing to give to carers.

A concession built on a record of recent caring would result in lifetime carers becoming entitled to IB only if they become incapacitated within a year or so of ceasing caring, while a lifetime unemployed could secure IB on the basis of having received ICA fairly recently.

Given that we are protecting the position of carers in terms of access to IB, the second part of my noble friend's amendment would apply the same principles to newly disabled people who have been, until the amendment, precluded from employment by responsibilities at home. I presume this largely means parents who have children who have chosen not to work but to stay at home and not even to go into part-time work, and thus fail to take the opportunity to build up a contribution record.

I do not believe that this is right. We are saying that women, parents, have the same rights, capacities and abilities, as the statistics show, to enter the world of work and protect themselves against disability, in terms of contributing to a benefit which will give them full coverage.

The third element of my noble friend's amendment is the proposal that someone who has been receiving DPTC or DWA for 25 weeks of the last two complete years in relation to the relevant tax year should also be entitled to IB. Again, this amendment has been overtaken by events. We are extending protection under Clause 58 to certain people who might otherwise lose out through trying to work: namely, people who reclaim IB after receiving DPTC and earnings lower than LEL. For those people on DPTC who have previously been entitled to IB, on the basis of contributions paid, a special two-year linking rule also exists within IB. We therefore intend to provide that people coming off DPTC--perhaps because of a deteriorating condition--will be able to qualify for IB as now. Amendment No. 142 guarantees or ensures that that will be protected. We were worried that certain people who might be disadvantaged would need to reclaim after having left benefit; government Amendment No. 142 puts that right.

As your Lordships know, to be entitled to claim IB under the new rules, disabled people must be aged under 20 or, if in education or work-based training, aged under 25 when they make their claim. Having qualified for IB, these limits will stop people requalifying once they have left benefit, if they are over the appropriate age, unless they are covered by a linking rule. As now, for claims to link, the break between benefit claims must not exceed eight weeks. However, there are special rules which allow this period to be extended to 52 weeks for those who leave

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benefit to start work. Those who qualify for the disabled persons' tax credit will have that link extended to two years.

However, we have identified two groups of people for whom it would be impossible ever to requalify if they do not satisfy the current linking rules: those who take up employment and are below the LEL for a lengthy period before becoming incapable of work; and those who return to the UK after a long period abroad. Our amendments protect them and rectify that situation. Of the remaining amendments, Amendments Nos. 143 and 269 are purely technical in nature.

These concessions go a long way to protecting the benefit position of disabled people who have been receiving DPTC or DWA. My noble friend has argued that there should be an extension to carers. I have tried to argue that they will be protected through the new access to IB in exactly the same way as now; they are unaffected by these changes.

Secondly, my noble friend argued that parents should have access to IB as opposed to SDA in the future, irrespective of the fact that they may have chosen not to build up a contributory record. I think that is unreasonable.

Thirdly, he asked for additional protection for disabled people who receive DPTC. I hope that I have reassured him that we are protecting such people.

I hope that the House will feel, believe and accept that the Government, in reforming SDA, are trying to take account of those who most need help--those who can never enter the labour market and build up the contributions which qualify them for IB. One group only is affected--young people who are either born disabled or acquire a disability at such a young age that they can never enter work. Everyone else can--and increasingly does--build up a contribution record in the world of work which qualifies them for IB and which makes SDA redundant. Given that, we believe that the time for SDA in its old form has passed. It used to be called a housewife's benefit pension. “Housewife's" is not now an appropriate term; because as many married women are in work as are married men. I hope that your Lordships will accept that SDA's time has passed and that we need to go forward with benefits which more appropriately fit the world in which we live.

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