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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I am sure that it will be now that I have reminded the noble Earl! However, noble Lords, particularly on the Conservative Benches, were concerned about the implications for the CSA and the court settlement. Perhaps I may remind your Lordships that the original proposals for the agency were that the courts would have no discretion on child support. The CSA settlement would run over all court settlements which would have to import the CSA figures.
That was rightly not pursued because it would have been further retrospective activity, particularly for existing court cases. We are trying to do something perhaps more subtle, but I hope more supportive. We are saying that where parents agree and go to court or where they reach a private arrangement and the mother is not on benefit, that is fine. They can make whatever arrangement they want because they are perfectly entitled to do so. The taxpayers do not have a financial interest in the level of benefit and therefore the level of maintenance. However, we are also saying that there should be a right to return to the CSA. Therefore, it is for the CSA to collect its own level of enforcement where after 12 months that arrangement is pulling apart and where there is some sense of unfairness and grievance.
Why have we done this? It is quite simply because we want lawyers, rather than having to impose on them acceptance of the CSA settlement, to have the mindset that if either party is dissatisfied with the arrangement on child support, either party has the right to go back to the CSA. The father may decide to pay more because, for example, he is paying for a disabled child. He may choose to pay less because he may be helping to pay school fees. If both parties are satisfied, that is fine, unlike the original arrangement, which would not have been fine. We want lawyers to be very aware that
I was asked by my noble friend Lady Howells about naming fathers. Where there is the possibility of fear of distress or violence, I think that we have a decent system of good cause. Indeed, many European countries do not have any good cause arrangements whatsoever, on the grounds that they do not want the woman to have any choice and therefore do not want to offer the man any ability to put pressure on her to exercise that choice to keep him anonymous. However, there have been instances in the past where, for example, fathers have been advised on a website to break a window in order to show that they were violent and therefore would not have to pay maintenance. If we were to follow the line about allowing maintenance to be voluntary, we would effectively be rewarding bad behaviour. We believe that that is wrong.
My noble friend asked about three-person tribunals. We introduced the new system in June 1999 and I am not aware that there have been any problems. However, I shall check and see whether my noble friend's worries are validated by the research.
The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, asked about named officials in order to help to resolve problems. She is right. We want to get consensus and compliance as far as possible, and not enforcement. Since last month, we have had in place 600 face-to-face officials, who will offer an interview within 10 days to either party in their own home, in the workplace or anywhere else, to try to resolve their child maintenance problems. So far, the scheme is working successfully. That deals with most of the questions dealing with child support. Of course, I shall write to noble Lords if there are any questions that have been left unanswered.
A second cause for concern over the Bill was the state second pension. The noble Lord, Lord Higgins, accurately described the three tiers of pension and my noble friend Lord Haskel rightly described how it was designed so that people could move easily and seamlessly between the three systems. I was asked by the noble Lords, Lord Higgins and Lord Goodhart, about the interconnection between the state second pension and the fallback on MIG. The facts were rehearsed in the other place, and your Lordships may know them by now. Essentially, for an average earner contracted into the state second pension, the MIG would not overtake the basic pension and the state second pension until some 15 years after retirement age. That in any case is due primarily to the additional payments made at 75 and 80 to MIG rather than to any deficiency in the state second pension.
My noble friend Lady Pitkeathley asked several questions about carers, and I am delighted that she felt able to welcome this aspect of the Bill. On the point about somebody who is being cared for moving frequently but erratically into residential care, it is the
As for earnings, any carer who earned above the LEL would retain an underlying entitlement for that part of the year. Anyone who earned below the LEL would be in exactly the same position as anyone else earning below the LEL, which would not be an entitlement to the state second pension. I regret that we cannot make it retrospective because if it were retrospective it would be retrospective for all possible client groups within the strategy for disabled people and those who are caring for children. My noble friend asked about the timetable for the review: that is in the context of following up work for the national carers' strategy and the Government's response to the Royal Commission. We are awaiting final determinations on that.
The third major issue raised today on the state second pension brought linking remarks from my noble friends Lady Turner and Lady Castle. First, they pressed me about the destruction of the earnings link to retirement pensions rather than going down the road of MIG and the like. I should like to say, first, that for only four years has there been an earnings link and that wages were exceeded by prices for at least two of those years. However, there is a bigger issue: the question of choice. We could, if financial priorities allowed, restore an earnings link and we could give a little to everyone, or alternatively we could choose to concentrate, as we are doing, on the poorest.
Why are we doing that rather than giving a little to everyone? It is a difficult choice, but the reason why we are concentrating on the poorest is that since 1979 inequality in pensioner incomes has grown substantially. Most pensioners are not poor, although some are. Fifty per cent more pensioners have been enjoying occupational pensions since 1979. For most of us the average growth in earnings since 1979 has been 38 per cent. The growth in pensioners' income has been 64 per cent--almost double--but the bottom 20 per cent of pensioners have seen an increase below the average increase in national incomes; the increase of the top 20 per cent has been well above it.
That is our dilemma. Do we seek to add to the income of better-off pensioners, who have seen their income grow by 64 per cent since 1979 or do we target the poorest? We have chosen to target the poorest. As a result, a pensioner couple of over 75 who could have had an earnings-related hoist of £6 per week, will get an entitlement to a MIG hoist of an extra £18 per week on income of £125. That is the choice: £6 for couples over 75 or £18 for the poorest couple. We have chosen to concentrate on the latter. My noble friends may disagree with me, but it is an honourable choice, and it is not a cheap choice. Far from £800 million being
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I take the point about TV licences. Of course, it is for the over-75s and I would go back to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, that it is those over 75 who are proportionately the poorest pensioners because they are for the most part elderly women. In that sense, I think it is reasonably targeted.
My noble friend Lady Castle was absolutely right when she said that if we are going to target, which I believe is the decent, honourable and right thing to do given what has happened to pensioner incomes since my noble friend was Secretary of State, we must make sure that such targeting is accompanied by allowing the dignity to which every pensioner is entitled. That is our problem: how to target people without bringing about the ignominy of people refusing to seek that pension increase because they dislike the means testing involved. That is precisely why we have promoted telephone help. Pensioners will be entitled to apply for the increase in their own home through electronic transmission. I can give the telephone number to my noble friend: it is the number which pensioners should call in order to get the money to which they are entitled. The number is 0800 028 1111. I hope that that number is engraved on your Lordships' hearts, because money that people should have is going unclaimed and we are trying to make sure that they get it in a way that is entirely consonant with the dignity they are entitled to have.
Perhaps I may now turn to questions about widows which were raised by the noble Lords, Lord Higgins and Lord Rix, and by the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross. We have made it clear that recompense should be tied to tangible evidence of loss. Clearly it is not the Government's responsibility to compensate people because there has been a change in the law. What the Government are seeking to do is to target what might be called the mis-selling problem; to compensate people in cases where they have been misled and as a result have acted to their own detriment or failed to take action that would have corrected any detriment they might have suffered. It is not unreasonable to ask people for evidence that they were being misled and that they would have acted differently, but a lack of documentary evidence does not necessarily mean that the claim would fail. That claim will be decided on the basis of information which the claimant gives on the claim form. People will be contacted by post for further details and, of course, claimants will be asked to sign a statement that it is a true account.
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