|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
I know that that is not what the House wishes to hear, but it is the reality. That is the dilemma that we have been focusing and working on, and will continue to do so. We all share my noble friends aspirations to help this group of women, in particular, who have missed out. However, we must be careful about opening up a greater problem by the manner in which we do it, resulting in substantial costs. For that reason, I earnestly urge my noble friend not to press the amendment. I confirm to her that we will continue to work on this, and to
Lord Filkin: My Lords, would we not be supporting my noble friend in his endeavour to get a proper solution to the problems he has articulated if the House gave a clear expression of opinion in support of the issue? The Government have plenty of opportunities subsequently to bring back a better amendment that addresses any technical defects and the policy point that he rightly indicates impedes him slightly from supporting what I believe his heart is truly with.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, this House should be about trying to, if it feels it appropriate, pass proper amendments to improve the legislation as it sees right. I think that the mood of the House in this debate will be very clear to anyone reading the record; an amendment is not needed to get that expression across clearly. I stress that we are dealing with very serious issues here. The House should not press an amendment that, with great respect to my noble friend, is technically deficient, restrictive, does not achieve what she wants and creates a problem that we are still working on. I ask my noble friend to withdraw it.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I apologise for not dealing with that. The numbers that I quoted are net of that. I have a tabulation assuming 100 per cent take-up and 15 per cent take-up of the UK component and the overseas component, and that
4 July 2007 : Column 1046
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, this follows directly from the point that my noble friend was making. He said that he is very happy to share the figures, but clearly Members of the House cannot take such complicated calculations into account when we are deciding what to do. Will my noble friend undertake to set out a complete résumé of the calculations that he has been describing in good time before Third Reading?
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I am very happy to share the data I have with the House before Third Reading. Inevitably, it will have associated caveats, but I will make sure that it covers the methodology undertaken so that noble Lords can see the numbers in context.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, first I thank very sincerely everyone who has taken part today. As my noble friend accepted, there has been widespread support from everyone who has spoken, men and women alike. Several former Secretaries of State, including the first Minister for Women, three former Chief Secretaries, a former Permanent Secretary of the Treasury and the chairman of the major and historic Pensions Commission all support the amendment. I ask my noble friend where the support was for his position today. There was none. He made the point, which I absolutely accept, that the amendment may be technically defective. Every ex-Minister in this Housethere are many of us here todayknows that very often the House may decide to support an amendment that is technically defective, and if that expresses the opinion of the House the Government can then take on the responsibility to come back at Third Reading with an amendment accordingly. That is not an issue; obviously we just do not have the drafting skills that the DWP would have.
This is a very simple amendment. At the moment, if you miss a year when you are 45 because you are looking after a sick relative, you can buy it at age 50; but you cannot buy it at age 59. It is often only at age 59 that you know that you need to do it, but by then it is too late. The amendment would permit women and men to buy up to nine missing years at the proper price at the end of their working lives when they know whether they need to do it. No one is getting anything extra; we are not extending eligibility in this at all, because everyone who could buy at the end of their working lives could have bought earlier. That is why the cost assumptions are actually fairly flaky.
4 July 2007 : Column 1047
My noble friend has run only one real argument, which is cost. But, hold on, 250,000 people already take up voluntary purchase. We accept the cost of that, even though it is students or people working abroad who may well be building additional pensions. Yet for poorer women, who I am concerned about, this may be the only pension they can ever affordthere are perhaps 40,000 of themand we are told that we cannot afford to allow them to take up their rights in year seven, although they could have bought them in year six.
That is absolutely absurd. As for workers overseas and the cost of possibly £230 million, apart from the de minimis rule, every one of them can buy now. I repeat: provided the cost is adjusted, I cannot for the life of me see why it matters whether you buy the added years when you are 45, 50, 55 or 59. That is the only point of the argument. It really will not do that those who know about voluntary purchase and can afford it at the timeI suggest that they are the better educated and the better offdo so, but those who do not know about it, who are less well educated, less savvy about the system and less able to afford it do not. Who are they? Very often they are women who have exhausted themselves by physically and financially caring for others.
I repeat: nobody would buy anything that they were not already entitled to under existing rules. They would merely buy the entitlement when they knew they needed it. That is all that this amendment would do. If the argument of cost is, We cannot afford them to take up the provision, then, my goodness, that applies to every benefit we have. Nobody in this House would raise an argument, for example, that as only 85 per cent of people take up council tax benefit, we should not encourage the other 15 per cent because we cannot afford the take-up. Nobody would say that, because 90 per cent of people claim DLA, we will not encourage the other 10 per cent to take it up as we cannot afford the take-up. Yet that seems to be my noble friends argumentwe cannot allow people to take up a right that they already have by getting rid of the six-year bar. We would not run that argument anywhere else, except today apparently.
I suggest that the arguments are spurious. If we want people, especially women, to have pensionsas we dowe cannot also argue that we will not allow them to buy added years to build that pension. We want to help women to help themselves. They have to live on something. If we do not allow them to buy their own pension, they will live on a means-tested benefit that they have not paid for. Which makes better sense?
I hope that your Lordships will today support the amendment. The other place has not even considered the issue. If we support it today, we will have done something rather special because we would have
4 July 2007 : Column 1048
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Deputy Chairmans sotto voce announcement of this amendment rather reflects my own intended speech, but whether I shall be allowed to make the speech I want to make, I do not know. We will see how we get on.
The amendment seeks to explore the issue of carers a little further. In Committee, the noble Baroness was clear about the definition which the Government intend to use to identify those who should be credited with carer contributions. She explained with understandable pride the new provisions. On these Benches, we fully support the changes. We are also glad that the Governments original intention that these credits should be extended only to those caring for a person entitled to certain benefits has been modified to include anyone caring for more than 20 hours a week. That is a most definite improvement. However, I am concerned about how effectively these proposals are going to be implemented. Can the noble Baroness explain further how a health or social worker will be expected to calculate whether someone is caring for over 20 hours a week? What evidence will be required to prove this if the department decides to challenge a claim? Sooner or later, that will be inevitable.
As praiseworthy as the intention might be, the Government have not yet given sufficient thought to the nuts and bolts of this clause. It will not help carers, who already have unusually complicated and stressful lives, to promise them better support and then be unable to deliver. The Government must make sure that they can follow through. The only comment the Minister has given on the implementation of these provisions is a review that is being held with relevant organisations. Can she give us any more information on this consultation? How long has it been going on, when is it expected to end, and how soon can we see the proposed regulations that will implement these provisions?
On reflection, the Governments attitude seems to be yet another repetition of the age-old formula of wanting to do something in a Bill and then some time later working out exactly how to achieve it in regulations. Members on this side are getting thoroughly fed up with this approach to legislation. I hope the noble Baroness will be able to reassure me that that is not happening on this occasion. I beg to move.
Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, is feeling fed up. I hope that my comments will offer him some reassurance. I am delighted by the support that he has again expressed for the carers provisions in the Bill and thank him for tabling the amendment, which provides us with a further opportunity to discuss the new carers credit.
As noble Lords know, one of the key drivers for the Bill is the recognition of the unpaid contribution made by many women throughout the country. Where circumstances can be defined easily, we specifically recognise these unpaid contributions; hence our new definition for carers credit where the amount of care provided to a severely disabled person is to be 20 hours or more each week. Of course we cannot define every circumstance. However, we should not forget that those who do not receive the carers credit will still benefit from other parts of the package, such as the reduction in the number of years required to build a full basic state pension to 30.
The amendment concerns unpaid activity that can be defined. As noble Lords will recall from the Committee stage, the amendment relates to the definition of the term relevant carer. I explained at some length in Committee the background to the Government moving away from the current system of home responsibilities protection to a new system of carers credits. Rather than repeating that now, I should like to focus on the point that the noble Lord raised today, explain the thinking behind our reliance on secondary legislation as opposed to primary legislation to do this, and give him some more background on the carers review.
Overall, the Bill includes significantly more detail than predecessor Bills. Indeed, virtually all current crediting arrangements are found in secondary legislation, and so in that regard this Bill is not different. As ever, though, a sensible balance has to be struck on these matters. As the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, acknowledged in Committee, there is a balance to be struck between the flexibility afforded by secondary legislation and the certaintybut, by the same token, less flexibilityprovided by primary legislation. In leaving the definition of relevant carer to secondary legislation, our objectiveas noble Lords will recall from our deliberations in Committeeis to ensure that the eventual definition captures all those who are caring for 20 hours or more a week for a severely disabled person. Although that is a reasonably uncomplicated concept, I am sure the House will recognise that the legal definition will require significantly more technical detail than the relatively straightforward definition relating to, for instance, parents eligibility at subsection (3)(a) of new Section 23A, which hinges simply on the age of the child.
Through the review of the National Carers Strategy we are working with key stakeholders, in particular with charities such as Carers UK, to develop a definition of a relevant carer who may be certified by a health or social care professional as caring for at least 20 hours a week. There has been a debate about how many people such a person might be caring for and we recognise that it might not necessarily be for just one person. Obviously that is a potentially complex area.
4 July 2007 : Column 1052
I shall go into some detail about the carers review. It will be a cross-government review. There is a steering group, chaired by David Behan, the director-general of social care, which includes senior representatives from the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, the Department for Children, Schools and Families, the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Treasury and the DWP. Importantly, the group also includes the chief executives of the three principal carer representative organisationsCarers UK, the Princess Royal Trust for Carers and Crossroadsand there is representation from the Childrens Society, which picks up one of the noble Lords concerns about childrens carers.
There will be four task forces. One will look specifically at health and social care, which will be led by the Department of Health. One will look at equalities, and will be led by the Department for Communities and Local Government. The DWP will lead the group looking at employment as well as the group looking at incomes, which is of significance today. The last group has yet to meet; I understand it will start its work later this month, when it will look at this issue among others. Each group will be chaired jointly by the department and an independent non-government chair. The responsibility for making recommendations from the group will be led by the chairman, David Behan. To be clear: the review of the carers strategy will be published in early 2008.
I have tried to reinforce the Governments commitment to tackling this issue in a responsible and detailed way. I remind the House that, once we get to the question of regulations, they will be made by the affirmative procedure on first use. This House will therefore have every opportunity to debate the regulations when they are laid as soon as possible after the review of the National Carers Strategy has been reported. With that further informationand I hope I have not been too boring on the matterI hope the noble Lord will consider withdrawing the amendment.
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, I will certainly withdraw the amendment, but it was not the fact of secondary legislation I was querying; it was the timetable for the preparation. What is happening yet again is that the Bill comes first while the consideration of what is to go into the secondary legislation is coming second. That was my complaint. However, I am glad that at last the income sector of the review, led by the DWP, is to meet by the end of the month. That may or may not make the situation even worse, because the Bill is due to be finished in your Lordships House by the end of the month, and may possibly be on the statute book. Who is to tell?
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|