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Schedule 2. — (Provisions for Determining Right to and Amount of Benefit.)

Orders of the Day — Ministry of Social Security Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th June 1966.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Miss Joan Vickers Miss Joan Vickers , Plymouth, Devonport 12:00 am, 17th June 1966

I beg to move Amendment No. 4, in page 21, line 4, to leave out paragraph 2.

This is a very mean provision. I was interested to hear the Minister say that she wants everyone to benefit as much as possible and that justice must clearly be seen to be done. With the cost of living always rising—we have heard today that there has been another increase recently—it is essential that any money due should be paid.

On Second Reading the right hon. Lady said this: There are some modifications to the basic rule. First, should the deficiency of resources below requirements be less than 2s., no benefit is due. Most of us have had experience of an old person making application to the National Assistance Board and getting a book of orders for 1s. a week. Most of us know the resentment, and sometimes the bitterness, which has been caused because of that. This will no longer obtain under the new rules."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th May. 1966: Vol. 729 c. 341.] I suggest that there was not any bitterness. I know a number of people who have received Is. a week. This amount is an enormous benefit to people in a very low income category. It can mean more gas. It can mean another bottle of milk. It can mean a loaf of bread. It can mean some soup. An old person can get to the butcher's and get some bones to make soup. It can mean potatoes. If 1s. is put in the gas meter an old person can be warm for an extra period during the day. It can give an old person sufficient hot water to fill up a hot water bottle.

Any money due to old people should be paid to them. If it is too difficult admistratively for small sums to be paid weekly under the new system, why should not old people have either a monthly or a quarterly voucher? This would give them a nice little nest egg. It is particularly mean that the Government should envisage depriving anybody of money to which he is entitled.

Persons who make application and who are granted only a small amount become known to the Board. We are told that the Board will visit these people. Circumstances change. It may be found on visiting them that their circumstances have changed and that they are entitled to an extra amount. This would be a double advantage of following my suggestion. By the very fact that officers were in contact with these people protection and security would be ensured. I hope that the Minister will agree to delete this paragraph and ensure that these individuals are given the money to which they are obviously entitled. If they are entitled to have it, however small the amount may be, they should have it. They should not be deprived of anything which is theirs by right.

Photo of Mr Norman Pentland Mr Norman Pentland , Chester-le-Street

Once again the hon. Lady for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) has deployed her case with her usual sincerity and compassion in arguing for the deletion of a provision with which she disagrees. This proposal in paragraph 2 of the Schedule, for a lower limit of payment, and for rounding off the benefit payable, is not new. Provisions for a lower limit of payment and for rounding the benefit payable are in the National Assistance Scheme, the lower limit being Is. weekly and the allowance being rounded to the nearest 6d. These National Assistance rules, which were taken over unchanged from the Unemployment Assistance Scheme of 1934, have remained unchanged since 1948. Therefore, the proposal in the Bill to increase these sums to 2s. and 1s. respectively are, in the Government's view, no more than some recognition of the change in values.

The effect of abolishing the two rules would be nonsensical. As to the lower, limit despite what the hon. Lady has said, some older people feel insulted if they are told by the Board that they are entitled to receive only 1s. per week. There was general agreement when my right hon. Friend made this point on Second Reading. Older people would be much more upset if told that they were entitled to, say, 2d. a week, but this would be the effect of the Amendment in borderline cases. It is a matter of judgment as to where the line should be drawn. The figure should not be too high. We would accept that. But 2s. a week is certainly not excessive in the Government's view when we consider a basic rate for a householder of over £4 a week.

1.0 p.m.

With regard to the abolition of the second rule—the rounding rule—benefit ending in odd pence would be payable here. At the moment this would only be the case in theory. In practice it could not be paid to the last penny because a rounding rule having existed for so long, the Department is not equipped with machines to produce order books for amounts ranging in all the penny stages from one penny to eleven pence. It may be that given time, when perhaps we have a fully computerised system operating in the Department, these difficulties of the odd pence could be overcome, but I cannot conceive, nor can the Government, that anyone really wants the new scheme to be run on the basis of calculating to the last penny pensions with such rates as 18s. 1d., or 19s. 7d. I am sure that pensioners themselves would find such a system thoroughly irksome. The basic approach in this Bill, as has been said, on more than one occasion, is that non-contributory benefit should be less, not more, finely adjusted than National Assistance.

The Committee may like to know—for I am sure these are the people whom he hon. Lady is concerned about more than anyone else—how many people are at present getting assistance of less than 2s. a week. At the end of 1965 there were about 4,500 people receiving 1s. a week and 8,800 people receiving 1s. 6d. or 2s. a week. However, it must be borne in mind that as a consequence of this Bill nearly all of these people will be entitled to considerably more by way of supplementary pension or allowances because of the higher rates which we are proposing. The householder who now gets Is. a week will normally become entitled to at least 6s. a week because of the 5s. increase in the basic rate.

In any event—and here I am afraid we are once again indulging in repetition, for we have said it so many times that I nave become weary of it—nobody will lose as a result of the change. A person already receiving assistance of 1s. 6d. and who for some reason or other does not become entitled to 2s. a week under the new scheme will have his or her position preserved by the transitional provisions of Schedule 7. The principle of minimum payment and rounding rules is a common sense one and, indeed, it is well established. All we are doing in this Bill is to bring the amounts up to date and we clearly must have some provisions embodied in the Bill.

Having said that, and while, for these reasons, we cannot accept the Amendment, there is a related point upon which the hon. Lady did not touch. It is whether this rule as it stands is appropriate to the circumstances where the payment of noncontributory benefit is combined with some other payment for which the Minister is responsible. Nobody wants awards of trifling sums to be made as separate amounts on a separate order; but when one comes to combined payments it may be better, in the Government's view, to apply the rules in paragraph 2 to the combined payment rather than to the non-contributory benefit alone.

Hon. Members may know that it is already the practice to make a combined payment of unemployment benefit and National Assistance. As the White Paper indicates, it is the Government's intention to introduce combined payments of retirement pension and supplementary pension on a single order book as soon as we can.

Therefore, we are now considering whether the present provision deals adequately with this situation. If we find that it does not, it may be necessary for us to put down an Amendment, perhaps in another place, but we cannot in any circumstances accept the hon. Lady's Amendment. If, in the light of what I have said about further consideration being given to at least one aspect of the Amendment, the hon. Lady is prepared to withdraw the Amendment, fair enough; but if not, I must ask the Committee to reject the Amendment.

Photo of Miss Irene Ward Miss Irene Ward , Tynemouth

I was a little distressed when the right hon. Lady the Minister said earlier that she wanted to get on with the Third Reading of the Bill. That means that whatever we say and whatever the subject of the Amendment which we may be discussing, whether we feel we have got a good case or not, the right hon. Lady has made up her mind that she is not going to accept any Amendments. Presumably if any Amendments were accepted we could not go on to the Third Reading of the Bill.

We may not move Amendments which are acceptable to the Government, but I think it is a little distressing from the point of view of the people whose cases we are arguing with such sincerity and knowledge, if we are told that the whole object of the exercise is to get on to the Third Reading of the Bill. I am certain that the right hon. Lady, for whom I have a great affection and admiration, did not intend to speak in that sense, but it is not a good thing in Committee suddenly to be told that we must get on with the Committee stage so that we can have the Third Reading today.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary's comments on the Amendment were, I thought, a little muddled. As I understood, one of the reasons why he did not want to accept the Amendment had something to do with computers. He added that if the present arrangements did not work out, perhaps an Amendment could be moved in another place. I should like to know what is going to happen about the computers in the time before the Bill reaches another place. Are we going to get the computers? Perhaps I was not being very intelligent, but I did not understand these remarks of the hon. Gentleman.

In any event, I wish to reinforce what my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) has said. Small amounts are tremendously important, but I am not at all pleased with the idea of half a crown a week for coal. This is a ridiculous arrangement. If we do not like small amounts, why give them?

Photo of Miss Joan Vickers Miss Joan Vickers , Plymouth, Devonport

As the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has given me certain assurances and has said that he will consider some form of Amendment in another place. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Mrs Lena Jeger Mrs Lena Jeger , Holborn and St Pancras South

I beg to move Amendment No. 7, in page 21, line 39, to leave out from "allowance" to the end of line 40 and to insert: has been subject to the condition of section 11 of this Act for not longer than six months.

Photo of Mr Sydney Irving Mr Sydney Irving , Dartford

I suggest that it might be convenient to discuss, at the same time, Amendment No. 8, in page 21, to leave out lines 41 to 43.

Photo of Mrs Lena Jeger Mrs Lena Jeger , Holborn and St Pancras South

Yes, Mr. Irving.

I have put down this Amendment because I am very much concerned about the problem of continuing poverty which is afflicting so many people. As the Schedule stands—I find this confusing, and, for the benefit of others who may be similarly confused, I am referring to page 21, line 39—we ought to look for a way by which the situation of these poorer families can be ameliorated.

I am directly concerned about the expression "adjustment to normal earnings". I have had experience of families of the sort involved here. The man has, perhaps, been out of work for a very long time. I think of one who came out of a long period in a mental hospital, who was rehabilitated as far as he ever will be, but who remains a very inadequate person, a poor worker. His family is suffering from the wage-stop under the provisions relating to adjustment to normal earnings, but his wife says to me, "I cannot imagine what his normal earnings ever were or ever could be. No one wants to employ him". In such cases a figure is arrived at—I do not say without sympathy—which in many instances of long-term unemployment is confusing and a source of trouble to the families concerned.

Turning for a moment to Amendment No. 8, I am not clear as regards the long-term sick, but I understand that there is a practice—I do not believe that it is laid down anywhere—by which the wage stop does not normally apply for longer than six months. This may be my understanding because my experience has been among particularly sympathetic officers, but I have certainly found that, normally, in cases of sickness there is at least a review of the family's position automatically after six months. I am very glad to have the opportunity to raise these matters and express my own confusion about them if only to enable the Committee to be informed of the true situation. It is not clear to me, and there must be people outside who have similar difficulty in understanding what we are trying to do in this connection.

A strong case can be made for an adjustment to earnings so as not to discourage people from going to work. No hon. Member would wish to see a situation which discouraged people from working at a time when the country needed the fullest possible employment. But I submit that this difficulty could be met by wider use of Clause 30 which gives the Minister power to deal with people who wilfully refuse employment. This would be a better way of dealing with this matter than by financial hardships such as will be laid upon many families under the present proposals.

The difficulty is that the more we improve the benefits the more we increase the number of families suffering under the adjustment to earnings rule. Unfortunately, the number is already rising. In December, 1965, there were 16,000 families suffering from the wage stop, 2,000 more than in the previous year, although the total number of unemployed had fallen. Not only is the absolute figure increasing but the proportion is increasing as well. This calls for anxious attention.

The only way I can see within the terms of the Bill and, I hope, the bounds of order is to suggest that we should review all wage-stop cases at the end of six months. I suggest this recalling that my right hon. Friend said last Monday that the problem of the family receiving less than the basic allowances is a wide and serious one. Would it not be possible for her administratively to ask for each case to be looked at every six months?

1.15 p.m.

Some of these families have deductions of over £3 a week. In 1965, 3,000 families had deductions in their benefit of £3 a week because even those modest standards of benefit would have provided them with £3 more than the man had from his income while at work. Families living at that level cannot have savings or reserves of any kind. Usually, they do their shopping from day to day and their housekeeping from week to week. Perhaps, over a week or two, it is possible to manage, but what we are doing by allowing the wage-stop to continue for a long time is to create a situation of chronic poverty for them out of which they can never emerge, a chronic poverty which becomes worse as time goes on, as whatever small savings they have disappear, as clothes are worn out, as furniture gets broken, and so on. We all know of the accumulating problems.

I appreciate that I must not ask my right hon. Friend to do too much today. It is her wish, I know, to give the most generous treatment possible to these people, and this whole subject is part of another study. But I wonder whether it would be possible administratively to have a review of each of these cases at, say, six months so that the officer could look again at the question of relevance to normal earnings in the area. There might he changes in the area. There might be changes in the employment pattern in the district. There might be new circumstances for the family. It might then be possible for the officer, looking at the case every six months at least, to find other supplementary ways of bringing the kind of discretionary assistance which should be possible.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Croydon South

As I managed to speak on the Second Reading, I had not thought to intervene at this stage, but I feel that I must support the case put by my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger). On Second Reading, I expressed my deep concern that we were intending to continue the wage-stop. I am sure that the Minister will remember what I said. I should have thought it possible between the Second Reading and this stage for the whole matter to be looked at again. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that, since the Second Reading, there has been a good deal of comment in the Press and by people who have been associated with the Labour Party side of social security policy expressing concern that the wage-stop is to continue.

We speak here of the poverty which still continues in our country. We recognise that those who are at present on National Assistance and those who will be on the minimum benefits proposed under the Bill comprise a group who, as my hon. Friend said, are living well below even the poverty line as it is recognised at present. This is why, bearing in mind the economic circumstances of the country, I find it so difficult to understand why we cannot be somewhat more generous than we are to people in these circumstances.

There are some who argue that the solution lies in the level of wages, that people should receive a higher wage so that their earnings would not be so low as to make them subject to the wage-stop. It may be of interest to hon. Members to know that I have put down a Question to the Minister of Labour, which has not yet been reached, asking him what steps he will take to try to improve the level of wages received by people whose present earnings are so low that, when out of work, they are subject to the wage-stop.

I apologise for raising a point which I made on Second Reading, but I am particularly concerned about the children in families subject to the wage-stop. I think that it is true that most of those families have a large number of children. Most employees or ex-employees subject to the wage stop—perhaps it is natural with poverty-ridden families—have a large number of children, and it is particularly the children who will suffer great hardship. During Questions yesterday I asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what research was being carried out to ascertain the connection betwen pupils coming from households suffering a good deal of poverty and their progress in school, and I was informed that some research was being undertaken. There is no denying that the children in these families will be penalised if we continue this very obnoxious practice.

That is why the Child Poverty Action Group, which was recently formed under the chairmanship of Professor Peter Townsend, has made the question of the wage-stop a very important point in its campaign. Just before last Christmas the group sent a deputation to the Prime Minister, and one of the essential points made then was that when this Bill came before the House the wage-stop practice should be discontinued. If it is argued today that it is impossible to delete the provision dealing with the wage-stop, I support the suggestion just made that each case should be subject to review.

The New Society this week makes the point that if it is impossible for the wage-stop to be completely deleted, each case should be looked at on its own merits. Can we have a promise from the Minister that this will be done? We ought not just to say that the practice cannot be stopped and nothing more can be done about it, but each case should be looked at to ascertain whether any exceptional treatment can be given to enable the people to receive more money than they do now.

I said that it was not my intention to speak, but I felt it right and proper to support the remarks which had been made. I conclude with two points. First, we are right to raise this point because once the Bill becomes an Act it will be argued that the points were dealt with in the debates on the Bill, and so it will be difficult to raise the subject except at Question Time. This is all the more reason why we should have an adequate answer from the Minister today.

My second point may be considered unnecessary, but I am sure that I am entitled to make it. As long as there are people subjected to the wage-stop, our consciences as Members of Parliament cannot be very clear. I hope that I shall not be accused of preaching, but I believe that we have a duty and obligation to try to remove the worst forms of poverty from our fellow citizens, and one of the best ways to do this would be to remove the wage-stop.

Photo of Mr Frank Hooley Mr Frank Hooley , Sheffield, Heeley

I speak with considerable diffidence because I am no expert on social security, but I am fortified in supporting my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) by my knowledge that people far more expert than I am have condemned the wage-stop principle. In a very brief term of service on a tribunal dealing with appeals I realised at first hand exactly how the principle worked and was astounded and horrified. I was so startled that I challenged the officer as to whether he was operating the provision correctly and was assured that it was the law.

I regard the Clause as disfiguring an otherwise excellent piece of legislation. I suggest that the concept of normal earnings in these cases begs the whole question. These are precisely the people who have no normal earnings in the recognised sense. Therefore, to apply to them an arbitrary limit of income is both unjust and illogical. I recall the case of a metallurgical worker who was unable to follow his profession through sickness and obliged to apply for National Assistance.

The National Assistance Board ruled not that his normal profession was that of a skilled metallurgical worker but that in his present condition he could be only a light labourer and, therefore, that his normal earnings should be regarded as at the level of what was locally supposed to be the wages of a light labourer. I thought that this was an iniquitous arrangement, and still think so. In this context, the whole idea of normal earnings seems inappropriate and unfair.

I am very sorry that the wage-stop principle has been incorporated in the Bill, and I hope very much that some technical means will be found of removing it from our social security system at the earliest possible date.

Photo of Miss Mervyn Pike Miss Mervyn Pike , Melton

I do not want to go over the arguments which we have already Put forward, but I should like to say fiat I and my hon. Friends associate ourselves with the arguments put forward by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) and ether hon. Members opposite. I hope fiat the Minister will be as sympathetic as she can be. We wish that she could go a good deal further. We have had certain advice from her which has disappointed us, but we hope that she will be as sympathetic as possible.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Croydon South

I do not want to engage unnecessarily in party polemics, but would riot the hon. Lady agree that while the Conservative Government were in office no move at all was made to remove the wage-stop principle?

Photo of Miss Mervyn Pike Miss Mervyn Pike , Melton

Of course I agree, but as we have said all through, on this Bill we have a wonderful new opportunity. The fact that things were not done in the past for reasons which we all accept is no reason why we should not now recognise the situation and use our resources to meet the priorities properly. The Opposition want help given where the need is greatest. That is why we hope that the right hon. Lady will be as sym Pathetic as she can in this regard.

Photo of Miss Peggy Herbison Miss Peggy Herbison , Lanarkshire North

I am very glad that we have had this debate and that a number of hon. Members have taken part in it. It is of the greatest importance that the nation itself should realise how great an area of poverty we have at present.

My hon. Friend's Amendment would limit to the first six months the period to which the wage-stop could be applied. It is not just a matter of looking at cases after six months—I will deal with the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Lena Jeger) and other hon. Members in a moment—but is more a matter of the Amendment in effect limiting the application of the wage-stop to the first six months. After that period the wage-stop would be withdrawn and those concerned would receive the full amount even if that made them better off than when they were in work. That is an important point to remember.

On Second Reading the Parliamentary Secretary made what I consider was a most valid point. He said that the wage-stop of itself does not cause hardship since it simply continues a man's income at much the same level as when he was at work.

It has been suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Winnick) today that we should be considering whether the solution is higher wages. We have not time to wait until all the negotiations can take place between individual trade unions and employers on these matters, and the Government have to move much more quickly than that. I can give him the guarantee that that is not the solution to which we are looking, though there are a great many low-wage earners who deserve higher wages than they get at present.

1.30 p.m.

It is for that reason and the ones so clearly given by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary that I cannot accept the argument that, after the receipt of non-contributory benefit for six months, the wage-stop should not be implemented.

The Committee was informed by my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South that in December, 1965, 15,000 families were affected by the wage-stop. She gave details of the amount that they were being denied, money which they could have had if the wage-stop had not been operating at that time. There are some families who are denied an even greater amount of money than that which my hon. Friend announced.

In the Second Reading debate, I said that those 15,000 families—and the number may be greater now—represent merely the tip of the iceberg. We are concerned not only about those 15,000 families, but the other 200,000 or 300,000 families where the fathers are in full-time work with incomes below the National Assistance Board level. The Government are deeply concerned about the position of such families, particularly the children, whether the breadwinners are in or out of work.

During the course of the proceedings on the Bill, and on other occasions, I have stressed that concern. With the aid of the survey which will begin next week, the field work of which will be finished in a fortnight, and as a result of the thought which we have been giving to the matter ever since we came to power, we are determined to find a solution.

Apart from the provisions of the Bill, which are good for some of the community, the biggest problem in social security facing the nation at present is that of the families whom the Amendment covers. I have given reasons why it is impossible for us to accept the Amendment. The only way of dealing with the problem is by a better form of family endowment, whether a man is in or out of work.

I come now to my hon. Friend's second Amendment, which would prevent the Commission from applying the wage-stop in any case other than that of the unemployed man who is required to register for employment under Clause 11 as a condition for receiving the supplementary allowance. It applies to one particular type of case, which is the man who is temporarily sick. I can give my hon. Friend the assurance, first of all, that this is not new to the Bill. It has always been the practice of the National Assistance Board. What we have done is to put into statutory form what is an existing practice.

The wage-stop cannot be applied to anyone who is considered to be out of the employment field and who would not be required to register for employment. It does not apply to the long-term sick or the chronic sick, and it is important that it should not. It does not apply, for example, to widows or other women who have the care of children. It applies to this limited category of people who would be asked to register for employment if they were temporarily sick. For those reasons, we cannot accept that Amendment.

I want to turn now to the other points which have been made. Both my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) and my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras spoke about the relevance of normal earnings, which is decided by the National Assistance Board at present and will be decided by the Commission in the future. When a man first seeks National Assistance at present or, later, non-contributory benefit, does the Board decide that it has to take into account the amount of money that the man could be expected to earn, and that at no time in the future would there be a change? Both hon. Members have asked that there should be periodic reviews. My hon. Friend suggested a review of individual cases every six months.

I have quite a number of wage-stop cases in my own constituency, and I know of cases in North-East England. Reference has also been made to cases in Cornwall. I have quite a lot of experience of it. I could give quite a number of cases similar to that mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Heeley. There was the case of a miner earning good wages who had a coronary thrombosis, and who is now fit only for light work. However, his wages as a miner are not taken into account. Instead, account is taken of the wages that he would earn on light work.

I can assure the Committee that the Board at the present time, and I am sure that the Commission will continue this in the future, will look at the relevance of normal earnings and find what is the movement of earnings in the area where a man is living. It is of the greatest importance that that should be done.

I come to the point about the change of circumstances. It may be that the wife or other member of the family of a man on the wage-stop becomes ill. My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras has asked if such changed circumstances will be examined and if the Commission's discretionary powers will be used. I am confident that the Commission will do this.

Finally, may I say that no tampering with the wage-stop would get to the root of the problem. I am convinced that the only solution is a form of family endowment. The more that is spoken about in the country, the better I shall be pleased.

Photo of Mrs Lena Jeger Mrs Lena Jeger , Holborn and St Pancras South

In view of the Minister's assurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Bernard Braine Bernard Braine , Essex South East

I beg to move Amendment No. 12, in page 23, line 3, at end insert: and of any other persons who as a result of absence of faculty require constant attendance".

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

I suggest that with this Amendment we take Amendment No. 19, in page 26, line 26, at end insert: including moneys received from any source whatsoever by a person who as a result of absence of faculty requires constant attendance".

Photo of Bernard Braine Bernard Braine , Essex South East

We come now to one cf the most important issues raised by the Bill. The Amendment would have the effect of putting all those who require constant attendance as a result of a disability on the same basis as blind persons who, under the Bill, receive a special scale of allowances as well as the 9s addition if they have been in receipt of an allowance for at least two years or are over pensionable age.

None of us would wish to underestimate the terrible handicaps and difficulties stemming from the loss of sight, and all of us are glad that this Bill makes suitable provision for the blind. In the light of what we now know about the effect of other forms of disablement, I regret, as I think all hon. Members must regret, that the opportunity has not been taken to bring similar help to all who suffer such grievous impairment of functions that they need constant attendance.

There are historic reasons for the preference given to the blind. Unlike a good many forms of disability, blindness is immediately obvious, and that is why it has always excited compassion. I remember as a child being deeply impressed, almost terrified, by the words of Milton. I do not think that anyone afflicted by a physical disability has ever described it in such a despairing and moving fashion: Oh dark, dark, dark, amid the blaze of noon,Irrecoverably dark, total eclipseWithout all hope of day; It has always seemed that those words express most vividly the way in which normally sighted people feel about the loss of sight. I should say in passing how astonishing, inspiring and humbling it is to see how blind persons overcome their disabilities and enjoy a happy and fruitful family life. It is not surprising that against this background that sympathy was aroused and much pioneer work done for the blind long before the idea of a Welfare Slate was accepted.

Until the National Assistance Act, 1948, the blind were the only handicapped adults for whose social care there was statutory provision. It was not until 1951 that local authorities were authorised to produce schemes to help other classes of handi- capped persons. Whatever the reasons for this difference of approach to the disabled, I am going to suggest to the Committee that it cannot be defended any longer. I recognise that one cannot equate forms of disability. To those with normal sight blindness is terrible, but is not total deafness as isolating, if not more so? How crippling is the sudden loss of a limb, but is not the slow but relentless advance of multiple sclerosis still more terrifying? How can one compare the person, deaf or blind from birth, with one who has enjoyed a normal life before being gravely disabled by disease or injury?

The point was put very clearly by Penelope Hall in her book which has become a classic, "The Social Services of Modern England". In this she quotes a hospital almoner as saying: There are no such people as the handicapped, there are handicapped individuals, all of them different, each with his own psychological and social problem to meet as well as his own particular physical disability to overcome. What matters in each case is not the source of the disability but its extent.

We all welcome the scale provision that the Bill makes for the blind, but we know that there are degrees of incapacity due to blindness and that the definition of blindness includes not only those who are totally incapacitated but those who are partially sighted. We know that there is quite a large number of blind persons, otherwise fit, who are better equipped to cope with life and its problems than sufferers from the advanced stages of diseases such as epilepsy, bronchitis, muscular dystrophy, sclerosis, paralysis or the multiple handicaps, who are utterly and completely dependent upon others for their simplest needs.

1.45 p.m.

How many seriously disabled persons are there? The trouble is no one really knows. Registration with the local authority is voluntary and the advantages of being on the register, as I said earlier, are not at all obvious. The number registered in England and Wales last year was only 176,000, and this is only a small percentage of the total. Let me take the situation in my own county, because this is something about which I know. I am proud to say that Essex enjoys the reputation of being one of the finest welfare authorities in the land. There are about 3,600 persons permanently and substantially handicapped—I am using the words of the Act now registered with the authority as being in need of help. Most are living in their own homes.

The county welfare officer tells me that probably 25 per cent. to 30 per cent. of them are so badly disabled as to need constant attendance. Certainly a great many of them are vastly more disabled than some of the blind who are entitled to the enhanced rates. Where is the equity and social justice in this? Surely it is time that we did something about this? Surely we ought to recommend, here and now, that it is people and their needs in contemporary society, not in theory, not precedent, that should determine the shape of the social services.

It is true that a good many of our disabled citizens, especially war disabled, are better treated in Britain than almost anywhere else. Broadly speaking this is true, especially so in the case of war disabled. But the levels of allowance that we provide, unlike those in certain countries, are determined by the source of the disability rather than by the extent to which it causes loss of faculty, and so it is that the war disabled, by general consent, obtain preference over the industrially disabled and men injured at work get preference over those injured at home.

So it is that only the war disabled and industrially disabled needing constant attendance get the £2 15s. a week allowance. Why should there not be a realistic allowance for all who are so gravely disabled that they require constant attendance?

Consider the case of the Yorkshire wife mentioned in a moving article, which hon. Members must have read, in last Friday's Daily Mail. She had the incurable and paralysing disease, multiple sclerosis, for 17 years. The article says: At first her husband went on National Assistance to look after her. They couldn't manage so he went back to work and she went reluctantly into hospital. She was breaking her heart. Her husband brought her home. But he could not afford the £3 a week home help, so she went hack into hospital.Now, at the age of 45, with a lively mind, she is in a geriatric ward. Her nearest neighbour is 99 years old. The article goes on to say that she no longer reads so that her only contact with life is conversation, and she gets that once a day for an hour when her husband visits her. He is quoted as saying: She is praying to die. She cries nearly every night that she has no reason to live. She says if she could come back home to me she could go on living. And the article says: Imagine what a disability income could do for her. Consider another case, that of the truly remarkable woman we were privileged to meet earlier this week through the good offices of my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. John Astor), who takes a great practical interest in the seriously disabled. I refer to Mrs. Page, a journalist, who works under the name of Ann Armstrong. She is a mother of two young children and has been suffering from respiratory polio for 12 years and is permanently anchored to a respiratory machine. The only movement she has is in her head and toes, with which she manipulates a dictating machine. I understand that she was in hospital for two years and that when she came out she could not, and nine years later she still cannot, be left alone in her home. I understand that she has about 15 hours help a week, some home help and some which she employs. It costs her about £5 a week and is nowhere near enough. Her husband takes over the minute he gets home. The disability income which I would propose would enable her to employ a regular amount of help, and in the article she is quoted as saying: Financially it is a horrible struggle. It will always be a struggle. If we had extra money and extra help my husband might be able to get some sleep at night. Lastly, I take an example from my own part of South-East Essex. It is of a man in his middle 40's who is living with his widowed mother whose income is only slightly above National Assistance standards. He has spondylitis. His condition has deteriorated and he can be moved only in a wheel chair. His aged mother finds it increasingly difficult to push him about. A higher scale would enable them to pay children to run errands or to pay a person to accompany him on little outings in the town. Otherwise, he is almost permanently confined at home.

I have quoted these cases because it is impossible to measure the suffering and strain caused by a system which either keeps people permanently in hospital, or, if they are at home, makes it difficult for their families to make ends meet and cope with the financial burden. I think that the case for a constant attendance allowance on the grounds of social justice alone is unanswerable.

However, humanitarian considerations aside, I am convinced that such an allowance would save money. For one thing, we know from regional hospital board studies that one in three of the chronic sick could leave hospital if someone was at home to look after them. For another, we can see for ourselves in the Ministry of Health hospital costing returns that the net cost of keeping a long-stay or chronic patient in hospital ranges from £15 9s. 5d. a week to more than £22 a week, dependent, of course, on the type of hospital. I stress that this is the net cost which excludes all elements of capital expenditure. In these circumstances, it begins to make economic as well as social sense to provide a reasonable allowance for all these disabled persons who medically could be allowed home—and that does not apply to all of them—when their families are willing and suitable help can be secured.

In the past it has always been suggested that the main difficulty about extending the special allowance for the blind to other classes of handicapped persons has been the problem of deciding who should benefit. The Committee will observe that the Amendment does not specify types of disability. I am sure that to list types of disabling diseases would be quite wrong. We are anxious to focus attention on the fact that it is the degree of impairment and not its source which should govern our thinking and command our priorities, and I see no reason why the well-tried system of the tribunals which assesses the extent of the disabilities of war pensioners should not be extended to other handicapped persons who need constant attendance.

So far, I have been arguing the case for a constant attendance allowance for the seriously disabled to put them on a par with the blind. The second Amend- ment seeks to encourage the provision of constant attendance allowance from other sources. If it were accepted, the Amendment would impose no great financial burden on the community at large, but it would provide a boon to the unfortunate people whom it is designed to help.

The effect would be that a person who was so seriously disabled that he required constant attendance and who had a trust income of up to £2 a week, when obviously the capital could not be touched, which is modest enough—very much so in these days—or from, say, an annuity, a friendly society, or from trade union sick pay, or some charitable organisation, would have that sum totally disregarded in an assessment of his entitlement to benefit.

This proposal would considerably help in those cases where money is specifically provided for constant attendance either by a charity, or by other members of the family. We all know—and some of us have had experience of this within our own family circles—of married children of disabled parents who are not able wholly to look after the mother or father all the time but who are willing to contribute something towards the cost of constant attendance. I am sure that this proposal would encourage help of that kind.

It is arguable that as the cost of constant attendance is bound to rise—it is rising all the time—there may be a strong case for an even larger disregard, but our purpose in putting forward this proposal is to ensure that the principle underlying it is discussed and accepted.

I know that the National Assistance Board is particularly concerned with cases of this kind. There is one case in South-East Essex which perhaps I ought to mention. A widow in her late fifties who is almost immoveable because of rheumatoid arthritis—she cannot move out at all—prefers to go on living in her own home and has a married daughter who lives quite near and who comes in whenever possible. A home help is available for only a short time each week. This lady has a small income from a trust fund left by her father.

At present there is no statutory disregard and, as the Bill is drafted, there is no provision for a disregard. In line with the generally flexible and humane attitude which it has taken down the years, the Board has disregarded 15s. of that trust income under its discretionary powers. The full 40s. disregard which I suggest would enable her to pay for extra attention and comforts in the long periods when she is left on her own. Now that the Board has come under the new Ministry, surely it is right that the general discretionary power which the Board has used under Regulation 3 of the 1948 Regulations should be replaced by a specific provision for that disregard in the Schedule.

Here are two proposals designed to bring much-needed relief to people whose sufferings in many instances are such as to move the stoniest heart to compassion. I hope that what I have said will command the right hon. Lady's sympathy. I know that she cares very deeply about these matters and I hope that she will be able to accept both Amendments.

Photo of Mrs Lena Jeger Mrs Lena Jeger , Holborn and St Pancras South

I share the anxieties of the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine), to whom we are all indebted for the way in which he has brought them before the Committee. There is an increasing awareness among hon. Members about many of these cases and great credit for that awareness should go to the Disablement Income Group and similar organisations. My anxiety arises mainly because at least some of the cases which the hon. Gentleman has mentioned would not be covered by the Amendments, because, in spite of my protests, the Committee has already passed Clause 4, which excludes from benefit any person in full-time employment, or any person aggregated with him or her. We would, therefore, have to take some more drastic step to help many disabled people, especially disabled wives.

If my right hon. Friend is not able to help within the confines of the Bill, I hope that, in consultation with the Minister of Health, she will realise the urgent anxieties of all hon. Members, which I know she shares and which are also felt in the country. I do not want to delay the Committee, but in a few words I want to spell out the realities of the kind of life which we are discussing. A young mother is disabled by poliomyelitis from the neck downwards. She has two small children and is living at home. She wrote in The Guardian that her day is like this: Before my husband leaves for work each morning he does the chores of firefighting, shoecleaning, etc., and then washes me, cleans my teeth and nose, brushes my hair, gives me a bedpan, changes me if I have a period, prepares breakfast for us all, gives the children theirs, has his own, and feeds me. However clever you are with time-and-motion study these fiddling jobs take a couple of hours when there is only one pair of hands to do them. We need at least an hour's help at this end of the day to cope with breakfast and feeding me—for six days a week. For a considered minimum of five shillings an hour this would cost 30s. Another hour or two at the children's bathtime and bedtime at the same rate would cost between 30s. and £3. 2.0 p.m.

That is the kind of sum that could greatly ameliorate the position of people in this situation and could make such a difference to the intolerable burden put on a husband. My dread in a case like this is of what would happen if the husband cracks up. He is a hero. Only his devotion enables this woman to be at home. Apart from the pleasure which it gives her family to have her at home, this saves the Health Service between £40 and £50 a week.

I shall not press my hon. Friend unfairly, but we must find an answer for these people. We cannot go on saying that we can find £40 to £50 a week to put them in hospital and take their children into care, but will not give a woman like this £2 or £3 a week to alleviate the heavy burden in the home.

I cannot see an answer to the question within the terms of the Amendment, but I hope that it will be realised that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee, and a growing body of public opinion outside the House of Commons, will not tolerate for much longer what seems to be a gross injustice to people who are in need of help, and not only of our sympathy.

Photo of Mr John Pardoe Mr John Pardoe , North Cornwall

I agree with the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger). Although I am entirely in sympathy with the aims of the Amendment, it will not deal with many of the problems which were mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine). I cannot suport it because it will not solve so many of the problems which are primarily concerned with the housewife, the mother who is sick. Nearly all the cases which my hon. Friend mentioned were in this category.

Men also become ill and are disabled for a long period, but they have usually been wage or salary earners, and, therefore, they are entitled under National Insurance to sickness, injury, or disability benefit. If a housewife becomes ill, or is disabled in any way, the family suffers, and very heavy family costs are involved.

This problem should be overcome not by means of the Amendment, but by introducing a married woman's sickness benefit. I shall on another occasion—because this is not the place or time to do so—press this upon the right hon. Lady. On a large number of occasions in this debate, the right hon. Lady has had to say, "We cannot do this now, but we shall do it".

I hope that this benefit for married women will be introduced and I shall press for all these things to be done. When can we expect the great Bill which is to usher in the Paradise which we all want? Will it be this year, next year or when?

Photo of Miss Peggy Herbison Miss Peggy Herbison , Lanarkshire North

I shall, first, take up the last point which was made by the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe). He asks when the Government's great new Bill will be ushered in. He has not been following what has been happening. When we were returned to Government in October, 1964, we started the general review, and we have not been waiting to usher in a new Bill. As we have completed each part of the review we have brought legislation before the House to give effect to the decisions which we have made.

This seems to me to be a much better way than waiting until everything was completed. In the case of the new superannuation scheme which will take the place of the present rather discredited graduated scheme, we have given indications in another debate of what will be the nature of the timetable for it.

The hon. Member for Cornwall, North and my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) are quite right. Most of the cases which were mentioned by the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine), who so reasonably and movingly moved the Amendment, would not be affected by the two Amendments.

For example, neither Amendment would help Mrs. Anne Page in any way because her husband is in full-time employment, so that they are not receiving non-contributory benefits. The Bill applies only to those who will be receiving non-contributory benefits. The cases given as examples would not be helped by the Amendment.

However, I am glad that they have been raised today, and raised in the way in which they have been by both the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend. I am certain that these matters are giving great concern and we are giving the most serious consideration to this in our general review.

My right hon. Friend the Minister without Portfolio, in a recent speech outside the House of Commons, said that National Insurance, to a very great extent, was really about women. There is no doubt about it in this case. It does not follow that those who are not covered by the provisions of the Bill are being neglected. The whole future of superannuation and the future for women in every kind of circumstance is being reviewed. In the review we are giving the greatest consideration to the kind of cases that were brought before us today.

I am grateful to the Committee for the speed with which we are dealing with the Amendments and I shall deal with them as quickly as possible. The first to be moved would give to those who, according to the Amendment, require constant attendance the same scale rate as is given for the blind. The blind are the only group of people under the noncontributory benefit scheme who will get this special additional payment.

The hon. Member is quite right. This is a preference that has existed for a long time in this country. It was first given in the blind domiciliary assistance which was paid by the Public Assistance authorities. It was carried on into the National Assistance Scheme in 1948. I think that there are sound reasons for the exception, and for the ability to be able to give a special rate to the one class.

The Committee should know these reasons. The special needs of blindness do not vary much individually. There are needs common to blind people and they can be easily recognised, just as the hon. Member said, and these needs can best be provided for by means of a special rate common to all blind people; it is easy to provide for this special case because the needs are easily recognisable.

To extend this provision to other classes entitled to non-contributory benefit, as the Amendment would do, would immediately lead to difficulties. The hon. Member touched on these, but rather airily swept them aside; but in practice the country would, I think, come to feel the drawing of distinctions between the cases to be individious, and it would, indeed, very likely cause much discontent. Indeed, I would say it would be virtually impossible to draw the dividing line.

All of us in the Committee have knowledge of the difficulties which can arise in a home. Take the old person who suffers from incontinence. That old person needs care and attention, but not necessarily constant attendance as it is defined in the Acts to which the hon. Member made reference. Take someone at home suffering from mental disorder or perhaps someone with what might be termed incomplete paralysis; these people need care and attention, but not necessarily constant attendance as it is defined in those other Acts.

I want to make it clear that the Government are concerned about all these people, those whom we can say need constant attendance—and by that I do mean constant attendance—and also those who really do need quite a lot of devoted care and attention. We really do want to ensure—and I think the Bill does it—that the special needs of all those people are met. First of all, the long-term cases will receive a special addition of 9s. a week, and where the person does not qualify for the addition the Commission's discretionary powers will be used. Then where there are special expenses—and in the kind of cases I have spoken about there certainly will be special expenses in providing constant attendance—I do assure the Committee that the Commission has ample discretionary powers to ensure that they are met.

I am sure it was the hon. Member's desire, and the desire of the whole Com- mittee, to ensure that special expenses such as those of constant attendance should be met, but I am also concerned with what may be termed less than constant attendance for those receiving noncontributory benefit, and from what I have said I think I have shown that the Amendment is really superfluous.

I want to come to the second Amendment. Much of what I have said about the hon. Member's first Amendment applies to his second. I have to tell him that I am advised that the proposed disregard would apply to the retirement pension, or to any of the other main National Insurance benefits, as well as to charitable payments and voluntary payments. That is what I am advised, and I am quite certain from my legal advisers that this is quite definitely the case. Since this is so, and as the Amendment would override the express provision in paragraph 25 that retirement pension and the main National Insurance benefits are to be taken fully into account, and I think the hon. Member would want them to be taken fully into account, the Government must regard this extension of disregards as quite unacceptable. We have given our reasons for this previously.

2.15 p.m.

The Amendment proposes a complete departure from the general principle on which disregards are based. That principle is that disregards are determined by reference to the kind of resources, not by reference to the circumstances of the individual claimant. Again I stress that it would be virtually impossible to draw a dividing line between one case and another for the reasons I gave when dealing with the first Amendment. Again, I would stress that the disregards which are allowed under the Bill are so much more generous than the present disregards we have in National Assistance.

It seems to me that the best way of dealing with the real difficulties which the hon. Member and other hon Members have outlined is to use the method which is adopted by the Bill. Where a particular category of persons needs higher income this ought to be reflected in the level of requirements as calculated in Part II of the Schedule.

That is the first point, but over and above this the Commission has ample discretionary powers to make additions for special needs. If a person requires domestic help of a non-medical kind for which payment has to be made the corn-mission will take this into account in assessing the needs. That is a very important point when we think of the help which is needed in those homes, where, in some cases, it is not the person who needs such help who requires the payment but a relative, very often the daughter, who has given up her work to look after a frail or ailing parent.

It is not money which is needed to be given to the old person but an allowance in her own right to the daughter. I think that in these cases, that is much the better way of doing it. Often the old person will have no income at all to disregard. It does seem to me that where a daughter or other relative gives up work to go home and care for an ailing parent the money ought to be paid to that person in that person's own right.

I hope that from what I have said—there is much more I could have said, but we have other important Amendments still to come—I have made it clear that these Amendments would not cover many of the cases which the hon. Member has in mind; that it is easier to deal with the blind as a separate category; that it would be impossible to deal with the others in the same way; that there are ample provisions in the discretionary powers which the commission will have.

I am quite certain that the debate can do nothing but good, because I am certain that the members of the commission will read the debate and realise what are the desires of the Members of this Committee. If the hon. Member is willing to withdraw his Amendment I think that it will be a good thing. If not, we must reject it.

Photo of Mr Maurice Macmillan Mr Maurice Macmillan , Farnham

I cannot, of course, speak for my hon. Friend, but for some of us on this side of the Committee I do not think that the right hon. Lady's very carefully argued explanation gives us really sufficient grounds for not pressing the two Amendments. First of all, she said that this problem was not being neglected by the Government; it was one of the many things for which in the future they were having serious consideration, and which were, in the meantime, dealt with reasonably adequately by the discretionary powers of the Supplementary Benefits Commission.

We deeply regret that, in extending the idea and the principle that payments made under this Bill should be made as of right to the recipients cannot be extended to this group of persons as well as to others and that this group and this group alone must depend on the discretionary powers of the Commission.

The right hon. Lady referred to the difficulties of identifying those who would qualify for this special treatment as being persons who were disabled and in need of constant attendance. It would be the task of the Supplementary Benefits Commission to identify these people and to help them, which the right hon. Lady said would be too complicated. But I see no greater difficulty in drawing the line now than in drawing it at some distant date in the future, when the new Measures which the Government contemplate will have been brought into law.

Nor do I see, if I am in order in referring to it, any greater difficulty for the Commission in drawing the line on these two Amendments than on Clause 6 of the Selective Employment Payments Bill, under which there seems to be a similar problem in deciding whether the special refunds for certain households shall or shall not be paid, since that too includes a definition of a person in need of such assistance, by reason of being infirm, sick or otherwise incapacitated.

It seems that a line is being drawn there in exactly the same way as it would have to be drawn by the Commission if the Amendments were accepted. A good deal was made of the point that the Amendments did not cover most of the cases concerned. Of course they do not, because this Bill deals only with those who have non-contributory pensions and benefits and therefore can cover only people who are so qualified. But the Amendments are part of a wider complex of measures which will be and have been put forward to the Bill as Amendments and new Clauses, some of which have been rejected and none of which, alas, has yet been accepted by the Government.

They are part, too, of a complex which we shall continue to put forward as Amendments and new Clauses in the Finance Bill. I hope that I am not being unduly optimistic in reading into one of the right hon. Lady's remarks some small hope that, on the Finance Bill at least, we can be a little more optimistic than we can on this Bill.

There are obviously many ways in which the State can help. Some, like tax allowances and special pensions, are without the scope of the Bill and some, like the two Amendments, are within the scope. They have several points in common, one of which is that they would undoubtedly cost the country more. I do not think that this is or should be an over-riding factor nor do I believe that the right hon. Lady thinks that. We are dealing now with people who are least able to protect themselves.

They have one other point in common. They recognise the principle that we must now get away from any question of allowance or benefit being dependent upon the existence of special diseases or types of disability or source of disability and go back entirely to the extent of the disability and its effect on the individual. As was said earlier, there is no such thing as a class of disabled people: there are only disabled individuals. I wish that we could persuade the right hon. Lady to extend this principle to disregards as well as to assessment of disk ability, which would thus include the two Amendments.

As she rightly said, this would be a new principle in Part III of Schedule 2, the provisions which define disregards by the source of the income. This is intended to carry the principle of the previous Amendment from Part II into Part III and include any income for this class of person—disabled people only. Until this Bill, tubercular people had special treatment and the right hon. Lady perhaps originally intended to do something on the lines of our two Amendments. That is why the Bill took away the special treatment from tubercular people. The right hon. Lady recognised that we should get away from the consideration of special diseases and back to the idea of the extent of the disability, no matter what the cause.

The right hon. Lady has explained why she was unable to accept our Amendments. I do not think that this side of the Committee found that very convincing. It is more likely that it is once more a matter of course and that, as usual, the Treasury have stopped her from going as far as she would have liked. We must press her to reconsider the matter. These Amendments should be in the Bill.

I am aware that a long time has passed since we first considered this kind of problem and since the right hon. Lady and her friends started on their plan for social benefits and improving the whole of our social security system. Meanwhile, the economic situation has greatly deteriorated. However, I do not think that the Minister would accept for a moment that these are the right people on whom to economise, or that this is the right way to try to meet the problem of rising Government expenditure—by excluding the disabled from increased benefits and a better opportunity to provide for themselves by proper disregards.

It is no good saying that this is administratively complicated. The administrative complications, as I have shown, will be just as great on the Selective Employment Tax special refunds for certain households. Claims have been made and administrative difficulties have been overcome. We must urge her to take up the cudgels once more. We are not asking for very much from a party which has promised so much.

I must remind the right hon. Lady again of her declaration that the Labour Government will create a fair and just scheme for everyone now, not in the 21st century. For everyone. But for some, I fear, the Government are now saying—unless the right hon. Lady accepts our Amendment—in the words of Amiens, in "As You Like It": Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky,Thou dost not bite so nigh.As benefits forgot: Let the right hon. Lady accept this principle now and in the future and provide a little more of what she and her right hon. and hon. Friends promised on many occasions.

Question put, That those words be there inserted:—

Photo of Mr Philip Holland Mr Philip Holland , Carlton

I beg to move Amendment No. 13, in page 23, line 17, at the end to insert: (2) Additional requirements of persons eligible for supplementary pension, being men aged 75 or over, or women aged 70 or over 14s. 0d. As this is the first occasion for me on the Front Bench, perhaps I may preface my remarks with a brief comment on the

The Committee divided: Ayes 41, Noes 118.

The purpose of the Amendment is to recognise the state of affairs which exists, to establish a principle and to set a most desirable precedent. It recognises that the longer retirement lasts, so the need for more financial assistance grows. On retirement a pensioner has a certain stock of clothing, but as the years go by, the clothing wears out and the need for replacement and repairs as well as the need for replacement of household goods increases.

As we grow older we have a greater need of warmth and of the little extra comforts which can mean so much when the body becomes more susceptible to cold, aches and pains. What is an adequate benefit at the age of retirement often ceases to be an adequate benefit some years later, after years of retirement on a small fixed income. This situation exists and we can do nothing to change the basic fact that people in retirement do not have a rising income during that time to allow them to fight the deterioration in their standard of life.

The aim of the Amendment is to alleviate a little of the growing hardship during retirement by giving a modest 5s. a week increase to people after they have been in retirement for 10 years. This cannot solve the problem, but it can help, and this is the sort of practical help which we know from our constituency experience would be greatly appreciated by those members of the community who are least able to take care of and speak up for themselves.

Poverty at any age is tough. Poverty in old age is worst of all. In later years the will and ability to fight back becomes weakened and one becomes less resilient to the slings and arrows which life presents to us all. Acceptance of the Amendment would be acknowledgement of the principle of giving more help where the need is greatest without the further additional qualifying test of means. In other words, selection for the additional benefit of 5s. would be by age category rather than by an additional test of means.

The idea of giving more help to these people is one which I and a number of my hon. Friends have been pressing for a number of years. I was involved in this between 1962 and 1964 from the benches opposite. On Second Readings on 28th January, 1963, and 28th January, 1964, I spoke on this subject. I had an article published pressing this principle in the Daily Telegraph on 16th November, 1962. I spoke at my party's annual conference in 1963 on this issue. My hon. Friends have equally been putting on pressure to get this principle accepted.

Our urgings were heard. My party accepted this as a part of its policy manifestos in 1964 and 1966, and it appeared in our policy documents. [Interruption.] I assure hon. Gentlemen opposite that had we got back to power this would have been implemented by now. From a personal or party point of view, there is no inconsistency among my hon. Friends and I in urging the Government to accept this principle.

Photo of Miss Irene Ward Miss Irene Ward , Tynemouth

Would my hon. Friend inform hon. Gentlemen opposite that this principle was embodied in the Service pension arrangements in the last Pensions (Increase) Act to be introduced by the Conservative Government, and that there is no need for hon. Gentlemen opposite to laugh?

Photo of Mr Philip Holland Mr Philip Holland , Carlton

That is perfectly true, and I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite have noted my hon. Friend's remarks.

The proposal in the Amendment is extremely modest. I hope that it will commend itself to the Minister on the ground of moderate cost for maximum effect as well as on humanitarian grounds. In terms of value for money this is an outstanding bargain offer. There are at present 159,000 men over the age of 75 and 695,000 women over 70 in receipt of National Assistance supplementary benefit, making a total of 854,000 who would be eligible, if none of them were getting an extra discretionary allowance, for the full 5s. proposed in the Amendment. If we discount the fact that some of them will be getting an extra discretionary amount, the total cost in a full year, on the known statistics, would be about £11 million, but this is a gross figure and it would probably be less because of the discretionary allowances which are already being paid.

This is a small price to pay by a society which undoubtedly has a duty to make the last years of our old people's lives as comfortable as possible. This is not a question of asking a benevolent State to pay a dole but of asking society to accept a little more of its responsibility towards the elderly. I agree that any critic of the Amendment who suggests that an extra 5s. after 10 years of retirement is not as much as it might be, but the figure has been pitched at this deliberately in the hope that such a modest advance may be acceptable to the Government. My hon. Friends have not tabled the Amendment because it is part of our party's policy or that we wish to pay lip service to that policy. We genuinely believe that it is desirable to improve the supplementary benefits for those who are in their final years.

We are asking for minimum action to be taken urgently and we do not want promises for the future or statements to the effect that the matter will be considered by a commission or that an inquiry will be conducted. Ideally, we would like to have a bigger increase than that suggested. Ideally, too, it would be an improvement to have further increases each subsequent five years after the 10 years is up, but we recognise the difficulties of innovation and the major obstacle which exists due to the state of the economy. We merely require recognition of this principle and the establishment of this precedent and even the most granite-hearted curmudgeon must agree that it is desirable that the Government should accept this inexpensive and modest proposal.

I have deliberately tried to move the Amendment with moderation so that the very real arguments in favour of its acceptance should not be obscured by partison postures. This should not, however, be taken as a sign of weakness. We are sincere about this and feel extremely strongly on the subject. I would not like the Minister to be in any doubt about this and I hope that, when the Joint Parliamentary Secretary replies, he will not merely deliver a stereotyped, stonewalling, Departmental reply.

I hope that the case will be considered on its merits and that it will be possible to place the needs of the elderly above what might be an understandable party political desire to reject proposals coming from this side of the Committee. I ask the Minister to give sympathetic consideration to the growing needs of the elderly in retirement and to accept this worthwhile and humanitarian Amendment.

Photo of Mr Harold Davies Mr Harold Davies , Leek

I have listened with sympathy and understanding to the remarks of the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland), and I assure him that I will not reply in a stereotyped fashion. I have noted with interest the large number of names on the Notice Paper in support of the proposal, and I accept that they sincerely support it. I also assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend is no curmudgeon when it comes to the needs of the elderly.

Photo of Mr Philip Holland Mr Philip Holland , Carlton

It was not my intention to give that impression.

Photo of Mr Harold Davies Mr Harold Davies , Leek

I had the impression that it might have been and so I wanted immediately to eradicate from the minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite any thought that my right hon. Friend or any of my hon. Friends have hearts of granite. Far from it. Despite the economic exigencies, additional aid for retirement pensioners was one of our first actions upon taking office. Let us, however, come to the realities of the situation.

I am grateful for the speed with which we are getting through the Committee stage. However, speed must not clutter up our thoughts and the clarity of our aims. It is our duty to see that the last years of our citizens are made as comfortable as possible. Everybody throughout the land would agree with that. The question is one of translating this into practice by the Government. It might therefore help the Committee in considering the Amendment if I remind hon. Members why the Government introduced the novel feature of the long-term addition. This 9s. allowance is a completely new innovation. I was glad to hear that the hon. Member for Carlton recognised this. There is nothing stereotyped about it. Its purpose is to cover the great bulk of special needs of the kind met by discretionary allowances under National Assistance. It will enable the Commission to dispense with detailed inquiries, which was one of the things we promised in our Election manifesto, into needs which are necessary in every case under the administration of National Assistance.

I regard this as an important point because our aim has been to create the new scheme in a form which will give our old people an assured income on an annual basis with the minimum of detailed inquiry. That being so, the question is whether, on this basis, the long-term addition ought, as the Amendment suggests, to be put on a preferential footing of the older retirement pensioners. After looking at the matter in depth, we found no grounds for doing this.

2.45 p.m.

The long-term addition is for special needs. It cannot for certain be shown that these needs exist to a higher degree among older pensioners than among younger pensioners. The most relevant evidence available relates to the use of discretionary allowances in National Assistance for people over pensionable age. Taken over the whole year, we found that the weekly average was less than 9s. It will therefore be noted that in giving 9s., we have given more than the average. As a result, the long-term discretionary allowance will totally replace the previous discretionary allowances in something like two-thirds of the existing cases who receive those additions. The remaining one-third have substantial needs. It can be shown that cases with higher special needs exist among all types of age groups. If it could be shown that all the cases with the higher needs were among men over 75 or women over 70, there might be merit in the Amendment, but that is not the case as far as we can judge from our evidence. The Opposition have not given relevant figures to support their case.

The average addition among those over the age of 70 is not known. What is known is that among the non-contributory old-age pensioners receiving assistance, who by definition must be at least 74 years of age, the average addition during the year is well below 9s. a week. Consequently, on this basis, we see no reason to think that the average amount for those over 70 or 75 years of age is appreciably more than for all old people above pensionable age. We know from a sample of cases that, as regards the proportion of pensioners receiving additions, there is nothing of special significance about the age of 75, because in each of the five-year age ranges on either side of 75 about three-quarters are now getting discretionary allowances.

Considered as a measure to replace the existing mass of discretionary additions, the long-term addition does not, therefore, need to be at any higher rate for the over-75s as a whole than for the younger pensioner. While I do not want to be political, this matter has a long history in the policy of the Opposition. I do not want to repeat the famous remark about the donation that the then Prime Minister offered to retirement pensioners.

We have tried to do what was fair. We believe that the very old are not a homogeneous group who can be shown as a category and as a whole to have greater identifiable needs than younger pensioners. We must not jump to that assumption. Many, indeed, have fewer needs. If the purpose of the Amendment is to deal with any suggestion that their resources are eroded by the passage of time and years of retirement, the non-contributory benefit scheme itself is the remedy.

For the first time, the scheme recognises the special position in this respect of pensioners and others out of the employment field, and it does this by providing a long-term addition. If, on the other hand, the hon. Member for Carlton is arguing that on grounds of ill-health many of these people need extra help, the Bill, which we have been dealing with this week, enables the Commission to give it where it is most needed and to give more than the extra 9s. by virtue of its discretionary powers. The Committee therefore should consider the inequity of giving preference to the older people merely by one fell swoop as suggested in the Amendment.

I have not based my argument on cost. I will not bother to take the issue of cost, but no responsible Government could undertake an open-ended or unlimited financial commitment. Both we and the Opposition would agree that our resources must be allocated with an eye to priorities. Having looked at our priorities, we believe that we have got the right balance.

To sum up, I assure the Committee that with the powers already proposed in the Bill any man over the age of 75 or any old lady over the age of 70 who happens to be in circumstances similar to those envisaged by the hon. Member for Carlton will duly get satisfaction and, through the discretionary powers provided in the 13i11, will be enabled to have his or her needs met even above the 9s. long-term addition, if necessary.

Photo of Mr William Van Straubenzee Mr William Van Straubenzee , Wokingham

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary's reply is most depressing, not because he has not, as always, applied his great humanity to the problem, but because he seeks to persuade the Committee that the principle which we on this side put forward is wrong. That is what depresses me. I shall not argue figures across the Floor of the Committee. I would have understood the hon. Gentleman had he sought to say that as a member of a responsible Government he cannot accept the figures quoted in the Amendment. I could even have accepted it had he said that he could not agree to any increment for financial reasons.

We are going through a continuing process. A few moments ago, for example, there was a loud gale of laughter from a number of hon. Members opposite, who had been conspicuous by their absence from our proceedings both today and on Monday, because we were talking about a continuing process. My hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland), who moved the Amendment so persuasively, has the right to be regarded on both sides as one of those who, sometimes out of step with his own leaders, has been progressively working at this problem over the years. If in Committee of the whole House hon. Members cannot on important Amendments such as this express progressive thought without being laughed at, we shall be a sterile place.

The greater number of those at present being assisted are of pensionable age or above. This is not a controversial fact. Of those who are above pensionable age a substantial proportion are of the age mentioned in the Amendment. This is recognised on both sides of the Committee. All that the Amendment seeks to do is to establish the principle that, as one further step in the continuing process to which both sides of the Corm- mittee are contributing, it should he recognised that age as such as of right in this context should be financially recognised.

I should have been perfectly prepared to have seen the Amendment withdrawn on purely financial grounds, because I am not prepared to argue figures. Medical science is enabling us to live much longer. The fact that we are living much longer brings with it social and other problems with which both sides of the Committee are only too familiar. It must surely be part of our continuing policy that this factor be recognised.

The proposition in the Amendment would be another step in that continuing social policy. Let it be said generously from this side of the Committee that we are discussing an interesting suggestion which is itself an extension of this policy, namely, a payment as of right after a period of years, which I say without any reservation is an interesting extension. This is a case when we could latch on to that the accepted fact of present-day life: advancing age, bringing with it social difficulties, social pressures and financial demands, could well be recognised by the State.

I found the somewhat limited reply which the Parliamentary Secretary made to this very warm Amendment one of the more depressing features of our discussions today.

3.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr Paul Dean Mr Paul Dean , Somerset North

I am bound to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary's reply to this proposal was exceedingly disappointing. The hon. Gentleman appeared to question the proposition that need grows with age. The hon. Gentleman must agree that someone aged 75 is likely to be feebler than someone aged 65; he is likely to be in need of more heat to keep him warm in his home; he is probably on a special diet; after 10 years in retirement the chances are that clothes and household goods are wearing out and need replacing, although they may well have been in good condition on retirement.

At 75, people find it much more difficult to earn and, therefore, to eke out their pensions than people at 65. These are strong pointers to the fact that people are likely to be relatively worse off at 75 than at 65. This is one of the main reasons why we believe that it should be recognised that need grows with age

The second point made by the Parliamentary Secretary was that the discretionary additions can take care of additional needs as age increases. One of the objects of the Bill it has been emphasised time and time again—is that as far as possible inquiries should he avoided. On Second Reading, the right hon. Lady said: The purpose of this long-term addition is a simple one. It is to remove in these cases the need to inquire into the small day-to-day expenses for which the bulk of the discretionary allowances are now made."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th May, 1966; Vol. 729, c. 341.] The Parliamentary Secretary has said that if people at 75 or at any other age need additions over and above the 9s. they can turn back to the discretionary additions. The right hon. Lady herself emphasised, and I believe absolutely rightly, that we want to avoid detailed inquiries as far as possible. If we want to avoid them at the age of 65, is it not much more important to avoid them at the age of 75 and later?

For those two reasons I am exceedingly disappointed, as are my right hon. Friends, with the Parliamentary Secretary's reply, and unless we can have more satisfaction on these points I hope

that my hon. Friend will press the Amendment.

Photo of Mr Harold Davies Mr Harold Davies , Leek

May I say a few words in an attempt to avoid a Division on this Amendment? It must be remembered that under the Bill non-contributory benefit will be payable up to a limit of about £1,500 capital. Non-contributory benefit payment to a married couple receiving retirement pensions and no other income, and with a rent of £3 a week, will cease only when the capital reaches £1,525.

Photo of Mr Paul Dean Mr Paul Dean , Somerset North

That does not answer the point that I made, that although we have this 9s. addition at the age of 65 automatically, there is no automatic addition which recognises that need grows with age.

Photo of Miss Mervyn Pike Miss Mervyn Pike , Melton

I do not want to speak for more than a moment, because we must press on. We have assured the right hon. Lady that she will get the Bill this afternoon. But this is an important matter of principle. We have argued it out. We feel very strongly about it, and in those circumstances I hope the Amendment will be pressed to a Division.

Question put, That those words be there inserted:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 37, Noes 121.

Division No. 27.]AYES[3.7 p.m.
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)Hobson, Rt. Hn. Sir JohnScott, Nicholas
Batsford, BrianHogg, Rt. Hn. QuintinSinclair, Sir George
Bell, RonaldHolland, PhilipSmith, John
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. JohnHordern, PeterTeeling, Sir William
Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir EdwardHowell, David (Guildford)Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John
Braine, BernardHunt, JohnVickers, Dame Joan
Costain, A. P.Longden, GilbertWard, Dame Irene
Dance, JamesMcAdden, Sir StephenWilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Dean, Paul (Somerset, N.)Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham)Worsley, Marcus
Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford)Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Pike,
Foster, Sir JohnMiss MervynTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)Pink, R. BonnerMr. Peter Maker and
Glover, Sir DouglasPym, FrancisMr. Reginald Eyre.
Grant, AnthonyRoots, William
NOES
Albu, AustenCorbet, Mrs. FredaEvans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)
Armstrong, ErnestCrawshaw, RichardEvans, loan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley)
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham)Darling, Rt. Hn. GeorgeFaulds, Andrew
Barnes, MichaelDavies, Harold (Leek)Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)
Beaney, AlanDavies, Robert (Cambridge)Floud, Bernard
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony WedgwoodDelargy, HughFoley, Maurice
Bennett, James (G'gow, Bridgeton)Diamond, Rt. Hn. JohnFowler, Gerry
Bishop, E. S.Dickens, JamesFraser, John (Norwood)
Booth, AlbertDunnett, JackFreeson, Reginald
Brown,Bob(N'ctle-upon-Tyne,W)Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter)Gardner, A. J.
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e)Gray, Dr. Hugh
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)English, MichaelGregory, Arnold
Chapman, DonaldEnnals, DavidHart, Mrs. Judith
Hattersley, RoyMacPherson, MalcolmRoebuck, Roy
Hazen, BertMarquand, DavidRogers, George
Herbison, Rt. Hn. MargaretMellish, RobertRowland, Christopher (Meriden)
Hilton, W. S.Mendelson, J. J.Rowlands, E. (Cardiff, N.)
Hooley, FrankMikardo, IanShaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.)
Houghton, Rt. Hn. DouglasMitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test)Shinwell, Rt. Hn. E.
Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough)Molloy, WilliamShort,RtHn.Edward(N'c'tle-u-Tyne)
Howie, W.Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)Silkin, John (Deptford)
Hughes, Roy (Newport)Moyle, RolandSkeffington, Arthur
Janner, Sir BarnettMurray, AlbertSlater, Joseph
Jeger,Mrs.Lena(H'b'n&St.P'cras,s.)Newens, StanSnow, Julian
Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)Norwood, ChristopherSwain, Thomas
Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)Orbach, MauriceTaverne, Dick
Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull,W.)Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)Thorpe, Jeremy
Jones,Rt.Hn.SirElwyn(W.Ham,S.)Owen, Will (Morpeth)Tuck, Raphael
Judd, FrankPardoe, J.Walden, Brian (All Saints)
Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham)Park, TrevorWallace, George
Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central)Pavitt, LaurenceWatkins, David (Consett)
Kerr, Russell (Feltham)Pentland, NormanWellbeloved, James
Leadbitter, TedPerry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)Whitaker, Ben
Lee, Rt. Hn. Jennie (Cannock)Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)White, Mrs. Eirene
Lee, Johr (Reading)Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E.Williams, Alan Lee (HOrnchurch)
Luard, EvanPrice, William (Rugby)Winnick, David
Lubbock, EricPursey, Cmdr. HarryZilliacus, K.
Mabon, Dr. J. DicksonRedhead, Edward
MacDermot, NiallReynolds, G. W.TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Macdonald, A. H.Richard, IvorMr. George Lawson and
Mackie, JohnRoberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.)Mr. William Whitlock.
Maclennan, RobertRobinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E.)

3.15 p.m.

Photo of Mr Paul Dean Mr Paul Dean , Somerset North

I beg to move Amendment No. 14, in page 23, line 22, to leave out "2 years" and to insert "6 months".

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

I suggest that with Amendment No. 14 the Committee might discuss Amendment No. 15, in line 22, at end insert: except in the case of persons on the disabled persons' employment register", Amendment No. 16, in page 23, leave out lines 23 to 25; and Amendment No. 17, in line 25, at end insert: (c) he has been in receipt of sickness or unemployment benefit for a continuous period of not less than six months. I understand that it might be desired to hale a Division on Amendment. No. 15 as well as on Amendment No. 14. I merely point out to the Committee that in view of the time and the general desire to obtain the Third Reading of the Bill today a second Division might prejudice the Third Reading.

Photo of Mr Paul Dean Mr Paul Dean , Somerset North

I shall be extremely brief in moving the Amendment. The intention is to pay the automatic 9s. addition to those who are getting the supplementary allowance after six months rather than two years. The Amendment does not deal with pensioners because they get the automatic addition at once, nor does it deal with the unemployed, who are covered by Amendment No. 15. I hope that on this occasion we shall have the support of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger), who has tabled a similar Amendment, one which goes rather further than ours, but is on the same lines.

The significance of six months rather than two years is that it is at the end of six months that the graduated benefits under a previous Measure end. Therefore, the main aim of the Amendment is, at any rate as far as the poorest are concerned, to lock in the short-term graduated benefits with the long-term benefits provided under this Bill. We raised this point on the Bill providing for the short-term benefits. On that occasion we asked what would happen when the short-term benefits ended at the end of six months, and the right hon. Lady told us, fairly, to wait for this Bill. We have waited for this Bill, and we now find that there is a gap of at least 18 months between the end of the graduated benefits and the start of the long-term additions.

I believe that the Government have failed to take this opportunity to lock in the short-term and the long-term benefits. Two years for the start of the long-term benefits in these cases seems purely arbitrary. It does not make sense in our social policy, and I do not believe that it will make sense to those involved. To be charitable to the right hon. Lady, it may well be that on this occasion it is the Treasury talking and that it has not allowed her to go any further. I see her nodding.

Photo of Miss Peggy Herbison Miss Peggy Herbison , Lanarkshire North

Miss Herbison indicated dissent.

Photo of Mr Paul Dean Mr Paul Dean , Somerset North

I was hoping that that was the main reason for it. In the Amendment we merely ask that needs should be reflected more effectively than they are now. Under the Amendment only the poorest will get the full benefit. Only the poorest will get their long-term benefits when their short-term benefits under the earlier Bill expire. There is little doubt that the majority of people with whom we are concerned in this Amendment have long-term needs, such as the sick.

The figures for sickness benefit show quite clearly that if a person has been sick for six months, the chances are, unhappily, that that person's health has broken down and he is, in effect, chronically sick and may well be in as much need of the long-term benefit as an old person. I am thinking, too, of the no-pension widow who is widowed just on the wrong side of 50 and who will get no pension after six months. If, as is likely, she requires additional help at the end of that time, the chances are that it will be required on a long-term basis. So I hope that the right hon. Lady will at any rate agree that here we are dealing with needs which are likely to be permanent.

I want to give one concrete illustration of how the Bill will work at the moment and how the Amendment would work. Let us take the case of a man earning £12 a week, with a wife and four children, who has been struck down by a serious illness. He will get some short-term graduated sickness benefit for six months under the earnings-related scheme. It is likely that he will get less than the full amount because of the earnings stop which the Minister introduced into the short-term scheme; but, because the wages stop under the Bill is more favourable than the earnings stop, it may be that the man will also get a supplementary allowance from the Commission.

Even if he is getting a supplementary allowance right from the beginning of his sickness, he will still have an 18-month gap between the end of the short-term benefit at six months and the beginning of the long-term rate of supplementary allowance at two years. He may well have three different rates of benefit within a period of two years. I cannot believe that that accurately reflects the need of that man and his family.

Under the Amendment, he would qualify for the 9s. long-term supplementary allowance as soon as his short-term benefit under the graduated scheme ran out at the end of six months; in other words, the two would be locked in.

If it is right, as I believe, to give the 9s. long-term supplementary allowance to pensioners at once, there is an equally strong case for saying that the sick man and his family should be eligible for it as soon as his graduated sickness benefit expires. I am sure that the right hon. Lady wants to reflect as accurately and as fairly as she can the needs of people in the allowances which they are given. I hope that she will be convinced of the justice of the Amendment.

Photo of Mrs Lena Jeger Mrs Lena Jeger , Holborn and St Pancras South

I understand that we are taking several Amendments together, and I had put down an Amendment suggesting that the two-year period should be cut to six months. I was concerned about the apparent contradiction with the provisions of the wage-related benefits. I had hoped that this Measure would rationalise our social security provisions and provide a more integrated system. I could not understand why we were likely to have a situation where, for about six months, a man would get wage-related benefit, and there would then be this slump until he had been ill for two years. I should like an explanation of the position.

My second point refers to the exclusion of the unemployed from the 9s. benefit under the present terms of the Bill, even after two years of unemployment. I must tell my right hon. Friend that I think this is a mean situation. We know that most of the long-term unemployed are getting very nearly on the fringe of the unemployable in the present economic conditions. We are anxious to encourage people who have been ill, who have had disablement and breakdowns to get back to work, to register for employment, rather than to go on drawing sickness benefit. The effect of the Bill is that if one of these borderline cases, a man who could sit back and draw sick benefit, is encouraged by my right hon. Friend's local officers to register for employment and to try a light job, the very act of registering him disqualifies him from obtaining the 9s. for two years, that is supposing that he is unlucky in obtaining work.

That seems to be so unkind that I feel I must have misinterpreted the intentions of my right hon. Friend and I hope that she will be able to help me. There is such a hazy dividing line between the unemployed and the unemployable, between the sick and inadequate and those who can just hold down a job. It may be that there is a fear of encouraging idleness underlying this rule. A penal attitude to unemployment does not belong on this side of the Committee. If we are afraid of work-shy people taking advantage of this small extra benefit, my right hon. Friend has adequate powers under Clause 30 to deal with this.

We must accept that there are many parts of the country where it is not always the fault of the person concerned that he has not been able to get work for two years, either through reasons of geographical unemployment or because of his own state of health. I must point out that of people who have been unemployed for more than a year, one in four are registered disabled, but registered for employment. Surely we want to encourage the disabled to do this, but if putting men on the employment list means that they will be disqualified from the 9s. I cannot see the social sense in this. Because of the shortage of time I hope that I have made my anxieties clear and I will await the Minister's explanation.

Photo of Bernard Braine Bernard Braine , Essex South East

Owing to the pressure on time it might be convenient if I spoke now to Amendment No. 15. By now I should imagine that the Committee will be well aware of some of the strange anomalies and injustices of our much-vaunted Welfare State, especially as regards the disabled. I entirely agree with the hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Leger) that it should be our aim to help the disabled to live as normally as their disability permits.

This means encouraging them, wherever possible, to overcome their physical handicaps and the psychological and social difficulties which these so often bring, by becoming self-supporting and self-respecting members of the community. As the Bill stands, while the normal scale of benefit is avaliable to unemployed persons of working age provided that they are registered for work, they cannot get the 9s. a week addition, although they may be unemployed for two years or more. The purpose of Amendment No. 15 is to except all persons on the Disabled Persons Employment Register so as to enable them to get the extra 9s. a week, if they are unemployed for two years or more.

This Amendment would ensure that disabled people who have had their names added to the Disabled Persons Employment Register would still be eligible for the 9s. a week after two years, and it is deliberately designed to encourage the disabled to register for employment. The Amendment recognises the fact that there are a number of people who, by virtue of their disability have been unable to obtain employment for at least two years and that in equity and justice, they should be treated as generously as other categories of persons who qualify for the special addition of 9s. after two years.

3.30 p.m.

One disablement resettlement officer told me recently that many of the people with whom he has to deal suffer pain and discomort from their disability, so that they are somewhat on a par with those who are actually sick. One has to recognise that the physically handicapped are not just disabled, but in many cases are enduring discomfort in the same way as people who are drawing sick benefit. Their advancing age, the very nature of their handicap, and the limitations this imposes on the kind of employment which they can undertake are all too frequent causes for their not obtaining some kind of light job. There is often a lack of opportunity to demonstrate what they can do. The disablement resettlement officer told me that his office does everything possible to exert its persuasive powers on employers, bearing in mind the quota obligations, but not always successfully.

I should like to give the Committee an example from within my own knowledge. I am not culling the examples I give from thin air; they are all constituency cases. Let me take the case of a strong and healthy man in his late thirties, a young and vigorous man, who was suddenly struck down by a disease of the nervous system which paralysed him from the waist down. His wife does part-time work in order to help. He pathetically desires to work and has regularly signed on at the employment exchange. He is pushed there by his wife in a wheelchair.

After two and a half years, due to the devoted work of the D.R.O. and a sympathetic employer, a job was found within his capacity. I am advised by those well qualified to know that, unless the Amendment is accepted, this man would never qualify for the 9s. addition should he ever become unemployed.

I think that we are all agreed that the legislative framework of our arrangements, not the arrangements themselves, but the legislative framework, for rehabilitating and guiding disabled workers into suitable employment is satisfactory. That was the conclusion of the Piercy Committee nearly a decade after the passing of the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act, 1944. Our Act of 1958 made no substantial changes.

As the Committee knows, the Acts define a disabled person as one who on account of injury, disease, or congenital deformity, is substantally handicapped in obtaining or keeping employment"— the Committee will note that we are talking about someone who is substantially disabled— or in undertaking work on his own account, of a kind which apart from that injury, disease or deformity would be suited to his age, experience and qualifications … "Suitable employment" means both employment in open conditions and, in cases of severe disability, in sheltered conditions.

In February of this year, there were 659,000 persons registered on the Disabled Persons Employment Register. Of those, 47,000 were unemployed. About 40,000 of those were considered as being suitable for ordinary open work, the rest for work in sheltered conditions. These figures mean that unemployment among registered disabled workers is five times as great as the national average, and this at a time of acute labour shortage. Indeed, the situation may well become worse when the ill-considered Selective Employment Tax begins to bite on the service industries.

Why do not more disabled persons register and why is there this high rate of unemployment? The truth of the matter is that nobody knows. I do not think that the Minister knows and certainly the Ministry of Labour does not know. That is one reason why my hon. Friends and I would have liked to have seen more positive and searching duties put on the officers of the Commission. But I have no doubt that one reason is that the present rehabilitation and training facilities are inadequate. I have known of disabled men completely disheartened by having to wait considerable periods for a training course.

It is also possible that some registered disabled workers are graded for open employment when in fact they are suitable only for work in sheltered workshops but there are no such facilities in the area. There is every reason to believe that a great many disabled persons are not registered. Bearing in mind the difficulties of those who are registered, they see no advantage in registering themselves.

I suspect too that there may be many persons who have left employment because of a worsening disability and who are not registered. By virtue of the disability they are limited in the sort of work they can do, or the length of journey they can undertake to get to work.

One experienced disabled resettlement officer told me last year, when I was making inquiries about this, "We do, of course, often deal with disabled persons who prefer not to be registered. There is no compulsion about it and some even regard it as a deterrent to obtaining a job".

The number of those on the register has fallen from 936,000 in 1950 to 659,000 today. This is partly because large numbers of men who were registered in the early 'fifties were the survivors of the First World War and were then still under retirement age. But that is not the whole story. If at one end of the scale disabled persons are not registering because they think that to do so prevents them from getting a job, then at the other end they are not bothering to register because the present National Assistance regulations positively deter them from returning to work.

It is relevant here to draw attention to a challenging and thought-provoking article by Lady Hamilton in a recent number of New Society. She said this: No work can be done without reducing allowances. No wonder some feel disinclined to exchange National Assistance Board allowances for the strain of mastering work despite handicap. Those who have some private means receive scant help in their efforts to find employment. By making an outright attempt to get out and earn a living, a disabled person inevitably becomes involved in higher living costs. Difficulties of accessibility, accommodation and transport assail him at every turn. No income tax relief is allowed to meet these extra commitments. Present conditions encourage the handicapped to settle for the meagre safety net provided by the welfare state. If the Amendment is accepted I suggest that there would be some real advantage to the disabled to register for employment, knowing that by so doing they will be kept in touch with the labour market without prejudicing their right to receive the 9s. addition to the supplementary allowance after two years. I hope that the right hon. Lady will see the force of the argument and the justice of the case.

Photo of Mr Michael Alison Mr Michael Alison , Barkston Ash

I should like to add just a few words to the powerful case made by my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine) and by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger). I have been looking at the figures given in an interesting article i a the Ministry of Labour Gazette, which many hon. Members will have read, analysing the breakdown of the national unemployment figures, which totalled 317,000 at the last count.

This very interesting analysis showed Mat nearly half of those on the ordinary national unemployment register, about 150,000, could be broken down in turn into groups which were very broadly referred to as people who were unemployable. About 150,000 people were described specifically in the Gazette as those predominantly disabled, elderly or both for whom the scope for training or other action is limited.

Of that global figure of about 150,000 elderly or disabled, it was reckoned that at least 60,000 were disabled. This represents a very large percentage of those who are covered by the figure of 1·5 per cent. unemployment in our full employment society. It is essential that this group of people should be encouraged to get on to the disabled unemployment register if they are not already on it. It may be that they are, but we do not have the facts. I would stress that it is a much more difficult problem than I believe many people appreciate to guide the disabled other than the blind to the sort of work which they may be able to do.

It is quite interesting to look at some of the special facilities which are provided for the blind as a particular group of the disabled. If one looks at the special provisions made for the blind, quite apart from the provisions of the Bill, and I am thinking specifically in terms of employment, one sees there are innumerable special channels through which the blind can be found satisfactory work—in light engineering, shorthand and typewriting, telephone operation, physiotherapy, the monitoring of the radio, as was referred to by Lady Hamilton in that interesting article in that magazine which has been mentioned.

A great many opportunities have been deliberately opened up to the blind. Indeed, I was talking to a constituent of mine the other day who was in trouble as a blind person in finding employment. This person, in fact, although he was on the blind register, had such a degree of what is technically called residual sight that he was able to conceal from many of his employers, until quite a long time after he had started work, the fact that he was blind. Yet this person was on the register and open to all the special treatment the blind receive.

We ought to give a specific boost to those who are in a wider category of disablement, those who suffer from the various kinds of arthritis, the victims of sclerosis, those who have had amputations and suffer under other surgical disabilities—perhaps, above all, to those who suffer behaviour and mental in-capacities. They all need more encouragement given to them to get on the register, and for those disabled in terms other than those of blindness, for that sort of work which many of them could do, particularly in modern circumstances with the sedentary work involved in some of our manufacturing and other processes, besides, of course, office work, much more should be done by way of training facilities.

I hope that the right hon. Lady will consider sympathetically what seems to me a bipartisan approach to the disabled, and to encourage the development of the technique of analysing a bit more carefully the nature and degree of disability. It is notable that blindness, although it has been for long an easily identifiable disability, has many gradations within it. Some people classed as blind have so nearly full sight through what is called residual sight that they are not anything like as badly disabled as others far less favourably treated.

Photo of Miss Peggy Herbison Miss Peggy Herbison , Lanarkshire North

Although it is evident that these are three important Amendments, I shall have to deal with them most inadequately because of the short time which is available. The first point I should make is that all these Amendments, like the last one we discussed and on which we voted, really misconceive the purpose of the long-term addition. Every single one of them misconceives the purpose of the long-term addition. The long-term addition is not—for the benefit of the Committee I must emphasise that it is not—to provide a preferential rate of benefit for long-term cases.

It is because people believe that it provides a preferential rate for long-term cases that we have had the kind of speeches which we have had on these Amendments. But it is not. The long-term addition is to avoid the need for detailed inquiries into special expenses of the kind which have to be made by the Board in cases under National Assistance. That is what the long-term addition is for.

In the case of those claiming supplementary allowance and who qualify for long-term addition, it will be clear that they will probably be living on their benefit for the rest of their lives. But for cases covered by these Amendments, in spite of all that has been said on them, there is just not any certainty that that is the case.

The question was raised about having six months instead of two years. Some of the figures which I have got from the National Assistance Board will be helpful to the Committee

3.45 p.m.

In December, 1965, 420,000 people below pension age—those with whom we are concerned in the Amendments—other than the unemployed, had been getting help from the Board for six months or more. When we consider what has happened to them since, however, we find that about a third of the people who require assistance for six months or more cease to need it at some time during the next 18 months.

We decided—I can assure the Committee that we gave the greatest consideration to what the period should be—on the information which we had that, in the light of the figures, a six- or a 12-months period would be too short to say with any confidence that this would be a long-term case.

A number of hon. Members have related the Amendments to the earnings-related benefits and suggested that the long-term addition would cushion the effect of the benefit when it was reduced to the standard rate after six months. I have already explained the purpose of the long-term addition. It is not to give a preferential rate.

Let me give two examples. The low wage-earner with a family who falls sick may be, as the hon. Member said, getting non-contributory benefit under the Bill right from the beginning of his receipt of sickness benefit. He is the man who will have perhaps no earnings-related supplement, or only a very small one. At the end of six months, there will be no fall in his income. There will be no difference, because the non-contributory benefit will be made up by the Commission to the extent that there has been a fall in his contributory benefit. In that case, no cushion is required. The difference will have to be made up by the Commission.

Another example is that of the person who qualifies when his earnings-related supplement ceases. He may have had a bigger earnings-related supplement. He will not be 9s. worse off because the long-term addition is not paid. Any special needs that the man has will be considered by the Commission, as they will in the other cases I talked about. The wage-stop worries me considerably, because that can cause great hardship. Because the 9s. is not a preferential payment, the Commission will be able to look at the case. There is no real analogy between the earnings-related benefits and his 9s. long-term addition.

I should like to speak about the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger), which would provide for the long-term unemployed after two years. I can again give figures, but I will give them to her afterwards, as I am worried about the time. We have figures which clearly show the relatively small number of the long-term unemployed who are at present getting extra benefit, compared with the 75 per cent. or 80 per cent. of pensioners who are getting it. I pass this on to my hon. Friend, because I know how interested she is in this matter.

Once again, the important thing to remember in these cases, as I said in dealing with the wage-stop, is that where there are special needs—sickness in the home or anything else—the Commission has the power so use its discretion.

I now come to the third Amendment, which concerns people on the Disabled Persons' Register. Misconceived though it might be, the Amendment has been discussed very reasonably. The hon. Member will be interested in the latest figures which we have for these disabled. Only those can be registered who can lake a job. They are the only people registered on the Disabled Persons' Register. Of the 658,925—that is the latest number—registered, there were fewer than 50,000 who were unemployed.

I can assure the Committee that this does not work like a wage-stop; there is no question of these people being done out of anything. Where there are special needs in all these cases, the Commission will have the power to provide for them.

It is for those reasons and not for any monetary reason, not because the Treasury would not allow me to do it, that I ask the Committee to reject the Amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Schedule agreed to.

Schedules 3 to 8 agreed to.

Bill reported, without Amendment.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

3.52 p.m.

Photo of Miss Mervyn Pike Miss Mervyn Pike , Melton

I do not wish to delay the House. We promised that we would let the Government get the Bill, and although the proceedings have been a little hurried at the end, this is a promise that we wish to honour.

We have had very useful and good debates. The proceedings on Monday and today showed that there was a great deal of substance in the debate. I only wish, as I am sure do hon. Members on both sides of the House, that we had had longer on the Bill, because although we have welcomed the Bill, it has fallen far short in many respects of many of our hopes. It has missed a great many opportunities. I do not blame the right hon. Lady for that. I know that she would have wished to go further but that in many respects she has been blocked by the Treasury. In many cases she would have probably have gone further had she had the money. I hope that this is the case, because although we have put forward many constructive suggestions, we have had to accept the assurance of her good intentions as to what would happen in the future. We are not blinded by her good intentions. I am sure that she will try to honour them. But we would have preferred them written into the Bill and made a definite responsibility upon future Governments and Parliaments.

Nevertheless, the Bill marks an important step forward. It is an important act of justice for those people who find that their resources are being constantly eroded in one way or another. It is an important act of justice for those to whom society as a whole bears a great deal of responsibility. It has also been an important step forward because it has marked a very responsible attitude on both sides of the House to a test of need. We all accept, whether we like it or not, that if we are to discharge our responsibilities in society in future we must have our priorities and we must ensure that we have a realistic test of need if we are to use our scarce resources to our best possible judgment.

There is much more that I should like to say, but I want the right hon. Lady to have the opportunity of a few words before we conclude the proceedings. Disappointed though we are, in that opportunities have been missed, we are glad that we have taken the Bill on to the Statute Book.

3.55 p.m.

Photo of Miss Peggy Herbison Miss Peggy Herbison , Lanarkshire North

I am sure that, like me, the hon. Lady the Member for Melton (Miss Pike) feels that we have come to the end of a marathon. I was worried on several occasions during our proceedings today that we would not complete our deliberations on the Bill. However, we have, and I say "Thank you" to the hon. Lady, her team on the Front Bench opposite, and all her hon. Friends for the undoubted help which they have given us in reaching this stage of the Bill at this time. I also thank my hon. Friends who, time and again, have held themselves back because they were anxious that we should complete our discussions, although I know that they would have liked to have taken part in them.

Having reached this stage, it means that the Bill will be on the Statute Book before we rise for the Summer Recess. I take this opportunity to ask all hon. Members, from the time the Measure reaches the Statute Book until we begin to make payments, to point out in their constituencies and wherever else they speak in the country the importance of the Bill and to explain to everyone, particularly the elderly, what they can get as of right under the Bill. In this way we will be able to ensure that the financial help available in these provisions goes to the 250,000 old people who are at present living well below National Assistance Board levels. It is the desire of the whole nation that these people should be helped.

I conclude by again saying "Thank you" to all the officials of the Departments who have played an important part in the work which had to be done to get the provisions ready, and saying to the officials of the new Ministry, "We are giving you a very big job to do. We shall ask for your devoted service and I am sure that we shall get it".

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.