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

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

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Photo of Miss Peggy Herbison Miss Peggy Herbison , Lanarkshire North 12:00 am, 17th June 1966

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 After that period the wage-stop would be withdrawn and those concerned would receive the full amount even if that made them better off than when they were in work.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.