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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 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.