Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
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.