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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

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.