It is difficult for me to thank my right hon. Friend for his informative answer, as I was hoping to be able to do. Will my right hon. Friend continue to seek ways in which those who have a disability may receive earlier retirement pensions through their occupational schemes?
I should like to earn my hon. Friend's gratitude. He will be glad to know that we have a research programme under way which will give us a great deal more information about the financial position of invalidity beneficiaries.
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services to what extent, either before or after the publication of his White Paper "Strategy for Pensions", he has had discussions with organisations representing occupational pension schemes about the practicability of requiring such schemes to include an invalidity pension as a condition of recognition; and which organisations considered it to be impracticable.
This was not discussed because, accepting as we did that there are limits to the requirements that schemes can reasonably be expected to meet, we regarded provision for widows and some protection against inflation as of greater priority.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is deep concern at the lack of provision for the disabled in the White Paper "Strategy for Pensions"? Will he carry out the closest consultations with the organisations representing occupational pension schemes, especially those which already make provision for earnings-related invalidity pensions? Is my right hon. Friend aware that the cost of such schemes already in operation is very low—only 1½ per cent. extra—and that in most European and Scandinavian countries earnings-related invalidity schemes are already in operation with the State scheme?
While I am as anxious as the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) to see an improvement in the standard of occupational pensions schemes and a far higher standard being insisted upon by the Government than we have had any sign of yet, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman is aware that the nub of the trouble is that the Government are setting such a bad example in "Strategy for Pensions" where, as the Disablement Income Group has pointed out, there is no effective provision for the disabled because there is no provision for an earnings-related invadility pension?
First, I hope that the right hon. Lady will shortly recover from the disability to her arm from which she is suffering so elegantly. Secondly, I think that both the right hon. Lady and the House will agree that the country as a whole has a long way to make up in proper treatment of the disabled. While this Government have started to make substantial inroads on past neglect by the attendance allowance and the invalidity package, there is a long way to go, and it may not be possible to go as fast as some admirable people, such as the Disablement Income Group, want us to go.
While thanking the right hon. Gentleman for his good wishes towards myself, may I point out that although I am temporarily incapable of delivering a right upper cut, I can still deliver a straight left, and that which I have just delivered seems to have knocked him out.
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what is the total weekly outgoings on national insurance benefits, excluding attendance allowances, currently payable to invalidity pensioners; what is his estimate of the total weekly earnings such persons would be receiving if they were not incapacitated; and what proportion the former bears to the latter.
The current cost of national insurance invalidity benefit is about £3¼ million a week. The information is not available on which to base an estimate of what the earnings of invalidity pensioners might be if they were able to work.
Surely if we are to make some assessment of the grave problems afflicting the disabled, the Department should try to work out these facts and figures. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the other part of his reply. Does it not confirm that to be disabled means that one has to suffer additional burdens economically as well as in every other way and that the progress we are making, welcome though it is, is not nearly fast enough to give the disabled a fair and just deal?
The Government and, indeed, the whole House are committed to making up for the slow start that this country made in providing for civilian disability. I think the hon. Gentleman will recognise that four new allowances have been introduced in the last two years in this respect, and that is only a start.
May I press the hon. Gentleman on the need to provide the information requested at the earliest possible date? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that his right hon. Friend may at least earn the deferred gratitude of his hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. John Page) if he provides the information asked for by his hon. Friend at the earliest possible date?
Yes. We certainly intend to make available as much information as possible, because that helps to improve knowledge and enables responsible pressures to assist in this area.
At November, 1971, the latest date for which information is available, nearly 30 per cent. of the 400,000 people receiving invalidity benefit were also in receipt of supplementary benefit.
Will the Minister confirm that the following shocking statement is correct: that wealthy disabled people are allowed to retain their invalidity allowance whereas poor disabled people have it grabbed back from them by the Government if they are dependent on supplementary benefit? If that is true, what does the Minister propose to do about it?
With respect, the hon. Gentleman has not got it right. Where there are special needs they can be and, indeed, are dealt with within the supplementary benefits scheme. The scheme responds to individual needs. In the case of the chronic sick, where there are special additional expenses they can be and are met under the scheme as it is.
The hon. Gentleman must not try to dodge the issue like that. The facts of the situation, which I have checked recently, are that the vast majority of the 30 per cent. of people receiving invalidity allowance find that their supplementary benefit is reduced by exactly the amount of the invalidity allowance. How can the hon. Gentleman defend that?
I am saying that the combination of the invalidity allowance and the supplementary benefits scheme responds and will continue to respond to the special needs of the chronic sick.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that when positive tax credits are introduced the blind person's allowance, which is available only to better-off blind people, will be available to all?
May I press the Minister on the powerful supplementary question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle)? Why on earth cannot the Government give a lead on earnings-related invalidity pensions? Moreover, will the hon. Gentleman give a definite assurance that he will have full and meaningful consultations with the Disablement Income Group on this deeply important matter?
It is fair to say that the Government, as employers, have given a lead in the public service schemes which make provision for this, but we have to consider in the first place in the National Insurance Scheme benefits which may mature immediately, and it is for that reason that the first priority is being given to those which give assistance to people who are sick and disabled now, rather than to those who will be sick and disabled some years in the future.
Is my hon. Friend aware that earnings-related schemes would not be of much use in certain cases, particularly to disabled married couples at work in sheltered employment who, in many cases, are worse off going to work?
I am obliged to my hon. Friend. One of the points which DIG has properly put to us over the years is that of giving more help for disabled housewives and those who have never been able to work. Neither of those categories would be included in any earnings-related scheme depending on the ability to work.
Whilst agreeing that the first priority of the State is to see that severely disabled people get all possible benefits, may I ask my hon. Friend whether he agrees that we must push ahead and see that those within two or three years of retirement receive some disability benefit, because they are left out of the scheme at present?
I am much obliged to my hon. Friend for his statement, which again emphasises the need to assist those who are either retired or disabled now.