Overlapping Benefits Rule

Oral Answers to Questions — Social Services – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 10th January 1978.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr John Ovenden Mr John Ovenden , Gravesend 12:00 am, 10th January 1978

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will review the working of the overlapping benefits rule and, in particular, its effect on working widows.

Photo of Mr David Lambie Mr David Lambie , Ayrshire Central

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will review the working of the overlapping benefits rule and, in particular, its effect on working widows.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Weetch Mr Kenneth Weetch , Ipswich

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will review the working of the overlapping benefits rule, and in particular its effect on working widows.

Photo of Mr Max Madden Mr Max Madden , Sowerby

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will review the working of the overlapping benefits rule, and in particular its effect on working widows.

Photo of Mr Eric Deakins Mr Eric Deakins , Waltham Forest Walthamstow

My right hon. Friend has no plans to do so at present.

Photo of Mr John Ovenden Mr John Ovenden , Gravesend

Does my hon. Friend accept that working widows have as much need and as much right as anybody else to protect their incomes in times of sickness, unemployment and industrial injury? Will he not, therefore, at least set up an inquiry into a rule which effectively removes working widows from the benefits of the national insurance system?

Photo of Mr Eric Deakins Mr Eric Deakins , Waltham Forest Walthamstow

Working widows benefit under the national insurance system by virtue of their widows' benefits, but one cannot evade the operation of the overlapping benefits rule, which applies to far more people in the National Insurance Scheme than to widows. The widow's benefit is, after all, a maintenance benefit, as are unemployment and sickness benefit, and it is a long-standing rule that a person should not get two maintenance benefits at the same time.

Several Hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. I propose to call first those hon. Members whose Questions are being answered.

Photo of Mr David Lambie Mr David Lambie , Ayrshire Central

Is my hon. Friend aware that a married woman who receives benefits, such as invalidity benefit, by reason of her own contribution record can have those benefits withdrawn if she becomes a widow? When will my hon. Friend take the steps necessary to eliminate this injustice to widows?

Photo of Mr Eric Deakins Mr Eric Deakins , Waltham Forest Walthamstow

There are a number of factors in the scheme concerned not merely with invalidity benefit but with a whole range of social security benefits. They all depend, however, on the operation of the overlapping benefits rule. My hon. Friend asked me to alleviate its operation in one specific respect, but if that were done we could not logically resist claims from other beneficiaries in the social security system who are eligible for two benefits at the same time.

Photo of Mr Max Madden Mr Max Madden , Sowerby

Does my hon. Friend appreciate that many working widows view the operation of the overlapping benefits rule as discrimination against them? Will he make representations to the Department of Employment to ensure that working widows are eligible for the various training schemes which operate, which is not so at present?

Photo of Mr Eric Deakins Mr Eric Deakins , Waltham Forest Walthamstow

On the latter part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question, training allowances are akin in some ways to the unemployment and sickness benefits for people who take up training schemes. We have some sympathy with the position of widows who undertake training schemes, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has indicated that when public expenditure considerations allow we might look at the matter again.

On the broader issue of principle, however, I do not agree with my hon. Friend that this is unfair to working widows. The rules do not operate harshly. If a working widow who was absent from work could get unemployment or sickness benefit in addition to her widow's benefit, it would be unfair to other contributors since it would give her double the benefit of a single man or woman with comparable responsibilities and substantially more benefit than a man with a dependent wife.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack , Staffordshire South West

Will the Minister accept that his answers reveal little sensitivity or understanding of the plight of widows? Will he not reconsider the answer that he has just given to his hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden)? Many widows are being discriminated against by these training allowances. It is patently absurd. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will agree that it is wrong that a married woman, whose husband can often be earning a very good salary, can benefit from these—that is fair enough—but that a widow can receive nothing?

Photo of Mr Eric Deakins Mr Eric Deakins , Waltham Forest Walthamstow

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's criticism of the training allowances. When a widow is on a training course, she can receive her personal widowed mother's allowance, an abated training allowance of £7·25 a week, national insurance allowances for her dependent children at the higher rates which are available only to widows, an earnings-related addition to training allowances based on her previous earnings up to a maximum of £12·18 a week and, finally but not least, an allowance to cover various expenses in connection with her training.

Photo of Hon. Robert Boscawen Hon. Robert Boscawen , Wells

As the single person's tax allowance bears very hard on the newly widowed person, does the Minister agree that the sooner the Government think about bringing in a tax credit system for widows the better it will be for them?

Photo of Mr Eric Deakins Mr Eric Deakins , Waltham Forest Walthamstow

We have already indicated our views on the general issue of a tax credit system. The difference, between the parties at least, is whether it should be brought in in stages, as I think the Opposition want, or whether, if it were brought in in stages, it would involve just the sort of disproportionate costs that we do not think the nation can afford at present.