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Industrial Injuries and Diseases

Part of Orders of the Day — Social Security Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:45 pm on 20th May 1986.

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Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Shadow Minister (Social Security) 5:45 pm, 20th May 1986

I beg to move amendment No. 82, in page 93, leave out lines 20 to 23 and insert— '3.—(1) After subsection (1) of section 57 (disablement benefit) the following subsection shall be inserted—'. The amendment seeks to do what we were unable to do in Committee because of the lateness of the hour at which the Government's proposals on industrial injuries were tabled. It seeks to remove the provision that the cut-off point for entitlement to industrial injury benefit should be at a 14 per cent. degree of disability.

It is a remarkably unfortunate coincidence that, as the Government confirmed in Committee, a cut-off point at that level will mean that about 90 per cent. of people who now gain awards under the industrial injury scheme will no longer receive a reward of any kind. Hon. Members who have experience of working in manufacturing industry or other industries where work may incur the possibility of an accident or hon. Members with constituency experience of the damage that is done to people who spend their working lives in heavy manufacturing or heavy engineeering will be alarmed at these proposals.

6.15 pm

Both in my constituency and outside it I have an extensive acquaintance with people who earn their living in heavy engineering. I cannot recall a single person of my acquaintance who has worked most of his or her life in such an industry and in jobs where there is a risk of physical injury who is not in some way damaged. Some have lost small joints and many suffer from debilitating back injuries which attract less sympathy because they are invisible but which are extremely painful. There are many ways in which people are damaged by such work. Those of us who number such individuals among our friends and acquaintances have seen them dragging themselves about because their bodies have been damaged by heavy work.

When we discussed this matter in Committee the Minister said that there might be a problem of resources. He argued, as the Government have so often argued during the Bill's passage, that they wished to simplify the schemes that are being put forward. It is unfortunate that, whenever the Government propose simplification, it always removes a more beneficial scheme and rarely gives an advantage to others which has been enjoyed only by a few.

My union, the Transport and General Workers Union, has sent me examples of the types of people who will lose out under these proposals unless our amendment is passed. This year a person was awarded £2,700 in compensation for the amputation of his third finger, but under these proposals he would not receive a penny. This year a person who lost his ring finger was awarded more than £1,500, but under the proposals he would not receive a penny. This year a person lost four toes on one foot—a disabling and painful injury—and was awarded £2,075, but under these proposals he would not receive a penny.

Injuries not involving amputation will also be affected. A person who had scaffolding fall on his neck and spinal column and who suffered injuries to his neck, shoulders and back received an award of a 4 per cent. payment for life and more than £1,000. Again, under these proposals he would not receive a penny. A conductress who was thrown against a hand rail when a bus braked sharply and suffered chest and neck injuries—the type of injuries which are likely to lead to increased pain and suffering later in life — received an award of £1,600, but she would not receive a penny under these proposals. A further case, which may appeal particularly to Conservative Members, is of a security express driver who was shot in the leg. He will suffer permanently from the effects of this wound and he received an award of a 7 per cent. payment for life and £1,660. Again, he would not receive a penny under the provisions of the Bill.

In Committee the Minister explained that the total savings expected under the proposals would be between £46 million and £56 million, and that net of any improvements it would be between £40 million and £50 million. This is a particularly unfortunate example of the way in which the Government seek to remove at the stroke of a pen arrangements for which people have contributed, and which have been negotiated, fought for and won with considerable difficulty.

It is not only those with injuries who will lose, but 200 to 300 widows are likely to lose their pension entitlement, and there will be other corresponding losses under the proposals. The Government have made some small amendments in the light of comments made in Committee, but they are insufficient to persuade us that the amendment should not be pressed to a vote. Ninety per cent. who receive benefit under the existing system will lose out under this provision. The Government's proposals are wholly indefensible.