Report (1st Day)

Part of Pensions Bill – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 24th February 2014.

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Photo of Baroness Hollis of Heigham Baroness Hollis of Heigham Labour 4:15 pm, 24th February 2014

My Lords, first, I thank very much my noble friends Lady Drake and Lord Morris for their powerful and moving speeches. I thought that their contributions were extraordinarily impressive, and I am sure that they moved many people in this House.

I shall address first the comments of the noble Lord, Lord German, many of whose points were dealt with very effectively by my noble friend Lord Browne from the Front Bench. Basically, he ran two arguments. First, he said that most of the people concerned would be on UC, and he pressed the Minister instead on UC. Secondly, he commented on the problems for HMRC in combining possible jobs. On the first argument, on UC—and I am very much in favour of universal credit—we agree the stats are that another 800,000 should come into the NI system as a result of crediting arrangements. That is great, but the point is that UC is income-based and that income is surprisingly low. No one has mentioned that today. For example, if you are a single person and you earn more than £4,000 a year in any job, well below the lower earnings limit, you are above the level for universal credit so you do not get credited in. If you are a married woman, your husband is in work and you have two children—I am aiming for a generic family, if you like—and if he is earning more than £12,000 a year, that family is not entitled to UC, apart from housing benefit. She may be earning £4,000 or £5,000, but that will not give her a credit through him. Those two groups of single people and married women, which my noble friend identified and I seek to identify, are both outside the reach of UC. What is worse—and neither the Minister nor the noble Lord,

Lord German, mentioned this—is that it is happening at the same time as we are withdrawing the married woman’s dependency pension of 60% that she would have had as an alternative and could have relied on. That is what is new. If she cannot get into the pensions system through universal credit, she cannot get in at all, and that has been created and constructed by this Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Freud, said that he was confident of his figures of 50,000 people, but he was equally confident about two years ago when we were debating welfare reform and the figures then were 20,000 or 25,000. They have doubled exponentially in the past two years or so, and they may go on to grow equally geometrically, as opposed to arithmetically, over the next few years. He says that his stats are broadly in line, but I do not know about that. His stats are based on labour force statistics offered by the ONS, which the ONS now says are unreliable; that therefore means that his stats are unreliable. My stats of 250,000 are the best that I can do with all the evidence there is, overlaying different subsets. I accept that, but I am as confident as I can be on the evidence that exists that at least 250,000 people and maybe more—it is an increasing problem—are outside the national insurance system and will not be credited in either through UC or any caring responsibilities.

The noble Lord quoted average income. An average income is pulled upwards by the proportion of people who work in IT, for example, which is highly paid, or in further education, where they are paid piecemeal. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development—which the Minister quoted several times, although he did not quote this—says that 40% of the 1 million people who are employed work below 16 hours per week. We know that the majority of those are on, or on around, the minimum wage: for example, in jobs in domiciliary care, hotels, waiting, driving or security. A mean average is no use in this, because the figures are skewed hugely upwards by people in IT, who may be very well paid—perhaps at £50 per hour—and come within zero-hour contracts. We need to see how many people are below the LEL in one job and work in a second job that is also below the LEL, which together would bring them into the NI system from which they are currently excluded. I repeat: that figure is likely to be 250,000—nearly every single person and most married women.

The Minister says that it would produce all sorts of perversities and paradoxes. There is no greater perversity than the situation in which, if you are unemployed and on JSA, you are credited in for free national insurance, but if you work 30 hours a week in two 15-hour jobs, earn £11,000 and pay tax, you cannot get into the NI system and get no state pension. Which of those is the perversity? Do not work and you are in for free; or work as best you can, by putting jobs together, and you are outside the system. Is that right or decent? It is not. I would like to test the opinion of the House.