Report (1st Day)

Part of Pensions Bill – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 24th February 2014.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Hollis of Heigham Baroness Hollis of Heigham Labour 5:30 pm, 24th February 2014

My Lords, I make two points. First, we are not seeking to sort it out on the Floor of the House. I am seeking the consent of the House, if it is so minded to give it, to a permissive amendment, which does not commit the Government to anything they subsequently decide is inappropriate in the light of further research. The second point is that the Minister’s definition of distress is so wide that I genuinely believe, from my limited experience in Parliament, that he will find it very difficult indeed to turn it into deliverable policy. I am sure he is as aware as I am that it will end up depending on the discretion—he made this point himself—of local people in local benefits offices, such as the 23 year-old who will be interviewing the widowed parent. Is she numb? If so, does that mean she is coping or not caring sufficiently? Alternatively, is she voluble? Does that mean she is coping or not caring? He will have to peer into her soul and we should not go there.

The Minister says that he wants to help widowed parents to adjust, to,

“regain control of their lives”,

with tailored solutions. He is saying that the local benefits office, the 23 year-old, will decide. The 23-year old will turn her into his dependant, reliant on his judgment as to what she should do and what is best for her family. That is inappropriate and improper. You are making the adult back into a child and adding to her stress and distress. The Minister should not be going down that path. He will not be able to do it by clear policy; he will depend on discretion. Neither of those routes is satisfactory for a small and coherent group that we can easily define—that is, widowed parents with children following a bereavement.

The Minister is opposing a permissive amendment dealing with a small, specific group, which he can respond to exactly as he has already helped—and I am glad of it—kinship carers. He has allowed kinship carers 12 months off on work conditionality; he can do the same thing for this very specific group and make their work conditionality freedom align with the 12 months in which they are receiving bereavement benefit. After all, that is precisely why they have bereavement benefit in the first place. If they have it because they need support following their bereavement, at the same time they need the freedom from the additional pressure that the Minister’s work conditionality will ensure.

The Minister said that it was not quite either/or, but suggested that—