Clause 7

Welfare Reform Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:00 pm on 24th February 2009.

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Abolition of income support

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Work and Pensions Minister

I beg to move amendment 43, in clause 7, page 13, line 12, after ‘effect’ insert,

‘following the presentation of a report concerning income support; and, such an order may not be made unless a draft of a statutory instrument containing the order has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.’.

Clause 7 deals with the abolition of income support and is part of the Government’s long-term commitment to simplifying benefits. The clause grants the Secretary of State the power to abolish income support. In moving amendment 43, I am seeking to require him to present both a statutory instrument and report regulations that can be fully debated by both Houses before such a decision is taken. The question is why I am making such a request. As hon. Members are aware, income support as it currently stands is still available. It is a remaining benefit for carers, lone parents and women in the later stages of pregnancy. It is not subject to labour market conditions.

The Government have previously confirmed that carers will be entitled to continue to claim income support until there is a clear and detailed plan for the long-term reform of the benefits available to carers. We seek to probe the Government’s intentions for this clause, as we should not grant a wide-ranging power to abolish income support without first having in place a replacement allowance that has been properly debated. Something that pervades the Bill far too much is the granting of sweeping powers to the Secretary of State without any detailed reference to conditionality and without any redress or support for affected groups.

The amendment would mean that before income support was abolished—a power that the clause grants to the Secretary of State—there should be full discussion and agreement in both Houses of Parliament about the replacement allowance. It would clearly be wrong for ESA, as it is currently constituted, to be the replacement allowance. For example, under ESA, when someone is required to attend a meeting, that meeting cannot be deferred, but can be waived, and that is not a statutory measure.

We need to see the Government’s proposals in writing before income support can be abolished. I hope, and believe, that we can all agree a way forward that would provide carers with a better benefit and recognise the tremendous work that they do. Under the Bill, however, there could be a blanket abolition of income support before it had been replaced, and we should afford people the protection of a requirement that Parliament must approve any replacement before the Secretary of State may exercise the power to abolish it.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State (Employment and Welfare Reform; Minister for London), Department for Work and Pensions 5:15 pm, 24th February 2009

The hon. Gentleman is right, but for the wrong reasons. He is wrong to suggest that the power is sweeping, as it is a single power to abolish a particular benefit, but he is right to say that there are issues to consider, including carers and the timing of such abolition. That is why we have made it clear that we would not introduce an order to abolish that benefit until there were no longer any groups that required it. That seems terribly straightforward; one would not abolish a benefit while people still required it. We have made it very clear that in proposing to abolish income support, we do not propose that people who get it should receive any less money or should be subject to requirements such as that they must look for work. The intention is to simplify and streamline the system without making it any less sensitive to people’s needs, and clause 7 does that appropriately. This measure, and other laws in regulation and statute, will prevail as people move off income support and on to other benefits.

For the same reason, I do not agree that there is any value in requiring a separate report, as the amendment suggests. By the time that such a report was produced, it would be very clear what arrangements had been made for each group of income support recipients, because we would not introduce an order until we were in that position. Also, there will probably be further consultation on at least some groups—certainly on carers—as I mentioned earlier. Any report would therefore simply be a formality saying that there were no longer any recipients of income support and that we were going to abolish it. That would be a complete waste of everyone’s time and would do no more than confirm something that would be apparent from a cursory reading of the relevant order.

The hon. Gentleman can and should be assured that there is no secret agenda to rush towards the abolition of income support without dealing with those extant groups that still require it, and no order will be forthcoming until we are at a stage when there are no recipients of a benefit that we seek to abolish.

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Work and Pensions Minister

Is the Minister prepared to give an assurance that the replacement for income support for carers will be debated through consideration of regulations, and that if a new law has to be introduced, there will be an opportunity for proper scrutiny? It is all right saying that there will not be anyone claiming the benefit, but if there will be no opportunity to discuss the replacement benefit, what I am seeking through the amendment should be accepted.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Minister of State (Employment and Welfare Reform; Minister for London), Department for Work and Pensions

In the strictest sense, there will not be a replacement benefit. What we are trying to do for carers in the way that I described earlier is to look radically at the whole approach to supporting them, including with regard to benefits, across the whole of the Government including, crucially, on social care.

I shall not give the hon. Gentleman an assurance about proper scrutiny without his defining what “proper” means in that context. At the very least, there will be plenty of scope for scrutiny through the Social Security Advisory Commission, at the least through the negative procedure, and potentially through the affirmative procedure. I am sure that there will be other times and opportunities when we will report in more detail for such scrutiny. As has been suggested, the importance of the role of carers in this country is far too important for the situation to be otherwise.

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Work and Pensions Minister

I am not totally happy with the Minister’s commitment, but we will see what happens. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 2 agreed to.

Clause 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.