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Earl Russell: I am grateful to the Minister. I am certain that he is right that Ministers and the agency take the matter seriously. However, I am saying that some of the people on the ground do not take it seriously. People occasionally behave in ways they should not and become impatient. I ask the Minister to consult one of the organisations involved with women's refuges on the working of the provisions and also with regard to Amendment No. 48, on which I did not receive a very lengthy reply.

We cannot pursue this issue much further this evening. I am grateful to the Minister for his undertaking to look again at the matter and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 48 to 51 not moved.]

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 52:


Before Clause 18, insert the following new clause:

("Removal of carers' allowance from maintenance requirement

.—(1) Schedule 1 to the 1991 Act shall be amended as follows.
(2) In sub-paragraph (3) of paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 to the 1991 Act, leave out (a) (b) and (c) and insert—
"(a) with respect to each qualifying child, an amount equal to the amount specified in column (2) to the Income Support (General) Regulations 1987 for a person of the same age (income support personal allowance for a child or young person); and
(b) an amount equal to the amount specified in paragraph 3 of that Schedule (income support family premium)."
(3) In sub-paragraph (2) of the said Schedule, for
"MR = AG - CB"
there shall be substituted
"MR = AG",
and the definition of CB shall be omitted." ").

The noble Earl said: This amendment is designed to remove the carers' allowance from the formula. This has caused a great deal of anxiety and a sense that it is inequitable as between the first wife and the second wife because there is no equivalent carers' allowance for the second wife, even if she is caring for young children.

On Second Reading I said that the legislation rests very heavily on an old-fashioned, pre-Beveridge bread-winner world. I know that the language is definitely not sexist and is entirely politically correct, but the actual assumptions are not.

There should be equality of treatment between the first wife and the second. If there is not, there will be an immense amount of resentment because the second wife feels, in effect, that she is earning in order to pay money to the first. The Minister can imagine—I think he probably knows—the recriminations to which that might lead. It is not a provision which is working well at the moment.

On a previous amendment I made the point also that it is a case where the money is not targeted. If the money spent on that element were targeted on child care where that is relevant it would do a great deal more good there than it does here. The Minister or anyone else may say that that would produce a further pressure on the parent with care. That is a point which the amendment has attempted to address by taking child benefit out of the calculations in the formula so that that, in effect, replaces some at least of the money that goes to the carers' allowance.

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I understand that at all times the Minister wishes to reduce the benefit bill. But short-term reductions may provide long-term increases, as the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, illustrated in her Second Reading speech.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: We are now discussing another amendment which would, in most cases, favour absent parents unfairly at the expense of their children. As the noble Earl pointed out, it seeks to reduce the maintenance requirement—the amount which is calculated to meet a child's basic maintenance needs. The amount included to represent a child's need to be cared for by an adult would be omitted, as would the amount equivalent to the income support lone-parent premium in cases where the parent with care has no new partner.

The noble Earl correctly pointed out that there would be some mitigation from the fact that the maintenance requirement would no longer be calculated net of child benefit. However, child benefit is a universal benefit intended to provide a worthwhile contribution to the costs of bringing up children. As such, it would be illogical not to take account of that in the maintenance requirement calculation. In effect, absent parents would be asked to pay maintenance already provided by child benefit. By way of example of the overall effect of the amendment, I should point out that the basic maintenance for one child aged under 11 in a lone-parent family would reduce from £67.50 to £26.20 per week. That means that many parents with care who previously had court orders would find themselves worse off than under the previous arrangements.

I recognise that the amount for a child's care has been represented by some absent parents, and the media, as being akin to spousal maintenance rather than to child maintenance. That idea has arisen largely because the amount is based on the income support allowance for someone aged 25 or over. However, as the Social Security Select Committee recognised, the income support rates provide a benchmark for assessing need. That allowance was the obvious amount on which to base a child's need to be cared for by an adult.

Without continuing much further, I believe that that is probably the answer to the noble Earl's point. There is, perhaps, a divide between us. If no payment is given for a carer to look after the child, I am somewhat puzzled as to who will care for the child. Will the child end up like Romulus and Remus—looking to see if there is a spare wolf around?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: It is late at night!

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: It is indeed late at night, and we do not want to start all that again.

However, I believe that it is unrealistic to divorce the question of paying something for the child's costs from paying for someone to look after the child. It is quite an artificial division to make, although I understand why it is made by the organisations representing absent parents. They feel that they are actually paying spousal maintenance; but, of course, they are not. They are paying carer's maintenance to look after the child. If that carer's maintenance was not paid and the carer was not there, I

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am not entirely sure who would look after the child. Therefore, while I understand some of the problems involved, I do not believe that one can somehow disconnect the needs of the child from the same need of the child to be cared for. That is why the formula is devised in that way and that is why I am afraid I cannot accept the suggestion from the noble Earl that that portion of the maintenance assessment should fall by the wayside.

Earl Russell: I am very glad that the Minister said what he did about income support levels as a benchmark for need. His words will come back to him when we consider the benefit penalty tomorrow; and, indeed, when we consider a great many other cases of deduction from benefit, reduced benefit directions, and so on.

The Minister asked who is to care for the child if there is no carer element. But the parent with care presumably has spousal maintenance, which will be calculated outside the terms of the Act. We are told that the legislation is not meant to deal with spousal maintenance, though the Minister's answer has just illustrated extremely clearly why that is a very difficult line to hold. If the parent with care has spousal maintenance, there will not be very much in the way of extra costs that arise simply from the act of caring. There will be such costs but not of the order illustrated by the element.

Therefore I do not see that the Minister's point has force if the woman has enough to live on anyway. If she does not, then something has gone wrong with the spousal maintenance. The Minister said nothing whatever about the inequity as between the first and the second wife, and that is a point on which some answer would, I think, be very much appreciated. I do not see why, if there is to be a carer's element, it should not be allowed to the second wife as well as the first, because if they are both caring for children they both have the need. In any case, as the Minister has himself admitted, this does cause a great deal of resentment which is particularly strong among second wives. The 1991 Act has put great strain on the principle of consent. Its success in bringing in money so far has not been extreme. If it is to operate at all, we need the consent. Does the Minister wish to intervene on the paper he has there because, if not, I shall beg leave to withdraw the amendment?

11.45 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Before the noble Lord does that I hope I might intervene. It seems to us on these Benches that the noble Earl, Lord Russell, has a real point with which we identify in that much of the aggravation caused by the child support formula has been caused by what appears to be, however erroneously, a flow of income from the second wife to the first wife looped via the absent parent and all the inequities that are concerned with that. I am not sure that I agree with his point about spousal maintenance because from my experience spousal maintenance has often been traded in for, say, a property settlement and therefore there is not an independent and additional income.

However, what would have been much more sensible and would reflect much more today's society is if there

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had been no such thing as a carer's element in the formula for the parent with care, but instead that same equivalent sum was looped into additional allowances as part of the individual child allowance. I would have thought that, politically, and in all the ways possible, that would have been far more acceptable. The money would go to the child and part of that element in the child's allowance would be attributable to the needs for care of that child—however that may be dealt with, whether it be through purchased child care or the parent with care—rather than a direct payment being made to a woman, who may in turn have a non-earning second partner living with her, which involves all of the inequities that then seem to flow from the pattern of distribution across adults. The Government would have been well advised if the flow of income had gone from absent parent to children rather than, apparently, second wife to absent parent, to parent with care and, possibly, to the new partner of the parent with care, which produces all sorts of hostilities and frustrations which, however erroneous, are well and easily understood.


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