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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I must intervene. Heaven forbid that I should rubbish research. I have spent over 35 years of my life carrying out research and I would hate to think that it had no value, so I am certainly not rubbishing research or saying that it has no value. I am saying that where research points in different directions and continues to do so, we must then ask what assumptions people are bringing to bear on it.

Perhaps I may do something that I do not normally do and emulate--perhaps I should say "copy" because "emulate" might be the wrong word--the noble Earl and give a classic example that I used to cite to my students. There is a long-standing debate about whether the standard of living of working-class people rose or declined during the industrial revolution. It is a classic argument in which one takes students through the cohort of two dozen articles in the English Historical Review and the Economic History Review, and they all come up with different answers. That is because all the arguments start with different assumptions about what constitutes a standard of living.

I choose that example because it is not so far removed from our argument today. One considers the quantitative arguments, the qualitative arguments, the cost of goods, the information you do not know, the information you do know, and the hours people work and then at the end of the exercise one says, "If you judge this as significant, that is the answer", or "If you judge that as significant, this is the answer", but on the whole the jury is out. The jury is out after 30 years of diligent research by many historians. That is what I have found after 30 years of undergraduate teaching.

I am not rubbishing research. Where research on, say, smoking and cancer, is coherent and scholarly, and is consistent with other research, that is the point at which the Government take action. It may be that a single piece of research--the latest research--has additional evidence that was not available to previous researchers, thus causing a hiccup or placing a question mark on our established thinking, whether on BSE or any other matter, in which case one stands back and tries to replicate that research and to gain peer group support. One would then probably commission further research. We know that the contours of research on which one bases action have to be ascertained. Having read all the research, I have to say, in good faith, that the jury is out. Indeed, I suspect that on this matter we will always have a hung jury.

Earl Russell: As one researcher to another, I understand what the Minister is saying about research. In that respect, she is quite right. Her example about the standard of living and the industrial revolution was well chosen. I remember bowling that as a bumper at a candidate at an entrance interview, and the candidate replied, "I can't answer this question. How do you quantify clean air?"--and the candidate was, of course, in straightaway.

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Where the Minister was very interesting--she did her level best with rather thin material--was in her admission that the jury is out. That is genuinely the smoking gun behind the Government's policy because we have had the sentence; it is being enforced; it is to be executed today. To have the sentence while the jury is still out is rather a curious form of proceeding. I cannot help feeling that it is just a little precipitate.

The noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, spoke with the voice of experience. On this matter, the voice of experience seems to be pretty unanimous. I am inclined--this may be a prejudice, but it is one that I am prepared to defend--to think that, other things being equal, the body of expert and apparently competent research which coincides with the voice of experience is slightly more likely to be right than the body of research which does not.

The Minister made great play of the argument that we want to treat families according to their particular circumstances, not their family structure. I respect the desire not to judge family structures, but our argument from these Benches is that single parenthood is itself a stress. The Minister is clearly right that childcare is the most expensive of those stresses. However, it is not correct to argue that childcare is the only such stress. I should be inclined to argue that transport comes a very close second because the amount of time that one has to spend trying to be in two places at once can be considerable. There is genuinely truth in the proposition that time is money.

I hope that, in the light of what she said about the jury still being out, the Minister will reflect on Amendment No. 112. For the time being, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 112 without prejudice to what I may do in a moment on the Question of Clause 70 stand part.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 113 and 114 not moved.]

Lord Higgins moved Amendment No. 115:

Page 47, line 20, at end insert--
("( ) No regulations made under subsection (1) may reduce the rate of child benefit payable to lone parents in receipt of disability benefit; and accordingly such lone parents shall continue to receive child benefit at the higher rate.").

The noble Lord said: This is a simple and straightforward amendment. In an earlier debate, I asked the Minister whether there were any particular circumstances in which her general view that there ought to be no preferential treatment in future for lone parents would apply. I believe that this is such a case.

We have just had an interesting discussion about research. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Desai, would probably agree with me that in economics the assumptions that one makes are often crucial to the results that one ultimately achieves. However, I should not have thought that it would require an enormous amount of research to suggest that those who are both lone parents and disabled are likely to require some form of special treatment. In essence, that is the purpose of the amendment.

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Clearly, the Government's overall policy of seeking to ensure that, whether by stick or by carrot, lone parents move from welfare to work has much to be said for it but, equally clearly, in the case of lone parents who are disabled, it is much less likely that they will be able to achieve that objective--which is an objective shared by both the Government and many lone parents who are disabled. By definition, they clearly have bigger handicaps.

Last week we had an excellent debate on the disabled, and this amendment partly stems from that. I hope that we shall have a sympathetic response from the Minister. She has already made exceptions for those who are already in receipt of lone parent benefit. Their benefit is to continue at the higher rate, as we shall discuss when we reach the next group of amendments. That being so, should not the Minister perpetuate that in relation also to lone parents who are disabled and in receipt of disability benefit? I beg to move.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: Inevitably, a lone parent with a disability will face additional costs. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to accommodate the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Higgins. My noble friend has done more for disabled people than any Member of your Lordships' House. She is not able to articulate what she has done behind the scenes, but it has been a major achievement. I am sure that if she can possibly help, she will do so.

Earl Russell: I should like to express agreement with what the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, has just said about the Minister. I should also like to say that this is a good amendment and that we on these Benches support it for all the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Higgins.

Lord McCarthy: Perhaps I may ask the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, a question. He said earlier that he is against government policy for special reasons, but he has not told us exactly what those reasons are. I thought that it was the policy of his party to be against all differentials between single-parent families and two-parent families, but he now wants a single, special exception. I think that it is a sensible exception, but does it represent a change of policy on the part of his party or does it in some way fit with his previous general opposition to all differentials?

5 p.m.

Lord Higgins: The answer is that both factors have a cumulative effect, but it is the disability aspect, to which the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, referred in the debate last week, that makes one question with the Minister whether or not this is an appropriate exception.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: When I first saw the amendment it appeared highly desirable. I sympathise with the sentiments behind it, but I wonder whether it confuses two matters. I believe that there are two issues here: the parent's, and possibly the child's, disability, and the level of child benefit. We believe that the right way to help a family with a disabled person in it, whether the parent or child, is not to have higher rates

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of child benefit but to help with the costs of disability. That is why a particular exception was made in their case in the first place. That is the push of our strategy, as my noble friend was generous enough to identify. We are providing additional help for people with disabilities in different ways. The Committee will be aware that disability working allowance is paid to people in work who have an illness or disability that places them at a disadvantage in the job market. But all of our research shows that DWA is not as effective as we would like it to be. It does not move into work the number of disabled people that it should, because only about 14,000 take advantage of it.

It is for that reason that my right honourable friend the Chancellor will replace DWA with a far more generous disabled person's tax credit to ensure that disabled people are better off in work. That will provide them with a guaranteed minimum income above and beyond the minimum wage, and it will include improved help with childcare costs through a childcare credit. Therefore, a disabled person who moves into work will, under the new disabled person's tax credit, have a better standard of living than is currently the case if he is on disability working allowance.

My noble friend has forgotten more than I shall ever know in the field of disability. He will be the first to tell the Committee that the Government pay a range of benefits to vulnerable people who are not able to work due to ill health and disability. The disability living allowance is paid irrespective of other income to severely disabled people in order to help them with the extra costs arising as a result of their disabilities. Incapacity benefit or severe disablement allowance are available to other people who are unable to work due to ill health or disability. In addition, income-related benefits provide help to disabled people to help meet the extra costs they may face. A lone parent who is disabled will receive a disability premium which is of greater value than the higher family premium paid currently to lone parents; in other words, a family with children and a disabled parent in it will already receive a higher level of income by virtue of that disability.

People who are severely disabled and who live alone are most likely to have extra care costs. They will qualify for a severe disability premium which is of greater value still. Therefore, the benefit needs of disabled people are not about family structure. The benefits system provides help specifically for families and, in parallel, specific help for people with disabilities. This amendment would not provide any help to the most vulnerable families in greatest need. It would affect the rate of child benefit available and, as a result, not affect families on income support whom the Government are helping through the measures to which I have already referred.

I suggest to the Committee and to my noble friend Lord Ashley that the right way to help a family where a parent or child suffers from a disability is to offer financial help to meet that disability. The Government are doing that through the measures I have outlined. We shall continue to explore these matters with the

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disability organisations in the fora that we have set up. I believe that that is the right way to progress rather than to put an extra premium onto child benefit which will fluctuate up and down according to the health of the parent. It is surely right to uncouple those two assumptions and provide parallel help on both fronts, that with disability and that with children. I hope that in the light of that the Committee will feel able not to proceed with the amendment.

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