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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I join the noble Baroness is paying tribute to the work of the schools. There is little logic in having a different funding source for two different schools. A transfer of funding responsibility to the boards will reduce the number currently in operation in the Province. It will ensure also greater transparency and will simplify administration. It will also remove the perception--false but commonly held--in controlled and maintained schools that voluntary grammar schools and grant-maintained integrated schools are treated more favourably than they are because of their direct funding relationship with the department. Under the new arrangements, they will continue to be funded on a cash basis and proper account will be taken of differences in their needs, such as differences in VAT and rates.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the proposed change will create a great deal of disparity in the funding of the voluntary grammar schools in Northern Ireland and will deprive those schools of direct access to the department over a whole range of issues that are of vital importance? Given the uncertain future of the boards and their

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number, surely it would be much better to adhere to the present system which has worked very efficiently and well.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the Government believe that the new arrangements which will pay funds directly to the schools will protect their existing record of success, maintain their integrity and further government policy.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, recognising the high quality of the schools in question, is it not the case that education will become a devolved subject under the recent agreement which has now been approved by referendum? Will that not restore some democratic accountability to the whole situation?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, is correct. This will be a matter for the Northern Ireland assembly. No decision has yet been taken on the timing of the transfer of funding, and the timetable will be dictated by the progress made this year on the development of the common formula.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, is it not a little odd that this old Labour attack on the independence of these schools should take place at a time when the policy of the Department for Education of England and Wales--or at least the policy of Mr. Byers--appears to give greater financial independence to schools? Does the noble Baroness agree that to push through such a radical reform at this stage at breakneck speed demonstrates a rather arrogant attitude towards the new Northern Ireland assembly which the people of the Province are in the process of electing at the present time?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, it is not part of the Government's policy to act with arrogance or to do anything to damage the success of the proposed NI assembly. There has been adequate consultation with the voluntary grammar schools and the grant-maintained integrated schools on the transfer of the responsibility. The funds for those schools will be protected.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, what benefit is the proposed transfer thought to confer on the children?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the benefits include transparency, which will remove the false perception of other schools within the system that the voluntary grammar schools and the grant-maintained integrated schools are funded in a beneficial way. It will remove that sense of difference and the false perception of unfair treatment.

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Social Security: Unclaimed Benefits

2.50 p.m.

Lord Morris of Manchester asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they are taking to increase the take-up of unclaimed social security benefits.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): My Lords, the Government want everyone who thinks that they may be entitled to a benefit to make a claim. We have already taken steps to encourage claims to industrial injuries benefit and other in-work benefits. Given my noble friend's long-standing commitment to disability issues, he may have in mind the take-up of DLA and attendance allowance which is estimated to be about 50 per cent. If that is his concern, we share it. We are investigating why that should be the case.

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, it was my noble friend, much to her credit, who first disclosed here that, far from cheating the system, about half the number of disabled people do not claim their disability benefits. Is she aware of what the disability organisations now call "the stigma attached to claiming--all the more so because of baseless allegations of fraud"? How do the Government respond to the Commons Select Committee on Social Security's withering criticisms of the costly Benefit Integrity Project which,

    "uncovered hardly any fraud and caused great distress"?

And what total sums go unclaimed in disability benefits and in income support by the frail elderly people Age Concern and Help the Aged work so humanely to help?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, my noble friend asks a number of questions. On the last one, if, for example, 90 per cent. of disabled people entitled to DLA and AA claimed their moneys, expenditure would go up from about £7.5 billion to £13 billion on that benefit alone. Equally, we know that something like 1 million elderly people--mainly single women over 75--fail to claim the income support to which they are entitled and therefore miss something like £17 a week. We are anxious that they should take up that money. The wider point that my noble friend raises is right: entitlement is a two-way process. The Government have the responsibility to ensure that the right money is going to the right people--that people are not claiming when they should not but claim the money to which they are entitled. As my noble friend said, out of the 72,000 or so benefit integrity cases that the Government have reviewed--about 2,000 were followed up in greater detail--only five cases have gone forward to the courts. There is very little fraud. There is a great deal of error and serious under-claiming. The Government must address all of those problems.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, so far as concerns the take-up of unclaimed social security benefits generally, will the Minister tell us whether there is any exchange

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of information between the Inland Revenue and other departments, as there is clearly concern that that might be so? If there is such an exchange, is it done on an individual case basis; and at what level is it approved within the Civil Service?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I shall have to write in greater detail on this to the noble Lord. My memory is that when we dealt with a previous social security administration Bill there were powers within the confines--if I may put it this way--of data protection to exchange information through data matching to ensure that, for example, where there was evidence of abuse or fraud that person could be checked through other systems. Clearly that has to be through data protection. I think that the noble Lord will find that that is primarily an exchange of information between the DSS and local authority-administered social security benefits such as housing benefit. There are additional protections vis-a-vis the Inland Revenue. I shall write to the noble Lord, because clearly the Inland Revenue and the protection of the privacy of Inland Revenue records are sensitive subjects, and rightly so.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, what proportion of those who take the all-work test have failed to pass it? Of those who failed to pass it, what proportion to the Minister's knowledge have subsequently gained work? Is she prepared to reassess the cases of those who failed the test who after a year have been unable to obtain work of any kind that they can do?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, about one in six people who take the all-work test are regarded as fit for work. So about 18 per cent.--if I may put it that way--fail it. There is research in progress, but we do not yet know how many go on to find full-time work. We expect to have those findings soon. The noble Baroness is right to highlight a problem: that the current all-work test which says that one is either fit for work or disabled--either/or--does not reflect the reality of the continuum of disability from which many long-term sick and disabled people suffer. That is why in the Green Paper we are committed to reform of the all-work test. We hope that we shall have the co-operation of the House in so doing.

Baroness Castle of Blackburn: Does not the Minister's reply show that--in her own words--something like a million pensioners are failing to claim the means-tested benefits to which they are entitled? Is not the lesson of that that even the poor have dignity and find it an affront to have to claim means-tested benefits? Does she therefore agree that the real answer is to build up universal benefits as of right, to which people contribute during their working lives?

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