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Lord Higgins moved Amendment No. 74:

Page 54, line 16, after ("day") insert ("or a bereaved person aged between 60 and 64 when the spouse died")

The noble Lord said: We have already outlined the problem that has arisen in this case. In Amendment No. 74, we are seeking to suggest that those in this unsatisfactory situation may be in a more difficult position if the person who is bereaved and who expects to receive a pension is, so to speak, up against a deadline. I hope that the Minister can give a sympathetic answer. I beg to move.

Lord Addington: I want to add the support of these Benches to the noble Lords physically on my left.

Lord Rix: Venturing into the detail of this part of the Bill is for me, as an amateur in these matters, rather like a boy scout with a first aid badge attempting brain surgery. But I wish to speak to the bereavement payments as a whole in the amendments before us.

Like other Members of the Committee, I welcome the fact that widowers will now receive bereavement benefits. But as I said at Second Reading, I am at a loss to understand why this reform, which was necessary to meet the principle of equal treatment of men and women, should also mean that widows will lose £500 million a year by the year 2020. It is a case of giving a little with one hand and taking away a lot with the other.

I am convinced by the arguments for extending the new £2,000 bereavement payment to people above state pension age, including women aged 60 to 64. The logic, such as it is, seems to me that, as the old payment was not paid to pensioners, therefore the new one will not be paid either. But as Age Concern and others pointed out, older people have the same needs on bereavement as people aged under pension age without dependent children.

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To me, such a decision sits oddly with the Government's aim of targeting benefits to those who need them, unless there is evidence, which I have yet to see, that those over pension age are, as a group, less needy than those under pension age. In general, nothing will be paid to any pensioners when they suffer bereavement. I am therefore sympathetic to the aims of those amendments which extend the eligibility of the bereavement payment. In particular, there is a strong case for extending eligibility to women aged 60 to 64, at least until the state pension is equalised between 2010 and 2020.

I welcome the fact that bereavement payment has been doubled. Its value should now be protected so that it does not wither on the vine. But, in spite of this seemingly generous gesture, I am still concerned that women widowed in the future are liable to be short-changed. For example, as we have just heard, they might lose half of their late husband's SERPS, and will not receive the additional bereavement tax allowance from April 2000. If we are building for the future, as I am sure is the intention, I am certain that those yet to be bereaved deserve greater fairness and greater security.

Baroness Amos: Amendment No. 74 is aimed at extending eligibility for the bereavement payment. It would allow people widowed between the ages of 60 and 64, at any time before or after the new scheme comes into force, to claim the £2000 bereavement payment.

I should first make it clear that the clause will extend existing policy and allow men aged 60 to 64 widowed after the new scheme starts to claim bereavement payment. And when the pension ages of men and women are equalised at 65, women in this age group will also qualify.

The group that the noble Lord intends to help--widows aged 60 to 64--are pensioners. But bereavement benefits, like the widow's benefits they are replacing, are there to provide a measure of compensation from the national insurance scheme for men and women who have lost a spouse while still of working age.

The noble Lord, Lord Rix, talked of the Government's commitment to targeting benefits to those who need them most. Other measures are in place to provide that support for pensioners and this Government have done much to build on that. In discussions this evening we have already talked about the minimum income guarantee. Our proposals are based on a clear set of principles and our reforms focus help from the state where and when it is needed most. We are spending £140 million more in the first year to ensure that this happens from the start.

The amendment would appear to allow retrospective claims from any widower aged between 60 and 64 when his wife died. That might mean, for example, giving the lump sum payment to an 80-year old man widowed 20 years ago. I should remind Members of the Committee that the bereavement payment, like the current widow's payment, is intended to be paid immediately on bereavement. The principle is that it

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helps with immediate costs at the time of greatest need. Offering the benefit retrospectively to people whose need for immediate support has passed would undermine that principle.

Under the new bereavement payment that we are introducing, each year thousands of men will receive a benefit that they could never claim before; thousands of women will get double the amount they would get at present. The amendment would weaken the principles that underpin our reforms. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Higgins: I believe that the Committee will be grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, for clarifying the position with regard to this particular amendment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

11 p.m.

Lord Addington moved Amendment No. 75:

Page 54, line 21, leave out ("and") and insert ("or
( ) that the person was of pensionable age and in receipt of income support; and").

The noble Lord said: I intend to take the most direct approach possible on this amendment. If a person, no matter what his age may be, is on income support, he is receiving benefit to bring his income up to an acceptable level. Thus the logic behind the amendment is that, if that person is bereaved and there is a benefit available for covering the costs of bereavement, surely there is a case for making that payment available to someone who is on such a level of income that he is in need of income support.

I hope that we shall receive, shall we say, a warmer reception for this amendment than we have received for many of the other amendments that we have moved so far this evening. I beg to move.

Baroness Amos: The noble Lord's amendment appears to be aimed at extending eligibility for the bereavement payment to widows and widowers of pensionable age who are receiving income support. Although I understand the noble Lord's concerns, I am afraid that I shall disappoint him. I believe that this amendment is the wrong way to address such concerns. It goes against a principle that has been at the heart of the widows' benefit scheme since it was devised by Beveridge. Widows' benefits have always been an insurance against unexpected death in working life. They are not compensation for the inevitable fact that all of us will die. They are, and always have been, intended for people of working age; and this will continue under our proposals.

The purpose of the bereavement benefit, as with the widow's payment it will replace, is to provide immediate help to those of working age in meeting unexpected costs which arise on bereavement. We recognise the great importance of having swift, non-means-tested help at such a time. That is why we have doubled the value of the payment. Of course, pensioners also need support and we are fully committed

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to that aim. On bereavement, the social fund is available to help the poorest pensioners--and others--with funeral expenses.

I could go into some of the detail of the Government's other achievements with respect to pensioners but, bearing in mind the lateness of the hour, I shall not, unless noble Lords wish me to do so. However well intentioned, the amendment would undermine the fundamental principles of our reforms. On that basis, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw it.

Lord Addington: When we receive a response which states that the amendment would not fit into the Beveridge scheme, I always feel that we should perhaps have moved slightly further on than that. The noble Baroness also referred to "unexpected death". I cannot help thinking that people are living rather longer than they did when Beveridge was devising his scheme. Therefore, the example of not fitting into the existing scheme is something that we should be looking at rather more thoroughly than is the case at the moment. I heard the noble Baroness's answer and reserve my position to return to this subject at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Higgins moved Amendment No. 76:

Page 54, line 24, at end insert ("or was making voluntary contributions")

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 82. The amendment refers to the qualifications for bereavement payments which appear in Clause 49. That clause contains various provisions. For example, the proposed new Section 36(1) states that,

    "A person whose spouse dies on or after the appointed day shall be entitled to a bereavement payment", if the person concerned satisfies various conditions. The proposed new Section 36(1)(b) provides entitlement to bereavement payments if,

    "the spouse satisfied the contribution condition for a bereavement payment specified in Schedule 3, Part I, paragraph 4". We suggest that bereavement payments should also be made if the people concerned have been making voluntary contributions. The noble Baroness, Lady Amos, has already been helpful in setting out the provisions of this clause. However, it seems to me that voluntary contributions might also be a reasonable qualification for entitlement to a bereavement payment. We would appreciate her comments on that. I beg to move.

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