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Lord Higgins: In seeking to understand the point that the Minister makes, perhaps I may put it precisely. Is she saying that all 16,000 people who are expected to be excluded from benefit will have the opportunity of building up a contribution record which will be adequate at the point where they would normally draw it and ensure that they are provided for?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: In a way, that is a hypothetical question because everyone currently on benefit will be protected. I hope that one of the consequences of this and other changes will be to encourage women to build up their entitlement record. Most of them do. That is why the Chancellor, with the combination of the minimum wage and keeping the LEA floor low at £66 and beginning the contribution during the next two years at the personal tax rate of £88, is ensuring that low-paid women can continue to enjoy the kind of protection which contributory benefits offer.

The Government's policy is that, through work, people should be able to contribute to building up their national insurance record. If they cannot do that, if they cannot enter the labour market and if they have financial need, we are trying a non-means-tested benefit. However, if they have financial need and can join the labour market but are no longer so doing, they are entitled to income support with a disability premium which is at least as generous as IB.

Lord Higgins: I thought that I had put the question precisely. Let me try again. Is the Minister saying that

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all 16,000 people--and perhaps she will confirm the figure--who will be excluded from benefit will have the choice of building up a contribution record? We understand that the benefit will not stop for people in receipt of SDA, but in future will those who are able to contribute build up an adequate contribution record in the time? Will they all have a choice, or is it the case that because of personal circumstances some people will not?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I do not know whom the noble Lord envisages. It is true that we expect that the 16,000 people who currently qualify for SDA would not, in future, so qualify. I hope that the statistics quoted by the noble Lord are correct. Everyone has the choice, as the noble Lord has had in the past, as I have had in the past and as every member of your Lordships' House has had in the past to build up contributions.

Those people who in the future will be disqualified from SDA will have had the same choice as others, no more and no less, to build up a contributions record. I misled the noble Lord. The figure is 14,000 rather than 16,000. None the less, we all have the choice to build up a contributions record.

However, I do not understand the point made by the noble Lord. That choice has remained. In the past some women have chosen not to take advantage of that choice. They have gone into work, or have not gone into work, but have not built up a contributions record and they have had a non-means-tested benefit at the expense of the rest of us. That is fine. That will continue for that cohort, but in future everyone will have the choice to build up a contributions record. If the noble Lord has some examples in mind, I may be able to help him, but at the moment I do not understand his question.

Lord Higgins: One example is a carer who is looking after someone. Will he or she have that choice?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Yes. I made it clear in answer to my noble friend that a carer who cares for more than 35 hours a week--for example, a full-time carer--and who would otherwise be passported from SDA, will be eligible for incapacity benefit on the existing conditions of IB. I gave that assurance to my noble friend in reply to the last question, as I am sure the noble Lord heard.

Lord Rix: Before the Minister sits down, in an earlier answer to a question from the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, she said that women with wealthy husbands should not be supported by people on incomes of £10,000 a year. I would have thought that income close to the minimum level of pay in this country. What amount of tax would a person on that low level of income pay that would eventually filter through to the wife of the wealthy husband?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I shall try to do the calculations. I do not believe it would be advisable for me to do so on my feet without knowing the circumstances of that particular family.

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My point is this. If we were considering afresh, in today's society, how to build a structure of disability benefits, would the Committee advocate a benefit to be received by people who have chosen not to build up a contributions record--apart from those who have not had the opportunity to exercise a choice by virtue of the age at which the disability was incurred? Would noble Lords invent a benefit to be received by people who had chosen not to build up a contributions record and whose financial means were sufficiently generous within the family that they would not need a means-tested benefit? I am not sure that the Committee would consider that the first priority. I was seeking to establish that point.

Earl Russell: Perhaps I may seek to answer the Minister's question roughly in the terms in which she posed it. One needs to give a little background. First, I have much enjoyed listening to the Minister on the subject of equality. I do not mean only because she speaks extremely well, but also because her conviction that the world has changed is itself both evidence of change and a force for future change. So long as the Minister is expressing only a personal opinion, I am extremely happy to listen to her.

I become a little more uncomfortable when prescriptions are made for what will happen to other people. There are many possible choices. On the issue of choice the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, are both right. They are talking about different points. The noble Lord, Lord Higgins, is concerned directly about people who are in no position to obtain any work from which they can build up a contributions record. I agree with him on that.

However, the issue here concerns the situation where one person in a couple--not necessarily the woman--chooses to stay at home and accepts the domestic responsibilities. One cannot get away from the fact--as I was rudely reminded when the water started coming through my ceiling at two o'clock this morning--that someone has to deal with the matter!

I do not believe it is the business of the state to decide how those responsibilities inside a family should be apportioned. The state does not have the knowledge; it does not have the competence; and it does not have the authority. I believe, with some passion, that diversity is itself a good. I agree with the remark that my honourable friend Mr Rendel once made to me that there is no one right way to live.

When the Minister asks whether the state should support that choice, I hear what she says. I understand the reasons for her doubt, but supporting the principle of diversity is of sufficient importance to justify an answer "yes" to the question of the Minister. That "yes" is of a great deal more importance to running a state in a free country than we often stop to consider.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: In no sense do I dispute the virtues of pluralism, diversity or choice. If resources are finite it is not necessarily right that taxpayers' money should be used to support that choice rather than making

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life more comfortable and secure for people who have never been able to exercise choice because their disability was incurred at birth.

Earl Russell: I hear, understand and respect what the Minister says. However, if the power of the state, and especially its financial power, is exercised to discourage diversity, granted the fact that most of us are wrong most of the time, in all quarters of the Committee, that is the greater evil.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: I do not propose to press to a Division, the Question whether Clause 60 shall stand part although I may come to a different conclusion on Report. I am grateful to my noble friend for the enormous trouble that she has taken to answer all the points that have been made.

Clause 60 agreed to.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Higgins moved Amendment No. 124C:


After Clause 60, insert the following new clause--

ATTENDANCE ALLOWANCE AND DISABILITY LIVING ALLOWANCE: INFORMATION ABOUT ENTITLEMENT

(" .--(1) The Secretary of State shall take such steps as appears to him appropriate for the purpose of securing that persons who may be entitled to attendance allowance or disability living allowance (as the case may be) become aware that they may be entitled to that benefit.
(2) If it appears to the Secretary of State that, on the basis of information in his possession, a person who has not made a claim for attendance allowance or disability living allowance (as the case may be) may be entitled to that benefit, he shall forthwith inform him of that fact and invite him to make a claim for it.
(3) Where the Secretary of State is in possession of information which should have alerted him to the fact that a person might be entitled to claim attendance allowance or disability living allowance (as the case may be) but he failed to discharge his duty under subsection (2) above and that person subsequently makes a claim for the benefit concerned which is determined in his favour, he shall be entitled to payment of the benefit from the time when the information came into the possession of the Secretary of State, provided that he would have been entitled from that time but for the requirement of paragraph (a) of subsection (1) of section 1 of the Social Security Administration Act 1992 (claim necessary for entitlement).")

The noble Lord said: I normally try to make my amendments as brief as possible, but Amendment No. 124C is longer than some. Therefore, it is virtually self-explanatory. The amendment concerns the take-up of the disabled living allowance. It seeks to suggest that the Secretary of State shall take the necessary steps to ensure that people entitled to disability living allowance or attendance allowance become aware that they are entitled to that benefit.

I believe that the noble Baroness will confirm that the take-up of such benefits is much lower than one would like. No doubt she has the figures. It is suggested that the Secretary of State shall take steps to ensure that those concerned receive such benefit, if they are entitled to do so, on the basis of other information that the department is likely to have. The final part of the amendment suggests that if there is a determination in favour of such a person, but they were not aware of the fact at the time, the benefit should be back-dated.

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As I say, the amendment is self-explanatory. I look forward to the reply from the Minister. I beg to move.


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