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Baroness Bakewell: My Lords, this amendment seeks to make the lot of carers in our society, whose lives are often already difficult and sometimes miserable, less miserable than it would be if the Bill went ahead as proposed.
There are 6.4 million carers in the UK contributing an estimated £119 billion to the UK for the unpaid care that they provide. I reiterate those figures: 6.4 million carers saving the country £119 billion. What kind of lives do these people have? What kind of situation are they in that they are able to be so generous with their time and their care? They have a rough time. They face a precarious financial situation, with 72 per cent finding themselves worse off when becoming carers due to the combined pressures of reduced earnings, a low level of benefits and the costs associated with living with someone with a disability. A Carers UK survey of over 1,700 carers found that 74 per cent were struggling to pay essential utility bills, 52 per cent were cutting back on their own food to cope, 66 per cent were using their own income earned from very modest jobs to pay for care for the person they were caring for, and 54 per cent were in debt as a result. It is worth saying that people do not choose to be carers; somewhere along the line life has been unkind to them and they are making the very best of it in the interests of us all.
The amendment seeks to help those carers who wish to make their income more secure by taking part in some paid work. It would ensure that when universal credit was calculated, carers would be allowed to keep more of their earnings than those without such responsibilities in recognition of the additional barriers that they face in combining work and care. It is welcome that the Government have decided to keep the carers' allowance out of the universal credit. That is to the good. It is also welcome that the additional support given to those in short-hours jobs under the universal credit scheme will help to make work pay for some carers. However, it is not clear why the Government
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Currently, individuals in receipt of income support are eligible for a £20 a week earnings disregard. That is not a fortune. They are allowed to earn £20 a week before their benefit starts to be withdrawn. The Government have announced that there will be specific disregards for couples, single people, lone parents and disabled people, and they have stated that, taken together with the universal credit taper, these will leave those four groups in low-paying jobs significantly better off than under the current system. However, for some reason this does not apply to single carers, who currently have access to a £20 disregard in income support through the receipt of the carer premium but would be able to access only the basic single person disregard of around £13.50 a week under universal credit. This could leave carers who are juggling work and care over £200 a year worse off because their benefits would be withdrawn earlier.
It does not sound much, does it-£200 a year? What difference could that make? Let me tell your Lordships what difference that would make, and let me repeat that this difference could affect a large number of the 6.4 million carers who are saving the country £119 billion a year in unpaid care. They are the ones who will suffer worse than they already do-carers living on their own, those who do not have children and those who are caring for a disabled parent who is not considered part of their household for the purposes of universal credit. All those groups would be made deliberately worse off than they already are. This group includes those who look after a disabled or elderly friend or poor relative who does not live with them and those who look after, for example, an adult disabled child who lives with them but, because of the rules of universal credit, is not seen as part of their household.
Carers UK estimates that this is likely to affect up to 50,000 carers, leaving them worse off in work and breaking the promise of universal credit to make work pay. These carers did not choose the life that has rolled out before them. They did not make choices about jobs and opportunities. They did not make choices; they were faced with someone they love in a disabled and needful situation. Out of the love they bear them they have made the sacrifice of careers and opportunities to earn as other people earn, in order to give free of their love and to provide care to those in their family. As Carers UK put it, nearly three-quarters of carers on benefits are women. On top of the additional likelihood of childcare responsibilities and difficulties in accessing replacement social care, thereby reducing the financial return of work for women who are able to work for only a few hours alongside caring, this will act to further distance female carers from the workplace.
Carers UK gives the following case study of someone who would be affected by these measures. This is an example. Janet is 55, single and cares for her son Michael, who is 30. Michael is severely autistic, has multiple health conditions and needs constant support. He receives disability living allowance and Janet receives the carer premium to income support for caring for him. Several years ago Michael started going to a
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Janet is trapped. She does not have any options-oh, but she does have an option: she could give up doing her caring and put the person for whom she cares into care. She could say, "This is enough. My contribution is not recognised. I am worn out and finding the stress of looking after someone disabled too much. I am going to give up, and someone else can cope. I am going to get a job and make my way of life more comfortable". What percentage of 6.4 million carers might make such a decision? What would it cost the state if they all abandoned their role as carers? They already do not believe that they get much sympathy from society at large, but moves like this would alienate them still further. The Government should estimate what the cost would be if even a small percentage of 6.4 million carers gave up their role. I beg to move.
Baroness Pitkeathley: My Lords, I support this amendment, to which my name is also attached. Because of the scheduling of business in your Lordships' House this is the first opportunity I have had to speak on the Welfare Reform Bill, but I know that many, indeed most, in the carers' movement owe a huge debt of gratitude to the noble Baronesses and noble Lords who have been speaking throughout Committee stage.
The amendment proposed so ably and passionately by my noble friend seeks to ensure that the universal credit does not put up a further barrier for those people who want to combine caring with work. Given that the aim of the universal credit is to support people into work, it seems wrong to reduce the work incentives for one of the groups for which that support is most needed.
I agree with the Minister's aim to encourage carers to combine paid work with their caring. Let us think of the reasons why we want to do that. First, it would increase their income; we have already heard that caring takes place in poverty. Secondly, if carers are not in work, they build up poverty for themselves in future through the reduction in their pension contributions. Thirdly, and perhaps most significantly, being in a paid job helps carers with the stress, which is often very great, of their caring role. It enables them to maintain social contact and skills and to have a bit of
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We know, however, that carers already face significant barriers to work. According to research commissioned by Carers UK and the DWP for carers' rights day in 2009, some 1 million carers-that is around one in six of the figure that we have heard of 6 million carers-have given up work or reduced their working hours in order to remain as carers. A major barrier is the availability of suitable replacement care. In a separate survey, over 40 per cent of carers who gave up work did so due to a lack of sufficiently reliable or flexible services. A similar number, 41 per cent, said that they would rather be in paid work but services available do not make a job possible. In addition to that, for those who are able to juggle work and care, stress and poor health are common. Nearly half of the respondents to a survey of working carers for Employers for Carers and Carers UK indicated that their work had been negatively affected by caring and that they felt tired, stressed and anxious. Employees with heavy caring responsibilities are two to three times more likely than those without caring responsibilities to be in poor health. For these reasons, carers are just the sort of claimants to be working a few hours a week in low-paid work. We estimate that 50,000 of them might be affected by this change.
I know that the Minister wants to encourage carers to start working more than a few hours, but because of the other issues I have mentioned, for many carers a small or even a tiny increase in working hours is impossible. Because the Government argue elsewhere in the Bill that increasing earnings disregards will incentivise work, it seems inconsistent here to suggest that reducing the carers disregard will encourage additional work. I hope the Minister will agree that there is no logic to discouraging carers from juggling paid work with caring as long as they can and leaving them worse off than they are. I very much support the amendment.
Baroness Lister of Burtersett: My Lords, I am not going to add to the very powerful case that has already been made by my noble friends Lady Bakewell and Lady Pitkeathley. I simply wanted to seek some clarification of what was said in Committee, when a number of us put the case for a carers disregard, and the Minister said in his reply:
"Rather than going through the complexity of the separate disregard route, we have provided an additional element that is included in the gross amount of the universal credit for carers. That is a change from carer's allowance".-[Official Report, 1/11/11; col. GC 443.]
I am rather confused by this, because it seemed to me that it was muddling up carer's allowance-a very important benefit, which some of us would like to see higher than it is at present-and the support provided to carers through means tested benefits such as income support.
Because I worry about my memory for the intricacies of social security I did not challenge the Minister at that point, but afterwards I sought guidance from Carers UK. It, too, was very confused by what the Minister said, and wondered whether or not the Minister-I hate to say this-was perhaps confusing carer's allowance and means tested support for carers.
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Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I hope noble Lords will forgive me; I was a few minutes late in coming in, so I missed a little bit of what the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, said. As I was listening I wondered to what extent more carers would or could be encouraged to be carers if in fact such a situation as she was proposing existed. Perhaps I am looking at this in a slightly disorganised way, but if there is an answer to my question, I would like to know it.
Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: My Lords, I know that the whole House recognises the important contribution that carers make, and that all will endorse the case made by my noble friends Lady Bakewell and Lady Pitkeathley. Both noble Baronesses know this field intimately-the former from her involvement with an ageing population, with all its aches and pains, and the latter from her sterling work with carers over so many years. Nobody can gainsay their experience in this field. This amendment in their names is a true acknowledgment of the work of all carers, whether for the young, the old, the sick or the disabled.
We know that the Minister has considered the needs of carers, and we welcome the announcement this afternoon-just minutes before this Report stage started, so it just hit the promised timescale-that caring for people receiving both a higher and lower daily living rate under the new personal independence payment will qualify for the carer's allowance.
However, as yet we have absolutely no idea as to the threshold of disability that will place someone into PIP, nor do we know who will take the hit of the 20 per cent cut-a cut of one-fifth of all such payments-that the Government intend to make. Will fewer people be placed in PIP than into the current two higher rats of DLA? We similarly do not know whether carers themselves are safe from cuts. Indeed, it is noticeable, as was impressed on us today by the Joint Committee on Human Right in its scrutiny of this Bill, that the Government's impact assessment makes absolutely no mention of the impact of some of the Bill's changes on carers, even when the impact will be very significant. That is so too for those who might lose their DLA under the new PIP thresholds. Not only would they lose that income but would become subject to the benefit cap.
We must all understand the anxiety, even fear, that some are experiencing by this uncertainty over their future. We also do not know how the Minister intends
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Finally, many carers look set to be hit by the benefit cap. Those who are caring for a DLA and, I presume, PIP recipient who lives in the same household will be exempt from the £500 a week benefit cap. But those who care for someone who lives independently-perhaps an adult or a child, as we have heard, or an elderly relative-will see the carers' allowance, which recognises this responsibility, hit by the cap. If the carer is single, this means that their benefit to include their rent even in London will be capped at £350 despite their reduced ability to earn by virtue of their caring responsibilities.
We will discuss the various ways in which that cap is unfair at a later stage of the Bill but in our discussions of carers today, we surely need to remember that the desire to support carers is not always translated into reality in the detail of this Bill. When we debated this amendment in Committee, the Minister said that only a few carers would be made worse off by the lack of a disregard; that is, those working between two and five hours a week. But it is exactly those short-hour jobs that universal credit was intended to enable. It is precisely carers who are most likely to need these mini-jobs as they fit in with their caring responsibilities. Many people, perhaps 50,000, will be affected if the Government reject this amendment. They are people who want to work and who care.
In another case described by Carers UK, a 45 year-old man who lives and cares for his 65 year-old father who has dementia has had to give up work because the father needs 24/7 care and he has to be there. His sister has her own family and does not live close. She travels to look after their father for an afternoon and evening a week, which enables the son to go out to work. He can earn a little to supplement his income support. At the moment, if he earns £18 his benefits are not affected because of the £20 a week disregard, as has been mentioned. But, under universal credit, without this amendment and the earnings disregard, he would have only the basic disregard of £13.50, which is for everyone. There will be no special disregard for carers. After that, his benefits will taper away. He would keep only just over £15 of his earnings, compared with £18 now. That sum is serious money for someone living on benefits. We must remind ourselves that that person is living on benefits only to save the state a fortune should it have to care for the father at home.
To make use of the more generous taper in universal credit, or to overcome the loss of this reduced disregard, the son would have to work increased hours. However, he cannot do this. His sister cannot stay any longer and there is no one else to be with his father. It is a catch 22: he is receiving no recognition that his position as a carer restricts his employment potential. The whole thrust of universal credit, which we support, is to make work pay. This amendment seeks to do just that for carers, and thus has the support of this side of the House.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud): My Lords, we take the position of carers very seriously and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, pointed out, today I was very pleased to write a letter, as I had promised, about how the passporting arrangements from PIP would go in and how all of PIP passports into carer's allowance. I have to apologise-I promised that letter three days before the first day of Report and I think that I am three days late. I hope my apology will be accepted. There was informal information going out, and so it was not too much of a surprise.
The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, asked me whether I was confused. This is an important point, because I sat and worked very hard on this element of carer's allowance. Two things are happening here. The caring community-the carers-are very keen to have an allowance which is not means-tested, and which recognises their effort and work. I understand that. It is not a question of means-testing it. However, there is a cliff off which the whole allowance falls away, when the carers earn a certain amount. Clearly, that undermines considerably their incentive to work. Therefore, as we were refining the structure for carers, we looked to create, essentially, an additional element in universal credit on top of carer's allowance, which in practice does not involve a cliff fall in the same way. It is probably easier for me to send a letter on this. I need to clarify this, particularly if the carers' organisations are confused, as the noble Baroness has said. However, the structure is designed to get rid of these awkward "drop offs" and to be smoother. In fact, noble Lords will be shocked to know that I found a bit of money to put into the system to allow that. If I am not getting credit for that-and I need it-I shall try to earn it by writing a letter spelling out how that has worked.
Lord Freud: Finding money is a black art. I need say no more. If I were to reveal any more, it would just rebound negatively on me in every direction. Anyway, that is what has happened. I shall try to spell that out in a letter to the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell. It is vital that the earnings disregards in universal credit are simpler than those in the current system, in order to achieve the core aim of making the system clear both to claimants and to administrators.
The earnings disregards in universal credit for carers who are in a couple, lone parents or themselves disabled will be more generous than the disregards in the current benefit system, thus enhancing work incentives for the great majority. As we discussed in Grand Committee, I have sent examples to the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, and more widely, which clearly demonstrate the substantial gains at most earnings levels. I am deeply impressed by the example cited by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, which got to within 3p of the worst possible point. There is a narrow band of between two and five hours where the absolute maximum you could lose is £4.25 a week. I think that the example used by the noble Baroness was £4.22, so she nearly hit it on the nose. I do not know how she
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It may be that the effect of the system is to drive people off the four-hour rate to the six-hour rate. I do not accept that the number of people in that narrow bracket is 50,000. It simply is not that figure and I do not think there is any reliable estimate of what the number is.
Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: If the noble Lord has no idea of how many people are involved, but thinks that the number is less than 50,000, surely he cannot know how much it would cost, and therefore this may be another small amount of money. If the number is small, it cannot cost much to give these people an extra £4 a week.
Lord Freud: This is not directly a money matter; it is about the structure and the simplicity of the system. When you are changing from an inchoate system, which is what we have now, there are patches where people are a little less well off than they would have been, and that is why we have transitional protection. As you move to a simple, clean structure, there are problems in doing that, and that is what we are trying to address. By definition, it is not possible to overhaul and simplify a system and keep all the existing rules. Existing claimants will not lose because of the transitional protection, so those who have built their lives around a four-hour week will not lose by this, although within the structure there will be a drive to encourage people to do a little more.
I hope that noble Lords understand what we are trying to do here. I know that there is general support for universal credit, but we must maintain something that is tangibly more simple. With that explanation of why the Government cannot support this amendment, I would urge the noble Baroness to withdraw it.
Baroness Bakewell: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. I have only one or two points to make. The noble Lord challenged the figure of 50,000. It came from Carers UK, which is perhaps our most authoritative body when it comes to delivering data like this. I acknowledge completely that the system needs simplifying and that we want simplicity in the system, but you can have simplicity at different levels. You can have simplicity operating at the rock bottom of the ladder of pay or at a more generous level of pay. One relevant issue about this four-hour working borderline with this tiny slither of people-it is quite a large slither-is that we are an aging population. More and more carers are themselves old. A lot of people in their 60s care for people in their 80s. People in their 60s looking after someone disabled are quite likely to be eligible for something like four hours work a week.
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Baroness Drake: My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 11 as well. Amendment 7 would allow pension contributions made by claimants to be disregarded in full when assessing their income for calculating entitlement to universal credit. Some 100 per cent of the value of pension contributions is deducted from income that is brought into account for calculating entitlement to tax credit. This amendment would allow that arrangement to continue under universal credit. Sadly, the Government have stated that in future only 50 per cent of pension contributions will be deducted from income when calculating entitlement. That is a mean measure. The Government state that they will save £200 million a year but this should be set against the near £30 billion saving from accelerating the increase in the state pension age to 66 and, to use the Chancellor's words, the saving of a staggering £59 billion from accelerating the increase in the state pension age from 66 to 67. Those are very big numbers in comparison.
Pension reform was intended to strike a new deal between the state and the citizen, whereby: people work longer and the state pension rises; the state pension would be a flat rate to provide a firm foundation for pension saving; and private pension savings would increase through automatic enrolment into a workplace pension with an employer contribution. Those three elements are inseparable or the settlement becomes unfair to ordinary, hard-working people. The Government are accelerating the increase in the state pension age to reflect increasing longevity and to secure public expenditure savings of many billions, but they are backtracking-I stress, backtracking-on the pension saving and the incentive to save for ordinary, hard-working people. That is not fair. It is not a fair deal for the citizen and it breaks the consensus of the way forward.
The Government have suspended the introduction of auto-enrolment for workers in firms with fewer than 50 employees. They have delayed by at least a year-to 2017-the date by which workers will have access to the full 3 per cent employer contribution and tax relief. They have this mean measure of reducing to 50 per cent from 100 per cent the amount of any pension contributions disregarded from the assessment of income for universal credit. This will all hit responsible, hard-working people on modest incomes in receipt of universal credit who try to save for a pension.
It was very clear from official analyses that the way in which pension contributions were treated under the tax credit system was part of the incentive to save and the payback on every pound saved by low-to-moderate income earners. It provides an increase on their savings of up to a third because of the incentive-to-save effect. The Minister argued in Committee that it is necessary to take a balanced approach to the disregard of pension contributions as not all taxpayers who do not claim benefits have the advantage of a private or occupational pension scheme. However, with the introduction of auto-enrolment, it is the Government's intention that they will all have access to a workplace pension; so that argument will not hold.
The Minister argues that the disregard for pension contributions is an area in which tax credits have been excessively generous. That is not a great message to send out to decent, hard-working people who play by the rules and are trying to save for a pension, and not one borne out by the facts. It also ignores the billions given in higher-rate tax relief-around £10 billion-to pension savings by higher-income earners. Universal credit is intended to encourage responsible behaviour. Policies to deliver an efficient benefits system and policies to enable pension saving by responsible people are not alternatives. This is a short-sighted measure, which withdraws valuable support to the incentive to save for a pension from responsible, hard-working people on lower incomes. This mean little measure should be set against the billions of savings from accelerating the state pension age. I really hope that I can persuade the Minister to reflect and reconsider this change in the treatment of pension contributions, and perhaps even to deploy his black arts again.
The purpose of Amendment 11 is to provide for regulation to allow for an additional amount in universal credit where a claimant is over the state pension age. Pension credit is targeted at low-income pensioners, to help them live above the poverty line. Currently couples can claim pension credit as long as one partner has reached the qualifying age. The effect of this Bill is to prevent pension credit claims in the future from couples where one partner is under that qualifying age. The couple will have to claim universal credit and be subject to conditionality. The impact of this change will be significant for many lower-income, older couples going forward. First, it may impact their income. I recognise that mixed-age couples, where one or both have earnings from work, can benefit from the system of universal credit due to the more generous income disregards and tapers, but there will be a range of possible outcomes depending on a couple's circumstances, which will mean many being worse off.
Mixed-age couples claiming universal credit in the future could receive incomes that are £100 or more lower than under the current system. They may lose other sources of support-cold weather payments, help with health costs, warm home discount, and more. Standard payments under universal credit are just £105.95 for a couple. In contrast, the pension credit guarantee rate for a couple is £209.70 a week, and £137.35 for a single person. Without provision through regulation for additional support within universal credit where one partner is older, a pensioner could
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Secondly, it will impact their savings. The way the capital rules work under universal credit means that a pensioner with a low income and modest savings who has a younger partner could be excluded from pension credit and forced out of universal credit, or face a steep withdrawal of benefit. That is hardly the action to be taken for some who is about to commence living through their old age. Furthermore, it can impact their housing benefit. There are to be no exemptions to the size criteria for the receipt of housing benefit from April 2013, other than when the claimant or partner is over state pension credit age. However, the Government now want to reflect their decision, where one member of a couple is a pensioner and the other is of working age, on the housing benefit rules. That means that, unless mixed-age couples are protected from the restrictions, a pensioner with a younger partner could find their benefit cut if they have one or more spare rooms; if they live alone, the restrictions will not apply. It is a really peculiar form of couple's penalty, which disproportionately hits older and poorer couples and their relationships. Should couples stay together or separate in future? That will be a real debate under the application of universal credit.
Pensioners in poorer households will have significantly different experiences because of differences in the age of their partners. It may not be unreasonable to expect some young partners who are able to work to be subject to work-related conditions and sanctions when they do not fulfil requirements, but why is it necessary to provide further incentives by restricting benefit to the pensioner partner in that couple? As to the thousands of grandparents who may not be receiving a carer's allowance but who are looking after their grandchildren, do they lack incentive or responsibility? Should they be the ones who have their allowances cut significantly below that which they would receive under pension credit? Again, the Government show no affection for our grandmothers. So where neither partner is able to work or is unsuccessful in finding work, their basic level of benefit under universal credit should reflect the fact that one of them is a pensioner. As to the treatment of carers and disabled persons in mixed-age couples, it is not clear how the system will work in all circumstances and many will be worse off under state pension credit.
Pension credit is a very effective policy-it is probably the only effective policy-for targeting pensioner poverty. The effect of the change will impact a group of low-income older people, which is why, as proposed in this amendment, the regulations should allow for an additional payment under universal credit where a claimant is above state pension age. I beg to move.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I propose to speak briefly in support of Amendments 7 and 11 as my noble friend is a renowned expert on pensions and it is never possible to add much, if anything, of substance to what she has said. My noble friend has made an important point about the breaking of the consensus on encouraging saving. On the one hand she instanced
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I wish to probe again a point in respect of the 50 per cent only deduction, which I do not think that the Minister dealt with significantly in Committee. Universal credit will obviously be based on real-time information-the information which will flow from employer returns to HMRC, and the data flowing back. That data will be based on 100 per cent deductions of occupational pension schemes, so if universal credit is going to rely on a 50 per cent deduction only, there is going to have to be some other process or loop which is not naturally there in the data flows at the moment. I think the Minister instanced that this was something that was being commissioned. I can imagine the work involved in seeing how that might be derived. I hope that he will take the opportunity tonight to be a little clearer on that. Quite apart from the principle of the measure which my noble friend has raised, I raise the actual practicalities of implementing it. When we looked at recasting the child maintenance system, which we shall come on to on a subsequent Report day, what was determined and debated in your Lordships' Chamber was that it would be based on gross income data provided by HMRC but net of 100 per cent of employee occupational pension contributions, as that was the natural flow of data. I would be grateful if the Minister could deal with the practicalities of that point.
Amendment 11 seeks to ensure that measures can be put in place to address one of the significant couple penalties introduced by the Welfare Reform Bill-a penalty that means that a couple, where one person is over and one under pension age, could lose as much as £100 a week compared to the current system. This sits alongside the couple penalty introduced by the limiting of contributory employment and support allowance and that introduced by the benefit cap in a series of changes that, perhaps unintentionally, mean that couples may see themselves as better off financially, as my noble friend has said, living apart.
The policy change being introduced means that whereas at present couples where one member has reached pension age are eligible for pension credit, following the coming into effect of the Bill, if one member of the couple is below pension age, they will be forced to claim universal credit until both of them qualify for a pension. We have been given no specific figures on the impact of this policy although we know that there are currently 93,000 couples where one person is over and one under pension age. Not all of these will be affected as those who are already receiving pension credit will be able to remain on that benefit. However, as the revised impact assessment points out, those who are affected are likely to be hit hard, stating that the heaviest notional losers for couples without children,
Perhaps the Minister can tell us how many people he estimates that this change will affect and how much they stand to lose. Bringing pensioners within the orbit of universal credit will also mean, as my noble friend has said, subjecting them to many of the new and harsher rules that accompany the new benefit. The Minister has not yet told us how he expects pensioners to be affected by the new capital limits that will be introduced for universal credit, and also for pension credit when housing benefit is abolished. As Age UK points out, nearly 150,000 people claiming pension credit have more than £16,000 in savings. In the future those with a low income but over £16,000 of savings who have a younger partner will not only be excluded from pension credit, they will not be entitled to universal credit due to their savings.
The Government have argued that the purpose of the policy change is to ensure that working-age claimants are subject to working-age conditionality and asked to look for work. However, many of the working-age claimants who fall into this group and have an older partner may in fact be subject to no work-related requirements-a matter we discussed in Committee-whether because they are caring for someone or have a disability themselves. These couples too will see a £100 a week hit on their income as well as potentially losing other support linked to pension credits, such as the winter fuel payments.
The Government have said that this is not a savings measure so there should be some flexibility within the system to ensure that couples in this situation have their income protected. This policy has not been consulted on and we have not received sufficient information fully to assess who it will affect and how. Therefore, the amendment proposed by my noble friend would give the Government the flexibility to look again at the options in this area and to ensure that couples in this situation do not lose out.
Lord Freud: My Lords, Amendment 7 would take a power to disregard the full amount of any pension contributions from the assessment of both single and joint claimants' income. As I made clear at Committee, this is a matter for regulations and we do not need any additional regulation-making powers. Our stated policy since the Universal Credit White Paper has been a 50 per cent disregard of pension contributions, in line with the current approach in the benefit system, as opposed to the tax credit system. We are taking the middle path between supporting pension saving for people on low incomes and fairness to the taxpayer. It is important to remember that many taxpayers who do not claim benefits do not have occupational or private pensions. A full disregard of all pension contributions would cost an additional £200 million a year.
Noble Lords have characterised our approach as worsening the position when compared with tax credits, where there is a full disregard of pension contributions. However, this oversimplifies the comparison between universal credit, based on net income after tax, and tax credits, based on gross taxable income. Frankly, we are not comparing like with like. We also need to take account of the new employer contribution duties to be introduced from next year. We previously said that when taking account of employer contributions, the
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If one considers putting £1 today into a pension, the cost in the tax credit system is 39 pence. One can see that that represents 61 pence pure universal credit. However, if one combines that universal credit calculation with the employer pension duties, the figure reduces to the 38 pence that I talked of. The middle way, when considered in combination with what else is happening, is actually not quite as mean or extreme as the noble Baroness, whose expertise I acknowledge and have suffered from in the past, might imply. If you are outside the system entirely, it costs you 80 pence for every £1 of savings. That provides a balance on why we have come to that figure.
Picking up the question from the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, on the RTI feed, I can inform him that payroll data do identify pension contributions from salary. They have to do that because the pension contributions will be subject to national insurance. That is the feed element we will use to make this calculation, and we are currently working out the detail. Taking all these factors into account, we believe that a 50 per cent disregard is an appropriate balance between encouraging saving and a fair deal for the taxpayer.
Amendment 11 would amend the regulation-making power in Clause 9 relating to the standard allowance. This would allow us to provide an exception for couples with one member above state pension age by excluding the standard allowance from the calculation of their universal credit award. As I explained in Grand Committee, the Government have taken the view that couples with one member above and one under the qualifying age for state pension credit should claim universal credit. Following that debate, I sent the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, and other noble Lords some worked examples showing the entitlement of different couples on the two benefits. They showed that there will be a range of outcomes depending on individual circumstances. We calculated that more than 90,000 couples with one partner under pension credit age are on pension credit-that was in answer to the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie. However, transitional protection will apply, and all those couples currently on pension credit will stay on it while circumstances remain the same.
We are not convinced that it is necessary to have special rules or different amounts of standard allowance where one partner is above pension age. Universal credit also includes additional amounts for those people who have limited capability for work or regular and substantial caring responsibilities for a severely disabled person. It remains the Government's view that people of working age who are able to work should prepare for or look for work in return for receiving support from the state. The earnings rules and disregards in universal credit provide a clear incentive to do so. I therefore urge the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, to withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Drake: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I do not think that I am supposed to say that any more-I think the new rules say that I can dispense with that-but I will remain courteous and thank the Minister. Or is that only in Questions? I am trying to keep up.
I will deal with each of his points. First, I did not know that there was a middle path. That is a whole new concept to me. I thought the issue was that in-work benefits would support the incentive to pay for, say, low-to-moderate-income people by disregarding pension contributions. As to the concept of a middle path, I do not know what the merit of that middle path is other than the opportunity to save some public expenditure. I have never seen it publicly debated that it makes a big or meaningful contribution to the pension settlement.
I accept that we may not strictly be comparing like with like, because I am trying to lift from a set of rules under one benefits system to the one that will apply under universal credit, but I do not think that I heard the Minister say that the £200 million saving from this change had varied. As I understand it, the Government are still expecting to save £200 million. However the cloth is cut. That means that, for a particular group of low-to-moderate-income people, £200 million will be taken out of their incentive to save. At the same time, there will be a staggering increase in public expenditure reduction of £59 billion from accelerating the state pension age. I do not want to debate the acceleration of the state pension age-I am sure that there will be opportunities to do that.
Baroness Drake: I will have to go back and check on the figures. None the less, there will be a saving from this which has the effect of reducing the incentive to save for this group of people. As they will not be able to access the benefit of auto-enrolment until later, the contribution from their employer will come online more slowly, and therefore their ability and incentive to save will be reduced.
The Minister said that he sent a series of worked examples to my noble friend Lady Hollis that produced a range of outcomes. That is my whole point-some people can lose quite significantly under these new rules. It is not clear as to what the rules would be in all circumstances. Although there are transitional protections, that simply means that there will be a cliff-edge impact on another group of older couples when these rules come in. This will continue to add to the couple penalty and to the differing treatment of older couples
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Lord McKenzie of Luton: This amendment raises the question of the amount of capital that will be taken into account when calculating universal credit. The Government's proposals at present are that those with savings of above £16,000 will not be able to claim universal credit and that capital above £6,000 will attract a tariff income of £1 for every £250 above the £6,000 floor.
Our amendment seeks to enable differential treatment of capital for those in and out of work, reflecting the current arrangements, under which the universal credit rules replicate current benefit arrangements. Tax credits claimed by those who are in work have no limits on capital nor assume any tariff income, but obviously take account of the actual or taxable investment income. The Minister has talked about universal credit encouraging a culture change in how people manage their money. We fear that the current proposals will discourage low-income people in work from accumulating savings and building assets.
This is not just our view about the capital rules, but that of one of the main architects of universal credit, the Centre for Social Justice. As Deven Ghelani, a senior researcher at the centre said when giving evidence to the House of Commons Bill Committee:
"It is fundamentally a disincentive to save. I think that the savings limit for people who are not working and are on benefits has been £16,000 for I am not sure how many years, but certainly rather a lot".
"The limit has not been uprated for at least a decade I would say, and possibly a lot longer. By extending that to people who are working, people who get close to that threshold might suddenly realise that it does not pay to save and that there are perhaps other things that they should be doing with the money, whereas saving is in itself a protection against dependency".-[Official Report, Commons, Welfare Reform Bill Committee; 22/3/11, col. 19.]
The proposals will act as a barrier for those on modest incomes who are trying to save, whether for a house, for their children's tuition fees for university or against the possibility that they may lose their job and need a cushion of income to fall back on. The Government propose to encourage more tenants to buy their council accommodation. Under these proposals, tenants who wish to save to take up the offer will first be penalised
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The department's briefing assessment of the changes suggests that there will be between 100,000 and 200,000 people who will lose eligibility to universal credit altogether because of the new capital cut-off rules, and that between 200,000 and 300,000 people will have reduced eligibility due to the rules on tariff income. The briefing note states:
It is right that they should draw on these resources before looking to the taxpayer for support, particularly as many taxpayers themselves have savings well below these limits, but the vast majority of low-income workers who are claiming universal credit will also be taxpayers, and their taxes will be used to support other incentives to save in the tax system, including, as we discussed in Committee, the considerable tax relief on pension contributions.
The current proposals punish those on low incomes who are working and trying to build assets for the future. The amendment proposes a modest change to enable differential treatment of capital for those in and out of work. When we debated the issues in Committee, the Minister told us that these are not necessarily issues of principle; they are issues of affordability and the envelope that we have to introduce universal credit. By accepting the amendments, he could signal that he recognises the importance of enabling those who move into paid work to begin to build up their assets and avoid sending the wrong message that those on low incomes should not expect to be able to save. I beg to move.
Lord Freud: My Lords, Amendment 8 would require different tariff incomes to be set against the capital of people in and out of work. I understand the noble Lord's desire to continue to treat the capital of people in work differently in order to encourage low-income workers to save. I remind the noble Lord and the House that I was able to provide somewhat more precision than the IFS on the last time the figure of £6,000 or £16,000 was raised. To be absolutely honest, I forget the date that I provided in Committee, but it is now on the record in Hansard. The date was 2006. I am pleased to keep just marginally ahead of the IFS every now and then.
This amendment is at odds with our shared ambition for a simpler system. It is also, as it stands, unaffordable. We estimate that it would cost around an additional £70 million a year to remove tariff income for everyone in work with capital up to £16,000. We estimate that it would cost an additional £30 million a year to set tariff income at £1 for every £500, instead of the current £1 for every £250, for everyone in work with capital up to £16,000. That gives you a context of cost. This is a cost matter, as I made clear in Committee. There are quite a lot of nice-to-dos in the universal credit; I would like to do many of them myself, I assure you, but we have got to focus on where we can put the scarce resource and where it is absolutely
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The shocking reality is that if you go to the median household with a working-age adult in it the figure of savings in that household is £300. That is across all working ages in the FRS. That is a shocking figure, but it just shows you where the debate is against the reality of what is happening in this community group. I am using median not average here, because I think it is a better figure.
That is the issue. We have limited resources; we need to focus them on those least able to support themselves. I hope that explains why we are where we are with these particular figures for tariff income and capital and why we cannot support this amendment, and I ask the noble Lord to withdraw it.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his response. I should just say that it was not the IFS which gave that evidence; it was the Centre for Social Justice, which I thought was an organisation quite close to the noble Lord's heart.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: I understand the Minister's response. It really reiterated what he said in Committee: this is an issue of affordability, not necessarily one of principle. On that basis I do not see why he could not accept the amendment-it would signal the Government's intent on this-but given the hour I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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