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Baroness Turner of Camden: Before my noble friend sits down, perhaps she would be kind enough to comment on the following information. Because the working families tax credit does not begin until October 1999, I understand that some lone parents will be worse off. Indeed, the Child Poverty Action Group estimates that 60,000 lone parents will be worse off to the extent of £2 per week because the working families tax credit does not kick-in until October 1999. Can my noble friend comment on that information?
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: As I understand it, lone parents with children under the age of 11 who will lose the child benefit from June 1998 will, nonetheless, gain in April 1999 by the sum of £1.85. However, those with older children--the group to which I believe my noble friend was particularly referring--will not have the same recompense as we had hoped. I shall be glad to write to my noble friend with the specific details.
Lord Higgins: To anyone who had not followed the history of these events the Minister's remarks would seem eminently plausible. The noble Baroness began by saying that the Government's policy was to align the benefits of lone parents with those of two-parent families. But that is what the previous government were proposing to do. It is also what Mr. Blair promised he would not do before the election. It is also what the Secretary of State for Social Security said she would not do. The Minister who has just spoken described that measure as vindictive, punitive and utterly wrong. Her present position is a total reversal of the Government's previous policy.
We can return later to a number of the points the noble Baroness made. I refer to the linking problem which I described in previous debates as the "in, out" problem; that is, the problem of the lone parent who takes up work, then loses the job and finds himself or herself on the lower rate of lone parent benefit rather than the higher rate. My Amendments Nos. 116 and 117 address that point. However, we are not clear about the amendment moved by the noble Earl. The Budget has increased the level of benefit for this group, whether they comprise single parents or two parent families. However, it appears that, as a result of the way this measure has been handled, lone parents will eventually be no worse off, generally speaking,--with the exception of certain specific groups, for example lone parents with children under 11--but in the meantime they will be worse off because their lone parent benefits will be cut before the measure in the Budget is put in place. Therefore there will be a hiccup, if I may so describe it. As I understand the position, the noble Earl's amendment seeks to rectify that point. With great respect I do not think the Minister has addressed the matter.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I believe the noble Lord referred to the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State and myself in this regard. I believe he said I had described the proposal as utterly vindictive and wrong. If the measure was being proposed today by the noble Lord on behalf of his party in government my response would be the same as it was before the election. At that time the proposal from the then government was vindictive and wrong. It was nothing other than a cutting strategy to reduce lone parents' benefits to the levels of benefit of workless couples. Had the noble Lord proposed that today, my response would have been the same. However, we are not proposing that. It is a bit rich of the noble Lord to accuse me of hypocrisy when I have made it clear that the changes we now propose will produce what the noble Lord's party did not propose; namely, additional child benefit of £2.50 for the first child, a childcare strategy and a linking rule. Had the noble Lord's party offered those three measures before the election, he would have gained the support of my party. However he did not propose that, and therefore he did not gain our support.
Lord Ashley of Stoke: My noble friend speaks so eloquently and so persuasively. However, the Committee has a question. I hope I have explained that there will be a hiatus as a result of the earlier cuts that were imposed and the fact that the working families' tax credit will not be introduced until 1999. In the meantime lone parents suffer a cut in benefit. Can my noble friend disprove that? If she can, I shall be delighted. If she cannot, will she accept the simple proposition that by deferring the cut until October next year she will solve the problem?
Lord Higgins: I do not wish to pursue at length the point I made earlier. I merely state that what the noble Baroness objected to when in opposition was the principle of equalising payments as between lone parents and two parent families. She has no idea what we might have introduced in the Budget had there been a new Conservative government. Be that as it may. The noble Baroness has still not addressed the crucial point of the noble Earl's amendment; namely, to remove what the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, has just described as a hiatus. It seems to me that it should not be impossible to deal with that matter by means of an amendment of the kind that the noble Earl suggested.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I addressed that point in reply to my noble friend. Many of the changes we propose are dependent on the Budget and cannot be put into effect as quickly as we would wish. What we objected to when in opposition was that the then government's measure represented simply a cut. His party believed that lone parents were increasing in number because of a financial incentive and that therefore the best way to cut the number of lone parents was to reduce their benefit. We have approached the matter from an entirely different direction. We wish to tackle family poverty and family need, whatever the family structure. Therefore we seek to ensure that all families, whether they comprise lone parent families or two parent families, will enjoy the extra advantages of higher child benefit--the highest increase in child benefit since 1978 and the administration of my noble friend Lord Callaghan--a major, far-reaching childcare strategy, and a linking rule that will genuinely offer lone parents a new deal. I hope that my noble friends will accept that.
Earl Russell: I think we have taken the matter about as far as we usefully can today. I set out to make an uncontroversial speech. It seems that I have succeeded because in her reply to the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, the Minister did not deny my crucial point about the gap. We do not agree on a great many things as regards this subject. However, at least I hope that as a result of this amendment we shall agree on what we disagree about. We disagree about the treatment of lone parents who do not, or cannot, work. We shall address that point when we discuss the next group of amendments. We disagree about whether there should be a specific benefit attributable to lone parenthood. We shall address that matter on the clause stand part debate.
I am glad that the Minister referred to the linking rule, which I should have mentioned. I welcome that, but it is not as generous or as beneficial as the 12 month linking rule for disability. I congratulate the Minister on achieving that in the Green Paper. If the two could have been equally generous, my welcome would have been a great deal warmer. As it is, the gap remains. The purpose of this amendment is to bridge that gap. I hope
Page 24, line 12, after ("relates") insert--
("(aa) may review such a determination on the ground that the person who applied for the payment to which the determination relates misrepresented, or failed to disclose, any material fact;").
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("(5A) In making a determination on a review an appropriate officer or a social fund inspector need not consider--
(a) in the case of a determination on a review under subsection (1)(a) above, any issue that is not raised by the application;
(b) in the case of a determination on a review under subsection (1)(aa) above, any issue that is not raised by the material fact;
(c) in the case of a determination on a review under subsection (1)(b) above, any issue that did not cause him to carry out the review").
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("(6A) In making a determination on a review under subsection (1)(aa) above an appropriate officer or a social fund inspector shall--
(a) act in accordance with any general directions issued by the Secretary of State; and
(b) take account of any general guidance issued by the Secretary of State.
(6B) Any reference in subsection (5A), (6) or (6A) above to a determination on a review under a particular provision of subsection (1) above shall be construed, in relation to a social fund inspector, as a reference to a determination on a further review of a determination which has been reviewed under that provision.").
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