|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. Is it not a period of one year? In order to claim the benefit, you must have a complete contributions record for one of the past two years. So, effectively, it is only a one-year period.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, you must have made contributions within the past two years. However, we will follow up the precise details with the noble Lord. We seek to restore the connection between being in the labour market, being in work and paying national insurance and, when the contingency of sickness or disability unfortunately hits someone, having access to insurance-based benefit. Contrary to what the noble Lord said, what we are doing is reasserting the worth of the connection with the contributory principle rather than undermining it. In my view, over the past that has become far too diluted.
Both noble Lords raised questions as to whether our proposals for the pensions take-up for incapacity benefit were reasonable. We are not reducing people's occupational pensions. We are saying that incapacity benefit was designed as an earnings replacement benefit, not an early retirement benefit. I suggest that, partly as a result of the policies of the previous administration, we all know that many people have left work and gone on to IB as a form of more generous retirement pension. Also, under the previous administration, it was a way of massaging the unemployment figures. That is why one-quarter of all men between the ages of 60 and 64 are on incapacity benefit. That is not what the benefit was originally intended for and the nature of the contributory principle for sickness and disability was not intended to insure against that.
For example, back in 1953 only 28 per cent. of men in full-time work had an occupational pension. Now, something like 85 per cent. of men in full-time work, about 70 per cent. of women in full-time work and a proportion of those in part-time work have access to occupational pensions. The world has changed and it seems not unreasonable to work in partnership with the pension provision that people have so that we are not contributing twice over for the same contingency. If
The noble Lord asked whether incapacity benefit was being reduced for new claimants. No, we are not changing the rates of incapacity benefit, merely the contribution conditions, plus the occupational pensions taper.
The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, asked what was the difference between that and the pensions income guarantee. We are giving an extra £5.75 to a single person and about £8 to a couple where they are on income support and receiving the highest rate of DLA and are on disability premium. In other words, we are targeting additional monies worth on average £5 or £8 to those who have severe physical or mental health disabilities and who have severe financial need. That is the group we seek to help.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, as of next April, it will include the uprating. If I have any information different from that, I will write to the noble Lord. He pressed me about interviews and who will be exempt. It is the kind of thing that will come up in discussions as a result of consultation with organisations and groups. For example, someone would not be expected to come to the interview who was terminally ill or who had been recently widowed, or was in poor health or had recently come out of hospital. That includes someone who may be of working age but is nevertheless elderly. That example will be discussed on its merits. Of course, we offer home visits where it is inappropriate for someone to come into the office.
With the interviews, we do not seek to dragoon into work people who are clearly unable to work or who, because of other responsibilities, choose not to work. We are trying to ensure that people know about the opportunities and support available in the system which they are not aware of now. We know that social security remains for so many people territory which baffles them by the degree of its complexity, forms and bureaucracy. By having a face-to-face interview in the office or at
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: This is a single gateway which is being piloted only for new claimants. Therefore, for new claimants to receive their benefits they will have to have an interview. So, for them, the issue of sanctions almost does not arise. The only claimants for whom it might arise are, for example, the widowed or terminally ill, and we shall respond on a person-to-person, case-by-case basis in the pilots proposed, at the point at which new claimants seek to sign on for the benefit they will have an interview. It may be that the interviewer will suggest that the person comes back at a later stage for further information and so on. But that is the proposal in the gateway. One is talking about 18 months to two years down the road if it is thought sensible to extend these pilots nationwide.
I accept that the Statement and the supporting documents are detailed and complex. I have tried to answer the points raised today by noble Lords as best I can. If I have missed any I shall write to noble Lords.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, as a point of order, I know that technically there is no time limit on questions put by Front Bench spokesmen. We are not debating the documents but the Statement. That debate has already taken 30 minutes, and 20 minutes is to be allowed for Back-Benchers. Is it not time that we moved on to Back-Benchers?
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, we are about to do so. However, as this is a major Statement that affects many millions of our fellow citizens I do not believe that it is unreasonable for the House to devote a little time to its implications.
Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, naturally I am glad the Government do not plan to attack the living standards of disabled people by cutting benefit levels. I welcome also their decisions to scrap the benefit integrity project and to give more help to disabled children and young people, more especially by extending mobility allowance to children aged three to five. That my noble friend shared the concerns felt by many of us in this House about the inhumanities of the benefit integrity project was never in doubt. Is she aware how grateful we are to her today for its demise? Does my noble friend agree that if we are to turn the movement of disabled people from welfare to work from a trickle to a flood urgent action must be taken to make public transport more accessible to them? Does she also agree that it is not tenable to condemn employers for discriminating against disabled jobseekers when, notwithstanding the Disability Discrimination Act, 92.5 per cent. of them are to be allowed to go on
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, my noble friend, who has done so much for disabled people, is absolutely right to draw our attention to the issues of public transport and employment discrimination. That is precisely why we need strong civil rights and to extend the remit of the existing DDA. My noble friend will be aware of some of the discussions that are taking place on that matter.
My noble friend's second question was whether I could confirm that no disabled person would be forced into work. Yes, my Lords: no disabled person will be forced into work. Thirdly, my noble friend asked me to confirm whether someone who was disabled before the age of 20 would for the first time be floated off income-related (means-tested) benefit and would instead after a year go on to the higher rate of incapacity benefit. I can confirm that for those young people who have never had a chance to enter the labour market and build up contributions, and therefore have had no opportunity to provide for themselves, we shall ensure that after a year they will have the higher rate of benefit, which will give many of them an extra £25 a week and float them off the need ever to claim income support.
Baroness Ludford: My Lords, can the Minister clarify one aspect of the practical impact of the single gateway system? I entirely agree with her comment that many people are baffled by the complexity of the forms and bureaucracy of the social security system. The gateway document begins by deploring the confusing array of agencies with which people have to deal, including the Benefits Agency and local authorities. But I am not clear whether it provides any more of a one-stop shop in terms of filling out forms and the exchange of information than the present arrangements. I note that claimants will gain access to information and help about a range of local authority services, including housing benefit, but will they still have to fill out a separate form to be sent back to the local authority, for example, for council tax benefit or housing benefit or will the Benefits agency, if that is the first agency with which they deal, pass on that information? I know that many people fall at this point. They get income support but have not filled out another complex form and returned it for the local authority benefits. That gives rise to all kinds of problems.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page