§ 3.47 p.m.
§ Debate on Second Reading resumed.
§ LORD AMULREE
My Lords, I should like to give a welcome to the Bill which is now before the House, because I think it will do something to relieve a certain amount of the very great deal of poverty which we know exists in the country at the present time, particularly among elderly folk who are pensioners. One of the points I should like to make is that I hope very much that the co-operation, which the noble 483 Lord said he hoped would occur, between the Ministry of Health and the welfare side will really take place in as big, a way as possible. Certainly, the conviction has grown on me since the National Health Service Act and the National Assistance Act were passed—I am not sure whether I felt it at the time—that there is no real official link between the two services which were available. This has led to a certain amount of difficulty in the past, and I trust that this co-operation will now take place.
It certainly is a mixture of ignorance and pride which has kept a great many old people from applying for the supplementary pension from the Assistance Board which they could have. But there is another point which has been touched on: they do not like doing something different from what their friends do. I am sure they would prefer that there should be but one kind of book to cover both kinds of pension, instead of two books that look different. It sounds rather illogical and not very sensible, but it may do more than many think to overcome some of the difficulties of old people applying for supplementary assistance. It does not matter whether the post office official knows the books are different; the fact that they look the same will, I think, be of very considerable importance.
The attitude of the officers of the National Assistance Board has certainly not been a factor in that connection. Those who know them will agree that they have done a magnificent job extremely well. I am pleased to see that we have in the House at the present time two former Chairmen of the National Assistance Board, one of whom is going Ito speak. He will be able to say more for the officers than I can. I should merely like to say that, as a result of my own contacts with them, I have an enormous respect for the work they have done and a great admiration for the way in which they have carried out what from time to time has not been a very simple task.
I am pleased to find that one of the procedures to be established is that so far as possible the officers should visit people in their own homes. I agree that some old people would rather not be 484 visited: they may be able to go to the officer. But one of the reasons why some old people cannot go to the officer of the Board is not that they do not want to go; it is that, physically, they cannot. There comes a time when old people are unable to proceed from their homes to the Board, even though it is only a comparatively short distance away; and this applies particularly if there is no public transport available. That is why I think it important that the officers of the Ministry of Social Security should do as much visiting as possible. After all, going back to the days of the Poor Law, a really good relieving officer did a great deal of good in his district because he visited people and knew them. I am very pleased to find that the emphasis is again going back to visiting people in their homes rather than suggesting, albeit in a perfectly kindly way, that they should go to the officers.
There is another point in the Bill about which I am not entirely certain and which I should like to put to the noble Lord who is to reply. I have already told him that, regretfully, I shall not be able to stay to the end of the debate: but if he would not mind I should like to nut this question to which he may reply in his speech; or, if he prefers, get in touch with me on another occasion. What is the value of the guaranteed income at the present time? The sum to be assured for a single person, including his rent, is going to he, I think, £6 that is, £4 10s. plus £1 10s. for rent. The sum of £4 10s. is not an unreasonable one at the present time but will there be some kind of provision for that to be increased if the cost of living goes on rising and the value of the pound continues to fall? Or will it be necessary to come back to Parliament again every time such a thing becomes necessary?
I should have liked rather to see these sums fixed either to the cost of living or, possibly, to the rate of wages. I do not know which is the better of the two. This would save a great deal of Parliamentary time, and some complications. Wages paid in many parts of the country are still not high enough to enable people to make any substantial allowance for their old age. I have always looked forward—perhaps in rather an optimistic way—to the rime when wages would 485 be such that the need for big retirement pensions would wither away (as the State is supposed to wither away in the truly socialistic country), and when the only need would be to have some fund available for people who were unfortunate or improvident. There is no great encouragement for thinking that that state of affairs is coming about at the present time; but I think it is something we could look forward to when wages rise to a proper level.
My Lords, there is another question I should like to put. It is not very clear in the Bill, nor in the White Paper that accompanied the Bill. What is to be the position about the earnings rule for pensioners under the Bill when it becomes an Act? In the Bill as it stands, Clause 8 says that a person shall not be entitled—I am not sure whether it is a pension or a temporary benefit—if he is engaged in full-time remunerative work. Does that mean work which must bring in a certain amount of money? One can have full-time remunerative work which does not necessarily come up to the earnings rule at the present time. At the same time, one wants to encourage people to go on working at some kind of work for as long as they can. I think it is good for people to have something to do, rather than doing nothing and just waiting for the time to come when they can go and pick up a pension. I wonder whether it is possible for the noble Lord to give some kind of information about the position of the earnings rule under the new Bill?
There is one further point I am not quite clear about, although it is a comparatively minor point. Clause 14 says that benefits in kind can be given if the Commissioners think it the right thing to do. Could the noble Lord explain a little further what that means? To me it sounds suspiciously like giving relief in kind as in the old days, which was not always a satisfactory way of dealing with people's troubles and deficiencies.
There is one further point. I think it was said in another place that under this Bill there were quite a number of families—200,000 or more—who, if they were unemployed, would get a bigger income than a family where the father or mother is a wage-earner, in a not very well paid industry; that with the full family allow- 486 ances the unemployed person would get a bigger income than the employed one. Surely that is carrying the doctrine of "lesser eligibility", as it was called under the Poor Law, in a curious, reverse kind of way. I wonder whether the noble Lord could tell me whether that is true and, supposing that it is, whether the time has not come when under some Ministry, it may be the Ministry of Social Security, there should be a complete review of the size of the family allowances, so that the person who is being paid a low wage will get a big enough family allowance for the children that will not be less than that paid to a person with a big family who, through no fault of his own, is not in employment at the present time. Those are one or two of the points that I should like to put to the noble Lord. Apart from those, I think that this Bill is a good Bill, and that it will do a great deal to tidy up rather difficult points in the social security system of the country at the present time.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ LORD TAYLOR OF MANSFIELD
My Lords, it is a privilege to have the opportunity to address your Lordships for the first time, particularly so soon after my introduction. I ask for your Lordships' indulgence; and if there are any external signs of trepidation, then I am sure that on an occasion like this your Lordships will understand and, with your customary generosity and forbearance, will accept the position. I must confess to your Lordships at the outset that while sitting here last week and to-day I have experienced many personal reflections and reminiscences. I recall that during the war and for a number of years afterwards your Lordships' House was generously put at the disposal of the House of Commons; and, because of that, for me many memories abide.
I recall quite well—and I am sure many of your Lordships do—that it was in this Chamber that the four Bills which constitute the basis of our Welfare State were introduced—and it may he that at some future date historians will comment upon that particular fact. But that was twenty years ago; and at that time I thought—and I see no reason to change my mind to-day—what was embodied in those four Bills could be summarised in 487 this way: that it was a new venture into the social field, based on the Beveridge Report. I would add that to me, and I know to many others, the introduction at that time of those four measures was the expression of an act of faith in the resourcefulness of the British people and of their determination to make better provision for the elderly; for those who were the victims of adversity, whether it was through sickness or unemployment, or because they were the casualties of war or industry; and, last but not least, for the physically and mentally handicapped.
I regard that time, twenty years ago, as the beginning of a new chapter in our social history—our determination to grapple with the problems of poverty and financial inadequacy in a time of adversity. It was the marking out of a new path leading towards the better treatment of the elderly, the sick and those who were the victims of disease and industrial accident. I believe that at that time the nation expected the changes embodied in those pieces of legislation. What is more, not only did they expect it, but they deserved it—and they accepted it, too.
My Lords, I do not want to go on too long, as this is my maiden speech, but on the subject of social insurance and the many problems that surround it it is difficult to know where to start, what to put in and what to leave out. However, there is one thing I will say which arises out of the situation twenty years ago, and that is that, I am sure I am right in saying, at no time was it thought by any reasonably-minded person that that legislation marked finality in the evolution of the social services. Furthermore, at no time was it contemplated that changes would be undesirable or unnecessary. Infact, this view was embodied in Clause 40 of the National Insurance Act 1946, which makes provision for quinquennial reviews. My Lords, I am one of those who believe that the most constant thing in the world is change itself.
It is true—and I think we should remind ourselves of this—that over the years the rates of benefit have been reviewed and increased, but it is rather sad to have to relate that little attempt has been made to alter the structure of National Insurance so that it can meet 488 the needs of the 'sixties as it was intended to meet the needs of the 'fifties. The altering of the structure of National Insurance is, in my view, a prime necessity to ensure that our social services of twenty years ago fit into the social pattern of to-day. Since 1964 there has been a disposition—there has been more than that, my Lords, very obviously; there has been substantial evidence of it—for the Government to give attention to this matter. We have concrete evidence that this is so. In the autumn of this year we shall have the wage-related benefits for unemployment and sickness, and we have the promise that, in the lifetime of the present Parliament, we shall have a wage-related superannuation scheme. Were this not a maiden speech I should be strongly tempted to make some observations about the Graduated Pensions Scheme of 1961, but I must not do that to-day.
Now this Ministry of Social Security Bill comes before your Lordships for its Second Reading. I want to congratulate the Government on, so early in their life, and in spite of the many preoccupations they must have, putting forward their proposals for a new approach to the poorest section of our community. The survey to which reference has been made, and which has recently been announced, has, I think, caused distress to almost everybody interested in this subject. To learn that 750,000 retirement pensioners are living below National Assistance level can bring no comfort to anyone, I am sure. But the survey does not reveal only the numerical magnitude of the subject: it also indicates the reasons why. May I just reiterate them? I think they are worthy of repetition.
First, there is pride, and then there are misunderstanding and lack of knowledge as to what their rights under the National Assistance Act have been. I should like to put on record my opinion that, apart from the financial improvements proposed in this Bill, injury to pride will be a much less valid reason than hitherto for not applying for supplementary pensions and allowances.
My Lords, I believe that this Bill, with the necessary publicity which it should and must have, will prove an instrument for reducing the number of those who, for the reasons which I have given, have not applied for benefit. I do not think that 489 there will be any disagreement when I say that any attempt by anybody to remove the spectre of poverty and insecurity, especially among the elderly and handicapped, not only is praiseworthy but deserves to succeed.
May I now make one or two brief references to the Bill? I know that it proposes administrative changes. We shall soon be attending the "funeral rites" of both the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance and the National Assistance Board. I think that is a good thing, and long overdue. To have the whole administration of contributory and non-contributory benefits in one Department is, in my humble judgment, an excellent idea. As I see it, the motive is first-class, and it will, I think, mean the removal of a barrier which undoubtedly has been responsible for the hesitancy of a large proportion of those 750,000 people who did not apply for benefits to which they were entitled.
I noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Bowles, referred to a suggestion, current in some quarters, that the Ministry of Health should be brought into this proposed scheme of reorganisation. The Government do not agree with that, and I think they are right. I will give only one reason. The Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance and the National Assistance Board have been, and still are (it has been one of the characteristics of these two Departments), concerned with cash benefits. The Ministry of Health has been concerned with benefits in kind.
With the proposed demise of the two Departments, by name, it would he remiss of me not to take advantage of this occasion to place on record my appreciation of their work and pay my tribute to the officers and staff of both Departments; and especially to the two local officers in my native Mansfield, with whom I have had a very close association over a long period. During that time I have been impressed by the attitude displayed by the staff when applicants have come for advice or have made application for the many benefits disbursed by these two Departments. People with problems, and in adversity, have been treated as men and women, as human beings, and not as numbers on a card.
My Lords, there is much in this Bill which merits mention, but it would take 490 me too long, particularly in a maiden speech, to comment on the many things upon which I should like to comment. I will say merely—and this summarises my attitude to the proposals contained in it—that the Bill is a good one. What I like is that one can see a pattern emerging more clearly in the sphere of social security. One thing I do not like about the Bill (I know that this is a vexed question, and I do not propose to go into the merits or demerits of it this afternoon: it has been referred to) is the question of wage stop. No doubt other speakers will refer to it.
I am anxious to make an observation on one point in Clause 4 where we read that:Every person in Great Britain of or over the age of sixteencan be an applicant for these benefits. I thought in 1948, and I see no reason to change my mind now, that the age should be changed to fifteen. My reason for saying so is that fifteen is at present—though for how long one does not know—the school-leaving age. I am now thinking particularly of the physically and mentally handicapped, who are a burden on the domestic income of their families and a strain on the care and love of their parents. It would be admirable if the Government could make this concession so that it would be possible for application to be made for these benefits at the age of fifteen.
Before sitting down, may I thank the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, for his very kind reference to myself. It has certainly been with some trepidation that I have spoken, because, looking around your Lordships' Chamber, I see so many people who have been actively connected with the Ministry of National Insurance and who have wide knowledge and experience of its work. I have no doubt that as this Bill goes through its further stages in your Lordships' House we shall benefit from the experience and knowledge of those noble Lords.
§ 4.19 p.m.
§ LORD ILFORD
My Lords, it is my first task this afternoon—a very agreeable task—to offer the congratulations of your Lordships to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Mansfield, who has just addressed your Lordships' House for the first time. I was one of those who sat in this Chamber in company with the 491 noble Lord in the days when this Chamber was occupied by the Commons because another place was not available. We learned in those days that the noble Lord possessed a powerful and forcible expression and a lucidity of speech which was always welcomed in our debates, as they will be welcomed in our debates here in your Lordships' House. I recall very well the debates we had in those days, at the very climax of the war, upon the principles on which those four Bills were based. I am sure that the noble Lord will concede that in those debates both sides proclaimed the principles upon which those Bills were eventually based. I hope that the noble Lord will not hesitate to address your Lordships' House on many occasions. He asked for your Lordships' indulgence, but, indeed, no indulgence is necessary. I can assure him that he will always be welcome whenever he desires to take part in our proceedings.
This Bill is primarily an administrative measure. I think that the noble Lord, who began by describing the administrative changes which it is proposed to make, recognises that that is its principal purpose. Of course it makes other changes, in the administration of supplementary payments, and it improves the position of those who receive them in many directions. Nevertheless, it is primarily an administrative Bill. The purpose is to set up a new Department for the administration of social service benefits of all kinds. Perhaps I may say a word or two about the administrative aspects of this Bill before I come on to other matters.
The National Assistance Board and the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance are now to be combined in a single Department. That is going to be a very large Department, indeed. I estimate that it will have a staff of administrative personnel of something like 50,000 persons.
§ LORD BOWLES
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? I mentioned the figure of 56,000 in my speech.
§ LORD ILFORD
I am obliged to the noble Lord. I am afraid that I missed that. My estimate is apparently a little below the mark. No other Department employs an administrative staff of that 492 magnitude. There are, of course, other Departments which employ larger staffs, but they are, in the main, industrial and not administrative staffs. These new Departments administering directly social services, although we have got very accustomed to them, are still new. No Department administered a social service directly in the days before the war. It is a post-war development. In this Department, I think it is very necessary that the Minister should be close to the lower levels of the administration. I think that it is very desirable that the Department should not be so great that the Minister necessarily loses touch with the work of the service at its lowest level. I have not the least doubt that successive Ministers, by their energies, will overcome this difficulty, but I believe that it is a real difficulty.
The other comment I would make on the administrative side of the Bill is this. In the course of his speech, the noble Lord spoke of a chain of local offices, and said that it will be necessary in every town of any magnitude to have a local administrative centre for all these services. It will be a long time before the existing offices can be brought together. The condition of office accommodation in most towns in the Provinces is very difficult, and it is exceedingly difficult to get office accommodation of the size that will be needed to accommodate the joint local staffs of the two Departments. I am afraid that the Government will have to look forward to quite a long period when there will be in many towns one office from which National Insurance is administered and another from which the supplementary benefits will be administered. Of course, it may be possible to combine the two offices. That will be an administrative task of considerable magnitude. The Government will have to determine what the prospects of getting suitable office accommodation in provincial towns are likely to be, and whether it is better to wait until suitable accommodation is available or undertake the considerable task of combining the existing offices into a new combined office.
There is one other administrative matter about which I should like to say something. I am glad the Government have recognised that these services involving the assessment of individual need can 493 best be performed by a body with a measure of independence and that the administration of these services ought not to be the direct responsibility of a Minister in Parliament. The proposal is to include within the new Department a Supplementary Benefits Commission which will be responsible within the Department for the administration of these supplementary payments. I regard that as an ingenious solution. I confess that if I had approached this problem myself, I should have preferred to continue the Commission arrangements. I believe, as my noble friend said, that the Ministry of National Insurance could well be broken up and its component parts entrusted to commissions. I would not claim that all the work of the Ministry of Health could be broken up in that way, but I am quite sure that part of it might he. Perhaps I am a little prejudiced—not unnaturally—in favour of the commission structure of administration. I believe that it has worked well, and rather than create this new Department of quite exceptional size, I should prefer to have a look at least at the proposal for breaking up the administration of these services and entrusting them to commissions with a substantial measure of independence. A real Minister of Social Security would then have been possible.
Whether the new arrangement will work as efficiently as the existing arrangements have done with an entirely separate National Assistance Board, only time will show. The difficulty about the present arrangements which exposes them so readily to criticism is that to the outsider they appear to he a very untidy and rather illogical form of administration. But when one has seen the machine, and has had experience of its working, one recognises that, whatever its faults may have been, it has provided an efficient and effective service for the administration of supplementary benefits of this nature.
Let me pass now to something else. It is, I think, interesting to observe that it has not been found possible to dispense with the test of means and of needs—because that is what it is today—in assessing these supplementary benefits. It seems now to be acknowledged that a uniform rate of benefit cannot be made to meet the needs of all; and, indeed, when one looks at the circumstances, it 494 is quite clear that no uniform rate of benefit can hope to meet the needs of everybody, without supplementation. Take the position with regard to rent alone. The National Assistance Board at present, strange as it may seem, have no less than 114,000 persons paying rent of 10s. a week or less; at the other end of the scale, there are 20,000 people paying rent at the rate of 70s. a week or over; and between those two extremes there is a great variety of different rent levels. No flat rate of benefit which is practical administration could attempt to meet the needs of a person who is paying only 10s. a week for rent and the needs of a person paying over 70s. a week for rent.
Then there are the numerous personal needs that at present are met by discretionary additions. Some families may have to meet expensive diets prescribed by the doctor. Some require extra warmth; some window cleaning. The variety of needs is infinite, and their magnitude is equally various. For that reason, and for that reason alone, it has always been obvious, much as people have struggled against it, that no flat rate of benefit which really did justice to the needs of everybody was a practical proposition. This now seems to be generally admitted. Much as we dislike the means test, and much as noble Lords on the other side of the House and their friends have spoken against it, the means test is still with us and will have to remain with us. The real problem is to induce people to accept it.
I am glad that the system of interviewing is to be retained. I believe that the majority of applicants to the National Assistance Board to-day prefer it. Old people are not very good at filling up forms; indeed, none of us is particularly good at it. I receive forms from the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance, and I know the immense care which has been bestowed upon them to make their meaning clear to the simplest intellect. But, even so, I often have considerable difficulty in finding the right answers, and the local officer sometimes sends the form back to me and asks me to correct it.
I do not feel that the interview is resented. What is disliked is that the Board's officer has to come to the house and people recognise him. Of course, 495 that was an objection in the days of the Poor Law. Everybody knew the relieving officer—indeed, the relieving officer courted publicity, and wanted to be known—and everybody knew when the relieving officer went to the house. But it does not happen quite like that with National Assistance, because the officer who goes to the house is not always the same person. One can perhaps overstate the objection to the interview. In any case, a new way has been found of getting over this difficulty: you can make an application on a form. But there must afterwards be an interview. So that, even with this new means of modifying the means test and making it more acceptable, a test of needs and means still has to be carried out. But, as I say, I do not believe these interviews are resented. I have been present at a good many interviews of this sort where a means test has been applied. I have never observed any sign of resentment, and the questions have always been answered quite happily and cheerfully.
There is one matter I should like to mention concerning assessment before I pass on to other things, and which I hope the noble Lord who is going to reply to the debate will be able to clear up. At present, when the rate of basic pension is increased, the Assistance supplement is decreased by a corresponding amount, so that while the applicant continues to receive the same income, he does not get any benefit from the increase in the pension rate. I am not at all sure what the position is about that under this Bill. Is it intended that where an increase in basic pension rate is made there should be a corresponding reduction in the supplementary benefit? Paragraph 5 of the White Paper says:The assessment may be varied if there are exceptional circumstances; but in the case of a claim to supplementary pension the amount due may be increased by the Commission but may not be reduced.Does that mean that where there is an increase in the basic pension rate the supplementary benefit will not be reduced by a corresponding amount; or does it mean that the existing practice, by which when one goes up the other comes down, is to be continued?
I must say that if the latter is the case it does, I think, take some of the attrac- 496 tion out of the guaranteed minimum income. What really upsets the pensioners is that they read in the newspapers that they are going to get an increase in pension, and when the books are adjusted for them, there is no increase at all, unless the National Assistance Board has increased its scale rate, which it has usually done. I think that lesson was learned in the early days of the Board. I hope the noble Lord will be able to explain to me what is intended.
May I now say a word about the 9s. addition? As I understand it, it is intended to replace the discretionary additions which the Board's officers make at present in order to meet all sorts of minor personal payments for additional coal, for cleaning the windows, for the doctor's diet and for all manner of things. Some of these discretionary payments are quite substantial. The 9s. is intended to cover them, and I agree that it is a convenient administrative arrangement. But the average discretionary addition last year was 9s. 6d., and I think that means that most of the persons receiving discretionary additions will need some further supplementation if their need is to be met in full. I think the noble Lord said that it was based on the average amount of the discretionary additions.
§ LORD ILFORD
Two years ago it was something like 8s. 10d.; it is now 9s. 6d., and I think that means that there will have to be some further supplementation of most of the supplements paid to persons in the classes which receive this addition.
I should now like to say a word about the wage-stop. I think the wage-stop was a greater cause of anxiety to me when I was Chairman of the Board than anything else. It always seemed to me to be wrong and illogical that we should be paying somebody an allowance which was less than the sum that we had fixed as necessary to maintain him and his dependants in reasonable comfort. Yet on the other side of the picture the alternative was even more alarming, that we should begin to supplement wages; because that is what we should be doing if we paid more than he was able to earn when he was working. I do not think that this is really a problem for the payment of supplementary additions. If there is a 497 solution to this problem, I think it is to be found in some readjustment of Family Allowances. I do not want to be drawn into that discussion this afternoon. It is a real and substantial problem. It gave me great anxiety, but I do not think that one can claim that it is the Board's scale rates which are reducing the family to poverty. The Board's scale rates are maintaining him at the level to which he was accustomed when he was earning; it was his low earning power that was the real cause of the problem.
I think the Minister attaches great importance to the question of names. The name "National Assistance" has gone. When I was Chairman of the Board, a good deal of pressure was put on me from time to time to change the name of the Board and to give up the name "National Assistance". I took refuge in the words of St. Chrysostan:It is not names that give confidence in things but things that give confidence in names".Our purpose on the Board was to try to create something which would attract the attention of the public, whatever its name might be.
In this matter of names, there is quite a long back history. "Out relief", as it was called in the old days of the Poor Law, became identified with all kinds of unpleasant associations and accordingly, when the old Victorian Poor Law was swept away in 1929 and the duty of maintaining poor persons passed to the local authorities, the name was changed to "Public Assistance". By 1948, the name "Public Assistance" was attracting the same unpleasant connections as "outdoor relief", and accordingly that was changed to "National Assistance". Now we are told that it is the name "National Assistance" which stops people who ought to apply from doing so. I do not myself believe that whatever name is chosen has much to do with it. It is the fact that the payment is made upon a test of means and needs which keeps people away. What we must do is not to change the name for something superior, or something which we hope will be superior, but to reconcile people to the fact that an adequate supplementary payment can be made only as a result of a test of means.
Before I conclude, I want to pass on to two other matters. The Supplemen- 498 tary Allowances Commission will have the responsibility for reception centres and rehabilitation centres. The Minister without Portfolio spoke at some length on this subject in the speech which he made in the Debate on the Address in another place last November. When the National Assistance Board came into being, it inherited a large number of reception centres from the local authorities. Most of them were in fact the old casual wards of the institutions, which the authorities were trying to convert into modern old people's homes or hospitals. The presence of these reception centres was bitterly resented by local authorities and the hospital authorities and, indeed, they were places of which no department could be proud. They were in truth and in fact the last relics of the Victorian Poor Law, although nobody recognised them as such. I closed nearly all of them, and well-meaning people wrote to me and blamed me because the reception centre in their town was shut and there was nowhere for these poor people to go. My answer was always the same: "Did you ever see the reception centre when it was open'?". They never had. However, they are gone and the Board experimented with centres of a different type. The principal difficulty is to get the people to go to them.
They are certainly a strange body of men. Some are the old-fashioned tramps of days gone by, with long whiskers, newspaper tied around their legs—the old "Weary Willy" and "Tired Tim" of our childhood. Many of them are much younger but seem to be living a curious, secretive life of their own. I think they have only one characteristic in common: they all seem to be running away from something. Some are running away from their work, some are running away from the police, and I regret to say that a large number are running away from their wives. They are a class which it is very difficult to help. Many of them want no more than a doss-down for the night; and doss-down under the most squalid and disagreeable conditions, so long as they are asked no questions; a cup of tea, another cup of cold tea in the morning and then to get up and go, without any bother. That is what many of them want, and the Board has provided that 499 with this accommodation. But that is not what the Board wants. What the Board wants is somehow to restore these men to the ranks of self-respecting citizens. I think we had a modest success in doing that. I hope the noble Lord will be able to tell us how that work is progressing. I understand that a survey is being made, and when it is published no doubt action will be taken on it by the Government. How many of these men there are nobody knows, and it is quite impossible to make an estimate; but that there are a substantial number I feel fairly confident.
One other matter on which I should like to say something is the question of visiting. There are two sorts of visiting. There is the visit which is intended to detect financial need. That, clearly, is the task of the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance and of the National Assistance Board, and it will be the task of the new Department when it comes into being. Then there is another class of visit to which I think the name "welfare detection" has been given. These visits are intended to ascertain whether the applicant is in need of the services of one of the public welfare services provided by the local authority or the hospital authorities; and, of course, these people are very much more difficult to find. I do not know whether any decision has been reached about the carrying on of this welfare-detection visiting. My own view, perhaps, not unnaturally, is very strongly that this visiting ought to be done by the visiting staff of the new Department. The visiting staff of the local authorities are in the main technical staff, and in a great many cases their services would be wasted. I am quite sure that the work of welfare detection could very easily and very efficiently be carried out by the staff of the new Department, and I hope the decision will be taken that the new Department should undertake this task as part of its responsibilities.
Before I sit down I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn for what he was good enough to say about the staff of the National Assistance Board, and also include in my thanks the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Mansfield. I am glad that he is on such good and intimate terms with the local 500 manager of the National Assistance Board.
Naturally, I look back with certain nostalgic sentiments upon an organisation with which I spent ten years of my life. This Bill is intended to remove some of the difficulties which our experience with the National Assistance Board has brought to light. It is an experiment which I hope profoundly will succeed, and if I have sometimes appeared in my observations a little critical of the Government's proposals I hope that the noble Lord who is to reply will not accept my criticism in that sense. I wish this scheme well. I believe that it will prove to be a good scheme, and if it does not prove to be a good scheme we must do what we did with the earlier scheme—alter it.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ LORD SOPER
My Lords, may I add to the words of congratulation given by the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, to the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Taylor of Mansfield, as much for the spirit in which it was delivered as for the content, which was so pertinent to the matter in hand. I welcome the two propositions to which my noble friend attached himself: that this is an extension and development of something which in itself is intrinsically good. I welcome this Bill because it is an extension of the Welfare State, and, so far as I am concerned, the Welfare State is the most Christian thing that has happened in my lifetime. I am sure that were my ecclesiastical friends here in physical frame as in spirit they would accord to this Bill the same general assent as a means towards a more just and equitable society and a process in the general programme of kindliness, of care and of mutual responsibility.
But if my noble friend Lord Taylor of Mansfield will allow me to borrow another of his phrases, he claimed that this particular Bill is a new development in this process of the Welfare State, and to that I most cordially agree. It is for the especial reason that I think it breaks new ground that I, for one, have the heartiest feelings of commendation as I speak to it. The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, ventured into the field of semantics and inquired of the first Part of the Bill, what, in fact, is in a name; and the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, in his 501 very pertinent remarks on this theme, pointed out that a name is cogent or viable only inasmuch as it denotes a programme of action. I welcome this new name, and this new particular and quite distinct Ministry of Social Security, because I think that in the minds of a very great many people it denotes a new development, and therefore from a psychological standpoint, if that word is permitted, we must not underrate the fact that many people who are not particularly logical about these matters but who, nevertheless, are very sensible will take upon themselves a new spirit of confidence in something which, after all, may only he administratively in many of its respects a logical development.
I am a minister of a Church which, very properly, seeks to care for its old-age pensioners, and I tend to take a more practical interest in this particular attitude of the Church than once I did. When I become an old-age pensioner in the Methodist Church I shall be entitled to benefits that were once called by the inelegant name of "the worn-out ministers' fund." That phrase has now been changed to "supernumerary ministers," and there is the world of difference between my going with shambling gait and obsequious mien to plead my case as a "worn-out minister" and walking in to claim my rights as a "supernumerary. "It is very true that the difference is a preference for Latin over basic English, but I have enough experience, as I am sure your Lordships have, of the habits and attitudes of many old people to know that when once they are convinced, even by a name, that something new and better is on the cards, they will make the appropriate reaction. It has already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, and others how many there are (and I can testify to this) who at the moment, for reasons which are not rational, look upon even the best efforts hitherto made as having something of the vestigial remains of charity rather than justice; and inasmuch as this new measure, by the very nomenclature, will tend to improve that situation, it is to be welcomed.
As to Part II, the same noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, ventured into the field of philosophical disquisition as to the relationship and tension between the problem of help and the problem of 502 self-esteem, and he balanced, I think with some ambivalence, the respective advantages and disadvantages of giving people what they need and at the same time expecting from them what they can themselves provide. To me the great and challenging difference in this new Bill is that for the first time it comes unequivocably down on one side; and it asserts that the principle of giving people what they need must take precedence over any fears that may be entertained that they will abuse that privilege and that their own self-respect will suffer. In this respect, let us bury St. Paul, who by his declaration that, "If a man will not work neither shall he eat, "has done more harm than almost any of the other great classical figures of the Christian tradition. Ecclesiastically I would comment that St. Paul was not more inspired when he said this than when he invited slaves to obey their masters, wives to obey their husbands, or women to keep quiet in church. What we are considering is the inalienable right of human beings to food, clothing and shelter, whatever may be their moral quality, whatever may be their achievements.
After we have provided this inalienable right, then we have every right to expect from them an adequate return; but not before, and not as a consequence or as a preliminary condition. To me, this is how this Bill reads, and for that reason I am the more confident that it should attract your Lordships' enthusiastic attention and support. This is a continuation—if I may be permitted to trespass even further in what may appear to be the beginnings of a sermon—of the teaching that the lazy lily is nevertheless intended to be fully clothed, and the indigent sparrow, though it does not gather into barns, should have adequate provision for its physical needs.
I believe this Bill is essentially right. I find certain particular felicities in it of which I would mention one or two. It is, to me, extremely agreeable that in Part II, Clause 7, the Bill makes provision for the particular case and the exceptional case of those who need at a special time, not a graduated payment but a lump sum. It is my experience as a social worker that these exceptional conditions are extremely common, and unless a Bill of this 503 magnitude and of this complexity is operated with this kind of dispensation, it will be in danger of losing itself in its own complicated arrangements. I find in Clause 14 a further exemplification of this principle, where it is provided that in certain circumstances, before adequate and proper investigations have been carried out, deliverances of services or goods in kind may, and should, be offered. For these reasons, the Bill seems to me elementary in its humanitarian rightness, and entirely, in principle, correct.
I would point, if I may, to one infelicity. I wonder how long it is going to be before we can bury the most unfortunate phrase "illegitimate children". I know that, strictly speaking, it can be defended but in another real sense there are no illegitimate children: there are only illegitimate parents. As one who has had something to do with caring for those who have to resist the trauma and shock of finding out that they are what is called "illegitimate children", I can say that it would be an immense advantage to those who have to do the telling. It would remove a great deal of unnecessary suffering if this phrase were once and for all buried. I hope that other and more felicitous words can be used to describe the condition which has hitherto been described as that of the illegitimate child.
Before I sit down I want to refer to a thorny problem which has already been adverted to: it is the question of the wage-stop. I wonder whether your Lordships will permit me to remind myself, and perhaps some of you, of the facts that lie behind the poverty of 300,000 families, according to the statement of the Minister of Pensions in another place on May 2. As the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, has reminded us, there are 300,000 families which live below the N.A.B. level, which is regarded as necessary for the sustenance of adequate livelihood. I wonder how many children are undernourished as a result of this particular condition. The society which calls itself the Child Poverty Action Group calculates that the numbers must be in the region of 600,000. If it is only half-a-million, I suggest that here is a continuing problem which is as urgent as the claim of other proposals which are made and which are carried out in many other places in this Bill.
504 It is the argument, I understand, that an inquiry is now being held about the condition of these poverty-stricken children, and particularly about the sort of conditions under which, should the wage-earner fall out of work, he will not be in receipt of the full amount which otherwise would be paid to him. In Schedule 2, Part V, you will find that the amount of benefit that will be given to him must not exceed that which he would have been in receipt of as wages if he were in employment. This, of course, is quite scandalous. It may be that there is no opportunity to deal with this manifest iniquity in the existing clauses of this Bill, but I heartily agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, said, that there ought to be a measure whereby, through family allowances and children's allowance, tax free, this particular enormity should be redressed.
There is, however, another reason which I think is less reputable, and that is the reason offered that if the wages are lower than the N.A.B. rates and the wage-earner falls out of work, to offer him more when he was out of work would be improper, because it would encourage a state of laziness and would contribute to a condition under which he would not himself seek to—
§ LORD ILFORD
My Lords, I did not say that. I did not say that it would encourage a state of laziness.
§ LORD SOPER
My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord if I misrepresented him. What I was endeavouring to state was that I understood him to say that there is a condition under which this sort of thing prevails. But if that is not so, then let me quickly apologise and pass on. What is beyond dispute—and I am sure the noble Lord will agree with me—is that here is a problem which cannot rest where it now stands, and therefore there must be some way of dealing with it, either within the framework of this Bill or in some analogous operation. Otherwise we shall be failing to interpret the spirit and temper of the Bill to secure for all people, as of right, a closing of the gap between that which they have and that which they need to have. Therefore, I would commend to Her Majesty's Government reconsideration of the wage-stop, not because it is of simple and easy solution, but because 505 it is a contradiction of the principle to which the rest of the Bill is dedicated.
Finally, I say that this is a good Bill, alike from what I believe to be the Christian standpoint, the humanitarian standpoint, and, I believe, the administrative standpoint. But if the hand has been now put to this particular plough, and the field is the right field in which to do the ploughing, then, in the matter of the wage-stop, I would earnestly invite my friends in the Government to seek to complete the furrow and so to contribute to the great social issues one more solution which I believe will be a light to any radical Government and a contribution to welfare of the community as a whole.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, in a moment I am going to follow that up, if I may, and agree most cordially with what my noble friend has just said. But I should like first of all—and I am sure that here, at any rate, I have the whole House with me—to say how we all agree with the words of thanks and praise which were given to Lord Taylor of Mansfield for his maiden speech. It is only quite lately—I think within the last year or two, although I have known my noble friend for far longer than that—that I have got to Mansfield. Mansfield is rather a nice place, and the nicest thing about it when I was there was the feeling that everybody in Mansfield had for their Member, and I know will still have for him. I hope that any good Member will get along well with his constituency; but to get along so well as that, and to have that warmth of feeling from everyone in it, is, I think, a rather remarkable achievement. He is one of those happy people who can translate the complications of modern life into the warmth of the humanity that he most certainly has.
My Lords, I, too, support this Bill most warmly. I am not much frightened by the suggestion that the guaranteed income involves a means test. It always did. I am suffering from a means test now, being rather late in completing the complicated form that I have annually to complete for the purpose of paying income tax. That, too, is a means test. I do not 506 see how you can do in any other way what is intended to be done by the guaranteed income. The objections to a means test have largely been directed against a family means test, to a confusion between the various purposes which it was sought to meet by older legislation. It has been said that this is merely an administrative Bill. It is a very generous one, with £65 million being added to the benefit—or whatever I should call it—given by what wag formally National Assistance. Sixty-five million pounds is a lot of money, even in these hard times. There is no doubt that it ought to be given, and this Bill has gone rather rapidly through another place with not a word of objection to that side of it.
In view of all this, I am particularly glad to find one important little clause in the Bill. It is a clause that gives the Minister extremely wide powers, not only to amend the amount, but to do a good deal more in regard to the benefits. I refer to Clause 5(2), which provides that:Regulations under this section may vary the provisions of Part II of the said Schedule 2, but not so as to reduce any amount specified therein.That is a very sweeping provision. It is subject to Parliamentary control, no doubt quite rightly, but it has relieved me of one anxiety which I felt at first, and that is as to the wage-stop. Previously, the wage-stop has always been embodied in regulations. On seeing the Bill, I said to myself "Goodness, they have now gone and put it into the context of the Bill"—and, indeed, it is in the context of the Bill: your Lordships will remember paragraph 5, in Schedule 2. Then I looked a little further and discovered that the Minister would have power to deal with a matter of this sort by the exercise of her powers under the clause to which I have just referred. That reassured me on that particular point, but it leads me to say a word or two about the lines on which I think the matter could be reconsidered.
Let us be clear where we are. We are not dealing with the exceptional cases; we are not dealing with the people who for one reason or another are unfit for employment; we are not dealing with the women who have the care of children; we are not dealing with widows. We are dealing simply with the people who would be dealt with under 507 the practice of the Commission by Clause 11, which tells us that:The Commission may determine that the right of any person to a supplementary allowance shall be subject to the condition that he is registered for employment …If you look at the way in which the subsections are phrased, you will see that in fact it is only the people in the field of employment who are dealt with by it. Therefore, some of the criticisms which one might have made at first would be misconceived.
But there remains a problem which I thought the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, with his long experience of these matters, put very clearly. He said that there is a difficulty about this. On the one hand, if the wage-stop is retained, it means keeping a number of people on an allowance which, having regard to the character of National Assistance allowance, is not enough for them to live on. On the other hand, if you abandon the wage-stop, you are going to run into the difficulty, which was succinctly put in paragraph 13 of the White Paper, which accompanied this Bill. What is said there is that this Bill contains a provisionto prevent a recipient of a supplementary allowance who is in the employment field from being better off while away from work than he would be if he were working full-time in his normal occupation.That does not frighten me. What happens is this. The man is in work; he is under-paid; he is not getting enough to live on, and then he becomes the responsibility of the community. Do the community then say: "Because you were not paid enough in the past, we, the community, are not going to pay you enough to live on now"? I cannot think that that is right. I cannot believe that that is the sort of conclusion which would commend itself to any of your Lordships if you thought of the matter as a very clear moral and social issue. You are not justified in keeping people under a wage-stop on what is, by definition, not enough to live on because, owing to the conditions of employment or work, they have been living in that way for some time past. Goodness knows how they managed; but it is no reason to go on doing it.
Then it is said that this can be dealt with by a family allowance arrangement 508 of some sort—this has been mooted for a long time. I was looking back at debates in another place and I see that in March, 1963, when I looked after this kind of subject in Opposition, the suggestion was made by the present Minister of Transport, and she was answered by Mrs. Thatcher. I was there at the time, but I felt that it was highly inexpedient to get involved in a discussion between two most intelligent and most vocal ladies, and therefore I said nothing. But I have always felt doubtful about this. One or two things my right honourable friend the Minister said in another place have made me even more doubtful, particularly one sentence to which I will call your Lordships' attention in a moment.
What the Minister said was that they were holding a quick survey of some two or three thousand cases, and on the results of the survey would decide what they were going to do. That may be. But, unfortunately, she went on to indicate quite clearly that in her view what was required was a family endowment scheme of some sort, a supplementary child's allowance, whatever it may be. I feel very doubtful about this, for the reason that it will not deal with a great many of the cases. There are already anomalies all over the place in this legislation—it crawls with anomalies. Well, all you are doing is to put in another one by dealing especially with children and by working it on the basis of children. I very much doubt whether that can be right.
One has to consider what the real trouble is. There are about 15,000 of these cases. There are between 200,000 and 300,000 people who, at present, are living on abnormally low wages, so that when they become unemployed, or suffer something which brings them within the purview of something like this Bill, they are subject to the wage-stop. The number actually affected is not nearly so large as the number of people who are continuing to live on too low wages. My right honourable friend accepted in another place, as I understood her, that one could not do anything about wages. This is what puzzles me. We do things to secure minimum wages—it is done in regard to agricultural wages and in regard to trade boards. There are, in fact, a large number of these trade boards, and 509 I looked at a list of them to see the number of orders they made in one year. Some dealt with very hard cases indeed, and your Lordships will no doubt remember that the worst of all were the mineral-water bottlers in the Orkneys, whose wages were phenomenally low. That is the kind of matter which is dealt with in that way, but I hope that we are not going to give up the possibility of dealing with what is the real root of the matter.
Now I turn to the child endowment suggestion, and my right honourable friend had what I have just been saying very much in mind, because in col. 1919 of Hansard of June 17 she said this:The only way of dealing with the problem"—that is, the wage stop problem—is by a better form of family endowment, whether a man is in or out of work."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 729.].I read that and then I went off to the Library and got Hammond's Village Labourer, and started reading again about Speenhamland. It was in May, 1795, that a collection of probably well-intentioned gentlemen met there. They decided that agricultural wages were too low and that they would therefore, supplement them out of the rates. The practice spread, the wages fell, as indeed one would expect, in all the areas where this curious doctrine prevailed, and I think there is no single action in the whole of British industrial history which has done more by itself to cause misery than what was done, probably with good intentions, by the gentlemen of Speenhamland. To make quite certain, I read again what my right honourable friend said:The only way of dealing with the problem is by a better form of family endowment, whether a man is in or out of work.Of course, "out of work" covers the wage-stop case, but "in work" is intended to be a way of dealing with wages. It cannot be right, and I hope it is not going to be followed further.
I am anxious about this, and I believe that in the long run we must do something about it. We cannot leave a problem of this character simply by saying, "The consequences of doing anything, whatever we do, are too awful", because the system itself is causing the misery to which the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, testified and which I have heard spoken to 510 time and time again in another place, largely by Members representing areas where conditions of employment were bad with low wages, probably areas of low employment. Of course, the position may get better; one hopes it will. But if it does not the wage-stop itself is dead wrong. An attempt to meet it by a family endowment scheme is going to run into the difficulty; either it will fail to cover the "in work" people, the 200,000 or 300,000, or it will repeat the catastrophic error of Speenhamland. We cannot have that.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, the noble Lord is putting his case very strongly, but is he seriously suggesting that those without families, the unmarried, are going to accept a lower wage, because people with families are getting higher family allowances? Only that is the implication of what he is saying.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, I can find no such implication in what I have said. After all, it is pretty simple. What is happening is that a number of people, married or unmarried, with or without children, are being grossly underpaid. Consequently, when they come on to National Assistance—using the old phrase for a moment—they find themselves unable to get enough to live on, because they are met by the wage-stop. What I am suggesting is that the right remedy for that, if you can manage it, is to bring up the wages that are at present far too low. One method of doing that is by agricultural wages arrangements, and trade boards is another. So far as I can see, there can be no objection in principle to that, and it ought to be examined far more closely. I see nothing wrong in trade boards or in agricultural wages arrangements, and both of them seem to be an exact parallel.
As regards the child endowment scheme, the difficulty is this, leaving aside for the minute the question of what one does when they are in work. Whether those concerned are in work or out of work, you are then going to give a benefit in terms of children and that may not be the right way of dealing with the matter. Therefore, I would far rather see it dealt with, if one can, by taking the total amount of wages. So far as the wage-stop is concerned, I should far 511 rather see it simply cleared away as an immediate measure, rather than left where it is. I would rather face the difficulty mentioned in the passage which I read from the White Paper accompanying this Bill, than the alternative difficulty which is what we have at present—keeping a number of people on an allowance which is not enough for them and their families to live on. That cannot be right.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ LORD BROCKWAY
My Lords, this House is sometimes criticised for being too polite, but nevertheless I cannot refrain from expressing some appreciation of the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Taylor of Mansfield, which was delivered to-day. Some of us were colleagues of his in another place and appreciated his contributions there. The breadth of his views as well as his detailed knowledge on the subject which we are discussing to-day, indicates how valuable he will be here. Unlike my noble friend Lord Mitchison, I have often been to Mansfield. Indeed, I think it was 55 years ago that I made my first visit there as a propagandist of the I.L.P., and even in those days Lord Taylor of Mansfield was one of the active comrades for the movement. It was a delight to hear his speech in this House.
Like, I think, every other speaker, I welcome the introduction of this Bill. It deals, in what is regarded as our now affluent society, with those who have been the forgotten tenth in our population. I suppose I represented in another place one of the most prosperous areas in the whole of the United Kingdom. I am not referring to Eton College; I am referring to the prosperity of Slough as an industrial centre. But no one who was a Member of Parliament, and who took opportunities week by week to meet constituents who were concerned about their personal and social problems, can have doubted that in our affluent society thousands of human beings—the old, the disabled, the injured, the chronically sick and, in some parts of the country, the unemployed—were existing on a level which was below that of any proper human existence. It is because it deals with those people that I welcome this Bill to-day.
The second reason why I welcome this measure particularly is that it is at least 512 a movement towards securing in our community a minimum standard of life below which no human being will be allowed to fall. I am glad that my noble friend Lord Taylor of Mansfield is now here, because I can add one further point to what I have already said about him. He was engaged many years ago in the agitation in this country to secure a proper living standard for everyone. One of the effects of this measure (though I still think that it is inadequate and incomplete) will be to establish a human level so that we are able to say that in our society a person who is in need or in want will not be allowed to fall below that level.
I was very interested in the contribution which my noble friend Lord Mitchison made to this debate about the effect of this Bill on wage conditions. I think one of the advantages of the Bill is that it will have such an effect. By laying down a standard below which no one in need of public assistance shall fall, it will inevitably have an effect upon wages; and I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Mitchison when he says that the Agricultural Wages Board, the trades boards and similar machinery for legalising wage standards will benefit by the introduction of the Bill. In other spheres, as my noble friend Lord Mitchison knows, it is difficult to operate because both the employers' organisations and the trade unions claim that those spheres are their own; but even there the introduction of this Bill will have its effect by establishing the principle of a minimum standard of life, so that we shall be able to say that no one in our community shall fall below it to a position of destitution.
My Lords, I want to draw attention to two problems particularly. I am very glad indeed that my noble friend Lord Sorensen is to reply to this debate, not only because of his own long service in these spheres but also, if I may say so, because of the fact that over the years his wife has been so active in all aspects of social service; and I am perfectly sure that her experience has contributed to his own knowledge. The first specific point to which I wish to draw attention is the position of the blind. They are the only recipients of National Assistance who will not, as blind persons, benefit from this Bill. At present, the blind in our community receive a special allowance of 24s. 6d. per week. In the original 513 Act of 1948, the scale was 15s. It has risen by only 9s. 6d. since 1948, although the cost of living has risen by 90 per cent. It would therefore require to be brought up to 28s. 6d. to restore it to its original value. I have in my hand a letter from the General Secretary of the National League of the Blind, Mr. T. H. Smith, M.B.E., whose organisation has done so much in the service of the blind. He has asked me particularly to raise this matter in the House, and I hope that the Government will give some consideration to it before the Bill finally becomes an Act.
The second specific point to which I want to draw attention is with regard to the position of women who are separated from their husbands. Some of them receive a small maintenance grant from their husbands, and they often have a family to keep. As I understand it, a woman in that position has to pay tax on the maintenance allowance from her husband as if it were unearned income, although her husband is paying her out of taxed income. I want to suggest that such a woman, separated from her husband and looking after her children, is contributing to their welfare, irrespective of what she receives in children's allowances, in a way which ought to allow her to have a tax allowance equally with a married woman who is looking after children in her home.
The second point I want to raise in respect of the women separated from their husbands is this. A married woman living with her husband gets a personal allowance to set off against tax, even if she is working only part-time. A single woman or a woman separated from her husband gets no allowance for part-time work, and an allowance of only £40 for full-time work. I do not think I can put this better than by reading a letter which appeared in that admirable column which Lena Jeger contributes to the Guardian. She refers to Mrs. M., separated from her husband, with family expenses, receiving a small maintenance allowance. She has to go to work, and Mrs. M. writes:I have found to my horror that, whereas a married woman, whatever her husband's income, automatically gets an additional personal allowance to set off against tax, even if she only earns part-time, other women who have a need to work to keep their children can get no additional allowance for part-time work and only £40 for full-time work. I found I was paying more tax on the same salary than a 514 workmate with no children, married to a man with a good salary and working only because home bored her".My Lords, I recognise that in a comprehensive and complicated measure of this kind there are bound to be anomalies. I want to pay my tribute to Miss Peggy Herbison, who is the Minister in another place, and to Mr. Douglas Houghton, for the extraordinarily thorough way in which they have examined this whole problem and brought forward these proposals. It is because I know of the spirit in which they have approached their task that I ask for some consideration to be given to the two specific problems which I have raised this evening.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ LORD WINDLESHAM
My Lords, having listened to the debate this afternoon, and having thought about the Bill in advance, it seems to me that it can really be looked at in one of two ways—and this is how most noble Lords speaking in this debate have viewed the measure this afternoon. The first is from the point of view of the machinery for dispensing social welfare, and the second is from the standpoint of the nature and extent of the benefits provided for those who are in need and the criteria which are adopted to determine that need.
First of all, I should like to consider the reorganisation envisaged by the Bill in front of us. The reorganisation of a very considerable part of the social services in the public sector is effected here by the dissolution of the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance and the National Assistance Board, and by the transfer of their functions to the new Ministry of Social Security. Since this Bill marks the end of the National Assistance Board in its present form I think it would be proper to take this opportunity to acknowledge the services rendered by those noble Lords in this House who have served as its chairmen: the noble Lord, Lord Ilford (from whom we have had a most thoughtful, wise and helpful contribution this afternoon); the noble Lord, Lord Runcorn, the current Chairman of the Board, and the noble Viscount, Lord Soulbury, who was in his place this afternoon and who, your Lordships may remember, served as Chairman of the Board for seven years. From these Benches I should also like to add my tribute to those paid to the noble Lord, 515 Lord Taylor of Mansfield, on his maiden speech on this important measure.
My Lords, the Bill at first sight seems to provide a very similar service to that provided by the Ministry and the National Assistance Board—with a change of name. I do not agree with those who think—as the Economist did on May 21—that there is nothing more than a change of name here. Nor would I underestimate, in any event, the importance of changing the name of a system of public provision when the words "National Assistance" have taken on a meaning which I think is undesirable. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, is entirely right in saying that it is the system, and the confidence or lack of confidence that people have in it, that is most important; none the less, the words do seem to some people to have an undesirable association and I think they should be changed on those grounds.
There is an opportunity here for the Government to make substantial improvements in the administration of social security; there is opportunity also to improve the use made of manpower in the social services in the public sector and the use of premises which, we hear, are to be integrated into a single network. This is important, because greater efficiency in Government administration does lead to a more effective use of the social services; and, after all, that is the reason why the services exist. They should be used by the people for whom they are designed. I think it is unfortunate to find (and it is now documented) a situation of which noble Lords opposite are well aware: that there is a fairly substantial number of people who are entitled to supplementary benefits but who, for whatever reasons, have not been drawing them. If this Bill can improve the utilisation of the social services, then it will have made an advance.
When looking at the organisation of the new Ministry we come up against the question of communication; because the new Ministry (as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Bowles, in his opening speech) will be extremely large. In this connection, he mentioned the figure of 56,000 administrative staff. This is something which we might take up at a later stage of the Bill. I should like to ask the noble Lord who is to 516 reply—not for answer now—if it is thought that there will be an increase in this number as a result of the merger, or whether he anticipates a decline, either in the short term or, subsequently, over a period of time. I give notice of this question at this stage.
My Lords, the new Department will be in touch with a large number of people through its large staff of over 50,000 people, through its local offices up and down the country and through its printed forms and explanatory leaflets. The audience the Government are addressing in the administration of social security is an extremely large one. The Report on the Financial and Other Circumstances of Retirement Pensioners gave, as the figure of National Insurance retirement and widow pensioners alone, 6,360,000 in June, 1965; and, of course, there are many others who receive sickness, unemployment and other benefits and also supplementary assistance grants. I would doubt—and I think the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, also mentioned this—whether any Department of Government has a more widespread contact with people at the individual level than the new Ministry will have.
It is for this reason that, in the Election Manifesto of the Party to which I and noble Lords on these Benches belong, we suggested a more extended Ministry which would embrace the Ministry of Health as well as the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance and the National Assistance Board. This was in order to integrate the care aspects of the Ministry of Health. We recognised—and made proposals to that effect—that the local authorities and voluntary services have an essential role here. If there is one Ministry behind them with responsibilities, first, for identifying cases of need, second, for providing financial benefits, and, third, for caring for those in need (through, for example, home helps, home nursing and "meals on wheels") the two aspects of cash and care in social welfare could be integrated.
My noble friend Lord Drumalbyn made the point that there is also a case for overall supervision at the policy level in the welfare services; not so much in 517 administration but in looking ahead and considering what shape they ought to take as society itself develops and changes in the future. It would have made an even larger Ministry than the proposed Ministry will be; but when looking back on it in the future, I believe those who are concerned with social policy in all Parties will come to regard it as a matter of regret that this opportunity was not taken to make a more far-reaching and radical reform. It is worth mentioning to noble Lords opposite that this is not my view alone. Professor Peter Townsend of the University of Essex, currently chairman of the Fabian Society, who is no doubt known to a number of noble Lords opposite and who was, I believe, an influential figure in the Labour Party in the development of its social security policies over the last ten years, is recorded in the Guardian of June 11 as saying that the Bill is too timid in its approach to the existing structure of social security. He believes that the Government should have made more comprehensive reforms, and he itemises a number of detailed points of criticism.
Nevertheless, this Bill represents a considerable reorganisation. The staffs and the local offices of the Ministry and of the Board will be integrated, we have been told by the noble Lord, into a cohesive network and many forms and printed material will have to be redesigned and reprinted. In preparing for this debate I have gathered together a bundle of the material currently in use in local offices of the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance. The noble Lord, Lord Ilford, with all his experience of the National Assistance Board, confessed that, despite the care given to making them as comprehensible as possible, he at times experienced difficulty in completing National Insurance forms correctly. No doubt others have difficulty in understanding some of the explanatory leaflets. It is a paradox, when one looks at the reports prepared on some aspects of public affairs by, for example, one of the noble and learned Lords of great legal achievement, to compare the precision and clarity of language, even though aimed at a more informed public, with some of the descriptive material on social security which is intended for the general public.
518 I appreciate, of course, that considerable efforts are made. There would be no point in any Department trying to produce something which was deliberately difficult to understand. But, at a time when a Ministry is being reorganised and material has to be reprinted anyway, one should not just change the name on the top of the forms but make use of the opportunity to look very closely at the wording and the language and, above all, the design and printing and layout. All this, of course, will take time because there are millions of these forms and leaflets in existence, but I think it is something which ought to be looked at. Perhaps I might ask noble Lords in charge of the Bill whether the new Ministry, or Her Majesty's Stationery Office, intend to make use of the services of a professional and qualified graphic or typographical designer in the preparation of new material intended for the general public.
My Lords, the final point I wanted to mention on the organisation of the new Ministry is the adequacy of the information available to it. Nothing can be done to improve the utilisation of the social services without better information. The whole question of child poverty, which has been referred to by noble Lords opposite—the noble Lord, Lord Soper, and the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison—and the circumstances of large families, where the father is in employment but earning a low income, are examples of this. The report by Professor Abel-Smith and Professor Townsend, The Poor and the Poorest, which was published in December of last year, and the Child Poverty Action Group have drawn attention to the existence of this problem. But nobody really knows how many such families there are.
The Government's own estimates of them—I have been looking them up—have varied over an eighteen month period from a low of 50,000 families, which was given by the Minister of Labour in the House of Commons on February 22, 1965—it is in col. 2 of Hansard of that date; the Minister gave a bracket and this was the bottom part of it—to the figure given by the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance during the Second Reading of this Bill in the House of Commons on May 24. Here, again, the Minister gave a bracket, 519 and her high figure was perhaps as many as 300,000. So here we have the Government's own estimates varying from 50,000to 300,000. This is just not good enough. Much more accurate and systematically gathered information is required. I am aware that the Government are going to carry out a survey—in fact, I believe it is being launched this summer—into the number of low-income families. But much more urgent action is needed. I should like to come back to this point in a few minutes when we look at the categories of people who are entitled to benefit under this Bill.
The next aspect of the Bill I wish to touch on is the question of need at the grass roots. A Social Research Unit would look at trends and would try to identify large groups. But the actual cases of hardship should be sought out, as they are at the moment, at local level; and we believe that the officers of the new Commission who will take over this responsibility should have a positive duty placed on them by Statute to seek out those who need help. This point deals with what might be called the onus of responsibility. No one on these Benches would deny that officers are attempting to do that—and very often succeeding—at the moment; but it is a question of whether there should be a positive duty placed on them. That is a point to which we shall return during the Committee stage discussions on this Bill. That is all I have to say, and I hope that I have not taken too long, on the subject of the organisational aspects of the Bill.
The second aspect I want to discuss is the benefits themselves, and those who are entitled to them. I believe that the Bill falls short in at least three respects in meeting existing needs which, in our view, could be, and should be, met by this measure. I shall merely outline them now in order that noble Lords opposite may be aware of some of the points of criticism at this stage. It will also give noble Lords some idea of the weaknesses of the Bill in its present form. The first of the three categories is the disabled people who, as a result of loss of faculty, require constant attendance—for example, severe cases of paralysis. It is difficult to see why people in this condition are not treated in exactly the same 520 way as blind people who are also in need of constant attention and who, under the provisions of Clause 10 of Schedule 2, receive a special scale of allowances as well as the 9s. addition, if they have been in receipt of an allowance for at least two years, or if they are over pensionable age. That is the first category, the disabled people who are treated differently under the provisions of the Bill from blind people, although their circumstances may be almost identical.
The second group is one which has been mentioned several times, the low wages-earners with large families. The father is in employment and so, under this Bill, the family is not helped. They will be excluded under current National Assistance practice from benefit because the father of the children is in full-time work. There are some cases where the father is not in work at all, but if we are talking about a far wider group of people, who may, we are told, total as many as 300,000 families, that would be the case; they are excluded from benefit. We believe that it should be possible under this Bill to have a supplementary family allowance, varying according to the number of children, for those whose income is below a certain figure. The income figure would have to be put into the Bill and it might be varied at a later stage by regulation. This is, as many noble Lords have said already, a real, proved social need of which everyone is aware, and immediate action is called for.
A Government survey is now being mounted, but there will be an inevitable delay while the results of the survey are being collated and considered; there will be further delay while they are being discussed, and there will be delay while new legislation is introduced, or an Order, if it can be done in that way, is being considered.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but I think that there has been some misunderstanding as to the group of people to whom he is referring. The noble Lord is talking about cases where some member of the family is fully employed and consequently, under the provisions of the Bill, the family is not entitled to National Assistance. What I was talking about, what my noble friend Lord Soper was 521 talking about, and, I think, what my noble friend Lord Brockway was also talking about, was a rather different case—namely where you get a man who has only been taking a low wage, and under another provision in the Bill, he is met by what is called the wage-stop, and cannot get an allowance in excess of what that wage was. They are two different groups. The second was referred to by the Minister as the top of an iceberg, the rest of the iceberg being those 200,000 to 300,000 people in low-paid employment who would not benefit under the Bill because they are still working.
§ LORD WINDLESHAM
My Lords, I appreciate that. I am talking about the much larger group of people, up to 300,000 families.
§ LORD MITCHISON
The 300,000 was the Minister's "high" of those not benefiting under the Bill, being in low-paid employment and, in eventually coming under the Bill, they would be met by the wage-stop. The other group who are not benefiting are those who are in full employment or have some member of their family in employment.
§ LORD WINDLESHAM
I have no doubt we shall have more discussions on this point in greater detail in later stages of the Bill, but I think we are all agreed that where there are families with a large number of children and with a low income, whether from the wage-stop or just from the low level of income, there is a problem which does not seem to be met adequately by the Bill as it now stands.
The third group of people whose needs are not adequately covered by the Bill are the elderly or very old. By this is usually meant people who have been ten or more years in retirement and are over the age of 75 or, in the case of women, over 70. I think your Lordships will agree that needs tend to increase with age. The retirement pensioner of 75 is likely to be less strong than one of 65. He is likely to need more heat and possibly special food. His clothes and household goods are probably wearing out after ten years of retirement. His small savings will have been eaten into or exhausted by his own expenditure and by the rise in the cost of living.
It is worth noting that a high percentage of retirement pensioners who are receiving discretionary grants from the 522 N.A.B. are in the higher age groups of 70 or 75. For this reason, as my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn mentioned, we would urge that those who under the Bill would receive the 9s. addition after the age of retirement should receive an extra 5s., making a total of 14s., after ten years in retirement. It is true that many are currently receiving discretionary additional payments, which average 9s. 6d. a week. It is interesting in this connection that my noble friend Lord Ilford, with his great experience of National Assistance, was of opinion that the 9s. figure might be rather too low to meet the needs the Government had in mind. This is a point that the noble Lord who is going to reply might like to follow up. Those are the three categories which we feel are not properly covered by the Bill—the disabled who are treated separately from the blind, the low-wage earners with large families, and the very old.
Finally, this is an opportunity for the Government to have made a thoroughgoing, radical reform of the administration of social security. Because of the pressure on Parliamentary time, and the need to digest this measure administratively, it must be unlikely that there will be any further changes in a matter of this importance during the present Parliament. So I think it is sad to record that this is something of a missed opportunity.
The Government to which noble Lords opposite give their support have finally faced up to reforming part of the social services which are currently under review. With the prospect in front of them of reforming a considerable section of governmental activity—and, what is more, one that touches millions of people at the individual level—it is a matter of regret that they have not been able to come forward with a measure which is more imaginative, bolder, and more radical than this one, because there may not be another opportunity for some years to come.
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ LORD SORENSEN
My Lords, if I were to deal adequately with all the speeches made during the past few hours, I am afraid that arrangements would have to be made for supper round about nine o'clock. As supper has not been arranged, I must try to confine myself to as short 523 a speaking time as possible. I will endeavour to answer some of the points that have been raised, but there have been so many of them, all constructive, that I am sure your Lordships will appreciate that it is quite impossible for me to answer them all now. I assure noble Lords who made various proposals and criticisms that they all will have a reply, if not from this Box, certainly by correspondence.
Before I turn to the Bill itself, may I express my great appreciation of the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Taylor of Mansfield. Like him, I was in this building years ago when temporarily the other place met in your Lordships' Chamber. I shared his Parliamentary life in another place for some time. And it is a great personal delight to me to see him here, as I am sure it is to all who know him and also, after hearing the very sensitive speech he made this afternoon, to those who do not know him. In the name of the House, I warmly welcome him and feel sure that he will contribute many times to our debates to the benefit of us all.
May I also express congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, who I believe spoke from that Box for the first time this afternoon, and my best wishes for future days when he is engaged in the same function? I am sure that his deep and compassionate concern shone out in all he said this afternoon and helped us all the more as a group of humane people to consider this very human subject.
Our debate has ranged over a wide field, and I appreciate that in all parts of the House there is general sympathy with the proposals of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, expressed regret that we have not made more of our opportunity. I appreciate that. I appreciate equally the fact that his own Party had thirteen years in which they could have exercised their judgment on the same matter but, unfortunately, they did not do what possibly they wished to do. So we are left to do what they did not do, and for that reason I am sure that he will be magnanimous enough to appreciate that what we are trying to do in this Bill is of great significance.
We have come a long way from those distant days when poverty was crime, 524 when the workhouse and the poor law were associated with all that was fearful and menacing. May I say, in passing, that although I agree that a mere change of name may be of no particular significance, it depends on whether with the change in name there comes a change of function and nature. It is true that the terms "Poor Law" and "out-relief" had ugly associations. They were replaced with the term "Public Assistance", and this also became associated with a good deal that was repellent. But when it is suggested that the term "National Assistance" has the same bad odour as the preceding terms, I beg to say that, largely through the humanity of the Chairmen of the Board throughout succeeding years, the term "National Assistance" ceased to have a good many of the unfortunate associations of its predecessors. And I repeat, it is good to know this.
Not only has there been a change in name—and we are now proposing a further change—but also there has been a substantial change in nature. The whole approach in this House to-day has been one of sympathy and understanding. We have accepted a moral responsibility for that section of the community that is far poorer than ourselves. That is taken for granted. I have not heard one single comment suggesting dissent from that general attitude. That is quite remarkable. I am sure that the ghosts of some of our predecessors, if they be haunting us this evening, let alone the statues of our even more distant predecessors in this Chamber, must be strangely troubled at the completely different attitude to this subject now as compared to what it was in their days. That is all to the good, because we no longer penalise the poor. We recognise that we are our brother's keeper, and are members one of another; that they are our responsibility, and that, although there are dangers and difficulties, we have nevertheless reached a stage where we all, irrespective of Party, now recognise that it is our moral responsibility to do all we can for that section of our community.
A number of detailed points have been raised in this debate. I will deal briefly with some of them, although not all. In so far as the speeches have been I critical of the Bill, it has not been of 525 what the Bill contains, but rather for what it omits. Indeed, the Bill does not pretend to cover the whole field. The Bill, as has been mentioned more than once this afternoon, does not deal with the problem of ensuring an adequate income for the low wage-earner who has a large family; nor does it set out a comprehensive welfare detection service. Nor, for that matter, will the new Ministry embrace the Ministry of Health, as well as the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance and the National Assistance Board, as apparently some in the Opposition would desire, though I am not certain that it is the general policy of the Opposition as a whole. That point has been made, and it will be noted and discussed in due course.
There are two reasons why I do not think the criticisms that have been mainly advanced are either substantial or valid. I do not wish provocatively to make Party points this evening, and what I said just now to the Opposition about opportunities they have had in the last thirteen years that they missed was meant merely as a reminder and had no worse significance than that. Nevertheless, I think the Government have repeatedly made the purpose of the Bill clear. To complain that it does not deal with other special problems is simply to misunderstand the purpose. The objective of the Bill is as described in the Long Title:… to provide for the appointment of a Minister of Social Security and the transfer to him of the functions of the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance and of certain functions of the National Assistance Board: and to replace Part II of the National Assistance Act 1948 by provisions giving rights to non-contributory benefit.That is the purpose of the Bill. There is, of course, so much else that needs to he done. Some of your Lordships, indeed, may feel that this is too limited an objective. But it is surely—and here I am sure that I receive the assent of a good many noble Lords here this evening—better by far to make a thorough job of a reform within a fairly modest compass than to launch forth with an omnibus Bill which attempted to cover a very wide field and did so inadequately. Let us take one step at a time. Let us be evolutionists—and here, indeed, is an evolutionary advance.
526 At the same time, it would be wrong to underestimate the extent of the changes which are being introduced. Although here and there I caught a faint note of "damned with faint praise", I can be more generous and realise that here indeed is a distinct advance; and I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, has indicated his appreciation of that fact. It is a major step forward, and the new scheme of non-contributory benefits itself, with the emphasis on entitlement to benefit, and, for the pensioners, the concept of a "guaranteed income", marks a radical departure in the field of means-related benefits.
This does not mean, of course, that the National Assistance Board over the past eighteen years have not done a thoroughly worthwhile job. From the tributes which have been paid to the Board's administration in another place and here, it is clear that we all have the greatest admiration for the way in which the Board have administered the existing scheme. I should like to add my tribute to those that have already been paid to the work done by the Board's local officers, whose task very often has been an onerous and complex one. Much of the success which they have achieved stems from the wise leadership of successive chairmen of the Board. I will mention the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, but we must also remember George Buchanan, the first Chairman of the Board, and, indeed, the present Chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Runcorn. All of these, I know, have rendered sterling service, and have done so with the grateful appreciation of those in this House, as well as of many thousands of recipients who benefited indirectly from their services. Each of these distinguished chairmen has made his own mark on the administration of the Board, and it has been a pleasure to hear so many tributes rightly paid to the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, and the other chairmen.
What we have had to recognise is that, despite the efforts both of the previous Administration and of the present Government to make the National Assistance scheme generally acceptable—efforts that have not been without success—there remain quite a substantial number of elderly people who have been reluctant to claim the help which they could have 527 had. As the survey of retirement pensioners has shown, some 700,000 pensioner householders could have supplementary assistance but are not having it. We may criticise them; we may sometimes feel that they are guilty of false pride or gross misunderstanding; but human beings are like that, and there are many who are in that position.
While it is true that only about 250,000 of such householders have an income below the basic assistance standards, nevertheless, it simply would not do to accept that such a situation should continue indefinitely. On that we all agree. I think it was James Russell Lowell who said:New occasions teach new duties: Time makes ancient good uncouth.To some extent, that could be applied to the present situation, for we are living in new circumstances that demand a new approach. That is what has happened. It is the Government's earnest hope, and it will be their main concern in the months ahead, to ensure that those who are at present suffering unnecessary hardship will claim the new supplementary pension; and the scheme has been devised so as to overcome the main objections which such people have always expressed in the past—and which have been recorded in the recent survey—to claiming assistance.
Now I should like to say a word or two about family poverty. The question has been raised by some noble Lords as to why this Bill makes no attempt to deal with the problem of the low wage earner who has several children and who, as a result, may well have an income below the existing assistance levels, even though he is in full-time work. Many of us who have been in close contact with particular areas, as I have, know of this problem acutely, and we are entirely sympathetic. We all agree that there is a major problem here, and one to be solved, affecting something like 200,000 to 300,000 such families. The Minister of Pensions emphasised in the course of Committee proceedings in another place that the Government are deeply concerned about the position of such families, and are determined to find a solution.
It is just because of this determination that the survey of the circumstances of 528 some 2,750 families with two or more children has been mounted throughout the country. It started on June 20, and the fieldwork will be completed by the end of this week. That is pretty quick work, my Lords, I can assure you. When the results of this survey have been analysed the Government will be in a better position to decide what action needs to be taken, and indeed what form of action will be best calculated to achieve the greatest good. I think we must all accept that it really is important in framing policy to have an adequate corpus of information so that we can be sure that the measures which are evolved in fact achieve their objective, and that, indeed, is what we are seeking to secure.
The simple truth is that until the survey is complete and analysed we do not have the facts on which to frame a coherent policy. It might have been gathered that in the past perhaps we did not do so, but we are doing so now, and that is appreciated. I can assure your Lordships that the Government certainly have no intention of shelving the problem; they are conscious of it and they will tackle it as soon as they possibly can.
§ LORD WINDLESHAM
My Lords, if the noble Lord has finished on that point, I should like to make one comment. I am sure that this will be a most useful piece of research, but could the noble Lord give us any information, either to-night or, failing that, next week, whether it is intended to have within the Ministry a social research unit which will have a continuing responsibility for surveying need and will be carrying out surveys of this sort the whole time, without waiting for pressure groups and things of that type?
§ LORD SORENSEN
My Lords, I personally think it is inherent in the very nature of this scheme; but that is a personal statement, and certainly I will inform the noble Lord more specifically as to what is the official explanation.
I now turn to the question of the wage-stop, which has been discussed several times this evening. This problem is, of course, linked with the larger issue I have been discussing. What the wage-stop does is simply to make sure that a man does not get more money when he is out of work than when he is in work. It is 529 often said that the wage-stop causes hardship, but it is not true that the wage-stop provision itself leads to hardship. There are 15,000 families receiving assistance to whom the wage-stop is applied, and they are suffering no greater and no less hardship than the much larger number of families where the breadwinner is in employment and earning a wage which is less than sufficient, by assistance standards, to meet the needs of his family, deplorable as that fact is. That is why, however distasteful we may find the wage-stop principle, we have to acknowledge that the principle is right. One simply could not justify putting the unemployed man in a better financial position than his fellow who was in full-time work. That is why a solution must be found by looking at low-wage earners as a whole, whether they are, at any particular moment, in work or unemployed. This is a serious issue which demands attention but is beyond the scope of this Bill, although I will say, incidentally, that it is an indictment of this society.
I turn now to the question of welfare detection. The other main criticism which has been levelled at this Bill is that it does not make the new Commission responsible for wide-reaching welfare detection service. Here, again, there is no dispute between us as to what is desirable. We all agree that it is not sufficient merely to make sure that our old folk have sufficient money. Many of them have been in just as great, possibly greater, need of welfare services than of an additional £1 or £2 a week, and the lack of services such as "meals on wheels" or home helps (which, I may say in passing, have been of tremendous value to large numbers of people) may cause just as much hardship in day-to-day life as an inadequate income.
The Government take the view, however, that it is better to start by tackling the problem where the need is greatest than to attempt at this point to set up a universal welfare detection service, which, if it were to operate effectively, would require an enormous corps of staff. Clause 3(1) says that the Commissionshall exercise the functions conferred on them by this Act in such manner as shall best promote the welfare of persons affected by the exercise thereof".530 This is very beneficial. It gives the Commission power to seek out not only financial but also welfare needs; and, as was explained in another place, the Government have every intention that this power shall be exercised. The officers of the new Ministry who deal with claims for supplementary pensions will be concerned with ensuring that any welfare needs which appear to be unmet are brought to the notice of local authorities. Moreover, as my noble friend Lord Bowles indicated, the Commission will go further than this: they will seek out among the elderly and widows those who may be entitled to a pension under the new scheme by getting in touch with them on a personal basis, starting with those who have just retired, unless they say quite definitely that they do not wish to make any such claim. Clearly, in the course of this activity the Commission will be in touch with many people who have needs in the field of health and welfare, even though they may not qualify for a supplementary pension; and where this is the case it will be the duty of the officer concerned to see that attention is given to such welfare needs.
All told, my Lords, the new Ministry will be in touch with many more people than the Board were, and with people whose incomes span a much wider range than those now in contact with the Board. I repeat what my right honourable friend the Minister made clear on this subject in another place: that the Government are not saying that this is the end of the road, or that nothing further needs to be done, and they are continuing to study the problem closely. All we claim is that this is a stage along the road.
I would refer briefly now to two major features of this scheme which have been the subject of considerable comment during our debate. The first of these is the new pattern of disregards which the Bill introduces—the disregards being those resources which the Commission will ignore when determining a person's entitlement to benefit. I would summarise this part of my speech by saying that the Government consider that the new disregards represent a fair balance between conflicting principles and go a long way towards achieving equity between case and case.
531 On the income side, there have been no very radical changes. The existing disregards on part-time earnings and disability pensions have been raised from their present levels of 30s., plus half of the next pound earned, and a flat 30s. respectively, to a new flat level of 40s. a week in each case. The other change is to replace the existing rules whereby up to 15s. a week of certain other resources can be disregarded, subject to an overall limit of 30s. Under National Assistance some of these disregards are statutory; others are also ones which the Board under their discretionary powers have over the years decided should be allowed, and as a result it is not at all easy for the outsider to know just what can or cannot be disregarded. The new rule is simple. Apart from the main National Insurance benefits, such as retirement pensions, family allowances and maintenance payments, under a court order or otherwise, there is a straightforward disregard of the first 20s. of the total of a person's other income, regardless of whether its source is an annuity, trust income, superannuation, a charitable payment or anything else.
In the treatment of savings there have, however, been major changes. The present rules are cumbersome and to a considerable degree inequitable. Perhaps I may remind your Lordships of them. The first £100 of savings is ignored, an income of 6d. a week is taken in respect of each complete £25 thereafter, up to £600; and if a person has more than £600 he does not qualify for assistance at all, unless part of his capital can be treated as "war savings", when a special set of rules applies. These rules, which were introduced in 1940 as part of the Government's desire to encourage the war effort, provide that up to £375 of any individual's savings in the Post Office, in Savings Certificates or in certain other Government securities could be ignored altogether.
The Bill abolishes these anomalies. First, the basic disregard on savings, however they may be invested, is raised from £100 to £300. Second, the fixed limit to the amount of savings a person may have is abolished. And third, the income to be taken in respect of capital above £300 will rank for inclusion in the 20s. disregard of "other income" which I 532 have already mentioned. The effect of this is that a person without any other resources which can be ignored can have £800 of savings, again no matter where they are invested, totally ignored. Your Lordships will see that this quite novel arrangement achieves a measure of justice between the person who has saved by putting money in the bank, and the person who has bought an annuity o! contributed to a superannuation fund. The former can have £800 capital ignored; the latter, if he has an occupational pension or annuity of which 20s. is disregarded, has only £300 completely ignored.
For the great majority of people these new rules will be much more favourable than the existing ones, even where they are at present benefiting from the special "war savings" disregard. And, perhaps most important of all, with the abolition of the fixed upper limit there is no longer an arbitrary line drawn for capital above which a supplementary pension will not be payable. The amount of savings a person can have and still be entitled to a pension will turn instead on the extent of his other resources and the size of his commitments. This will mean, of course, that many elderly people of modest means who do not qualify for a retirement pension, and who were barred from receiving National Assistance because of the capital limit, will become entitled to a supplementary pension. For instance, a couple living entirely on their savings, and paying even a moderate rent, for these days, of 30s. a week, will be entitled to a pension unless their capital amounts to £2,500 or more. And if their rent was higher than this, they could have even more capital and still get a small pension.
Equally, of course, those people without a retirement pension who may at present be eligible for assistance but who have failed to claim it, for such reasons as reluctance or ignorance of what they could have, will, we hope, not hesitate to claim the new supplementary pension which will be theirs, as of right, under this Bill. In both these ways, therefore, we hope to help, among others, those who are sometimes referred to as the non-pensioners.
I will say a word on the long-term addition. The other feature of the scheme which is a complete innovation is the 533 long-term addition of 9s. a week to be allowed in the case of everyone over pension age and others below pension age, apart from the unemployed, who have been receiving a supplementary allowance for two years. Periods in respect of National Assistance will, of course, count towards this two years when the new scheme comes into operation. May I just say a word here about the question the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, raised, whether, in fact, 9s. was the appropriate figure. In a moment or two I shall be glad to tell him that, although he suggested that 9s. 6d. might be more appropriate, I still think that 9s. is more correct. But I will return to the point in sequence towards the end.
From what has been said in the debate to-day I think it is essential that your Lordships should fully appreciate the reasons for introducing the long-term addition and the purpose which it serves, because some of the comments which have been made suggest that its purpose may have been misunderstood. At the moment the National Assistance Board make discretionary allowances of small sums for a wide range of minor expenses—for instance, to cover the cost of sending out the heavy laundry, and to provide a little extra fuel during the winter months. And they are most considerate in that way. I know. The majority of elderly people get such allowances—indeed last December no fewer than 75 per cent. of retirement pensioners receiving assistance had discretionary additions of one kind or another. But if such additions are to be given there must be quite detailed personal inquiries in every case about expenses; and, quite properly, verification, where possible, that expense is in fact being incurred on the item for which such an addition is made.
I know reference has been made to the means test and to the apparent inconsistency of this Party with what it has said in the past. But circumstances have changed, and I would say that there is all the difference in the world between a mean means test and a generous means test; and that, I think, is sufficient defence of the necessity of securing adequate information about income. The Government want the new Commission to be able to get away from these detailed inquiries in as many cases as possible, since there can be no doubt that they are one of the things which 534 make National Assistance less acceptable than we should all wish. The long-term addition will enable the Commission to do just that in the majority of long-term cases. The extra 9s. a week is intended to provide a margin which will cover the kind of expenses I have already mentioned. It is, in fact, slightly more than the average amount currently being allowed by way of discretionary additions when these are taken over the whole year. Your Lordships will see, therefore, that the 9s. is not intended to provide a preferential rate for the long-term case, but is intended to reduce to far smaller proportions the number of cases where inquiries into special needs will have to be made, and also to give old people a clearer idea of their entitlement.
The purpose of the long-term addition, which I have outlined, also indicates why the addition is to be made only in the case of pensioners and certain other cases. People over retirement age will qualify for the addition from the outset because they will almost invariably require supplementary pensions for the rest of their lives. One thing of which we can be practically certain is that they will be long-term beneficiaries. It has been suggested that in their case the rate ought to be higher than 9s. if they are, say, 75 years old or more. But this misconceives the purpose of the addition. The Board have no evidence that, in general, special needs exist to a higher degree among the older pensioners despite what the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, said. It is known, for instance, that among noncontributory old-age pensioners who are getting assistance—and by definition these must be at least 74 years old—the average addition is rather less than 9s. a week. We must recognise that the very old do not have, taken as a group, greater identifiable needs than the younger pensioners; indeed, it would not be going too far to say that in some instances their overall needs may be rather fewer. So there would really be no grounds on merit for a preferential rate for the older pensioner. This is not to say that some, on grounds of ill health and infirmity, may not need extra help over and above the 9s, addition. But the Commission have ample powers, in such cases, to make a discretionary addition on top of the 9s., where there are exceptional requirements, just as they can do in any other case regardless of the person's age.
535 For people below pension age the two-year qualifying period has been chosen because by then it will be clear that a supplementary allowance is likely to continue in payment indefinitely. The people concerned are those who are more or less permanently out of the employment field and should therefore have an assured income at a level sufficient to avoid the need for enquiry at regular intervals into special needs in every case. A shorter qualifying period would not be sufficient to enable the Commission to say with any degree of confidence that any particular case was going to be a long-term one. In this connection I would remind your Lordships of some figures which were quoted in another place. Of the 420,000 people below pension age, other than the unemployed, who had been receiving assistance last December for six months or more, 370,000 had been receiving it for more than a year and only 300,000 for two years or more. In other words, something like one-third of those who require assistance for six months or more cease to need help during the next 18 months. Finally, whilst I am on this aspect of the Bill—
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? I am most interested in what he is saying on this subject. But surely it is the case that the aetiology of certain diseases is well known, and that it is possible to distinguish between one disease and another and to say with certainty that after two years the person will not be back in the employment field. This is what we have in mind. The mere fact that you cannot do it in all cases is not a good reason for not doing it in those where you can.
§ LORD SORENSEN
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his intervention. It is most helpful and interesting. Might I submit to him, therefore, that if he has in mind a quite small category of cases, he should later on put down an Amendment to that effect, for our proper consideration?
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, what I had in mind was not any particular category of cases, but the power of the Minister to designate cases. This is something which is done in regard to industrial diseases.
§ LORD SORENSEN
My Lords, I have the point. I thank the noble Lord and I will pass this on to the Minister herself. To return to my concluding words, for people below pension age the two-year qualifying period has been chosen because, by then, it will be clear that a supplementary allowance is likely to continue in payment indefinitely. i have already given the figures.
Finally, whilst I am on this aspect of the Bill I should explain why the unemployed are excluded altogether from receiving the long-term addition. Since the addition is intended to avoid inquiries into special expenses, it is only appropriate to allow it in those cases where discretionary allowances are now made on a wide scale. It is the exception, rather than the rule, for the unemployed person to have such expenses, and this is hardly surprising, since special expenses are almost always associated with infirmity or advancing years. Indeed, in December last, whereas 75 per cent. of retirement pensioners getting supplements had such additions, and 55 per cent. of those with sickness benefit, only 16 per cent. of those with unemployment benefit had a discretionary addition. Those figures speak for themselves. Of course, there is no question of the unemployed man who, exceptionally, does have special expenses, being left unprovided for. The Commission will be able to make any discretionary allowances which are necessary and to continue them for as long as they are required.
May I now briefly turn to one or two of the questions raised by noble Lords behind me and opposite. In the case of the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, may I ask for his forgiveness if I do not reply to all the points, which have been carefully noted, but select just one or two? I think he asked, does the power under Schedule 2, paragraph 4 (1) (b) to reduce or withhold benefit apply only to wage-stop cases. The answer to that is that the wage-stop section is provided for under paragraph 5 to Schedule 2. The power to withhold or reduce applies to supplementary allowances, not pension cases, where there are exceptional circumstances. It is intended to give the Commission power to deal, for instance, with the case of a man who refuses to take a job which is available to him and claims 537 benefit under this Bill. I hope that satisfies the noble Lord in that respect.
Then, I believe he also asked a question to the effect whether the Government had an intention to use the power to increase by regulation the rates of requirement in Part II of Schedule 2. This power is the same as exists under the National Assistance Act to improve the rates from time to time. How and when the power is to be used must be left to the Government's judgment hereafter. I think the record of the past two years is the best evidence of what are the Government's intentions. As I have so many more questions to answer, perhaps the noble Lord will be content with that ration of answers, with the assurance that he will have replies to the others in due course.
May I turn now to the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, who asked a most pertinent question based on certain facts, which he asumed. He asked, I think, whether the long-term addition is sufficiently large. Last year the average discretionary addition was 9s. 6d. Therefore it seemed that most people who now have discretionary allowances will need something on top of the 9s. The noble Lord therefore had some doubts as to the adequacy or otherwise of the long-term addition. I can assure him that the long-term addition will indeed be sufficient to cover the existing discretionary allowances of more than two-thirds of those receiving National Assistance. He also raised the interesting question of whther the appropriate figure should be 9s. or 9s. 6d. The answer is this. Certainly, last year it stood at 9s. 6d. a week; but this was in December, when there were some 300,000 allowances for winter fuel in issue. Taken over the year as a whole, the average of discretionary allowances is in fact below 9s. a week. I hope that that will be of some interest to the noble Lord.
Then the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, asked a question to which I can give him a reply, although he is not here. He asked how the rate of Is. for each £25 between £300 and £800, and 2s. 6d. a week for each £25 thereafter was arrived at. He supposed that it was at a high rate of interest. The answer is that the rate of income taken into account in respect of those savings which are not completely ignored, a rate of 1s. a week 538 for each £25 between £300 and £800, and 2s. 6d. per week for each £25 thereafter, would indeed represent a high rate of interest. That is so. But, of course, the point is that these sums are not an assumed interest rate at all, because a person cannot earn 10 or 20 per cent. interest on his savings unless he is extremely lucky. The rates of income which the Bill prescribes recognise that where a person has substantial capital it is reasonable to expect him to use part of it to supplement his income. The complete disregard of at least £300 of savings—the figure can be as high as £800 where a person has no other income which can be disregarded—ensures that no one has to use up all his savings in this way.
I have another note here which says that I should not be much longer. I quite agree. Therefore, those noble Lords who have remained patiently behind expecting a reply will, I am afraid, be disappointed, and must be accommodated by way of correspondence. There is one thing I would say with regard to my noble friend Lord Brockway. His statement that the blind will not benefit under this Bill is incorrect, and information to that effect will be sent to him in due course. I apologise to all other noble Lords—Lord Amulree, Lord Soper and Lord Mitchison—for being unable to reply personally tonight. As I have said, I assure them that they will receive the required information in due course.
May I now conclude my speech? I observed at the outset that this Bill had been well received on all sides of your Lordships' House. This was no more than I expected. For this is a Bill the purpose of which will not be gainsaid by anyone who is concerned for the wellbeing of those of his fellow men whose lot has been less fortunate than his own. It heralds a new approach to non-contributory benefits which, in its way, is just as big a revolution as was the National Assistance Act in 1948. The Government's earnest hope is that, in the words of the White Paper…the elderly will have no hesitation in claiming the new benefit to which they are entitled, and which will he awarded with dignity.Certainly the new benefits introduced in this Bill, taken together with the administrative changes which will be 539 associated with the new scheme—such as the payment, in due course, of the retirement pension and the supplementary pension on the same order book—are such that no-one should feel the slightest reluctance in claiming what he is entitled to.
My Lords, I apologise if I have omitted consideration of important points which I should have discussed, but I have striven to deal with the main criticisms without excessive exploitation of your Lordships' patience and time. I thank you for your helpful remarks, and I appreciate the general feeling of the House, which has been constructive and compassionate. Whatever our personal judgment or our Party affiliations, we can all feel heartened that, in the interests of human welfare, this Bill can go forward to help ease in some measure the burden of hardship among many citizens of our country. I therefore commend the Billto your Lordships.
§ On Question, Bill Read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.