Child Maintenance Service

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Excerpts
Thursday 24th June 2021

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord Mackay of Clashfern Portrait Lord Mackay of Clashfern (Con)
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My Lords, my link with this service goes back a long time. When I became Lord Chancellor in 1987, I quickly discovered that many parents who had been deserted had been successful in getting orders from the court for maintenance. But, unfortunately, no sooner had they got the order than the husband disappeared, and they had no resources available to them to try to find out where he was or to raise the money that was due. Needless to say, his attitude was not to come forward—that was not his business; his attitude was to hide himself as much as possible.

I found this an extremely difficult problem. By that time, I knew a little bit about Northern Ireland, which had a state system for enforcing decrees of the court. It seemed to me that this was what we would need: some form of state system that helped to find the person in question and formulated the responsibilities that he had. Eventually, this became government policy in the Act to which my noble friend Lord Farmer has already referred, which set up the Child Support Agency.

As the Lord Chancellor at that time, I had responsibility for divorce law, and a question arose as to whether we should take into our department the necessary work to set up the computer necessities of the CSA. My department very wisely suggested that that was better done in the department that my noble friend represents today. That was very wise advice. Originally, it was thought that this new organisation, with its mighty computer, would be able to adjust the requirements of each case according to the circumstances; but, first of all, that was a very major task, and, secondly, the circumstances changed very rapidly, and therefore quickly became out of sync with the requirements.

The real difficulty in arrears from that source was the arrears of the CSA following the paying parent. It took a long time to get around that problem, with the gradual simplification of what was done via the computer—in the end, it became a job that depended on help with the revenue and so on, and with the fixed sum which was due by the paying parent in respect of the child. That shortened the process quite a bit.

Unfortunately, divorce arrangements remained the responsibility of the Lord Chancellor’s Department. It is now the responsibility of the Lord Chancellor and the Ministry of Justice to adjust the kind of arrangements that will be needed to adjudicate on these where necessary. My view is that it is important that a separation happens with as little animosity as possible. Animosity is a natural reaction to it in many quarters, and a degree of help is needed to overcome that. At the moment, I think that is with the Lord Chancellor’s Department, along with the process of mediation and so on, which we discussed so fully all those years ago in the original proposal for no fault.

I have never seen how allegations of fault get rid of the animosity, because it is very seldom that the parties are agreed about what happened. People who can tell what actually happened are rather scarce, because they will not have been there on most occasions when animosity is shown and the basis for fault arises. It seems to me that that kind of investigation must be in a higher court than any that we can have; it is a matter that should not be allowed to blossom in our system, as I think has now happened.

Collecting money is still an important matter. So far as I can see, at the moment, it is a distinct factor and function in trying to resolve problems with the family. I was very concerned about this when our first Conservative Government after I left office came into power. I was anxious about the arrangements that were made, as they seemed to be fairly heavily disposed against the receiving parent, as well as the paying parent. I am glad to see that the system now operating is 20% extra to the paying parent and 4% to the receiving parent, but I still find it very difficult to accept the view that, because of the attitude of the parents, this particular system is required to achieve payment. The difficulty is that the 4% is really coming off what is due to the child—

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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Can I ask the noble and learned Lord to wind up, as we have a seven-minute speaking limit?

Scotland Act 2016 (Social Security) (Consequential Provision) (Miscellaneous Amendment) Regulations 2021

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Excerpts
Tuesday 22nd June 2021

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord Naseby Portrait Lord Naseby (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I recognise the antecedents of the Smith commission, itself deriving from the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, and the following Scottish Acts in 2016 and 2018. I am no expert on the details of this particular SI or social security benefits in general, and I do not know if I am right on this, so maybe my noble friend can clarify it when she speaks at the end, but it seems to me that it does not affect social legislation in Great Britain—or, that is, it affects England and Wales but not Northern Ireland.

My key concern is about the background of the importance of the union—we all know what is happening on the ground at the moment—and a recognition of what the current SNP leadership is all about. This in itself is in contrast to the powers of the Scottish Parliament. For example, it has the power to borrow over and beyond the benefits of the Barnett formula, as I understand it, so there is a double incremental benefit to Scotland as a whole.

What will be the impact on the other three nations that make up the United Kingdom? Is this just a simple implementation agreed by all four parties, with Scotland in the lead? They are doing trials in various cities. Or is it what I would call a ratchet effect, in that they take an initiative which the rest of the union then has to follow? I do not know, and I hope my noble friend can make that absolutely clear for the record when she winds up.

I will now focus particularly on Northern Ireland, and colleagues may wonder why. This is primarily because I was PPS in Northern Ireland from 1979 to 1981 and got to know that part of the UK quite well. I have deep concerns about what is happening on the ground there; they are struggling with the protocol and the aftereffects of Brexit on top of everything else. I would have thought that to have an important part of their social security affected as well—seemingly in the autumn—is just another problem and challenge for them.

I have two implementation points to make. I note that this is to be trialled in Dundee City, Perth and Kinross, and maybe somewhere else, from 26 July. It is thought that there will then be a full national rollout in the autumn. But 26 July is, in effect, the beginning of the summer, and nothing very much will happen in August, so we will really begin to have some test of this in September or October. Normally, to do a proper test, you would do it for at least three months. You would then review it for a month, because there are bound to be some elements of it that are not quite right, particularly if you have to consult the other three nations. Maybe they are not going to consult, but they should. I suggest to my noble friend that she should have a quiet word with her colleague across the border and ask if they are absolutely sure that it should be rolled out in the autumn and why it should not be rolled out from January, when people have had time to look at it, make necessary technical amendments and then implement it accordingly.

The other technical matter I would raise is that it is all very well saying that there is a 13-week change in some of the moves from Scotland to England, Wales or wherever. It never ceases to amaze one, having been a Member of Parliament, but there are families who do move around regularly when they change jobs or if something else happens—

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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Lord Naseby, can you hear me?

Lord Naseby Portrait Lord Naseby (Con)
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Right, okay, thank you.

Universal Credit (Transitional Provisions) (Claimants previously entitled to a severe disability premium) Amendment Regulations 2021

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Excerpts
Thursday 11th February 2021

(1 year, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn briefly until 5 o’clock.

Sitting suspended.

Supporting Disadvantaged Families

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Excerpts
Thursday 12th November 2020

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Janke Portrait Baroness Janke (LD) [V]
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My Lords, we welcome these measures and recognise the Government’s intentions to support disadvantaged families through winter and beyond—

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I am sorry, but we cannot hear the noble Baroness. Could she try again?

Baroness Janke Portrait Baroness Janke (LD) [V]
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Can you hear me? We very much welcome these measures, and I too pay tribute to Marcus Rashford and his campaign.

I would like to understand a little more of the noble Baroness’s clarification of what is meant by “beyond”. I very much hope that there is to be a longer-term strategy on this issue, as criticisms I have heard from local people are that the Government appear to be following a policy of knee-jerk responses and quick fixes, while the public in general would welcome a much longer-term approach, which would give them more confidence. For example, is it the Government’s intention that the temporary measures taken during the pandemic are to be made permanent, such as the extension of the free school meals entitlement to families with no recourse to public funds? Perhaps the noble Baroness could clarify that.

The Statement also said that local authorities have local ties and knowledge, and this is most certainly the case. Local authorities are to receive £160 million, to be added to the £63 million—[Inaudible.]

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Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I am sorry, but we cannot hear the noble Baroness. Can she get closer to the microphone?

Baroness Janke Portrait Baroness Janke (LD) [V]
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I am right up against the microphone now. Can you hear me?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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We can hear you now.

Baroness Janke Portrait Baroness Janke (LD) [V]
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Local authorities are to receive £160 million, to be added to the previous sum of £63 million which was distributed earlier in the year. This is to be paid as a one-off government grant. I would like to understand more about the basis of these measures. What consultations have taken place with local government and what were their outcomes?

The issue of conditionality was raised. How is that to be achieved and demonstrated? Are there to be target numbers of families or children? Are levels of participation to be measured, or perhaps there are measures of improved well-being that are to be reported upon?

What exactly is the basis of these sums of money? We are told that funding will be dispersed according to an authority’s population, weighted by a function of the English indices of multiple deprivation, so presumably we are looking at a sum per head. Can the noble Baroness say how much per head and for how many people?

Does the noble Baroness feel confident about the number of families that are to be helped, given that local authorities have had financial cuts of £16 million over the last 10 years and that their capacity is significantly reduced? Many important services for disadvantaged families no longer exist in many areas, such as family support schemes and community facilities such as libraries, sports and recreation, and local health promotion, and many of those may be required to implement the scheme. Does the noble Baroness feel that the sums of money here will be enough to achieve the objectives she describes in the Statement?

The noble Baroness talked about the importance of nutritious food. Has any financial assessment been made of the cost of providing this to the numbers involved? If so, it would be good to see it. The Food Foundation has established that, to pay for the Government-recommended “eatwell plates”, people on universal credit would need to spend around two-thirds of their non-housing income on food. It would help to understand the analysis that underpins these measures.

We all welcome the expansion of holiday activities for disadvantaged children. Can the Minister clarify how these children are to be identified? Who is eligible for these provisions? Existing criteria exclude many children, particularly in low-paid working families. We have welcomed the temporary measures that have been introduced during the current crisis. Can the Minister assure the House that these will remain in place?

We welcome the £16 million for charities to help those struggling to afford food, but surely this is no more than a sticking plaster. We must ensure that families’ income is sufficient so that they can afford to provide nutritious food for themselves and their children. Removing the benefit cap and the three-child limit would help. If the Government do not intend to do that, what longer-term policies are being considered to ensure that families and children will no longer have to depend on short-term fixes and will have enough income to provide their own food and care for their families without depending on charities?

Pension Protection Fund (Moratorium and Arrangements and Reconstructions for Companies in Financial Difficulty) Regulations 2020

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Excerpts
Monday 14th September 2020

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Baroness Altmann Portrait Baroness Altmann (Con)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for laying these amendments and for the excellent way in which she introduced them. I also support the amendments and believe that many of the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, are particularly relevant. It is clearly important that the Pension Protection Fund has some recognition—or as much as possible, if you like—in the new environment that has created the moratorium and various super-priorities. It is important that the Pension Protection Fund retains creditor rights where it can to avoid gaming of the fund, which otherwise could be overwhelmed with extra liabilities that are picked up by other pension schemes.

I agree with my noble friend that it is important to ensure that these regulations are able to act in the interests of the Pension Protection Fund and to balance that against the need to preserve functioning and ongoing sponsors during the current emergency. Can my noble friend help the Committee understand what powers this grants to the Pension Protection Fund? I recognise, and we discussed through the passage of the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act, that there is a limit on the power of the Pension Protection Fund. I appreciate the Government’s amendments, which have introduced some representation, but, for example, if trustees, as was suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, prefer to approve a high-risk restructuring strategy but the board of the Pension Protection Fund believes the risk is too high and would result in higher costs to it when the company fails—as the board believes would be most likely given the balance of risks that that restructuring would entail—would it have the power to override the trustees and to refuse to agree the proposed course of action and, ultimately, ensure that the company fails sooner rather than later, or would that not be within its powers under the new system?

Equally, if the management of the company wishes to try to sell assets that have already been pledged to the pension scheme and apply to a court to permit this—I understand the corporate insolvency Act permits the authorisation of the sale of such assets and the PPF must be informed or consulted—does the PPF have powers to protect itself against such a transaction on which the funding of that defined benefit scheme had previously been based? What representations might it be able to make in the court environment? Does it have the power to demand detailed information or to conduct its own investigations into the financial position of the company when it is aiming to restructure or undertake some asset sales? Does the Pension Protection Fund have the power to investigate the impact of any loans or other restructuring agreed in a moratorium that might be beneficial to favoured lenders or, ultimately, to the owners of the company, who might end up taking over a restructured operation, having jettisoned the pension fund to the detriment of the funding of the pension scheme when it goes into the PPF?

How do the Government plan to deal with schemes when banks or other lenders to a company during a moratorium attempt to leapfrog ahead of the pension scheme on insolvency, should that occur. At what stage does the Pension Protection Fund have any power to prevent this happening or to be able to intervene to represent its interests if it believes such loans are suspect or may be intended to game the PPF? I have given prior notice of these questions to my noble friend and was grateful to hear that Ministers have some ability to override some of the potential risks to pension scheme members and to other pension scheme members.

I know that it is important to make sure that the Pension Protection Fund—

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, there is a five-minute limit.

Automatic Enrolment (Offshore Employment) (Amendment) Order 2020

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Excerpts
Tuesday 19th May 2020

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Burt of Solihull Portrait Baroness Burt of Solihull (LD)
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My Lords, both these instruments refer to offshore and maritime workers who, because of their special work circumstances, have never fallen conveniently into any standard worker treatment regarding almost any working conditions you can think of. Indeed, the uncertainties and unusual working hours for these individuals have caused employers as well as government a problem in trying to squeeze them into legislation that would be appropriate for most other categories of worker.

As the Minister said, included in this group are offshore workers, such as those working on oil rigs, and seafarers, from people managing ocean liners to those on container ships. This variety of work types and circumstances has made the very issue of automatic enrolment for pensions a case in point, and the legislation embodied in the Pensions Act 2008 was no exception. As the Minister said, these workers were finally covered from 2012 following consideration of a series of complex issues relating to how the changes would fit in with international maritime law. However, the concept of “ordinarily working” in terms of periods of employment has been reasonably successful in ensuring that offshore and maritime workers are covered.

Today we discuss the renewal of this legislation, which is due to expire in the sunset clause on 1 July 2020. I would be intrigued to learn why the sunset clause was originally built in, since presumably automatic enrolment must be a good thing for all workers, even hitherto relatively prosperous oil-rig workers who have enjoyed better working conditions than many. I anticipate that it would be particularly appropriate in the case of the challenging circumstances of most seafarers, who may well endure a patchy working life, with long periods away from home potentially interspersed with periods of unemployment. I am sure that it would be particularly difficult in these uncertain Covid times for individuals to save regularly and build up their pension pot.

In the first two weeks of lockdown, 40% of North Sea oil workers lost their jobs. Supply ship workers have been hailed as heroes, keeping our supply lines going, while cruise ships are largely stuck off coastlines, unable to sail and their crew stuck on board. I ask the Minister if the challenges of having 150,000 workers in need of a crew change—who are waiting to leave or join ships—have been resolved as far as the UK is concerned. I gather that unions and employers have given the Government one month to facilitate these crew changes, but clearly the delays are taking their toll. Tragically, suicides have been reported as individuals suffer mentally, trapped on board and trying to get home, but unable to because of the lack of organised transport.

On the subject of Covid, on 14 May the Chamber of Shipping asked the Government whether the shipping and offshore industry would be exempted from the reported 14-day quarantine period for travellers entering the UK. Could the Minister please give us an update on that?

I for one am very glad that calls from employers, in the 2018 post-implementation review, potentially to relax some of the regulatory burden have not been heeded by the Government. The Explanatory Notes refer to potential “industry-specific carve-outs”, which could result from a relaxation of the compliance regime. Surely the overriding consideration is that individuals in those somewhat precarious industries are properly protected.

I wish to ask the Minister a couple of questions on paragraph 12 of the Explanatory Memorandum for both statutory instruments, which deals with the impact of the legislation. The total equivalent annual net direct cost to business is reported as only £22 million, and the total annual net benefit to all individuals is—

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I remind the noble Baroness that we have a three-minute time limit.

Baroness Burt of Solihull Portrait Baroness Burt of Solihull
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I was not aware of that, and I do apologise.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook
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I am sorry, but we are very tight on time. Thank you.

Baroness Burt of Solihull Portrait Baroness Burt of Solihull
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Understood. I shall draw my comments to a close.

I welcome the legislation: it seems a pragmatic way to protect the interests of workers who have very varied working lives and experience but all need security in their eventual retirement.

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Lord McKenzie of Luton Portrait Lord McKenzie of Luton (Lab)
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My Lords, I too speak in favour of seafarers and offshore workers continuing to be subject to automatic enrolment if they are ordinarily working within the UK, and I support the removal of the sunset provisions that would negate this outcome. The point was raised about why the sunset provisions were there in the first place. If memory serves, it was because some of the complexities of the arrangement were still to be tackled and it was a way of enabling legislation to go forward without losing that issue.

Our position is consistent with our calling for the expansion of automatic enrolment to workers who are not ordinarily or currently covered, and aligns with the Government’s position, as we have heard from the Minister, that all sectors should be covered.

The July 2017 consultation concerning seafarers and offshore workers estimated that the number of workers on the UK continental shelf working in the UK was a little shy of 29,000, with a dropout rate of 10%. I am afraid I missed some of the Minister’s introduction but I think she suggested that the figure was now 26,000; in any event, perhaps she could confirm that. What is the split between seafarers and offshore workers? How does the eligibility for auto-enrolment align with income tax criteria? Are they the same?

We know that since the start of auto-enrolment in 2012 more than 10 million workers have been enrolled in a pension scheme but the work has not been completed, as we know. The Motion today is a missed opportunity to extend auto-enrolment to younger workers, those on lower earnings, the self-employed and those with multiple jobs; to help the gender balance; and to extend economic justice to many of those who have proved to be our front-line saviours these past weeks.

The Government’s commitment to tackling such issues by the mid-2020s will doubtless need some sort of review, given the coronavirus and changes in working patterns and practices, though it is perhaps too soon to make a call on that. What is the position of those who have been furloughed? There was the 3% top-up but can we know whether, and how many, workers would have opted out from those arrangements? The pandemic has highlighted just how—

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook
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My Lords, I am sorry but we have a three-minute time limit on this.

Lord McKenzie of Luton Portrait Lord McKenzie of Luton
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Understood—my apologies. I will leave it there.

Covid-19: People Living in Poverty

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Excerpts
Thursday 30th April 2020

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, we are slipping on the time. Could noble Lords please keep to time?

Pension Schemes Bill [HL]

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Excerpts
Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 4th March 2020

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Baroness Altmann Portrait Baroness Altmann
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I echo that praise for the Pension Protection Fund. It has been a marvellous success story and has rescued so many people. It is run efficiently and with care for those who claim on it. I cannot praise it highly enough.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, let me begin by thanking the noble Lords, Lord Balfe and Lord Sharkey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, for this amendment. I believe that the intention is to improve member protection in the event of employer insolvency. The amendment would remove the Pension Protection Fund compensation cap currently applied to payments for members who were under their scheme’s normal pension age when their employer became insolvent.

It might be helpful if I first explain that the Pension Protection Fund is a compensation scheme and, as such, was never intended to meet the full pension promise made to every member of a failed scheme. Members over their scheme’s normal pension age and those who were in receipt of survivors’ benefits or an ill-health pension broadly receive full protection. Everyone else receives broadly 90% of their scheme benefits, subject to an overall cap. This means that the cap applies to early retirees as well as deferred members, ensuring that Pension Protection Fund compensation is calculated on the same basis for members of the same age in the same scheme.

It is worth mentioning that the Government are defending the cap before the domestic courts. Their position in this litigation, and current policy, is that the cap meets important objectives and should be retained. First, the cap helps to give greater protection to those who have reached their scheme’s normal retirement age at the time of employer insolvency. These members are likely to have fewer opportunities to supplement their income in other ways. Secondly, the cap helps to control the costs of the fund—costs that may otherwise fall on levy payers. Finally, as we have heard, the cap is intended to encourage people with influence over the schemes to fund them responsibly and to discourage excessive risk-taking. Key decision-makers have an incentive to ensure that their schemes stay out of the Pension Protection Fund because the cap is likely to have a direct impact on the compensation that they would receive.

The level of the cap was set after much research and analysis. The current full amount is around £40,000 at the age of 65. Members under their scheme’s normal pension age initially receive 90% of the capped amount, which equates to around £36,000 at the age of 65. Nevertheless, this far exceeds the estimated average defined benefit pension of around £8,000. Only a few members of the Pension Protection Fund are affected by the cap. The nature of the cap means that it affects predominantly high earners; abolishing it would, therefore, mainly benefit those high earners.

In conclusion, the cap is a necessary and proportionate means of achieving a number of significant policy aims in relation to the Pension Protection Fund compensation scheme. I hope that this provides sufficient reassurance to noble Lords, and I urge the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment. At the same time, we would be more than happy to add this issue to the agenda for our meeting, which has been arranged for Thursday 12 March at 10 am.

Improving Lives: Green Paper

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Excerpts
Monday 31st October 2016

(5 years, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Freud Portrait Lord Freud
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One of the problems with autism is, clearly, that many—too many—of those people are not in the workforce. That essentially acts to exclude them from the normal economic life of the country, which in itself leads to isolation. If we want to get the volumes that we are talking about and halve the disability gap, we need some concrete policies to come out of this Green Paper and address this issue. We now have dialogue between the health systems, the DWP and employers. It should not be beyond our capability as a society to solve this problem.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, I welcome this Green Paper not just for myself but for my daughter, Sarah. My daughter has worked for many years since she left college but has been out of work for the last four months. The majority of disabled people really want to work. It is demoralising and lonely not to be working for any length of time. They do not want to be on benefits; they want to be, like all the rest of us, self-sufficient and a member of their society.

I particularly welcome two things in the Green Paper. Having listened to other noble Lords, I suggest that disability is just a word but it means a huge and wide range of issues that people in our communities have. Tailored support is therefore very important because you cannot lump everybody into the same type of support. There should be specific support—I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, is not here—but that is not in here at the moment, so I urge the Minister to make sure that, while we go through the whole process with the Green Paper and White Paper et cetera, what should be delivered now is being delivered. That is really important; my daughter does not want to wait for a Bill to go through.

It is particularly important that we talk to employers earlier rather than later. When employers have disabled people working for them—when they go over that barrier—they find it a very positive experience for their businesses and for the rest of their employees, but they need a little help to understand and to be able to manage. Sarah has been for numerous jobs and every time, as soon as they know she is in a wheelchair, they do not come back to her. That is a nonsense. It only needs a little help to understand that a wheelchair is not a barrier to somebody working in a business. I urge the Minister not to stop with what is being offered now but to get on with this, because it is extremely important, not only for disabled people but for the economy as a whole.

Lord Freud Portrait Lord Freud
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I thank my noble friend. We will get on with it. We have the Access to Work Programme to help her daughter, Sarah. I hope she will find work. We are putting more resource into the programme right now. I can only hope that Sarah is successful, and I trust that my noble friend will keep me up to date with her progress.