1. Mr. Worthington : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what progress has been made in assessing the financial implications of the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys' surveys on disability.
The Minister for Social Security (Mr. Nicholas Scott) : We are using the extensive information provided by the surveys to help us consider how best to develop policies which serve the needs of disabled people even more effectively.
Mr. Worthington : Time is running out. Earlier this year the Minister of State promised that there would be a timetable for action after July, but there has still been no action on this issue. Is the Minister aware of the survey conducted by Strathclyde regional council social work department which showed that 80 per cent. of the disabled were worse off after the social security reforms of last year, by an average £9 a week, and that those who were most handicapped suffered most financially? We need action by the Minister and by the Secretary of State to put that right and to end the link in this country between disability and poverty. We cannot accept the Government's slothfulness on this.
Mr. Scott : The findings of the Strathclyde survey stretch my credulity and do not accord with much of the other evidence that is coming in. But that illustrates the point that although we are anxious to make rapid progress on disability benefits, we must carefully examine all the evidence and the representations that we are receiving before making up our minds on the way forward.
Mr. Hannam : Is my right hon. Friend aware that one of the major problems with the disability benefit system is that two people with the same disability can receive widely differing levels of benefit--depending for example, whether the disability was from birth, from an accident or from an industrial injury? Will my right hon. Friend take that into account in his review of disability benefits and in his present negotiations with the Treasury?
Column 460grown up rather incoherently. We shall look into that aspect to see whether it is possible to arrive at a more coherent pattern.
Mr. Alfred Morris : Is it not deplorable that, instead of responding to the challenge of these reports, the Government pile handicap upon handicap by inflicting on disabled people the poll tax, the NHS White Paper proposals and social security changes which their organisations say produced 1 million disabled losers? Where is the urgent and comprehensive review that they were promised? Was that a leak yesterday in the Sunday Telegraph about a change in the treatment of disabled people of working age?
Finally, will it be a nil-cost review of benefits? If so, how can that possibly be justified when the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys has shown that there are vastly more disabled people than the Government ever thought?
Mr. Scott : It is precisely because we have to balance the need for urgency against the need for a comprehensive look at all this that I cannot yet say exactly what timetable we shall follow. Since the Government came to office, expenditure on benefits for the disabled has risen by £390 million per year in real terms, compared with a figure of £220 million under the Labour Government, so we need no lessons from the Opposition about benefits for the disabled.
2. Mr. Charles Wardle : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security whether those older and disabled pensioners who benefit from this autumn's special package will lose transitional protection when these increases are introduced.
The Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Tony Newton) : No. The increased income support pensioner premiums which took effect in the week commencing 9 October were on top of any transitional addition then in payment.
Mr. Wardle : The increases that my right hon. Friend has introduced will be welcome, particularly because much of the extra money will go to pensioners who retired before the state earnings-related pension scheme began in 1978, but how have pensioners on the lowest incomes fared by comparison with the average increase in pensioners' incomes in the past decade?
Mr. Newton : My hon. Friend is right that the purpose of the changes which have just taken place was to help those who have had the least opportunity to benefit from the improvements in occupational pensions and in SERPS in recent years. The most relevant figure that I can give is that the proportion of pensioners on the lowest 20 per cent. of incomes fell from nearly two fifths in 1979 to less than a quarter in 1986.
Mr. Frank Field : If I have understood the Secretary of State correctly, I must congratulate him. Will he spell out to the House that by having no clawback of the increased pensions to the very poorest group, he has made nonsense of the Government's policy of transitional protection? If he is ensuring that this group benefits totally from the additional increase, why do not all pensioners and people on other benefits similarly benefit?
Mr. Favell : Is it not true that there are some very rich pensioners and that it is much more sensible to concentrate on the poorest group than to spread the jam thinly as the Labour party would have us do?
Mr. Newton : It is certainly the case that on the latest information available to us the average total net income of pensioners has been rising considerably faster--nearly twice as fast as for the population as a whole. That underlines the success of earlier policies, those aimed at improving especially the position of the newly retired in general. It also reinforces the need to focus our help on older retired people, which is exactly what we have been doing.
Mr. Nellist : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many 16 and 17-year-olds are currently disqualified from benefit for not taking up the offer of a place on a youth training scheme ; and if he will make a statement.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mrs. Gillian Shephard) : None is disqualified, because the questionof disqualification does not arise in the case of a 16 or 17-year-old.
Mr. Nellist : Is it not a fact that in the 12 months to September, 15,400 16 and 17-year-olds had to apply for income support on special grounds of severe hardship, because they had been disqualified by not having a YTS place, and that 5,230 were rejected and have no benefit at all? When will the Government end this period of economic conscription to YTS through denial of benefit? If the youth training scheme offered a guaranteed job at decent allowances and a genuine future for teenagers there would be no need for the legal theft of putting thousands of teenagers into penury.
Mrs. Shephard : The Government consider that it is the best possible start for young people to obtain a training place on YTS and to benefit from the allowances associated with it, and 400,000 young people throughout the country are currently doing just that. I remind the hon. Gentleman that there are many vacant places on training schemes which should make it possible for young people to find an appropriate training place. The hon. Gentleman's point about severe hardship proves the need for the scheme introduced by the Government to cope with young people who for one reason or another were obliged to wait for a training place or who fell into some kind of difficulty. The hon. Gentleman will also recall that some categories of young people receive income support because for one reason or another they cannot benefit from a YTS place.
Mr. Baldry : We all welcome our hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box. Does she agree that there can be no possible justification for 16 or 17- year-olds not being either in full-time education or in full-time training? At a time when jobs will increasingly go to those who are skilled and qualified, it is criminal to deny those between 16 and 17 and up to the age of 19 opportunities for the best possible
Column 462education and training. Is it not depressing that some people in the Labour party seem to want some kind of lumpenproletariat to continue?
Mrs. Shephard : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I repeat that it is the Government's view that the best possible start for young people is to continue in education, to get a job, or to take advantage of the youth training scheme. As I have said, 400,000 young people are currently doing just that.
Mr. Flynn : We welcome the hon. Lady to her new post with warmth and sincerity. I recall that when she was a Back Bencher she spoke about this issue in Committee. It is disappointing that her reply does not reflect the concern that she expressed then. Has the Minister read the recent report by the citizens advice bureaux which makes it clear that the changes made in July are having no effect and tells a bleak story of growing numbers of young people at the most vulnerable time of their lives having the problems of poverty unnecessarily heaped on them? There are stories of young pregnant girls who have no chance of taking part in a YTS scheme because of their pregnancy but who can get no income support and are left without any money at a time when diet is so important. There are also stories of family break-ups because there is no income in the family.
The CAB confirms, as an independent body, that this is Government-sponsored poverty--it cannot be blamed on anybody else--because the Government have not only greatly increased the number of young people in hardship, but have intensified their suffering and destitution. The Salvation Army confesses that it cannot cope and the Church of England Children's Society says that there are 98,000 children without hope. Everyone else can see that this is a growing problem. When, in the name of pity, will the Government see it?
Mrs. Shephard : I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. The CAB report makes six recommendations, all of which can be fully answered by my Department. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the case of young pregnant girls. The view of the Department and of the Government is that 16 and 17- year-olds, including pregnant girls, are covered by the guarantee of a place. There is no evidence to suggest that pregnancy is an obstacle for young women who are genuinely keen to undertake training, and who are medically fit to do so. In that respect, the rule that they should work until 11 weeks before the expected confinement is in line with the rule applying to women over 18.
Mr. David Evans : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what was the amount recovered in 1988-89 as a result of the work of anti- fraud officers in his Department ; what was the target set ; and what were the comparable figures for five years ago.
Mr. Newton : The total savings achieved by action against social security fraud in 1988-89 were just over £340 million, taking the Department of Social Security and the Department of Employment together. This compares with just over £120 million in 1984-85. For the DSS alone, the
Column 4631988-89 savings were, in round figures, £260 million against a target of £240 million, which compares with £100 million in 1984-85.
Mr. Evans : I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Although those figures are encouraging, are they not merely the tip of the iceberg? Will my hon. Friend assure the House that his Department will keep as a high priority the anti-fraud office which is doing such a splendid job, so that the taxpayer may save money? After all, the taxpayer is the paymaster, and we should bring more such fraudulent individuals to justice.
Mr. Newton : It is undisputed that some social security fraud still goes undetected, so there is scope for further action. We shall continue to ensure that our efforts, and those of the Department of Employment, are made as effective as possible.
Mr. Skinner : Will the Minister also examine those employers who are taking tax and national insurance contributions from their employees and not passing the money to the proper department? An estimate the other day suggested that more than £1 million per day is being taken by such employers and not passed on, which is fraud on a far bigger scale than that described by the Minister. As for talking about the tip of the iceberg, the Minister should turn the attention of his right hon. and hon. Friends in other Departments to City fraudsters such as those involved in Ferranti who go undetected because the Government will not attack their own friends.
Mr. Newton : I shall concentrate my reply on the hon. Gentleman's quite sensible point about tax and national insurance fraud by employers. He will know that the Inland Revenue vigorously pursues such matters. Its compliance officers save about £2 billion, as I recall the latest figure, and there have been a number of prosecutions. I accept that our concern with fraud should not be confined to social security beneficiaries who are getting benefit fraudulently but should be extended to anybody who is defrauding the taxpayer and thus other beneficiaries.
Mr. Brandon-Bravo : If, as my right hon. Friend said, the amount of social security fraud discovered was in excess of £250 million last year, in layman's terms would it not be true to say that that would be the equivalent of giving every old age pensioner in the United Kingdom an additional 50p per week? Does that not put social security fraud into its proper perspective?
Mr. Newton : It is for precisely that sort of reason that we take the drive against fraud so seriously. To put the point another way, the sum that I mentioned is significantly greater than the very large amount that we have just made available in additional pensioner premiums.
Column 464disabled pensioners. I expect to be making fairly soon a statement about the income support rates from next April, when they will of course be increased.
Mr. Allen : Is the Secretary of State aware that my constituents and many others are finding it increasingly difficult to manage on the current level of income support, especially in respect of a healthy diet? Did he read the recent Childright report which, using the Department's own figures, showed that if the amount of money required for a healthy diet were taken out of income support, only £1 would be left to meet all other needs? It is becoming a choice between heating and eating. Will the right hon. Gentleman do something about that?
Mr. Newton : I have already said that we shall take all those matters into account in setting the social security rates for the forthcoming year. There appears to have been a suggestion that attempts were made to suppress the report to which the hon. Gentleman referred. My understanding is that the author of the report has been entirely free to publish it, and I hope that it is well understood that that is the case.
Mr. Nicholas Bennett : Given that 85 per cent. of women whose partners have left them receive no support from those former partners and therefore rely on income support from the state, when will the Government take action to make those men responsible for the dependants whom they have left behind?
Mr. Newton : My hon. Friend is aware that the rules of the social security system provide for efforts to be made to ensure that those known in the jargon of the trade as "liable relatives" are found and required to make a contribution. Steps are taken to try to ensure that that contribution is paid and we shall be looking for ways to make those efforts even more effective.
Mrs. Beckett : Is the Secretary of State aware that the Childright report is just one of several recent reports that draw attention to the difficulty faced by many families in paying their bills? The right hon. Gentleman will recall that four years ago, when the Government were planning all their changes in social security, many independent groups warned that they would leave families unable to pay their bills. As the Government's plans for the poll tax, water charges and electricity charges can only make matters worse, what does the right hon. Gentleman plan to do about the situation?
Mr. Newton : As the hon. Lady referred to our previous exchanges in the House some three or four years ago, at the time of the reforms, she will not have forgotten that, among other things, the reforms in the income -related benefit system steered substantial additional sums of money towards low-income families and those out of work, both through income support and through family credit. In particular, family credit is bringing much greater sums to such families than family income supplement did. I hope that the hon. Lady will bear that in mind.
Mr. David Nicholson : Is my right hon. Friend aware that more than 50 per cent. of working people in the United Kingdom are making provision for their retirement, which is by far the largest proportion in the EEC, and that the number of retired people with income from private pensions and occupational pensions is increasing? Is he further aware, however, that in my
Column 465constituency and elsewhere there remain a number of people who have little income above the basic state pension? Does he therefore recognise that the increases implemented this month are very welcome as the first fruits of the Government's good intentions towards that group?
Mr. Newton : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for recognising our efforts. Obviously, we shall continue, as and when we feel able to do so, to build on that basic policy of seeking to steer additional help to those pensioners who most clearly have additional needs.
7. Mr. Wareing : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what plans he has, in the light of the findings of the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys' surveys, to increase the allocation of resources to disabled people.
Mr. Scott : We have already provided for an increase in spending on the sick and disabled in real terms of £1.9 billion, at 1988 89 prices, over the three years to 1991 92. This is a real increase in expenditure of more than 20 per cent. We shall consider the need for further expenditure following our assessment of all the results of the OPCS surveys.
Mr. Wareing : Is not the Minister citing increases which are due to the greater take-up of benefits introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris)? Is he not truly concerned about the abject poverty of many disabled people--the 4.6 million disabled adults who subsist on an average income of £65 a week? Is it not about time that, instead of posing as a Minister for the disabled, the right hon. Gentleman showed some real concern? Now that the OPCS surveys are out of the way and we have them before us, I hope that we shall not have to wait another 18 months--as we did for the Griffiths report--before the Government take action.
Mr. Scott : As I said in answer to an earlier question, the Government have no reason to be ashamed of their record in responding to the needs of disabled people. I hope that the hon. Gentleman himself will be glad that the take-up of attendance allowance and mobility allowance has increased so substantially under the present Government. The same number of people were there when Labour was in office, but fewer took up the benefit.
Mr. Cormack : Is my right hon. Friend aware that a small, tragic and diminishing group of disabled people desperately need help now? I refer to the haemophiliac AIDS victims. Will my right hon. Friend please do something specific for such people who really do constitute a special case and who are dying almost daily?
Mr. Scott : Obviously, we are considering the needs of all disabled people. Let me, however, point out to my hon. Friend--who, I know, takes the concerns of this group very seriously--that substantial sums are still available from the money that was provided for the Macfarlane Trust. In the short term, that money is available to help those people to meet their needs, and I hope that my hon. Friend and other hon. Members--including the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field)--will encourage them to avail themselves of that opportunity.
Mr. Ashley : Although I agree that there is no reason to be ashamed of the increased number of claimants, does the Minister agree that there is reason to be ashamed of the fact that most disabled people have experienced no significant increase in their income, despite the Government's boasts about increased prosperity in Britain?
Mr. Scott : Of the £3.5 billion extra in real terms that the Government are spending on disability benefits, some £500 million is due to the increase in the value of benefits, and the rest to take-up. That take-up, however, is meeting real need. Of course we shall address all those points when we review and reach conclusions about the OPCS reports.
Mr. John Marshall : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that surveys have shown that in Scotland poorer people, such as those mentioned in this question, pay less under the community charge system than they did under the discredited rating system?
Mr. Jones : Will the Minister confirm that the half to whom she refers have not received an increase since April 1987? Does she know of any other group who have received no increase in income for three years? In the time during which transitional payments have been frozen, the cost of living will have gone up by about 19 per cent. by next April. How would the Minister like a cut of one fifth in her income?
Mrs. Shephard : It is correct that after the uprating those still on transitional protection--which should by then be about 5.4 per cent. of the total number of claims--will not receive an increase in their benefit. It should, however, be remembered that those people will still be receiving more benefit than those who have started to receive benefit since April 1988. The hon. Gentleman should also remember that 88 per cent. of all claimants will receive the full uprating in April and that of the other 12 per cent., who are currently on transitional protection, about half will receive some increase.
Mr. Boswell : Does my hon. Friend, whose presence at the Dispatch Box I welcome, agree that it is in the nature of transitional arrangements that they should be transitional and eventually run out? That has nothing to do with the overall level of benefits, on which the Government have a commendable record--for example, in the recent extension of benefits affecting 2.5 million people this month.
Column 4671988, there are bound to be some people who, at the point of change, are adversely affected. That is why the Government introduced transitional protection to ensure that those people are protected from too sudden a change until the benefit to which they are entitled under the new system catches up.
Mr. Robin Cook : Could I tempt the Minister to name the figure about which she is being rather coy? Will she confirm that 200,000 claimants are unlikely to receive any increase next April, and that, by definition, they are likely to be the most frail and disabled, as they were the ones who used to get the highest allowances? What does she say to a pensioner of 81 who has been told that he cannot expect an increase until 1992, and does not know whether he will live to claim it? Will she confirm that every single one of the 200,000 was included in the 88 per cent. of people who, the House were constantly assured, would not be losers as a result of last year's changes? Does not their desperate plight now expose how utterly bogus that claim always was?
Mrs. Shephard : After the uprating about 200,000 people will still be on transitional protection. As I pointed out in an earlier answer, it should be remembered that those people will still be receiving more benefit than those who have come onto benefit since April 1988. I remind the hon. Gentleman that a number of those vulnerable groups have been fully protected, for example for those who need a large amount of domestic help and for those who require respite care the cost of that has been fully updated year by year. In addition, there has been continuous targeting on the most vulnerable groups, in particular the elderly and disabled who have been mentioned so many times today.
Mrs. Gorman : I thank my hon. Friend for her cogent reply. Is she aware that most people claiming housing benefit in central London insist on remaining in the most expensive central areas, as I know from my experience as a Westminster city councillor? Is my hon. Friend further aware that such people could easily find accommodation if they were prepared to travel to the outer areas, particularly across the river to Southwark, where there are thousands of empty units of accommodation? Do the Government have any plans to encourage those people to go where housing is available within easy travelling distance of central London?
Mrs. Shephard : I remind my hon. Friend, who I know is aware of this, that housing is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. However, I am sure that she will also understand that local authorities are not expected to pay housing benefit on unreasonably high rents, and arrangements exist so that the rent officer can judge whether rents are unreasonably high.
Dr. Reid : May I congratulate the Minister on her first answer, rejecting the suggestion by the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman)? People throughout Britain, particularly in areas of high unemployment such as Scotland, would be horrified if the Government had any intention of imposing a residential qualification on those who do not have, and are never likely to have, a residence. May I remind the Minister that the specification that one must spend a specified time in a specified parish was the underlying principle of the poor law in Britain? May I express the hope that that is not the type of Victorian value that the Government or their supporters want us to return to?
Mr. Robert G. Hughes : Is my hon. Friend happy that the system of assessing housing benefit does the utmost to help all vulnerable groups? Is she aware that housing benefit is assessed only after a private rented flat has been found, and that that may not achieve the housing changes that we want or do the utmost to help vulnerable groups find housing for themselves?
Mrs. Shephard : There are sometimes problems with assessment for housing benefit and with a delay in the local authority making an award. It is the responsibility of local authorities to make the award within 14 days and they have powers to make an interim payment. From time to time, they need reminding of this power.
Mr. Scott : By developing the youth training scheme, which now offers over 500,000 places, we have provided the means for young people under 18 to ensure their own financial security. Income support remains available for those who are not able to take up a place on the sceme and, since July, 16 and 17-year-olds who have to live independently can get extra help through the income support and housing benefit scheme.
Mr. Wallace : Has the Minister of State, or his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, had an opportunity to read the letter sent to the Secretary of State last month by the Scottish Council for Single Homeless, which, although welcoming the July changes as a step in the right direction, found the sums inadequate to allow young people who are estranged from their parents to have a living? Regrettably, the reality is that some young people have to move away from home. Will the Minister consider two specific proposals--an estrangement premium, to bring income support levels for young people up to the level for those over 25, and a re -examination of social fund rules so that young people may claim deposits which many landlords and landladies require before they will give them accommodation?
Mr. Scott : Of course we continue to monitor the effects of these provisions. The level of income support for 18 to 25-year-olds is set to reflect the lower earnings expectations of people at the age compared with those over the age of 25. In those circumstances, social security
Column 469officers seek to provide evidence for the person concerned that they young person will be on income support and will therefore be in receipt of benefit in due course and, if necessary to liaise with landlords to reassure them of that fact.
Mr. Paice : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way to ensure the financial security of young people is for their parents to help them by advising them to do everything they can to secure a beneficial career? As there is now plenty of access to training and further and higher education, that is the way to long-term financial security.
Mr. Scott : I am sure of that, and that is the most desirable outcome. We have to recognise, however, that there will be some young people who, for one reason or another, are unable to be with their parents or who are suffering severe hardship for other reasons. That is why we have improved the situation for them.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : What is the Minister doing to help 19-year- olds in full-time education completing their A-level course, whose parents lose child benefit when they reach the age of 19, and who are not themselves eligible for any benefit? When such parents receive income support, they will also lose any allowance for their children from that source. Now these people will be faced with the poll tax. Is it not disgraceful that the Government give no encouragement to people to complete A-level courses and so benefit themselves and the community?
Mr. Scott : As we all know, local education authorities have the power to pay educational maintenance allowances to people in that situation. It is for the education system, rather than the social security system, to provide such money.
Mr. Scott : On 9 October we introduced new and enhanced premiums for disabled pensioners and those aged 75 and over into the income support and housing benefit schemes. This extra help is quite properly targeted on those older pensioners who are most in need. I have no plans for a universal new benefit for this age group.
Mr. Watson : Is the Minister aware of a large number of people aged 75 and over who just fail to qualify for that premium although they have long since made a contribution to society and who deserve to live their retirement in dignity? Does the Minister agree that the fairest way to tackle this problem is to introduce a universal premium, or is his advice to such people simply that they must await the arrival of a Labour Government for one to be provided?
Mr. Scott : No, I do not agree, because total incomes of pensioners have risen very quickly under this Government--more than twice as fast as for the population as a whole, at a rate of some 3 per cent. a year, which is all that the last Labour Government could achieve throughout its time in office. Under those circumstances, it is right to try to use the resources that we have to help those most in need.
15. Mr. Turner : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what further discussions he has had with organisations of and for disabled people on the survey findings of the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys.
Mr. Scott : I met separately representatives of the Disability Benefits Consortium and the Disablement Income Group in May to listen to their views on the first OPCS reports. Since then, we have continued to receive comments both from individuals and other interested organisations.
Mr. Turner : Did the Minister listen to those organisations when they told him that the majority of disabled people were living on or below the poverty level? Did he listen to those organisations when they told him that disabled people were living on incomes which, taking into account the cost of disability, are £39 a week less than those for non-disabled people? Will the Minister tell us when this Government are going to do something for the needs of disabled people?
Mr. Scott : When I met those organisations, we did not have all the OPCS reports in front of us. Now that we can look at them, we find that in terms of financial circumstances, about 70 per cent. are satisfied with their standard of living, few are in financial difficulties and the allowances paid for the extra cost of disability, such as attendance allowance and mobility allowance, more than cover the extra cost incurred.
55. Mr. Bowis : To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, as representing the Church Commissioners, what further discussions he has had with the Archbishop of Canterbury regarding the Clergy Ordination Measure 1989.