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30. Mr. Madel : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many representations he received in 1989 about the operation of the current rules on housing benefit ; and if he will make a statement.
Mrs. Gillian Shephard : We receive correspondence on a range of issues, including housing benefit, both from hon. Members and their constituents. I regret that information is not available in the form requested.
representations from hon. Members, organisations and individuals expressing a variety of views.
33. Mr. Kirkwood : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what representations he has received concerning the costs faced by people with disabilities other than care and mobility attendance costs.
Mr. Scott : We have received copies of the studies on the extra costs of disability carried out by the Disablement Income Group (DIG), the Royal National Institute for the Blind and the Spastics Society. The findings, based on a small number of case studies, suggested that extra costs incurred as a result of disability were higher than the averages found by the surveys of disability carried out by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys. In addition, we have received a number of letters from organisations representing visually impaired people concerning the level of extra costs incurred as a result of seeing disabilities.
Mr. Scott : In October, we announced two measures to improve incentives to rehabilitation in employment : an increase of £6.50 in the therapeutic earnings limit in invalidity benefit and severe disablement allowance, and the extension of invalidity benefit and severe disablement allowance to people who undertake an employment rehabilitation course. In addition to these measures we plan to introduce, from April 1992, a disability employment credit which will help disabled people take up and return to employment by providing assistance with low earnings similar to that given to families through family credit. We estimate that about 50,000 people might be entitled to this new benefit.
Column 521Mrs. Gillian Shephard : Virtually all lone parent families receive child benefit, but many also receive other benefits. The table sets out the most recent information for the main income-related benefits and for one parent benefit.
Numbers receiving Social Security Benefits <1> Income Support: Figure does not include prisoners' partners. Notes: 1. Number of lone parent families: OPCS estimates that in 1986 there were 1,010, 000 lone parent families in Great Britain. 2. Claimants can be entitled to more than one benefit. Sources: Income Support-Annual Statistical Enquiry 1988. Family Credit-Departmental Statistics. Housing Benefit-Housing Benefit Management Information System 1988. One Parent Benefit-Departmental Statistics.
Mrs. Gillian Shephard : The Government are fully committed to the principle of equal treatment. We are currently considering the issue of equalising state pension ages. This is a complex issue requiring careful study. We will not make precipitate decisions.
In order to obtain information on temperature, each of the Department's local offices is linked to one of 62 national climatological message (NCM) stations around the country. The NCM stations used are broadly representative of the climate conditions in the main centres of population and are able to provide the necessary data speedily. These arrangements work well. In the two months to 31 December 1989, cold weather payments totalling £73,500 were made.
42. Mr. Rooker : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what is the amount in the proposed level of income support from April 1990 to take account of 20 per cent. of the average community charge.
Mrs. Gillian Shephard : Income support levels were adjusted in April last year to include help towards the average minimum contribution to the community charge that recipients would be expected to pay. The amounts included were £1.15 a week for single people aged 18 to 24, £1.30 a week for single people aged 25 or over and £2.30 a week for couples. These amounts now form part of the overall benefit levels which will be uprated from April this year.
43. Mr. Brandon-Bravo : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what assessment he has made of recent improvements in the speed of service provided by his Department ; and to what he attributes such improvements.
75. Mr. Richard Shepherd : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what assessment he has made of recent improvements in the speed of service provided by his Department ; and to what he attributes such improvements.
Mrs. Gillian Shephard : Since the Government reforms were introduced in 1988, the social security system has become simpler for claimants to understand and easier for staff to operate. As a result there have been very real all-round improvements in standards of service to the public. In 1989-90 the average time taken to clear income support claims and the average time income support callers spend in our offices have both improved by 24 per cent. compared with average processing and waiting times before the reforms.
48. Mr. Hardy : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security whether he has any plans to review the present arrangements concerning payment of grant towards the work of interment where the deceased person leaves a sum insufficient to meet these costs.
Mrs. Gillian Shephard : To improve benefit security for members of occupational pension schemes, we have brought forward four legislative proposals. First, we are strengthening the protection for early leavers that we introduced in 1985, by requiring schemes to revalue all future early leavers' preserved pension rights. Pension rights which go beyond the guaranteed minimum pension will be revalued in line with prices, up to a maximum of 5 per cent. a year. Secondly, where a pension scheme winds up, the same revaluation requirement is also to apply to future pensions and to pensions in payment. Thirdly, again on wind-up, any deficiency in a scheme's assets to meet
Column 523scheme liabilities, including these new liabilities, is to become a debt on the employer. Fourthly, we are introducing a new ceiling on self-investment which will allow pension schemes to hold no more than 5 per cent. of their assets in the employer's business. This will not apply to small self-administered pension schemes where directors control the investment of their own pension savings.
To improve the range of help and advice available to individual pension scheme members, we are introducing a pensions ombudsman and improved tracing services--based on a register of pension schemes--to help individuals discover which company is responsible for pension rights acquired in previous employment. There will also be amendments to the disclosure regulations to improve information available to scheme members.
Mrs. Gillian Shephard : The Department of Social Security's highly complex £1.7 billion strategy for the computerisation of the social security benefit payment system is proceeding as planned. The pilot exercise in 23 local offices has been completed and the systems are being introduced nationally office by office.
54. Mrs. Rosie Barnes : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what plans he has to meet the shortfall projected for the national insurance fund in 1990 ; and whether the Government have any plans to consider the payment of national insurance as a financial contribution separate from general taxation.
Mrs. Gillian Shephard : The latest report by the Government Actuary shows the estimated balance in the national insurance fund at the end of the current financial year to be well above his minimum recommended level. His estimates also show the balance remaining at a satisfactory level during 1990-91 even though expenditure is expected to exceed income. The balance is declining but the Social Security Bill currently before Parliament contains measures which will help to maintain a prudent working balance in the fund in future years. Although class 1 and class 4 national insurance contributions are generally collected by Inland Revenue together with PAYE income tax, they are paid into the national insurance fund and are not accounted for separately.
56. Mr. O'Brien : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will consider a payment of additional pension to married women who when working paid insurance contributions but do not receive any additional pension ; and if he will make a statement.
Mrs. Gillian Shephard : We have no plans to change existing arrangements. Married women in employment who pay full rate national insurance contributions on earnings over the lower earnings limit (currently £43 a week) do contribute to the state earnings-related pension scheme and earn additional pension. Married women who have contracted out of the state earnings-related pension scheme contribute either to an occupational pension scheme or an appropriate personal pension. Those married women who continue to pay reduced rate national insurance contributions do not contribute to the state earnings-related pension scheme.
57. Mr. Beith : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what research his Department has carried out into the extent to which it is possible to provide nursing care for the elderly in private homes within the amounts allowed in income support.
Mrs. Gillian Shephard : As part of the Department's annual review of income support limits for people in independent residential care homes and nursing homes, many interested individuals and organisations submit evidence on costs and charges in such homes which we take into consideration along with other information available from the Department's own sources. The Department has commissioned a number of studies into this area, the best known of which was by Ernst and Whinney, published in 1986 and revised in 1987.
58. Mr. Leigh : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will make a statement on the Government's record of support for elderly people ; and what is the comparable position in other European Community countries.
Mrs. Gillian Shephard : I regret that it is not possible to provide comparisons between European Community countries because of widely differing pension arrange-ments. For example, earnings-related pensions in other member states are normally based on an individual's own earnings, which means that low earners receive low pensions. In the United Kingdom an individual who contributes to the state earnings-related pension scheme has his or her entitlement revalued in line with average earnings. The United Kingdom is unique among European Community countries in paying a pension to a woman based on her husband's contributions and a dependency addition for a wife under 60 years of age. In France and West Germany, percentage deductions are made from pensions as contributions to state health care ; whereas in the United Kingdom no such deductions are made. I am pleased to provide the following comments on the Government's record of support for elderly people.
The Government have always attached the highest priority to the interests and needs of elderly people, and
Column 525will continue to do so. We would particularly point to the improving economic circumstances of pensioners brought about by the wide range of successful Government policies aimed at creating a stable economic environment.
This success led to an increase in average pensioners' total net income of 23 per cent. in real terms between 1979 and 1986. The increases during the same period of the value of income from savings of 64 per cent. and occupational pensions of 56 per cent. are particularly encouraging. This demonstrates the vital importance to elderly people of the economic policies that the Government have pursued, and will continue to pursue. We think it fair to say that the elderly are not an homogeneous group with wholly common interests and circumstances and our policies recognise this. For example, we are conscious that not all pensioners have benefited from sources of incomes other than their state pension. In recognition of that the package of measures introduced last October directed an extra £200 million towards 2.6 million individuals in greatest need--the less well- off, elderly and disabled pensioners on income support and housing benefit. However, many people wish to continue in work beyond pension age and the abolition of the retirement pension earnings rule, also last October, allows them the freedom to choose to do so and receive their pension.
In addition, many pensioners may benefit from the changes to personal taxation to be made from this coming April
These are, we believe, all good examples of the sound policies which have enabled pensioners to share in the increased wealth of the nation.
Finally, the depth of our commitment may be measured by the levels of spending on the provision of benefits and services for the elderly ; spending on social security benefit rose by 24 per cent. in real terms between 1979 and 1989-90 ; spending on health services for the elderly rose by 29 per cent. between 1978 and 1987 and spending on social services for the elderly rose by 21 per cent. between the same dates. This Government are committed to continuing to look after the interests of elderly people.
65. Mr. Sumberg : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security when he expects to bring forward proposals to impose tighter controls on the payment of maintenance by divorced and separated fathers.
Mrs. Gillian Shephard : The Government are very concerned about the number of lone parent families on benefit who receive little or no maintenance. This situation is certainly not unique to the United Kingdom and we are examining systems operating abroad to see if there are any lessons for us there. In addition, the survey which we are setting in hand with my noble and learned Friends the Lord Chancellor and Lord Advocate and my right hon. and learned Friends the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland will provide full and up-to-date information about the effectiveness of the current maintenance system. This will then give us a sound and firm base for setting the way forward.
Approximately 12,000 cases will be examined in a sample of courts and DSS local offices to gather data on the amounts of maintenance which courts order absent parents to pay, what is actually paid and when, details of the absent and custodial parents' means, and the cost of the current system in terms of court costs, DSS staff costs and benefit spending. Information taken from individual cases will be treated in full confidence in the normal way as for any research. The survey, which will first be piloted, will be completed in the summer. We certainly intend to act as quickly as possible to improve maintenance arrangements. What we do and when will depend on the results of the survey, and if radical reforms are indicated we would want to consult widely.
In the meantime, as we announced last week, we are taking action to improve the maintenance collected under the existing system. In 1988-89 the DSS recovered £155 million from absent parents. In 1989-90 the target is £180 million and we look set to achieve it. From next year, we expect to increase that figure to over £200 million by changing our procedures. We intend to strengthen the basis on which local offices assess absent parents' ability to pay maintenance. At present we do not expect the maintenance paid to reduce an absent parent's income below, in broad terms, income support level plus full housing costs plus 25 per cent. of net earnings. We are reducing that 25 per cent. margin to 15 per cent. Where a reasonable agreement cannot be reached the final decision on the amount payable will rest, as it does now, with the courts.
Mrs. Gillian Shephard : The first stage of the campaign in spring 1989 was a considerable success. Over the nine weeks during which TV adverts were shown over a quarter of a million family credit claims were received, about twice as many as in the nine weeks beforehand. Independent research carried out before and after the advertising showed a marked increase in awareness of family credit, with prompted awareness increased to 87 per cent., and in comprehension which demonstrated that the advertising had been successful in correcting misconceptions concerning some aspects of eligibility.
By the end of September 1989 the caseload had risen to around 320, 000 compared with about 280,000 before the advertising began. Further TV and press advertising began in November 1989 and the weekly level of claims since then is averaging
Column 527more than 40 per cent. above the level at the same time in the previous year. Further research is taking place on awareness and comprehension levels but the results are not yet available. The effect on the caseload will not be known until all the claims received since the further advertising began have been dealt with. Since April 1989, when the publicity first began, well over 800,000 claims have been received and about 520,000 of these have been new claims rather than existing recipients renewing their award. Nearly half a million awards have been made altogether and, currently, approaching 65 per cent. of all claims are successful.
Estimates of the effect on the percentage take-up level cannot be made until information becomes available from the 1989 family expenditure survey about the total eligible population in that year.
64. Mr. Wallace : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security whether he has any plans to provide income support to those aged 16 to 17 years who are unable to gain employment or a vacancy on YTS through no fault of their own.
Mrs. Gillian Shephard : There is no need for a young person aged 16 to 17 to be without money. Young people have the positive options of remaining in education, getting a job or joining the YTS. If they are unable to obtain employment then the offer of a YTS place is guaranteed. There are sufficient YTS places throughout the country for all who want one.
Income support is available to vulnerable groups, such as lone parents and the disabled. There is also the discretionary provision which enables income support to be paid in cases of severe hardship. We continue to monitor the situation. The legislative changes introduced in July 1989 and the administrative improvements announced in November demonstrate our willingness to respond when a need arises, as did my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's undertaking to the Social Services Committee on 31 January to look at the way the system works for young women who are pregnant.
66. Mr. Skinner : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what discussions or representations he has had with pensioners' organisations regarding the level of fuel charges ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Scott : As announced in the Autumn Statement, total DSS expenditure in 1989-90 is estimated to be £52.6 billion. Further details are given in chapter 14 of the public expenditure White Paper (Cm. 1014) published on 30 January 1990.
Mr. Fatchett : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will make a statement on the procedures adopted by his Department to ensure that the element in the allowance for people in residential and nursing care which is earmarked for pocket money is controlled by the claimant.
Mr. Meacher : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will initiate a general review of benefit claims for the industrial disease vibration white finger to identify those where disablement benefit has been wrongly refused ; and if he will ensure each claim is met in full.
Mr. Pawsey : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security when the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth will receive a definitive response to his letter of 3 October 1989 referring to Mrs. D. I. Allen, following the receipt of an interim reply dated 26 October 1989.
Mr. Ralph Howell : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many people received social security benefits in each year from 1979 to the latest date available ; and what was the percentage increase from 1979 in each case.
Mr. Scott : I regret that information in the form requested is not available and an estimate could be provided only at disproportionate cost, as information on numbers receiving benefit is collected separately for each benefit, and claimants may receive more than one benefit at any one time. An estimate of the numbers of claimants receiving each of the main benefits for the years 1978-79 to 1988-89, and the percentage increase since 1979, are shown in the table.
Percentage change from 1978-79 Numbers in each year<1><2> Notes: <1> Source: Public Expenditure White Papers 1984-1990. <2> Beneficiaries may be receiving more than one benefit at any one time. <3> Includes housing benefit supplement recipients (some 440,000 in 1987-88) who are also included in the figures for housing benefit recipients. <4> Numbers of children in families receiving child benefit, including those also receiving one parent benefit. <5> Figures up to 1981-82 relate only to the rebate and allowance scheme for those not receiving supplementary benefit. Thereafter the figures reflect the partial introduction of the housing benefit scheme from November 1982 and full start in November 1983. <6> There is a significant overlap: most households getting help with rent also receive a rate rebate. <7> * denotes the first year of a new benefit. Percentage increases in subsequent years are increases since the first year.
Mr. Colvin : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will meet representatives of the Royal United Kingdom Beneficient Association to discuss Government grants for nursing and rest homes for the elderly.
Mrs. Gillian Shephard : As I indicated to my hon. Friend on 24 January at columns 1024-32, on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, I am happy to meet him and representatives of RUKBA in the near future about social security issues for elderly people in homes.
Column 530entitled to the proposed disability employment credit, and that the gross cost of the new benefit would be some £80 million.
Mr. Hannam : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will make a statement on the guidelines which will be issued to medical staff assessing the capacity for work of claimants under the proposed disability employment credit system.
Mr. Scott : We propose that entitlement to a disability employment credit will be subject to periodic medical evidence of partial capacity for work. We are considering the precise way in which the scheme will operate.
Column 531Mr. Hannam : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if his proposals for a disability employment credit will benefit people who are able to work only two or three days a week.
Mr. Scott : Our proposals for a disability employment credit envisage that the benefit will be available to disabled people who are able to work only part time or who may not be able to work at full capacity. We are considering the precise way in which the scheme will operate.
Sir Ian Gilmour : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security, further to his reply to the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman) of 15 December 1989, Official Report, columns 855-56, if he will publish the equivalent scales used for calculation of the equivalent incomes with (a) a married couple and (b) a single person as the reference point.
(i) Taking married couples as the reference point
<1> The total values, when added together, give the total equivalence scale for each family. This will always be the total of (1) or (2) plus (3). For example, a married couple with two children aged 9 and 11 would have an equivalence scale of (1.00+0.23+0.25)=1.48.
(ii) Taking single person as the reference point The value is multiplied by the number of children in the age band. <1> The total values, when added together, give the total equivalence scale for each family. This will always be the total of (1) or (2) plus (3). For example, a married couple with two children aged 9 and 11 would have an equivalence scale of (1.64 + 0.38 + 0.41) = 2.43.