HC Deb 15 July 1968 vol 768 cc1014-8
15. Mr. Kenneth Baker

asked the Minister of Social Security how many families with fathers in full-time work she estimates will be living below supplementary benefit level after 7th October, 1968.

18. Mr. J. E. B. Hill

asked the Minister of Social Security what is the total number of families she estimates will be living below supplementary benefit level after 7th October, 1968.

Mrs. Hart

I would refer the hon. Members to the reply given to the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) on 10th July, and to my remarks in last Friday's debate.— [Vol. 768, c. 99.]

Mr. Baker

Has the Minister any proposals to give real incentive to those breadwinners in families with very low wages to continue to stay in work and thereby forfeit their right to supplementary benefit rather than to stop work and move to a higher level of supplementary benefit out of work?

Mrs. Hart

I am delighted to see that the hon. Gentleman, after such a short time in the House, has immediately perceived a point which I have been making in every debate on social security since I became Minister, namely, that the fundamental problem is that we have raised the level of social security payments, as it was necessary and right that we should, but that below that level there is a small minority whose wages do not match up to the level that the State guarantees. This is a very real problem and I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman is aware of it.

Mr. Hill

In last Friday's debate, the Minister said that she could not give these figures. Is it not a strong probability that the number has in fact increased? Could the Minister say whether proportionately it is a more serious problem in rural areas than in urban areas?

Mrs. Hart

No, I do not think that it is. It naturally occurs more frequently in those regions and areas where wage levels tend to be low. If asked what I propose to do about it, this, of course, is tied up with the whole economy of the country. It is also linked with the degree to which trade unions and employers, in making wage agreements, succeed in establishing proportionately higher increases for the lower paid than for the better paid.

Mr. Bidwell

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the application of the £15 a week minimum income will go a long way to rectify this situation, and that the employers could take some initiative in this regard?

Mrs. Hart

I agree with my hon. Friend's last point. I think what is really encouraging is that during the last six or seven months there has been an increasing amount of discussion within and without the trade unions about this problem. To the extent that that is so, I am optimistic that we can look forward to what will inevitably be a gradual, steady improvement in the position of the low-wage earner compared with the high-wage earner.

16. Mr. van Stranbenzee

asked the Minister of Social Security what steps she proposes to protect families with one child living below supplementary benefit level from the price increases following devaluation, in view of the fact that they will not be helped by current increases in family allowances.

Mr. Loughlin

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply I gave to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Fortescue) on 8th April.—[Vol. 762, c. 876.]

Mr. van Straubenzee

Did not that reply, which naturally I have in my mind, show how very indiscriminate and unselective are increases in family allowance payments right across the board and, therefore, that they do not help an identifiable group which could, under other circumstances, be more effectively helped?

Mr. Loughlin

I am not too sure whether the hon. Gentleman is now complaining that we are increasing supplementary benefits. If so, that is not the question which he put on the Order Paper. I have a great deal of sympathy with a number of families with one child. As my right hon. Friend said in a recent debate, the only way that we can see of assisting these families is through free school meals and rent and rates rebates. I do not think that it is possible to include them in the family allowances scheme.

36. Mr. Barnes

asked the Minister of Social Security when she intends to launch the general entitlement campaign to ensure that low-income families are aware of the various forms of help available to them which she is planning.

43. Mr. Hooley

asked the Minister of Social Security why the campaign to inform low-paid workers of their rights to exemption from prescription charges has been deferred; and when it will take place.

Mrs. Hart

It is starting this month.

Mr. Barnes

Can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that in addition to the very large numbers of leaflets which she has had printed she will also use the Press, radio and television to try to motivate people to get benefits if they are qualified for them?

Mrs. Hart

I am considering this in the hope that it will be possible to use this campaign not only for the purpose of ensuring that people have the benefits to which they are entitled but to try to indicate the type of response people have to different approaches of this kind. That, I think, in itself would be a rather useful exercise.

Mr. Hooley

Will my right hon. Friend make sure that information is also broadcast firmly to those people—such as Members of Parliament, councillors and social workers—who are called upon to advise people about these proceedings?

Mrs. Hart

Yes, indeed. I shall be writing to Members of Parliament concerned—[HON. MEMBERS: "All of us."] —in the first stage of the exercise, and also to the local authorities. This is a matter of stages. The campaign is beginning this month, and certainly, as hon. Members are affected, I shall be communicating with them because I think they can give enormously valuable help.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

Will the right hon. Lady write to all Members of Parliament, first of all, and bearing in mind particularly the agricultural areas, lay special emphasis on using local Press and television for people living in remote coun- try areas, so that they may be made aware of the benefits available to them?

Mrs. Hart

Yes, indeed. There is a particular job which the local Press, radio and television can do here. Because of the complexity of the various means-tested benefits in local areas, my leaflet cannot tell everybody wanting assistance what level of income he would have to have to get a particular local benefit. Some amplification of my leaflet could very usefully be done by local agencies, and I shall certainly consider that.