HC Deb 17 February 1970 vol 796 cc209-11
Q4. Mr. Barnett

asked the Prime Minister if he will set up a Royal Commission on Poverty in Great Britain.

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. This Government have taken substantial steps towards the abolition of poverty by increasing the levels of benefit and by other measures, and are currently promoting further legislation to this end. We are also engaged in extensive further investigation into a variety of problems affecting vulnerable groups in the community.

Mr. Barnett

Is my right hon. Friend aware that we need an objective and comprehensive inquiry to provide an independent definition of poverty to help us consider ways of relieving it? Is he further aware that this is particularly important in the light of Opposition policies which would bring millions more into the poverty levels, through, for example, Tory policies on housing and council house rent increases?

The Prime Minister

There is no doubt about the second part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question. That is why hon. Gentlemen opposite are so coy to discuss their housing and social security policies. I am concerned only with the facts, and not with shadows.

The answer to the first part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question is that our first attack on poverty was made in 1964, when we dealt with pensions, widows and the earnings rule. We then had rent rebates for nearly 1 million less well-off householders and an abolition of National Assistance. Then, as the poverty problem became more and more identified with large families, there came our action on family allowances, with further pension increases in 1967 and 1969, and now we have the National Superannuation Bill.

Sir D. Renton

Would not some help with family planning in many cases help to prevent poverty?

The Prime Minister

We have often debated that matter in the House, but I do not accept that it is the answer to the problem of poverty. The problem of poverty is a widespread one containing lots of small pockets of poverty. For example, for old people one of the biggest aspects is loneliness, and that is why we have trebled our programme for the provision of places in old people's homes. Family planning is a very different issue on which I have in the past answered Questions from the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

Mr. Heath

If the Prime Minister is not going to have an inquiry of his own, will he address himself to the conclusions of the Child Poverty Action Group, especially the one on page 13 of its report, which says, in effect, that under Labour priority has not been given to low-income families and that in some respects they are worse off under Labour than they were before? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this supports the accusation that is often made from the back benches opposite about the compulsory incomes and prices policy having made a lot of lower-paid workers worse off? Does the Prime Minister recognise that in his self-made poverty crisis the weakest have gone to the wall?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman will have studied enough economic affairs in the last 24 hours to know that the economic crisis is not self-made by those on this side of the House. Right hon. Members opposite made it and we cured it. Until his last few words he was addressing himself to a very serious problem and a very serious report, the report of the Child Poverty Action Group. As I said, we had to give attention first to long-neglected problems of the old people, widows and others, and only late in the day were we able to find resources for dealing with large families through family allowances. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will repudiate Tories who up and down the country try to make political capital out of the increase in family allowances. After what he has said, I am sure that he will do so. I do not accept that the position of the low-incomes group is worse than when we came into office. It has been a question of priorities and I think we have now got our priorities right. I would be very concerned—this is a very hypothetical question—about the effect on poverty over a very much wider range if the right hon. Gentleman's policies, when we know what they are, were to be carried out.