HC Deb 09 March 1970 vol 797 cc892-4
11. Mr. Biffen

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will commission an independent inquiry to determine the extent to which the present scope and scales of social security payments are affecting the levels and distribution of employment and to assess how much abuse there is of social security payments.

Mr. Ennals

No, Sir. But we shall continue to pay close regard to the economic effects of social security payments while taking vigorous action to keep down abuse.

Mr. Biffen

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the numbers of wholly unemployed who have been out of work for over a year almost doubled between 1966 and 1968 and at the later period were about 95,500? We all recognise that there are complex reasons for this, but is not this subject of such magnitude that Parliament deserves a great deal more analysis and information than has so far been available?

Mr. Ennals

Quite a considerable proportion of those over the age of 60 who are on long-term unemployment benefit are, of course, those with substantial occupational pensions. I do not think that there is any reason to conduct a survey at the present time.

Mr. Ashley

Will my hon. Friend agree that some hon. Members opposite are playing a very dangerous game with their obsessive concern with so-called abuses of the system, the result of which may well be to intimidate people who are in real need of welfare benefits?

Mr. Ennals

I very much agree with my hon. Friend. There have been a number of hon. Members opposite who put a repeated series of Questions about abuse which can only give the impression to the public that there is a substantial degree of social security benefit abuse, which is quite untrue. My hon. Friend is quite right in suggesting that these repeated allegations, and sometimes newspaper reports, give to the genuine claimant a feeling that there is something a little unpleasant about making a claim. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he has said.

Mr. Dean

Does the Minister of State realise that there is a feeling that there is abuse particularly of unemployment and sickness benefit and that that feeling is strongest among men and women who work on the shop floor? Whether this is right or wrong, it is bad for the system. Would it not be very much better, therefore, to clear up this matter by an independent inquiry such as my hon. Friend has suggested?

Mr. Ennals

As far as that impression exists, part of it is due to the fact that there is a small degree of abuse but it is also due to the fact that it is constantly repeated by hon. Members opposite, who make a serious allegation. If the hon. Member suggests that the Government are not dealing effectively with the degree of abuse which exists, I think he knows that the facts which have already been given prove him to be untrue. In 1969 the number of prosecutions for supplementary benefit fraud was 4,658, or an increase of 980 over the previous year. My Department is very vigilant in dealing with this abuse, but it is a very small proportion indeed of the number of claimants.

Mr. Spriggs

Does my right hon. Friend agree that right hon. and hon. Members opposite who continually bring these charges should provide the evidence upon which he can act? Will he undertake to the House that if evidence is provided action will be taken upon it?

Mr. Ennals

I agree with both points made by my hon. Friend.