HC Deb 13 July 1971 vol 821 cc190-1
4. Mr. Leadbitter

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many separated wives are drawing social security allowances ; what is the total value ; and what proportion this represents of uncollected maintenance orders.

Mr. Dean

I assume the hon. Member's Question is directed to payments of supplementary benefit. From the latest information available it is estimated that in 1970 supplementary benefit amounting to about £53 million was paid to about 129,000 separated wives where it was necessary to pursue a question of liability to maintain. It is not possible to make a reliable estimate of how much of this was in respect of unpaid maintenance orders.

Mr. Leadbitter

Will the Under-Secretary recognise that these figures are very serious? He will recall my representations to him and those of the members of the Hartlepools Lone Parents Association. Will he now accept that this is a very serious problem involving severe hardship, suffering and, in far too many cases, very serious mental illness? In those circumstances, will he seek to introduce legislation to bring about some social justice in this area?

Mr. Dean

I accept that this is a serious problem. The hon. Gentleman will remember the meeting which we had some time ago. Only today I have written to the chairman to give her a progress report. The House knows that the machinery for enforcement is being speeded up and improved to try to ensure continuity of payment and that the Government are taking other measures, and, in addition to that, this whole problem is within the remit of the Finer Committee.

Sir B. Rhys Williams

Is my hon. Friend considering the possibility of enforcing payment of maintenance allowances by making use of the Pay-As-You-Earn system?

Mr. Dean

My hon. Friend knows that that is not a matter for me, but I understand that there are considerable difficulties in such suggestions.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

As these families constitute one of the most impoverished groups in the community, would the Minister consider placing on the Supplementary Benefits Commission a responsibility for pursuing orders for maintenance and the attachment of earnings, because many wives are quite incapable of doing this for themselves?

Mr. Dean

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that suggestion, which I will certainly pursue. I remind the House that women who are getting their payments made by the Supplementary Benefits Commission are not themselves suffering because they are getting regular payments week by week.