HC Deb 09 May 1972 vol 836 cc1103-5
2. Sir G. Nabarro

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what steps he is considering, for inclusion for this year's review, for adjustment of social welfare payments in such fashion as to encourage unemployed males to accept employment offers, when available, and end the situation that unemployed males receive larger weekly welfare payments, including unemployment pay, than wages on offer for a return to work.

The Secretary of State for Social Services (Sir Keith Joseph)

None, Sir. I consider the conditions governing the payment of social security benefits, in the circumstances outlined, to be generally adequate, though there is sometimes a difficulty in those cases where the job offered is low paid and the man has several dependants.

Sir G. Nabarro

Is it not a fact that these circumstances are now proliferating and that there is increasing evidence from all parts of the country that it pays a man to remain out of work for long periods because the job opportunities offered to him do not reflect the return on the extra effort required to work as opposed to remaining on the dole? Surely this is a topsy-turvey condition of social welfare and economic affairs.

Sir K. Joseph

There is a difficulty where the man concerned has several dependants, is a low earner when in work, and lives in an area where there are not many job opportunities. It is possible in certain cases that a man may be tempted not to make the great effort which we would expect of him, but if there are not many jobs available that cannot always be accounted for by motivation. To alter the level or conditions of benefit to meet these cases would, first, prejudice the children concerned and, secondly, be unfair to the vast majority of unemployed and sick who are only too anxious to obtain work and to go back to work.

Mr. Ashley

Will the Secretary of State go further and condemn the outrageous nonsense implied in his hon. Friend's Question? Does he agree that such doctrinaire campaigns are damaging to industrial relations?

Sir K. Joseph

The House knows that I do not agree with my hon. Friend on everything. However, I think that he is entirely justified in raising this very worrying dilemma which faces any Government. We have not yet discovered a way round it.

Mr. Fell

Does my right hon. Friend realise that, in replying to my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro), he gave the impression that he thought that these cases were unusual? Does he further realise that in areas of low pay, such as East Anglia, these cases are not uncommon but are very common? Whatever hon. Gentlemen opposite may say, the gap is so narrow between what people may get when unemployed and what they may get when employed that it is not worth their travelling even 10 miles for a job.

Sir K. Joseph

There is some truth in what my hon. Friend says, subject to two points: first, the family income supplement encourages the low earner to go back to work when he can because it supplements his earnings; and, secondly, the overlap between benefit and earning is particularly large for men who have three or more children.

Mr. Stonehouse

Surely the answer to the problem is to have a basic minimum wage which is higher than the social security benefit which is being paid to those who are not employed? Will the Secretary of State suggest this to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment?

Sir K. Joseph

The last Government presided over the publication of a very detailed inquiry into the implications of the minimum wage and rejected it.

Mrs. Castle


Sir K. Joseph

This is outside my Department. I withdraw that comment if it was inaccurate. However, there are difficulties in the way of doing what the right hon. Gentleman suggests.

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