HC Deb 06 November 1973 vol 863 cc790-1
15. Mr. Sydney Chapman

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement of the amount spent in informing people of benefits and grants available, and details of ways in which the money is spent.

Mr. Dean

The amount spent by the Department this financial year on advertising benefits and grants is estimated at £335,000. In addition, in 1972–3 about £217,000 was spent on printing leaflets explaining benefits and a further £95,000 was paid to the Post Office for distributing them.

Mr. Chapman

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that information. Does he agree that the most effective way to see that people receive the benefits and grants to which they are entitled is by personal contact? Will he take kindly to the suggestion I put to him some months ago, that housewives working part-time and students working during holiday time should be encouraged to visit the elderly in their areas to ensure that they are receiving benefits.

Mr. Dean

I remember my hon. Friend's valuable suggestion. I agree that personal contact with people at risk is immensely valuable and is being increasingly organised in many parts of the country. I utter one warning note. Some elderly people do not wish to be visited. When visits take place it is important that the person who is visiting knows what the problems are and what services are available. If that is not done the visit sometimes does not have the right effect.

Mr. Freud

Will the hon. Gentleman look into the question of reimbursement of expenses to voluntary or charitable organisations that carry out work which councils are unwilling or unable to do and which they are authorised to do under the 1970 Act?

Mr. Dean

Certainly I shall. The central Government and local authorities have power to assist voluntary organisations in the valuable work they are doing. If the hon. Gentleman has a particular case in mind where there is difficulty perhaps he will let me know about it and I will look into it.

Mr. John Silkin

Does the Under-Secretary agree that one of the problems he has to face is that even when people are aware of the grants they may receive, as, for example, under family income supplement, the take-up is still very disappointing? The take-up under FIS is only 50 per cent. Does it not follow that the root problem is not a lack of knowledge of the grants available but the unwillingness of people to submit themselves to the means test?

Mr. Dean

It is much more complicated than the right hon. Gentleman suggests. In the case of the family income supplement, for example, the best information we have is that those entitled to £2 or more take up the benefit to a much greater extent than 50 per cent., whereas some of those who are entitled to smaller amounts may well feel that it is not worth making the application, because the amount of benefit to which they are entitled is very small. But I take the hon. Gentleman's point. One of the problems of a means-tested benefit is take-up. That is why we are constantly considering our methods, trying to improve them, and trying to encourage those who are entitled to benefits to claim them.