§ Mr. Ennals
I understand that my hon. Friend's Question is directed at the supplementary benefit earnings disregard for one-parent families. As my predecessor announced in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mrs. Hayman) on 30th January, the Government intend to increase this disregard from £4 to £6 and I hope to bring forward the necessary legislation shortly.
§ Mr. Cryer
Does my right hon. Friend agree that even the £6 disregard is inadequate? Does he also agree that the application of the child interim benefit scheme has not been satisfactory for many single-parent families, that the advertising campaign to induce people to apply for the benefit has not been productive, and 170 that many disappointed applicants are bitter? Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that there will be a much wider application of the scheme?
§ Mr. Ennals
I do not agree with my hon. Friend about the level of the disregard. To disregard too much of a person's income would distort the purpose of the supplementary benefit scheme, which is to augment inadequate incomes and bring them up to a given level. It is estimated that about 255,000 lone parents stand to gain financially from the child interim benefit scheme. Up to 6th April, 185,000 claims had been received, and that is a take-up rate of about 70 per cent. My hon. Friend said that many claimants were disappointed, but 128,000 claims have been approved and 6,314 have been disallowed, so a large proportion of claims have already been accepted. I would encourage others who would be entitled but have not yet claimed to do so. There is plenty of time.
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke
I gather from the Secretary of State's earlier answer that he has had to do his homework quickly and come to quick decisions. Will he accept that if he studies further this cheap confidence trick known as Child Interim Benefit for one-parent families, taking account of income tax, supplementary benefit and other means-tested benefits, he will find that the only people who will benefit fully from the new scheme are single mothers under the age of 16, who would have been excluded from the scheme but for Conservative amendments which were accepted in Committee? When will the Secretary move on—[HON. MEMBERS: "Too long."]—it may be too long but it is a clear exposition of what the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) said a moment ago—[Interruption.]—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. This is only taking up time. The hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), I believe, is just coming to a conclusion.
§ Mr. Clarke
Will the Secretary of State tell us when he will move on and make an announcement about the level of child benefits for next year for all families, so that we can see what the Government's policy for family poverty amounts to, if anything?
§ Mr. Ennals
I hope that it will be possible to make an announcement before long. What the hon. Gentleman is saying is sheer nonsense and claptrap. There are 255,000 lone parents who stand to gain from the scheme, of whom 45,000 are below the tax threshold and not in receipt of either family income supplement or social security benefits. The majority of those people would get the full benefit of the £1.50. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that the terms should be widened, how does he square that with the constant demands made by himself and his right hon. Friends for further cuts in public expenditure? What is he talking about'?
§ Mrs. Hayman
On the general question of financial allowances for one parent families, does my right hon. Friend accept that tinkering with the supplementary benefit system is no substitute for a long-term programme of financial support for this group of families? After the Government's rejection of the guaranteed maintenance allowance suggested in the Finer Report, will my right hon. Friend undertake to initiate a departmental review into a new non-means-tested scheme of support for these families?
§ Mr. Ennals
Being new to this office I shall of course listen to the points made by my hon. Friend. I recognise her dissatisfaction, and that of others, with the fact that the recommendation of the Finer Committee to which she referred was not accepted. But the proposals would have been extremely difficult to administer and had many grave disadvantages. We have to look for financial support for single-parent families within the general context of our child benefit scheme. I shall certainly look at the points made by my hon. Friend, but in my new office I have not only to accept wise decisions already taken but to look at new problems as they emerge.