HC Deb 25 May 1976 vol 912 cc252-3
6. Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement on the administration of supplementary benefits.

Mr. Ennals

My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that the Supplementary Benefits Commission's first annual report, in which a great many features of the supplementary benefits scheme and its administration will be dealt with, is due to be published in the early autumn.

Mr. Bennett

Does the Secretary of State agree that the Government's first priority should be to raise pensions and child benefit so that far fewer people need to rely on supplementary benefit? The Government should ensure that any expenditure on supplementary benefit goes towards helping people, rather than paying administrative costs. The present system is far too expensive in relation to administrative costs.

Mr. Ennals

Of course, I agree. It is Government policy to handle pensions and benefits in a way which will make people less and less dependent on means-tested benefits. The extent to which we can do that is governed by public expenditure limitations.

We are always looking into the question of administrative costs. Of course, if one has a scheme that is attuned to the particular needs of individuals, inevitably it is heavy on manpower. The more we do to cut down on manpower, the less we are able to give personal service to people with particular needs.

Mr. Boscawen

Will the Secretary of State ensure that supplementary benefits are not made available to those who come to this country voluntarily without visible means of support?

Mr. Ennals

I am not certain what the hon. Gentleman is talking about. The Supplementary Benefits Commission is very careful to ensure that the needs of people are met, regardless of their background. This policy is based entirely on needs, and we believe that that is how it should be.

Mr. Carter-Jones

On the subject of supplementary benefits, will the Secretary of State consider the danger of a cut-off point, which means that people who do not draw these benefits lose a substantial number of other benefits? Will he consider introducing real flexibility into the scheme to overcome this problem?

Mr. Ennals

As long as we have so many means-tested benefits, this will be a problem. It is constantly our task to reduce the extent to which people are dependent on means-tested benefits.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Does the Minister agree that some families with children who are on supplementary benefits would find it much easier, and would be much better off, if food subsidies were withdrawn and the money saved was put towards making child interim benefit a disregard for supplementary benefit purposes?

Mr. Ennals

I would not necessarily reach that conclusion. We have to tackle the problem of food subsidies very carefully. We must realise that these subsidies help the generality of families—those who are in employment as well as those who are unemployed.