HC Deb 08 February 1977 vol 925 cc1215-7
10. Mr. Clemitson

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what is his estimate of the total amount of means-tested benefits for which people were eligible but which were unclaimed in the last year for which such an estimate is available.

Mr. Orme

Estimates in this field are necessarily uncertain. For family income supplement and free welfare milk, it is estimated that unclaimed benefits amount to about £1 million and £12 million respectively. For supplementary benefit the amount is clearly much larger, but no reliable figures are available and the subject is being studied further in con nection with the review of the Supplementary Benefits Scheme that my right hon. Friend announced last September when the annual report of the Supplementary Benefits Commission for 1975 was published. The report suggested that the 1974 take-up rate, in terms of numbers of persons eligible for benefit, had been of the order of 75 per cent., but this does not provide an adequate indication of the amount of unclaimed benefit.

Mr. Clemitson

I thank my right hon. Friend for that very full answer. Does he not agree that it would be better if certain persons in the media, and, indeed, some Opposition Members, spent more time ensuring that people in need were getting the benefits to which they were entitled instead of spending their time making often wildly inaccurate statements about alleged abuses of social security?

Mr. Orme

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. The take-up of benefits is an indication that many people are not rushing to take every benefit offered by the State. Indeed, we are concerned that many people who are entitled—this relates particularly to elderly people—are being deterred from taking the benefits to which they are entitled because of the campaign throughout the country. I urge those who have a genuine claim for benefit to come forward and claim it.

Mr. Evelyn King

On the other side of the matter, has not the right hon. Gentleman noted the statistics issued by his Department in regard to the county of Dorset—namely, that the amount of detected frauds in social security matters has multiplied threefold in 12 months? Is that statistic equally reflected in other parts of the country, how much cash is involved, and would not that cash be better spent in assisting deserving people?

Mr. Orme

The figures given by the hon. Gentleman show that the Government do not intend to allow people to defraud the system. A greater number of prosecutions has taken place, and we shall continue to prosecute people who indulge in fraud. In taking that course, we must not deter the many millions of people who are genuinely entitled to benefit. My Department pays out about £10,000 million a year in benefit, and last year the amount of which the Department was defrauded amounted to £1.6 million.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

The figures given by my right hon. Friend show that large numbers of vulnerable people still do not receive their full entitlement. What steps is he taking to ensure that those people are living at the standard to which they are entitled? Will he redouble his efforts to ensure that they receive full entitlement?

Mr. Orme

The Government are using the publicity machine, are issuing leaflets and are advertising to ensure that people take up the benefits to which they are entitled. Furthermore, the Supplementary Benefits Commission is examining the matter in great depth.

Mr. Michael Latham

Will the right hon. Gentleman pay particular attention to the extreme complexity of many benefits and the great difficulty faced by those who wish to understand to what benefits they are entitled?

Mr. Orme

Yes, I shall do what the hon. Gentleman requests of me, but he will note that we are constantly enjoined to implement and extend mobility allowance and invalidity benefit. If we are to extend those benefits to those who need them, obviously it is a complex exercise.