HC Deb 11 January 1977 vol 923 cc1236-8
5. Mr. Michael Marshall

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what steps he is taking to reduce the number of people on supplementary benefit.

Mr. Ennals

The build-up of earnings-related pensions for retirement, widow-hood and invalidity, which will start in 1978, and the associated development of good occupational schemes, will reduce the rôle which means testing plays at present in our social security provisions.

Mr. Marshall

Is the Secretary of State aware that 150,000 people could, without loss of income, be transferred from supplementary benefit to housing benefit? What steps is he taking to achieve that?

Mr. Ennals

This is a matter that I shall have to discuss with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. The proposal is not as simple as the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Mr. Sproat

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that one of the most sensible ways of reducing the number of people on supplementary benefit would be to introduce a residential qualification? Is not it unjust—indeed, insulting—to hard working men and women that people can come here from overseas and, without doing a day's work or paying a penny in tax, be eligible for benefit?

Mr. Ennals

In view of the fact that Britain has joined the EEC, it is extraordinary that the hon. Gentleman should take this attitude towards fellow members of the Community. He talks about an insult to the people of this country. I find his own behaviour excessively insulting to the people of this country. We shall shortly be giving an analysis of the very "evidence" which the hon. Gentleman has produced, showing that most of his allegations are totally false and are themselves an insult to the people of this country.

Mr. Skinner

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, probably, many taxpayers and others who make contributions to the country's revenue resent forking out some of their money to pay the wages and all the "perks" of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat)? Is not it a fact that many people on supplementary benefit and in receipt of unemployment benefit are not scroungers and never could be called scroungers? Is my right hon. Friend aware that the man who won the "Supermind" contest—an amalgamation of people from "Mastermind", Mensa and the "Brain of Britain"—was actually on the dole at the time that he won the contest?

Mr. Ennals

I was aware of that, and I wondered whether there was not a rôle for him in this House, on one side or the other, where his skills and knowledge might have been well used. I agree with the first part of my hon. Friend's question. The way in which some newspapers and some Opposition Members suggest that those who are on either supplementary benefit or unemployment benefit are scroungers is disgraceful. The vast majority of them certainly do not wish to be unemployed.

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