HC Deb 22 November 1977 vol 939 cc1295-7
8. Mr. Madel

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services when he expects a report on the review of the work of the Supplementary Benefits Commission.

The Minister for Social Security (Mr. Stanley Orme)

The review is making good progress and I expect to receive a report early next year. I have undertaken to publish any proposals for changes in the supplementary benefit scheme that emerge from the review so that they can be widely studied before decisions are taken.

Mr. Madel

Given the Government's desire to reduce the number of pensioners dependent on supplementary benefits, and given that the full effects of the second-pension scheme will not be felt for at least 20 years, does the right hon. Gentleman agree with the Supplementary Benefits Commission that something additional must be done in the next 20 years?

Mr. Orme

I welcome what the hon. Gentleman said. We hope that the report will come up with simplified proposals. I cannot phase the old scheme out until the new pension scheme is fully phased in, but we hope that the review will come up with proposals that the Government can study.

Mrs. Hayman

Will my right hon. Friend make sure that the review covers the question of the costs and possible benefits, in terms of perinatal morbidity and mortality, of paying a special diet allowance, through supplementary benefit, to claimants who are pregnant?

Mr. Orme

All supplementary benefit claimants who are able to receive the benefits will be taken into account.

Mr. Sproat

Is it not typical of the waste in the system that this week the right hon. Gentleman's Department gave £5 to a man for an alarm clock—a man to whom it had given about £3,000 over the last two years—on the ground that the man, who was unemployed, had said that he could not get work because he could not wake up in the morning?

Mr. Orme

The House can judge the hon. Gentleman's attitude to the people who need benefit. We are concerned in this review to see that the millions of people, including the 3 million pensioners, who need supplementary benefit are able to get it. We want to simplify these matters, and the hon. Gentleman does not assist in that.

Mr. Loyden

In the review, will my right hon. Friend carefully consider the composition and functions of the appeal tribunals, and will he give high regard to the fact that there are thousands of people who are entitled to benefits but do not claim them? What is he doing to deal with that?

Mr. Orme

On the last point, we hope that the review, by coming forward with proposals to simplify the system, will make it easier for those who are entitled to benefits to claim. We will consider my hon. Friend's first point.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

Is the Minister aware that many hon. Members in all parts of the House hope that the review will take the fullest account of the oft-repeated statements of Professor Donnison, Chairman of the Supplementary Benefits Commission, that the development of the child benefit and tax credit systems is the best and most positive way of relieving the Supplementary Benefits Commission of many of its problems? Is he aware that over the last year tax allowances for single people have gone up by 24 per cent. and those for married people by 27 per cent. but that the combined child allowances have gone up by only 1.7 per cent.? Does he agree that increases in child benefit should now have the highest priority of all?

Mr. Orme

The right hon. Gentleman should recognise that the child benefit scheme equates with the tax credit system. I cannot see what the right hon. Gentleman is complaining about. The review is concerned not with future policy but with simplifying the supplementary benefit scheme. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that, alhough this is the responsibility of my Department, Professor Donnison and the Commission are being fully consulted.