HC Deb 07 February 1978 vol 943 cc1222-5
9. Mr. Peter Bottomley

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether he will provide a target level for child benefit.

The Minister for Social Security (Mr. Stanley Orme)

No, Sir. The Government are committed to phasing out child tax allowances by April 1979. The level of child benefit is going up to £2.30 this April and any further increases must be determined in the light of the circumstances.

Mr. Bottomley

Is the Minister aware that there is a great gap in the Government's policy of having tax allowances indexed, in effect, and social security allowances indexed by law, but not indexing child benefits, which are half-way between? Will he commit the Government to introducing child benefits as a target for the future at a level which will give a man the same amount for his child whether he is at work, off sick, or unemployed?

Mr. Orme

Child benefit, because it is tax-free, benefits the man in work, particularly the low-wage earner with a family. As for indexing, we want first to get the level of child benefit right. We want to get it phased in, and then this matter can be considered.

Mrs. Castle

Does my right hon. Friend remember that the joint working party with the Trades Union Congress, of which he is a member, has come to the view, at least as far as the TUC and the National Executive of the Labour Party are concerned, that by April 1979 child benefits should reach the target of the equivalent of the dependants' allowance for the unemployed? Does not his reply indicate that the Government are not as enthusiastic about this objective as are the TUC and the Labour Party?

Mr. Orme

As a member of the joint working party, I say to my right hon. Friend that the views which the working party recommended have been placed before the Government. We are also aware of the views that the TUC have put forward. If my right hon. Friend will look at the last sentence of my answer, she will see that we shall review the amount of the benefit in the light of circumstances.

Mr. Pardoe

Does the Minister accept that the quicker this switch-over is made the better it will be, particularly for the poverty problem in Britain? Will he say what are the constraints that stop the Government bringing forward the date to April 1978?

Mr. Orme

The constraint is the problem of phasing in the transference of child tax allowances from the husband to the mother—from the wallet to the purse as it were. This problem has to be solved. I believe that it is increasingly understood in the country. By 1979 the child benefit scheme will be fully phased in for children under 11.

Mr. Ron Thomas

Will my right hon. Friend be good enough to press upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer the need to inject at least £3 billion into the economy, the bulk of which ought to go to an increase in family allowances and tax rebates to the underpaid workers in this country, instead of giving tax handouts to the wealthy, as happened in the last Budget?

Mr. Orme

I shall be very pleased to pass on my hon. Friend's views to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

Has the Minister taken heed of the warning given by Mr. Frank Field of the Child Poverty Action Group, that unless the Government move faster along the lines suggested by the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe), for which we have been pressing, they will be tarred as the Administration under which families with children have got poorer faster than anybody else?

Mr. Orme

We are aware of what Mr. Frank Field has said, but the House is also aware, as is the right hon. Gentleman, that the Government injected over £300 million into child benefit for this coming April, when, for the first time, child benefit will be raised to £2.30 per child, including the first child. Obviously, we are aware of the financial circumstances and will take these fully into account.

14. Mrs. Hayman

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services when he next intends to announce an increase in the rate of child benefit; and whether he will be maintaining the differential rate for one-parent families.

Mr. Orme

The next increase in child benefit will take effect in April 1978, at which time the one-parent family premium will be doubled to £1. There are no immediate plans for a further announcement. I expect, however, that a differential rate for one-parent families will continue.

Mrs. Hayman

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. May I suggest that if he cannot give a date for the next up-rating he should ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to introduce a hefty one in his Budget in respect of the November uprating and to maintain the position of one-parent families in this regard?

Mr. Orme

I note my hon. Friend's point. I am sure that it can be passed on to the Chancellor.