HC Deb 10 January 1978 vol 941 cc1416-8
2. Mr. Wyn Roberts

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he is satisfied with the current levels of supplementary benefit.

The Minister for Social Security (Mr. Stanley Orme)

Supplementary benefit levels were increased as recently as last November. My right hon. Friend will be reviewing them again this year as part of his annual review of social security benefits.

Mr. Roberts

Is the Minister aware that a significant proportion of those in receipt of supplementary benefits—about a quarter of a million—are classified as sick and disabled people? Does he not believe that the disabled should be given a higher level of benefit than the normal supplementary benefit level, or does he not at least agree that there should be an obligatory needs allowance for the disabled?

Mr. Orme

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have introduced a number of benefits for the disabled. The supplementary benefit level is the same for all people who apply for it, and, of course, their circumstances are taken into account when other benefits are needed.

Mrs. Hayman

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that supplementary benefit levels are far too low to bring up a family adequately, especially when a family is dependent on supplementary benefit for long periods of time? Is not this another good argument for introducing a new and more generous benefit for lone parents?

Mr. Orme

I welcome the pressure from my hon. Friend, and not least the point that the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) made about the level of supplementary benefits. In fact, we hear too much criticism that the level is too high. We reject that. If those critics tried to live on the benefit for a few months, they would realise what the level was. Nevertheless, we have protected benefits through annual increases which have taken into account the cost of living over recent years, and we will continue to do so.

Mr. Sproat

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is something painfully unjust about a system which compels too many old-age pensioners to struggle desperately to keep their heads above the water when, as revealed last week in the Press, a young girl can come to this country from Rhodesia, not do a stroke of work for five years and, in her own words, "have a ball" on social security, and when a gentleman from Limerick, now living in New Cross, is receiving £98 a week tax free and has not done a stroke of work in this country for nine years?

Mr. Orme

On the first part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, about pensioners, this Government have a very good record for protecting pensioners. In real terms, pensions have increased by more than 20 per cent. since this Government came into office. On the second part, I am sure that the House is getting sick of the hon. Gentleman picking out individual cases in order to attack the system when there are millions of applicants who are justifiably entitled to benefit.

Mr. Molloy

Is my right hon. Friend aware that what is more deplorable than the instance in the Press mentioned by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) is the Press report that the hon. Member has been attending meetings of Conservative women's sections and giving them hints on how to fiddle social security?

Mr. Orme

My hon. Friend sent me a copy of a Press report of a speech which the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) made to a Conservative Party meeting. I think that the hon. Gentleman was trying to be clever in advising people how, in his opinion, the system could be beaten.

Mr. Sproat

indicated dissent.

Mr. Orme

Quite frankly, with the millions of people with whom we deal, who are justifiably entitled to benefit, the hon. Member's efforts would be much more justified if he advocated that those who are entitled to benefit should claim it and if he made sure that they got that benefit.

Mrs. Chalker

Can the Minister say what has happened to the investigation about the unemployed persons who have no entitlement to unemployment benefit but are forced to live on supplementary benefit? When will the report be made?

Mr. Orme

As the hon. Lady knows, the Government are making a thorough inquiry into supplementary benefits. We expect to have the report in the early part of this year. We are looking at the problem of the long-term unemployed because, in our opinion, it is wrong that they should be disqualified from a supplementary benefit level to which other people are entitled.