HC Deb 11 December 1979 vol 975 cc1059-60
8. Mr. Peter Bottomley

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will give his estimate of the cost of making the maternity grant non-contributory.

The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mrs. Lynda Chalker)

With the grant at its present level the additional gross cost would be £1½ million a year. This would be offset by an estimated £300,000 paid out by the Supplementary Benefits Commission in lieu of the grant.

Mr. Bottomley

As the grant at present goes to everybody except those who need it most, will the Government consider making the maternity grant non-contributory at the earliest possible moment?

Mrs. Chalker

As I said in the House on 23 November, the Government are giving the proposal careful consideration, and an announcement will be made when that consideration is completed.

Mr. Carter-Jones

Is the hon. Lady aware that the perinatal mortality rate in then on-contributory group is five times that in class 1? Does she realise that any delay will mean that five times the number of babies born in that group will either be born either dead or with a severe handicap?

Mrs. Chalker

The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that there is a problem here. However, we are in danger of creating too strong a link between the level of the grant and the perinatal mortality figures. Probably the more important figures are those that relate to the biological effects of deprivation and poor nutrition in early childhood and the effects of smoking and poor housing in adult life.

Mr. Haynes

Are the Secretary of State and his Ministers aware that in my constituency an officer of the Department is alleged to have said that the Government are seriously considering abolishing certain benefits, and that the maternity grant is one of them?

Mrs. Chalker

The House knows that many claims are made by certain people for their own reasons in various constituencies. If the hon. Gentleman will let me know what this claim is, I shall look into it.