HC Deb 26 June 1979 vol 969 cc267-9
6. Mr. Stan Thorne

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what immediate proposals he has to improve the standard of life for one-parent families.

Mrs. Chalker

I refer the hon. Member to the statements on the Budget and the uprating of social security benefits on 12 and 13 June.

Mr. Thorne

Since the hon. Lady in opposition showed concern for one-parent families, and in the light of the budgetary measures involving VAT increases, rises in the price of coal, and so on, may I ask what she intends to do now, when the measures already announced by the Government will affect one-parent families?

Mrs. Chalker

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for pointing out these matters, but he will be aware that large areas of consumer spending—about half the total—are not chargeable to VAT. I refer to food, children's clothes, heating, lighting, public transport, house prices and rents—all of which are zero-rated. The poorer households tend to spend proportionately more of their income, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, on such zero-rated goods.

Mr. Molyneaux

Will the Minister consider ways to remove the disadvantages of widowers with young children as compared with widows in a similar position?

Mrs. Chalker

Widowers often face difficulties, particularly where there is no day care available for their children. The hon. Gentleman may well be referring specifically to that. We intend to look at all possible ways of providing day care so that widowers may be helped, as well as widows and other single parents, and thus continue in work wherever possible.

Sir Brandon Rhys Williams

Does my hon. Friend believe that the parent in charge of a child has ready access through the courts to remedy the situation if the other parent falls down on his or her obligations so that, in that way, allowances are kept up to date with inflation? If that is not the case, will the Government come forward with suitable recommendations to help the parent in charge of the family to gain such redress?

Mrs. Chalker

I am aware that many maintenance payments are not being paid and that that creates a continuing difficulty. We shall examine the matter as soon as we have had more time to consider other current matters.

Mr. Freeson

The hon. Lady, with her well-known interest in this matter, must be aware that her answers so far are not satisfactory. Does she agree that, with the prospect of a 17½ per cent. to 20 per cent. inflation rate over the coming months, something must be done to assist single-parent families? What do she and her colleagues propose to do to assist those families beyond the uprating which has been announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer?

Mrs. Chalker

As I said in answer to a previous question, we have taken account of, and concentrated the available resources on, those most in need. The FIS uprating and the child benefit increase have been designed specifically to help the lone parent first. The right hon. Gentleman is being unduly pessimistic about the uprating and the forecast for the increase in prices to November. If the assistance should fall short we shall look at the matter again.