HC Deb 16 December 1980 vol 996 cc135-6
11. Mr. Tilley

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether he is satisfied with the operation of the new supplementary benefit regulations.

Mr. Prentice

Bearing in mind that the regulations have been in force for less than a month, yes, Sir.

Mr. Tilley

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many social security officers believe that if a single parent asks for help on the ground that the children do not have shoes in which to go to school, under the new regulations they have to say that no help is available and that the only advice that can be given is that the children should be kept at home? Do the officers have it right? Is that what the Minister intended?

Mr. Prentice

Provision for normal clothing, including shoes, is covered by the scale rates. There are additional regulations that enable additional payments to be made for clothing in certain circumstances. The hon. Gentleman has mentioned one-parent families. He will be aware that families with children, including one-parent families, are among the main gainers in the changes that we introduced in November.

Mr. Foster

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that severe penalties are imposed upon school leavers who are eligible to leave school at Easter and who decide to return to take examinations? Are they not likely to lose as much as £10.50 a week? Is it not remarkable that the National Association of Head Teachers—not the most radical body—is now saying that the regulation may well be disastrous for those who decide to take examinations? Will he estimate the effect that this provision will have on examination results?

Mr. Prentice

This issue was fully argued in an Adjournment debate last week. I do not think that I can add to what was said on that occasion.

Mr. Buchan

Are we to take it from the Minister's answer that he has no intention of trying to deal with the problem? Is not this one of the many regulations that have been introduced over the past few months which, more and more, extend the ethics of the workhouse into our society? Is the Minister aware that the doubling effect of family unit assessment plus increasing unemployment and the clobbering of redundancy payments is making the bonds ever tighter around those caught in the developing poverty trap?

Mr. Prentice

I think that the hon. Gentleman has it entirely wrong. One of the main differences between the old system and the new system is that the new system depends less upon discretion and more upon entitlement as a matter of law. Surely, that is getting further away from the atmosphere of the workhouse.