HC Deb 11 November 1980 vol 992 cc171-3
Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether it is Government policy to maintain the real value of social security benefits.

Mr. Meacher

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what proposals he has for reducing the uprating of certain social security benefits by more than 5 per cent. below the rate of inflation.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

In July the House approved increases, to take effect the week after next, in most social security benefits. Pensions and other long-term benefits will go up by 16½ per cent.—now expected to be slightly ahead of prices; unemployment benefit and some other non-taxable benefits by 11½ per cent. Some benefits, such as mobility allowance and family income supplement will go up by more than our estimate of prices.

No decisions have been taken yet in respect of the 1981 uprating.

Mr. Canavan

Since many of the new benefit increases later this month will be considerably less than the rate of inflation, is not the Minister ashamed to be a member of a Government who are reducing the real value of benefits for the sick, the unemployed, expectant mothers and victims of industrial injuries? In view of the fact that the Treasury is calling for more cuts that will result in further attacks on the living standards of some of the weakest members of society, will not the Minister say that he will resign rather than implement those cuts, which will continue to clobber the sick and the unemployed?

Mr. Jenkin

The hon. Gentleman will remember that the House debated and accepted the Government's proposals for an interim reduction in some of the nontaxable benefits, pending the introduction of proper taxation. Those matters were fully debated during the summer, and they are now the law of the land. I cannot add anything to what I have already said about the 1981 uprating.

Mrs. Knight

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is some public disquiet that social security money is sometimes paid to maintain hire purchase payments on luxury items? Will he ensure that a limit is set on both the type and number of such goods that may be funded from the public purse in this way?

Mr. Jenkin

I can reassure my hon. Friend in that from the end of the month those payments will be made under regulations under the reform of the supplementary benefits scheme. I assure my hon. Friend that she may comb those regulations from end to end and she will find no mention of colour television sets or any other luxury goods of that sort. I hope that this change will put paid to the widespread rumours that public money is paid out for luxury goods. I have never had any hard evidence brought to my attention during the five or six years that I have been concerned with the subject.

Mr. Freeson

In view of the rumours that are circulating in Fleet Street and in some parts of Whitehall, will the Secretary of State tell the House clearly whether the Government are contemplating cuts in the budget for supplementary benefits nationally, or whether it is the Government's intention to maintain the present real value of supplementary benefits? The Secretary of State should give a clear answer to the House.

Mr. Jenkin

The right hon. Gentleman must not expect me to anticipate decisions which will be announced by the Government after the Cabinet has considered all these matters. At a time of economic constraint we can only afford what we can afford. The right hon. Gentleman must know that in these circumstances no programme can be exempt from scrutiny by the Cabinet.

Mr. John Townend

Does not my right hon. Friend accept that people who are working, and who have to accept the economic facts of life and accept wage increases of 5, 6 or 7 per cent. will think it very unfair if people who are not working are given inflation-proofed increases of 17 and 18 per cent.?

Mr. Jenkin

I assure my hon. Friend that those factors are very much in the minds of Ministers when we consider these difficult questions.