HC Deb 03 February 1981 vol 998 cc132-3
5. Mr. Knox

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what percentage of those entitled to receive child benefit are receiving it.

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

It is estimated that virtually 100 per cent, of those entitled to child benefit are receiving it.

Mr. Knox

The situation is obviously satisfactory, but would my hon. Friend care to estimate what percentage of one-parent families are in receipt of the extra amount of child benefit? What steps are being taken to improve that?

Mrs. Chalker

The take-up of the child benefit increase is estimated to be about 60 per cent, at the moment. We are not satisfied with that amount. My hon. Friend will have seen that I answered a question on 22 January announcing a change of name from "child benefit increase" to "one parent benefit," which will take place in April. Inevitably, there will be associated publicity with the change of name. We shall consider further steps to make as many single parents as possible aware that they should make a claim for one-parent benefit. Any help that my hon. Friend and other hon. Members can give will be much welcomed.

Mr. Buchan

Would not the Under-Secretary agree that there is a strong contrast between the enthusiasm with which the Government have pursued fraud and their failure to develop take-up of benefits, particularly with reference to the attacks made on the local authority in Strathclyde? Strathclyde's necessary measure to increase take-up has been successful. Would she not further agree that the appalling figure of only 60 per cent, take-up in single parent families requires special measures beyond that of renaming the increase?

Mr. Chalker

On 1 December 1978, there were 306,000 recipients of child benefit increase. That figure increased to 384,000 by 18 December 1979, and on 17 December 1980, there were 443,000. That is an increase on the previous figures. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that whenever someone is entitled to child benefit increase—as it is known at the moment—he must make a claim for it.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the supplementary benefit deluge of postcards in Strathclyde at the conclusion of the previous supplementary benefits scheme before 24 November. Whereas about 100,000 of those postcards were sent out, I understand that the take-up was nothing like what was anticipated by those who conducted the campaign.

Mr. Squire

Will my hon. Friend confirm that she and her Department will continue to press the Treasury to uprate child benefit in line with inflation at all opportunities, given its many advantages, which all hon. Members recognise?

Mrs. Chalker

I am sure that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will take note of the comments of my hon. Friend.

Mr. Allan Roberts

Will not the Minister agree that one of the reasons why the take-up of child benefit is better and greater than that of other benefits is that the benefit is not means tested? Does that not demonstrate that many more benefits would be taken up if there were no means tests?

Mrs. Chalker

Child benefit is not means tested, and neither is child benefit increase. If one follows the hon. Gentleman's analogy there is no reason why we should not have a better take-up of child benefit increase. He knows—and the House knows—that we now spend about £3,300 million on child benefit. All non-means tested benefits are extremely expensive. We use means tested benefits to help those who are most in need. We hope that people will make their applications where they are so entitled.

Mr. Freud

In a spirit of total helpfulness, may I suggest that the Government could save some of the £1 ½ million that they are currently spending on advertising indexed-linked retirement certificates, which are a rotten bargain by any standards, and use the money to advertise single-parent family benefits so that they may be claimed in full?

Mrs. Chalker

I shall certainly bring the hon. Gentleman's suggestion to the notice of the Treasury?