HC Deb 03 March 1981 vol 1000 cc123-4
15. Mr. Ron Brown

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what percentage of the United Kingdom's gross national product is spent on social services compared with other members of the European Economic Community.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

Since there is no generally agreed definition of the term"social services", I cannot give the hon. Member the information that he seeks.

Mr. Brown

It is clear from that lack of answer that the working people of Britain and the social services are under attack. Does the Minister accept that that is Government policy? Is that not a disgrace, bearing in mind that millions of pounds are spent on armaments? How do the Government justify their policy?

Mr. Jenkin

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to take part in the debate on defence later this afternoon. The figures show that, in general, the higher a country's gross domestic product, the higher the share of its product that it spends on social services as we understand them. The reason why our neighbours do better than us with social services is that they operate stronger market economies. That is why they are more successful than we are. That is why they are so markedly more succesful than Eastern European countries, with which the hon. Gentleman is, perhaps, more familiar.

Mr. Bagier

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that his answer amounts to flannel and a cover-up, and that he has not attempted to reply to the supplementary question of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown)? Does he accept that the indirect attacks on the social services by the Secretary of State for the Environment have had a drastic effect on social services?

Mr. Jenkin

As I said earlier in reply to a supplementary question from the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs), it is too soon to know what the spending by local authorities on social services in the year ahead will be. I said that since 1978–79 spending on local authority personal social services had risen by 4 per cent. in real terms. That is not a bad record, considering the economic difficulties that we face.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Is not the right hon. Gentleman being rather sanguine in not taking account of demographic changes and the fact that more local authorities have many more old people for whom to provide services? Does he understand that local authorities are finding life increasingly difficult because of the cuts introduced by the Secretary of State for the Environment? Is it not true that the Government are cutting back social services at every level and in every real sense?

Mr. Jenkin

There is an important issue which the House needs to get clear, and which the professions outside the House which comment on these matters also need to get clear. There are cuts against planned programmes that may have been planned against a much happier economic background. On the other hand, there are cuts in the absolute level of services. If we consider the country as a whole, we see that there have not been cuts in the absolute level of services. Indeed, there has been a 4 per cent. increase over the past two years.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we spend vast sums of industrial subsidies, in part for social reasons? When considering the total expenditure on social services, should not one define it extremely narrowly or include moneys being used for purposes other than social services?

Mr. Jenkin

If my hon. Friend is inviting me to increase the budget of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry, I shall need to consider that.

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