HC Deb 10 March 1981 vol 1000 c770

I turn now to my specific tax and spending proposals. Even in a lengthy speech they cannot all be covered in detail, and more information about a number of them will be found in a series of press notices issued by the Departments concerned, copies of which are available in the Vote Office.

I have stressed already the huge total of public expenditure. Far and away the biggest element within it is the social security programme. It accounts for more than one-quarter of the total. In the last decade it has grown very fast. Partly, this is because of the increasing number of beneficiaries and the replacement of child tax allowances by child benefit. But it also reflects real increases in rates of benefit. Thus, over the decade the retirement pension has gone up by about 30 per cent. in real terms. That is about twice as much as the increase in the national income as a whole.

The cash cost of the social security programme in 1981–82 comes to a staggering £27 billion. This is about £1,000 per year for every worker in the country. We cannot, therefore, avoid considering this programme as closely as any other.

I estimate that prices will rise by 10 per cent. in the year to next November. The increase in pensions and other benefits made in last year's uprating proved to be 1 per cent. more than required to keep pace with last years' inflation. This is because prices rose more slowly than expected between November 1979 and November 1980. State retirement pensions, public service pensions, and most other benefits, including supplementary, unemployment and sickness benefits will, therefore, be increased next November by about 9 per cent. This reflects the expected rise in prices and at the same time adjusts for the over-provision made last year. The increase in the benefits will be substantial. The retirement pension for a married couple will go up by £3.90, to £47.35 per week, and for a single person by £2.45, to £29.60 per week. Unemploment and sickness benefits will be increased to £36.40 and £22.50 per week respectively.

Full details of the November increases will be announced tomorrow by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. We shall be giving further consideration to policy towards public service pensions in the light of the report of the Scott committee. I shall myself have something more to say about child benefit in a few moments.

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