HC Deb 13 May 1981 vol 4 cc777-822

'At the same time as the Secretary of State makes any statement under the provisions of Clause 1, subsection 1 he shall—

  1. (a) cause to be published a report stating the numbers of persons who claimed each of the benefits covered by Section 125 of the Social Security Act 1975 and supplementary benefit and his estimate of the numbers of persons in each case who, in his opinion, were eligible to claim the benefit concerned for the 12 month period up to and including the date of the last uprating, and
  2. (b)make or cause to be made in each House of Parliament a statement of the actions which he is taking and propose to take to acquaint persons eligible to claim those benefits of their right to claim them and to encourage them to do so.'—[Mr. Buchan.]

Brought up. and read the First time.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrewshire, West)

I beg to move, That the clause he read a Second time.

I refrained from participating in the earlier debate because we all want—where we are in agreement—to continue with the main matters of the Bill. I welcome the opportunity to clear up that aspect of it which involves the making known of Social Security provisions. It is perhaps a good augury for the support that I may receive on the clause, which is also concerned with making known the provisions of the social security legislation.

The clause asks for two things: first, for a report to be prepared showing the number of people claiming particular benefits and the number of people actually eligible for them and secondly, where a gap is shown, for the Secretary of State to make a statement in each House of Parliament indicating the action that the Government propose to take in order to improve the level of uptake.

I suppose it is true to say that the level of benefits is one criterion by which we can judge a compassionate and caring society. If that is the case, it is quite clear that the level of take-up is another criterion. It is a scandal that successive Administrations have allowed for so long such a low percentage of take-up. It is a real index of our concern that attention should be paid to this matter.

The facts are grim. Six hundred thousand people who are entitled to one of our basic welfare benefits—the supplementary benefit—are apparently not drawing it. Out of an estimated 2¼ million people entitled to it, 1,670,000 people are receiving it. This figure, which works out at 73 per cent. of those entitled to benefit, is typical of the whole range of benefits. With the exception of child benefit, where there is an almost 100 per cent. take-up, no welfare benefit has a take-up of more than 80 per cent.

There may he a lesson to be learnt from that exception. In terms of the child benefit increase, or the one-parent family benefit—we will talk about the change of name in a moment—the figure is one of the lowest, at 60 per cent. There is a take-up of supplementary pension of only 73 per cent., and the take-up of supplementary allowances is only 76 per cent. Only 4 per cent. of free welfare foods is taken up. This may be a reflection of pride in our society but if it is theirs by need and by right it should be taken up by those eligible.

Rent allowances are taken up by a little over half the people who are entitled to them. This is the level of take-up by people in the community who have been described as scroungers by elements in the Conservative Party—strange scroungers, when there is this level of take-up! One would have thought that the originator of the phrase that gave the Government party its whole drive and ethos in the last election should not be missing during this debate. If he is missing, and things are said about him, that is his own fault.

One of our problems is lack of information in this field. We are dealing with figures for 1977 and 1978, and we have attempted to extrapolate those into 1979. This is ludicrous. We are three or four years out of date, and the rest is a kind of working hypothesis. We should be concerned and should know about the level of take-up of a particular benefit. It may seem rather pointless to ask this Government to supply more information. It is like asking for the moon, especially when one sees the cuts in those bodies that should be providing such information in statistical and other ways. When we look at the proposals in the Rayner report we realise that that may be too much to ask. Perhaps the Government feel that if we do not measure the problem it will go away. We need to know it for a number of reasons, because there is a need to encourage take-up.

Two facts stand out. One is that the level of take-up is far too low in the case of a number of major benefits. Secondly, people who are not receiving benefits are precisely and by definition those who are most clearly in need of them. That is the reason for our concern. The numbers involved are staggeringly high. It is not as if the level of benefits taken up by many people are high. In fact, they are too low. Some surveys have been done on this. Some attempts have been made, not merely restricted to surveys, to take specific action about it in lieu of the Government's failure to take action—for example, in Strathclyde.

Some of the small surveys done by people in this field make very interesting reading. The Disability Alliance, for example, in North Yorkshire—admittedly, the numbers involved are low—examined a number of people who were suffering from disabilities. The alliance calculated that at 1979 benefit rates an average of £800 per person of those in the survey had gone unclaimed. These were all people who suffered from disabilities and were entitled. Therefore, the survey was partial to that extent. The alliance was dealing with people who were not an average sector of the community. However, it was found that when interviewed at the start of the project, only three out of 23 disabled people investigated were already receiving all the benefits to which they were entitled. The remaining 20 were, between them, failing to receive a total of 51 benefits for which they appeared to be eligible.

I am not putting too much stress upon this matter. We are dealing with small numbers. I find the £800 to which I have referred to be a high figure. But there is no doubt, from the result of this survey, that things are not going very happily in that field of disablement.

Another survey was carried out by the Chapeltown citizens bureau, which covered 39 of what it claimed to be randomly selected households of disabled housebound people. About a third of the sample of unclaimed benefit was on attendance allowance. About 15 per cent. were not claiming supplementary benefit—which we would see as one of the linchpins of the Welfare State. Only with the help of the citizens advice bureaux locally did some of them receive extra weekly benefits to which they were entitled.

Even on a small sample such as this, and even with all the errors that small samples can produce, there is clearly a major need among those who are most affected.

One would have thought that the Government would be interested and involved in this situation. There have been enough complaints. My hon. Friends and others have asked questions about this. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) has done so. On 3 February this year he had a reply from the Under-Secretary. She is my favourite social security Minister. We may get more from her than from the rest; we shall see.

The hon. Lady was asked what the Government were doing about this matter. She said that they were concerned. For example, she said that the take-up of child benefit increase … is disappointing. Therefore, we had an announcement on 22 January that the name child benefit increase will be changed to one-parent benefit. That was the Government's biggest contribution to take-up—to change the name.

I accept that this is a useful change. However, what we want to see this backed up by is the expenditure of money. When we approve of this change as a means of help, we then require money so that we can publicise it. But what does the Minister say? She says: With regard to benefits in general, the Department's publicity budget for 1981–82 is not yet finalised, so it is not possible to give any firm commitments."—[Official Report, 3 February 1981; Vol. 997, c. 83.] We may get some firm commitments today on this matter—that the Government propose to use the national press, television and so on; but none of it with a firm budget.

This is not good enough. We have plenty of words. The amounts are very little. There is no commitment, but the Government say that a special effort will be made on particular sectors such as family income supplement—and that is good; only about 90,000 to 100,000 people are affected.

The hon. Lady also tells us—this is a very interesting point which has been raised with me by old-age pensioners—that, after all, information is available, and that if one looks at the last six or eight pages of the pension order book, one gets a lot of closely written information about various benefits for which people should apply. That does not get anywhere near the problem. We know the problem involved. We know the difficulties that people have in understanding some of our forms or information, let alone tacking it along the back of a book, with all the official imprimatur that that entails and the difficulties that causes. I know of no one who has told me that he has gone to a social security office to seek out a benefit because he has read about it in his pension book. I would be interested to know if any other hon. Member present has encountered anyone who has done that. Clearly, therefore, that is insufficient.

4.15 pm

It is a curious fact that this meanness of behaviour on that matter bears a startling contrast to the other aspects of this field. A special effort has been made to reduce the number of scroungers. On this matter, we have the astonishing phenomenon that the Government are restricting public expenditure and are boasting every time they see a reduction in public service staff that the one field—there are two fields, actually, and we shall look at the other one shortly—in which they are expanding is in employing more people for fraud squad investigation.

This, not unnaturally, has not only angered me—that is unimportant—but it has angered the Civil Service unions involved in it. They see that the focus of the Government's efforts in these matters is only in the field of scrounging, and not in the field of improvement of take-up of benefits. These two things contrast starkly.

I welcome the present Minister of State; we had a short acquaintance back in February, and then we had a slight hiatus for various reasons. I am grateful for the reciprocal welcome today. Reciprocity seems to be in the air.

The former Minister for Social Security—the right hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Prentice)—has said that any campaign undertaken—in parallel with the campaign to try to create a concept of scroungers—to increase the level of take-up, was as nothing as compared with the value that would come from a strong campaign on scroungers. He said that such a campaign would create a better atmosphere in which people will not be inhibited from claiming their genuine entitlemant". I have never seen such a perverse creation of the opposite of the truth.

The truth is that the scroungers campaign, far from creating a climate in which people would not be inhibited from claiming their genuine entitlement, created precisely the opposite. Those of us who are in direct contact with people in need know that the attacks on scroungers in the campaign inhibited large numbers of people from applying. Looking at the book "Disability Rights—Who Benefits" by the Disability Alliance, one sees that the alliance found precisely that. In its project, it found that some people refused to apply for benefits to which they seemed entitled. Although they were getting advice and encouragement on what to do from welfare officers, Members of Parliament and others, they were frightened that their relatives, doctors, social workers and the officials at the Department of Health and Social Security would think that they were scrounging.

As opposed to that kind of atmosphere, the insertion of seven or eight pages of information at the end of a pension book counts for nothing. The confidence that is sapped in that way is what we have to restore.

The authors of this report from North Yorkshire say: Press reports that the Prime Minister is jubilant about new allegations of widespread fraud illustrate the Government's cruel disregard for the hardship caused to people with disabilities who fail to claim their entitlement. Those are bitter words indeed.

Mr. Andrew Bowden (Brighton, Kemptown)

Is the hon. Gentleman weighing his words very carefully? I think that the impression that he is giving to the House is that at very least, he is condoning fraud and, at very worst, encouraging it.

Mr. Buchan

I was intending to deal with that matter shortly, but that is a gross travesty of anything that I have said. What I am saying is that when a Minister of State says that the best means of improving take-up is a better atmosphere, in which people will not be inhibited from claiming their genuine entitlement, and then launched a campaign of indiscriminate accusations of scrounging against people in need, that is a dangerous step. Neither does it help on the question of finding out about fraud. The really fraudulent person is not worried about statements of that kind. The people who are worried about them are the innocents, who will be afraid that they will be accused of it. The person who is really fraudulent—the street-corner Vestey—knows how to get around matters.

That is not the way of dealing with the problem. The Government have produced an indiscriminate apparatus of investigation with their forms of questioning and their advice to officials—for example, that if they find a man who is in the wrong but who is so mentally handicapped that a court of law may take a more sympathetic view of his situation than the Department, they should not prosecute.

There is a denial of justice. They are not saying "Do not prosecute in the interests of justice;" they are not saying "Do not prosecute in the interests of compassion;" they are saying "Do not prosecute e in case a court of law takes a more compassionate view of the man than does the Department of Health and Social Security". That is a sad indictment of the Department. That is the charge that we are making. Of course we are opposed to fraud, but we say that fraud is a minor element compared with the great loss of benefits for people in need.

I am also going to show that it is a minor element as opposed to the massive loss in other matters. I will give the figures. I take the Department's view on it when, a week ago, the Secretary of State said, amid great rejoicing, that we had saved £40 million by the fraud squad investigation of social security. I do not know how they balance that out. That means that people approached have withdrawn their claims in general.

It does not prove that they should have withdrawn their claims, so I do not know about that figure. But even if we grant that figure of £40 million there is 10 times more than that lost in supplementary benefits alone by the failure to apply the same concentration of effort on take-up. There is 100 times more lost—£4,000 million—by the failure of the same Government to investigate tax avoidance and tax evasion. They can deal with the street corner Vesteys, but the real Vesteys are left untrammelled. That is the accusation that we are making. We ask for the same vigour of action, in a better cause, as they have shown on this terrible Fraud Squad eruption over the last two years.

The Minister for Social Security (Mr. Hugh Rossi)

The Vestey point is a bit of a canard, because the hon. Member knows that the Government have taken action to stop that particular matter. On the fraud campaign generally, I know that there are two different ways of looking at this but I wonder whether the hon. Member would consider that there is a great feeling in the country that there are people who have skills, such as decorators, mechanics, and so on, who are working privately and do not declare their income but are drawing benefit at the same time.

It is because that is known that genuine people are deterred from putting in claims for their benefit, because they do not want to be associated in the public mind—in the neighbours' minds—with that kind of activity. I should have thought that if we take steps to make sure that the dishonest are brought to book, the innocent know that they can hold their heads up and not be ashamed when they make the claims to which they are properly entitled. That is what we are seeking to do through our campaign.

Mr. Buchan

I do not know what that is based on. It is totally unrelated to any evidence that we have through our direct experience with these people. I have never encountered one who said "I shall not claim the supplementary benefit, or invalidity allowance, disability allowance, or child benefit, because there is somebody down the street who is doing a spare job as a painter while he is claiming his benefit." I have never heard anyone say that. But I have heard of plenty of people who were inhibited from claiming for other reasons. I will not name one, but I had to spend several months trying to convince someone who is very close to me that she should be going down to draw a benefit to which she was entitled. I have not heard her mentioning a painter down the road who draws benefit. This is a lot of nonsense.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Stockport, North)

Following the Minister's intervention to tell us all about these decorators who have been claiming benefits, perhaps my hon. Friend could press the Minister to tell us how much of the £40 million has been reclaimed from decorators.

Mr. Buchan

He will not tell us how much of that has been reclaimed. I am astonished at the reaction to this. This was a passing reference, which seems to have erupted and seems to upset the Conservative Party. The Conservatives cannot get away from the thoughts of punishment. Take-up they can leave alone. That is only a benefit to people. But they are absorbed with punishment and the fraud squad.

We accept that there is a problem arising from what the Minister calls the black economy. We are not disputing this. The main way of reducing that amount, if there is any fraud going on in relation to a black economy, is by reducing the level of unemployment. When we have 2½ to 3 million unemployed, when we expand it, the amount of fraud of that kind is bound to increase. We all know that. The quickest way to reduce any amount of fraud spent on social security is to reduce the level of unemployment.

The second is that the Vestey matter took a long time to solve and the chairman of the Tory Party, Lord Thorneycroft, seemed to say, "He is 'doing' the country—good luck to him."

Mr. Cryer

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that when he was putting forward the case for an increased take-up the Members of the Conservative Party, including the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden), who purports to be concerned in these matters, immediately leapt to the smear campaign argument, that somehow, when we raise the question of take-up, we are supposed to be encouraging fraud? Will he remember that when, in the late 1970s, the same sort of smear campaign was mounted by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, East, with the assiduous persistence of The Sun, a national campaign produced 750 rumours and tittle-tattle items about people who were alleged to be committing fraud? Of those, around 24 had some substance, and of those roughly half were already being investigated. That is the sort of basis that the Conservatives have for their allegations against the Opposition.

Mr. Buchan

The hon. Member means the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sprout), not Aberdeen, East, but he is quite right. The statistics on this whole basis of the scrounger question did not stand up to the light of day. They were a minimal amount, as we all know. To be fair to the hon. Member for Kemptown, he was attacking me not on what I was saying about take-up—I regard him as an ally; please do not let me lose him as an ally—he was attacking me because he considered that I was exonerating fraud. Of course I regret fraud in whatever field.

Sir Frederick Burden (Gillingham)

I am glad to hear that.

Mr. Buchan

There is no need to hear that. We know this from the beginning. One would have thought that if the Government were applying this kind of effort to an omission, or a loophole in their structures, they would have given the same concentration of interest to the other major loophole—the failure of people to get everything to which they are entitled. Far from doing that, when people try to assist others to obtain their entitlement the Government become angry.

The most interesting example of people attempting to improve the take-up of people actively saying to the community "Are you entitled to such-and-such a benefit?. If so, you should claim it," was that which happened in Strathclyde. To beat the gate coming down on 24 November with the change of regulations, Strathclyde notified the community as widely as they could as to their entitlements. That should have been done by the Government. It was done by Strathclyde. It was a very interesting event. Starthclyde sent out about 10,000 postcards to people. They have now had a analysis of some of the results. They took a much bigger sample than the North Yorkshire sample, a sample of 500 claims.

I must stress that the references here are to people who are receiving benefits now which they were not receiving before but that they should have received before and most of the people involved are those who are desperately in need. Of that sample of 500 claimants, on the basis of the 100,000 postcards sent out, a number of claims came forward. Of the claims coming forward, 500 were examined. These were claims that we were failing to give people their entitlement. A total of 378 were awarded exceptional needs payments. They were the poorest of the poor. Weekly increases in benefit, either in addition to an existing payment of supplementary benefit or as a new claim, were awarded to 62 people. They were people who were not receiving enough benefit, and those payments were needed to get them on to the subsistence level of supplementary benefit. The average weekly increase in benefit was £5. For years these people had been getting £5 less than they needed; they had been living below the bone.

4.30 pm
Sir Frederick Burden

When did that survey take place? Does the hon. Gentleman say that there were no people in similar circumstances when the Labour Government were in power?

Mr. Buchan

This survey took place in November last year. I said at the beginning of my speech that this was a scandal of successive Governments. It is the Tories who are trying to make party points out of this. We are dealing with the needs of the community.

When efforts such as the Strathclyde survey have shown the size of the problem, we should say "Thank you for telling us; now let us get on with it". The problem was considerable. Comparing September to December 1979 with the corresponding period in 1980, there was an estimated increase of about 83 per cent. in payments in Strathclyde.

Mrs. Chalker

I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but it is only fair to the House to make clear that the figures he has been quoting are connected with the exceptional needs payments and the once-off payments. This blanket campaign produced fewer regular weekly payments. In this widely flung postcard campaign a number of once-off benefits were claimed, but the ongoing weekly entitlement payments were nothing like so many as the once-off benefits. I will answer the point more fully when I wind up the debate.

Mr. Buchan

It was a campaign for one-off benefits connected with the change of date. But it is not true to say that no full-time benefits were shown to be needed. On the contrary, 62 people were awarded a weekly increase in benefits. Of the 500 sample, 62 people received an increase in weekly benefit, that is, 12 per cent. The global figure for the one-off payments is £2.75 million—the Minister is dealing with that. The total for the weekly increases could be £1.3 million per year. That is a considerable sum. We have been talking about fraud and £40 million, but if as a result of that one exercise there is a £1.3 million increase in weekly payments, by repeating that exercise in a comparable population throughout Britain more than £40 million can result.

It is nonsense to say that the survey did not pay off. In direct cash terms, it paid for itself, and more. It brought to many of the most needy in Strathclyde single payments. That is good. Single payments are important to destitute people. It also brought weekly payments.

Mr. A. W. Stallard (St. Pancras, North)

I do not think that the Minister is right in putting this down to one-off payments. There have been other surveys. There was a small survey in Harlow which showed that many people were entitled to benefits varying between £1 and £6 per week. That is not a one-off payment; that is weekly benefit. As a result of that small survey, £15,000 per year has been claimed which would not have been claimed had it not been for the survey. That is far from one-off payments, and it is far from the minuscule amount that Ministers are trying to say it is.

Mr. Buchan

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Strathclyde figures prove it, and other surveys have done the same.

Given that kind of assistance from a local authority, the Government should have praised the local authority and said "Good, you are helping us in the battle against poverty". But that did not happen. The leader of the Sheffield district council and chairman of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities' social services committee, Mr. Blunkett, wrote to the Minister saying "This sounds good. What about a bit of encouragement for us to do the same?" The Minister sends a letter in which she says: The…Strathclyde postcard drop made few bones about its being a political exercise". From that exercise, £2.5 million went to people in need, yet the Minister said it was a political exercise. It was not. It was a necessary social exercise to do the job and prove the need. The Minister goes on to say: I objected to this crude exercise". She objected to what? Did she object to the 378 single payments to people in need? Did she object to the fact that 12 per cent. of the 500 and therefore of the 100,000 required weekly benefits? Did she object to the fact that about £3 million came into a Scottish community which had been made destitute by the Government's employment policies? What does she object to? I thought that she represented the Department of Health and Social Security, not the department of the Director of Public Prosecutions—that is what it is becoming—and she is the best of our Ministers. She went on to say: It also seems unbelievable to me that the people who do not take up their entitlement for reasons which, as I have indicated are quite complex, will be encouraged to apply for their rights by such a campaign". She is saying that we should not support the campaign because people would not respond to it, but they did respond to it. About 30,000 postcards were returned out of the 100,000 which were sent out.

Mrs. Chalker

I apologise for interrupting again, but I want to get the record straight while the hon. Gentleman is going on in this fashion. I was objecting to the blanket campaign. There is no way in which I or any of my colleague Ministers would wish to discourage people from taking up what is rightfully theirs. What went wrong in Strathclyde was that the 100,000 postcards and various leaflets that went out at the same time so flooded local offices in the last few weeks before the change to the new scheme, which had been approved by the House, that many claims made by people who had just as genuine a claim were delayed.

I shall never put my mind against any genuine and well targeted campaign for take-up, but the Strathclyde campaign raised so many expectations. From the 100,000 postcards distributed, 340 weekly claimants resulted. I am glad that they resulted. As a result, as will be seen from the letter I wrote on 9 February 1981 to the hon. member for Holborn and St Pancras (Mr. Stallard), out of the 100,000, 340 people received regular weekly payments. Sixty-two out of 500 is 1.2 per cent., not 12 per cent. as the hon. Gentleman said. Apart from the mathematics of the issue, there is a problem—

Mr. Buchanan

Sixty-two out of 500 is 12 per cent.

Mrs. Chalker

If we are to have success, it behoves everyone to have carefully targeted campaigns, not wide campaigns of this nature.

Mr. Buchanan

I would have taken the lecture better if the Minister had not thought that 62 out of 500 was 1.2 per cent. She is wrong by a factor of 10. I do not know what is taught at Roedean. Thank heaven we teach better in comprehensive schools. However, I thank her and I shall cherish that. She objects that it cruelly raised false expectations. We have to weigh the raising of false expectations against the hundreds of thousands who should be receiving benefits but are not. The raising of a false expectation can easily be overcome by a simple sentence in a card or leaflet. Indeed, that was said in the process.

The Minister was wrong in almost every aspect. She should not take the right hon. Member for Daventry as a good example. The right hon. Gentleman is a thoroughly bad example. He was a bad example when he sat on this side of the House and he was an even worse example when he changed sides. The hon. Lady should not do it. She is much better than that.

In conclusion, I make a rapid comparison of the numbers employed in the fraud squad and those employed in other directions. Another element in scrounging concerns low wages under the rates laid down by law under the wages councils. On 12 January my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) elicited that the underpayment of wages under this legislation, including holiday pay, was found in 10,969 establishments in 1979. Those firms were paying against the law and below the law with only 270 civil servants employed to deal with it.

This week the Financial Secretary to the Treasury told us that to deal with taxation of unemployment benefit he intended to employ an additional 3,500 civil servants. That is a measure of the Government's priorities. Ten thousand firms paying low wages and breaking the law can be ignored with just 270 civil servants to deal with it. I believe that some were sacked in the process as one of the Rayner savings. The Government now intend to employ 3,500 people to tax unemployment benefits. That is the measure of this tawdry, paltry Government. The hon. Lady should speak out more clearly. We shall back her if she does.

The Strathclyde exercise, with all its difficulties and problems, succeeded in setting an example. If the Government do not intend to do their duty by using new methods and new forms of publicity to increase the take-up in our community at a time of expanding unemployment, and do not take seriously their responsibility to counteract the scrounger mentality of so many of their supporters, others must do so. Councils throughout England, Wales and Scotland—we have many good councils now after last week's elections—should repair the Government's omission and launch similar campaigns. After last week's victories, we must ensure that the Government do their job. These local councils must become the bastions of help and caring in the middle of this brutish and nasty Tory world.

4.45 pm
Mr. Bowden

I first thank the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) for his honest and genuine interpretation of my intervention. He saw my point and dealt with it fairly and reasonably.

In complete contrast was the intervention by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) who deliberately misrepresented what I said. He loves the use of the word "smear". He is an expert at the half-truth and the smear. His political behaviour since he was elected has been of the lowest possible standard. He invariably enjoys calling his political opponents—be they the Labour Right or Conservative Members—callous and uncaring.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett


Mr. Bowden

I have no intention of withdrawing put that on record, because the House knows what kind of man the hon. Member for Keighley is and treats him with the contempt that he deservea.

The hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West is in a different category.

Mr. Andrew F. Benett

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for an hon. Member to attack the Chairman of the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

Order. I am not aware that the Chairman of a Select Committee is any more likely than anyone else to be immune.

Mr. Bowden

Certainly not from my attacks, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think that the hon. Gentleman is wrong.

I was pleased that two-thirds of the way through his speech, the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West was categorical and definite in condemning fraud. I wish that he had done it earlier rather than under prodding from myself and the Minister. I want to put on record my condemnation of all types of fraud, be it tax fraud, anything that evades the law of the land or social security fraud.

The hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West developed his argument from the angle that, because the Government were proceeding strongly against those attempting to defraud the system, people would not claim their benefits. My experience in my constituency is the opposite. Cases have been brought to me where in certain areas it has been believed—sometimes wrongly—that a person or a number of people are claiming from social security benefit money to which they are not entitled. That has directly led to some, especially the elderly, being afraid to ask for their benefits to be checked to discover what their entitlements are. They are frightened that they may be regarded as attempting to swing a fraud or a swindle. There are two sides to the coin.

Mr. Reg Race (Wood Green)

That is what my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) said.

Mr. Bowden

If the hon. Gentleman reads the speech tomorrow, he will see that his hon. Friend said the opposite. The hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Race) should listen to the debate.

When we are strongly against fraud and when action is taken and people know that they are receiving their genuine entitlements, that will encourage others to act in the same way.

Mr. Stallard

Is not the hon. Gentleman's experience that the campaign and the concentration on scroungers is being counter-productive to the extent that it frightens people away from claiming their legitimate rights? They are afraid of being tarred with the scrounger and fraud brush, so they do not claim. It is the campaign that is frightening people.

Mr. Bowden

No, it is the other way around. That is the major deterrent. We should not be mealy-mouthed about it. We use the word "scrounger" as though it was a misdemeanour or just on the border, but fraud is a criminal offence. Those who engage in fraud, be it tax or social security fraud, are swindling people of their money. The actions of those who take the line of the hon. Member for Keighley are encouraging crime. Unless we stamp on it hard, we shall influence the actions and approaches of honest people.

I am as deeply concerned as the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West about the fact that 600,000 pensioners do not claim the supplementary pensions to which they are entitled. That is a frightening national figure. With 23,000 people of retirement age in my constituency, my estimate—it must be an estimate—based on personal experience is that at least 2,000 pensioners in Kemptown are not claiming the supplementary pensions to which they are entitled. In Brighton as a whole, the figure is at least 3,000.

What is behind those figures? They conceal a great deal of personal hardship and suffering. There are many reasons for this. We have discussed the question of fraud, and I shall not return to it. However, there is mistaken pride—the belief that if one claims a supplementary pension one is asking for charity. I believe that Members of Parliament and organisations concerned with the elderly and with those in receipt of benefits must kill that mistaken belief as quickly as possible. It is not charity; it is a right.

Another reason is the spirit of independence. Many elderly people still feel that if they claim supplementary benefit they will sacrifice or jeopardise their independence. Everything possible must be done to persuade such people that there is no question of their sacrificing their independence. It is their right to have this money if they are entitled to claim for a supplementary pension.

Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)

If there is so high an incidence of non-take-up of benefits in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, what is he doing to make people aware of the existence of available benefits?

Mr. Bowden

I am delighted to answer that question. In the 11 years that it has been my privilege to represent Kemptown I have emphasised time and time again through my local press and Radio Brighton the rights of people and the importance of making sure that they check them.

Mr. Freud

What are the numbers involved?

Mr. Bowden

On average, I see 30 to 40 people in my constituency advice service each time I hold it. I get between 30 and 40 letters every day. I cannot remember any week in which I have not had one or two letters about benefits, and the follow-through has often shown that people were entitled to more. It is exceptional not to have someone come and talk to me about rights and benefits at my constituency advice service.

I am proud to be vice-president of Age Concern in Brighton. I work closely with that organisation and with other organisations concerned with the elderly and those in receipt of a wide range of benefits. I use every means available to me to emphasise time and again that people have the right to check their entitlements. People should approach their Members of Parliament and local councils. I am sure that Ministers would be delighted if people went to their local DHSS offices and asked "Will you check my entitlements? Is there anything that I am not getting to which I am entitled?" We, as Members, have a part to play in that process.

Mr. David Ennals (Norwich, North)

I warmly welcome the hon. Gentleman's support for the new clause. My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) referred to the remarkable initiative of a local authority in Strathclyde taking upon itself the responsibility of bringing to the attention of the electorate what their rights were. Does the hon. Gentleman want something like that done in Brighton—indeed, right across the country—contrary to his hon. Friend who, for some extraordinary reason, condemned the initiative taken in Strathclyde?

Mr. Bowden

Any campaign must be carefully coordinated. It will be more effective if it is a national campaign involving the Government, political parties, county councils, social services departments, councillors and Members of Parliament. In too many instances such campaigns have been undertaken on an ad hoc basis.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett


Mr. Bowden

I can deal with only one intervention at a time. I do not want to take up too much of the time of the House. I should like to finish this point in reply to the last intervention. If we do not think this through carefully, the danger is that it will not get the right degree of national coverage. If people see something on a regular basis in a national context, the ground will be laid for making the best of local campaigns. Whatever campaign is organised—every possibility should be carefully examined—must be a carefully co-ordinated and continuing national campaign. The individual one-off local campaign does not necessarily achieve the right objective.

Mr. Bennett

Will the hon. Gentleman explain in more detail the kind of campaign about which he is talking?

Mr. Bowden

We shall listen with interest to the reply from the Front Bench, but all of us have a part to play, because we get publicity in this context as national Westminster Members. If we are supported by elected colleagues of all political parties and by opinion locally, that can only be a move in the direction that we want to go.

I believe that substantial progress has been made not only in Brighton, but nationally during the past few years. That has been due largely to local and voluntary organisations, citizens' advice bureaux and voluntary service centres which, in their sustained campaigns and work, have carried out an invaluable job in this area. We naw need a carefully planned and co-ordinated national campaign.

I believe that local DHSS offices—I appreciate the difficulties facing them—could do more than they are doing. There are problems at present because of the Civil Service dispute, but offices and officials of the DHSS locally must continually be on the watch to ensure that those who are in receipt of benefits are getting their full entitlements and that those who are not getting them do get them.

I hope that my hon. Friends on the Front Bench will give careful consideration to the new clause. If they feel that they cannot accept it as it stands, I hope that they will suggest a positive alternative.

Paragraph (b) would ensure that the situation is brought to the notice of Parliament on a regular annual basis. That can only be good in building up the national picture that we wish to present of ensuring that all people apply for their entitlements. Publicity and public awareness are important weapons in this battle.

Society owes an obligation to the elderly. We must ensure that they receive their full entitlements. Appendix 1 to the White Paper "Growing Older" lists the State benefits and grants for which elderly people may be eligible.

In conclusion I shall quote from the White Paper. It says: To enable people to enjoy secure, dignified and fulfilled lives in their later years is a large and ambitious objective … there is no doubt that society can do more for its elderly members". In my opinion, the new clause could help.

5 pm

Mr. Stallard

I want, first, to comment on the speech of the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden). During the Committee and Second Reading stages of the Bill Labour Members argued against the Government's attempts to abolish the annual reports and statistical reports of many organisations concerned with occupational pensions, war pensions and some statistical evidence that is necessary for voluntary organisations to keep in touch with developments. So we join the hon. Gentleman in his plea. We are pleased that the offending clause has been withdrawn, at any rate for the time being, and we join the hon. Gentleman in his appeal to the Government to look favourably on new clause 1, which asks for more information. Information is needed. We can then disseminate it to local voluntary organisations which will then be able to identify problems, where they exist.

The hon. Member for Kemptown also mentioned the citizens' advice bureaux and the DHSS. Many of us have had letters from local citizens' advice bureaux which are in severe financial straits as a result of the Government's economic policy. Their finances are being dramatically cut and they are finding it difficult to carry on with their task of providing people with information on statistics and the lack of take-up.

The DHSS also was mentioned. The people who are entitled to benefits find that the local DHSS office now cannot monitor or pay the moneys to which those people are entitled because of staff cuts and financial restrictions. We all know about the sterling work done by the hon. Member for Kemptown on behalf of pensioners. He rightly spoke of their independence and their present plight. I agree with him. They are among the most Vulnerable people in society. They are the people to whom most of the benefits apply, and yet they are often the least able and most ill-informed about the benefits to which they are entitled.

I accept that the Labour Government did not implement a similar scheme, but I do not apologise for that. We asked for a scheme at that time, as now, and we hope that we shall be given a commitment that if this Government do not bring in a scheme the next Labour Government will. There should be a Government responsibility and the Government should be seen to be taking their responsibility seriously by local and regional, organisations.

The Government should not say, as my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) said in opening, that they deplore the fact that people are now finding out about these moneys. The Minister seemed to imply that she was sorry that people were now claiming these moneys and that she did not want the moneys to be paid. We shall not get far if that is her attitude. That is typical of the Government Front Bench attitude, but we hope to change that approach of one of the most hard-line and uncompassionate Governments that we have had for many a day.

I represent a part of Camden, that is one of the alleged profligate spending councils. I am glad that that is so, because it spends money on finding out about the benefits to which people are entitled, monitoring the effect of benefits on the people who are vulnerable, and supplying services to the people who need those services most. We shall continue to support that council in its attempts to uphold those principles.

I know from my experience of the area that the older pensioners, people over 70, will apply for rent and rate rebates if they are pushed. They have to be pushed. They have to be convinced that it is not charity but something to which they are entitled. They have to be convinced that it is the law of the land and that they are not doing anything wrong. They have to be persuaded, though I have seldom persuaded them that they ought to apply for supplementary benefit. People of that age find it difficult to accept that supplementary benefit is something to which they are entitled.

We know, therefore, that there are hundreds of people who are entitled to supplementary benefit and who would welcome something along the lines of this new clause to say that it is official and can be claimed. There might then be a different approach on the part of the people who really need it. They would then find out that they were entitled to it, and would be happy to apply for supplementary benefit. They would also then be entitled to the other allied benefits from which they are now cut off—heating bills, clothing grants and allowances which can be claimed only by people who receive supplementary benefit. At present, they are cut off from those benefits because they are afraid or do not understand their entitlement to supplementary benefit. Thus, the new clause would be a positive step in assisting people over 70 years of age.

Incidentally, even when pensioners are persuaded to claim the rent and rate rebates to which they are entitled, the delay in processing claims can be crucial to people of dignity and independence. Since 1 April this year, no one has yet received any increase in supplementary pensions to deal with rent and rate rebates. That, of course, is a direct result of the cuts in staff and in local DHSS offices.

We know—again, from our local experience—that the younger pensioners—those aged 60 and above—will apply for supplementary pensions, but they are put off by the jargon of the benefits and appeals system. It is difficult enough for us to wade through some of the forms and appeals procedures, and so on, but pensioners of 60-plus are frightened when they are confronted by such jargon. The publication of something simpler by the Government, in language that can be understood, would benefit that age group, too. They hate to feel that they are begging. They do not want to be reduced to the level of beggars for something for which they have paid, probably all their lives.

I do not want to denigrate the work of the DHSS staff. They are often sympathetic to pensioners. They probably have special categories of good claimants, bad claimants and not so good claimants. Good claimants would be pensioners, because they have a perfectly reasonable claim. However, there is a crying need, certainly in the Camden area, for a simple leaflet, in simple language that people of our age and people older than us can understand, to explain pensions, the methods of entitlement, and appeals procedures. That still has not been done.

Because of ignorance, fear and a lack of any official stamp on their entitlements and rights, pensioners find themselves with a disposable income, after they have paid their rent, of between £20 and £25 per week. More than 36 per cent. are below the poverty line. If their cases were investigated, or if they understood their rights, they could easily and legitimately be lifted above that line. If pensions had remained linked to the national wage level—something for which we have campaigned for many years—they would have been even better off.

The clause must be supported by all who genuinely feel that there is an urgent need to inform people of their rights. They must be informed by the highest source in the land, namely, the Government, who must take the lead in telling people that schemes and entitlemennts are theirs by right. They must say "You need not be afraid to claim benefits". Their entitlements must be simply stated according to age and conditions. If the Government do not accept that suggestion there is something seriously wrong and their credibility can no longer be accepted in the areas of social services and social security.

I welcome the support of the hon. Member for Kemptown. I hope that many of his colleagues will find it possible to support the Opposition on this modest new clause. We could have gone a great deal further, but the clause simply asks the Government to take the initiative by finding those who are entitled to benefit, explaining their entitlement to them and informing them how to obtain it. They must ensure that there is sufficient staff to pay the benefits. I welcome the new clause and I shall support it in the Lobby.

Mr. Race

The first question the House must ask is whether the Conservative Party and the Conservative Government are in favour of increasing the take-up of social benefits, and, if so, what they intend to do about it. That is the real question that we are posing today. If the Minister does not support the new clause or announce a major campaign to increase the take-up of new benefits, the Opposition will be entitled to say to the country that the Conservative Party is not in favour of increasing the take-up of benefits, but is more concerned about the minority who abuse the social security system. I hope that we will have a clear statement from the Government about their intentions.

In an earlier intervention the Minister said that the Strathclyde experiment of sending out postcards to individual electors was a political exercise. I wish to challenge the hon. Lady strongly on that point. I do not believe that a local authority is wrong if it seeks to improve the take-up of benefits in a certain area. It stands in precisely the same relationship to its local electorate as the Government stands in relation to the electors of Strathclyde.

If the Government wished to introduce a scheme to improve take-up of benefits in Strathclyde, Scotland or the United Kingdom as a whole, no one in the House would say that it was a political exercise. Yet the Minister said that Strathclyde local council was undertaking political action by sending out postcards telling people that they could claim supplementary benefit or exceptional needs payments.

That attitude sticks in my craw. The Strathclyde council was provoked into taking that action because the Government changed the rules about who was eligible for benefit. As we all know, on 24 November last year the rules for claiming exceptional needs payments were changed by the Government. Ministers should not talk about keeping politics out of social security when their Government have cut benefits time after time. They did so last year by cutting 5 per cent. off invalidity benefits, unemployment benefits and other benefits and by changing the rules for exceptional needs payments. Anyone who says that politics should be kept out of social security, and criticises a local authority for daring to try to increase the take-up of benefits in its area, is taking a wholly scandalous attitude.

5.15 pm

The take-up of benefits is a major issue. If we want to treat the problem seriously we must revert to the Supplementary Benefits Commission paper on the take-up of supplementary benefits which was published in 1978. It had a great deal to say about the extent of the problem. Many hon. Members have quoted figures given by the SBC for those who were not claiming supplementary pensions—namely, 600,000. The reasons given by the SBC for people not claiming benefits were significant. It said: Failure to take up benefit has been seen as a result of some mixture of the scheme's complexity, administrative failures, ignorance and misconceptions about the scheme on the part of potential claimants and stigmas still associated with supplementary benefit. All those factors are relevant.

To give the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) his due, he referred to the need for a wide-ranging approach to the question of take-up, involving all agencies. We must examine the reasons why people do not claim benefit. One reason is stigma. Conservative Members who have supported the campaigns of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) and the arguments about scroungers—which have been blown up out of all proportion to the numbers involved—bear a heavy responsibility for increasing the stigma for those who might otherwise claim benefits. I am sickened by some of the remarks made by hon. Members about those who could claim social security benefits. They are discouraging large numbers from claiming their legitimate rights.

The Supplementary Benefits Commission was worried about the large numbers of people not only not claiming supplementary benefits, but a wide range of other benefits to which they were entitled. It said in its report: All we can say is that this reluctance to claim appears to come from some mixture of pride, ignorance, a sense of stigma, reluctance to make the efforts which a claim calls for, a desire for self-sufficiency on the part of an individual or family, an unwillingness to become involved with a government agency and a feeling that the whole business is not worthwhile". We cannot do anything about some of the problems—for example, the potential claimant who may be too lazy to go the DHSS office and claim his entitlement—but we can encourage people to overcome the stigma of social security benefits. That stigma exists because people, especially Conservative Members, talk about social benefits as if they were something generous given by the nation to those who otherwise could not look after themselves.

I recall the statement made shortly before the 1964 general election by Lord Home of the Hirsel. The noble Lord said that the old age pension was a donation. That stuck in the craw of retirement pensioners throughout the country. It was used by spokesmen of the Labour Party in various speeches. It exemplified in one word the Conservative Party's attitude towards some social benefits.

Mr. Buchan

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Tory Party has a great knack for developing such terms? It contends that disabled pensioners have been over-provided for and wishes to take back 1 per cent. It seems to have a great knack of linguistic dexterity.

Mr. Race

My hon. Friend is right. It seems that the donation last year was too substantial for the Conservative Party to accept.

We have a responsibility to overcome ignorance of social security benefit entitlement. What have the Government done to overcome it? We await with bated breath the Minister's response. The only precise answer that I can suggest is that they may have marginally improved some of the forms. They have changed the name of child benefit to one-parent family benefit. I accept that that is an improvement. However, they have done nothing to improve take-up. That is why the clause is on the Order Paper.

We want to shove and cajole the Government into doing something for those who are entitled to benefits and who do not claim them. Apart from the Strathclyde experiment, there have been innumerable local initiatives and schemes. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) referred to the Harlow scheme and he was right to do so. There have been many others. One such scheme was undertaken by Casserly and Clark in 1976–77 under the previous Labour Administration. It is true that the problem has existed under successive Administrations.

Casserly and Clark revealed that in an occupation centre for the physically disabled, again in Strathclyde, 69 per cent. of those interviewed were not receiving all the benefits to which they were entitled. The result of that exercise was that those interviewed made a claim for at least one extra weekly benefit. The total cost to the DHSS was £12,000 a year at that time. I could recite many local examples. I shall not do so because it would be tedious and boring for the House. I merely say that Ministers know about the many local schemes that have been initiated and that they should start to take action now.

The House should be concerned about two main factors on take-up. One factor is means testing and the other is fraud and abuse. Means tests are important because they discourage prospective claimants from claiming benefit. That is partly because of the complexity of the schemes. There are many different means tests. There is a means test for school uniforms and another for eligibility for free school meals. There are, for example, different means tests for supplementary benefit. Prospective claimants are faced with increasingly complex schemes that they do not understand.

Several hon. Members have referred to the excellent work done by DHSS officers in their own constituencies. However, in the majority of instances the entitlement to benefit that has been calculated by DHSS officers has been shown to be wrong once it has been investigated by an hon. Member. I do not criticise officers for that, but it is a reflection of the complexity of the means test and the various schemes that are available that DHSS officers should get it wrong as well. We must address ourselves to the extent to which we can eliminate the complexity of means tests and thereby allow more to claim their legitimate rights.

Mr. Freud

I accept that, when the previous Labour Government were in office, the hon. Gentleman was not a Member of this place. However, will he tell us what that Government did to make means tests more easy to understand and to improve what I think is agreed on both sides of the House to be an imperfect system?

Mr. Race

The previous Labour Government did a few things—

Mr. Bowden

Name them.

Mr. Race

—that were acceptable and good, but on the whole they did nothing to reduce the number of tests and in some respects they increased it. The benefits that they introduced for the disabled were means tested in some respects.

The problem presented by means tests is so serious that we should consider it carefully. I shall give one specific example of the way in which means tests operate to reduce people's understanding of the system and their ability to obtain benefit. I am talking especially about the disabled.

We try to encourage the disabled to become independent and not to depend on others for their daily existence. However, once a DHSS officer enters a disabled person's house and asks, "How dependent are you on your spouse or on your neighbours for basic household duties?", the disabled person tries to minimise his or her dependence because of the reflection of our attitude that they have to be independent, and thereby becomes ineligible for some of the benefits that would otherwise be available. That is the experience of those who are working for the disabled all the time.

Let us try to introduce a policy that will allow means tests to be abolished, will create universal benefit and will increase take-up. If such a policy has to be financed by taxing those with the highest income I would support that approach. I would rather see the highest paid have a benefit taxed away than see others have nothing at all.

The Minister may recall that in Committee I referred to a constituency example of alleged fraud and abuse. I said that one of my constituents had been visited by a local DHSS fraud officer. I disclosed that I had taken up the issue with the local office. I did not go into too much detail at that stage because to do so would have been inappropriate and wrong. I have now received a reply from the local DHSS office which contains an apology, which I have passed on to my constituent.

My constituent visited her local DHSS office. She said that her order book for supplementary benefit had expired and she was told that it could not have done, as it was supposed to run until May. She repeated that it was finished. A fraud officer was sent to interview her in her home. My constituent alleged that she was told by the officer—the interview took place when my constituent had not had any income for about three weeks—that she could live off the fat of her body for a little while because she was overweight. The local office regrets such an approach and apologises for any indication of anything of that sort having been said to my constituent.

I do not say that all fraud officers behave in that way. I merely say that there is a disincentive in the system. In other words, because we are now placing so much emphasis on fraud and abuse, we are in danger of reducing the number of legitimate claimants who come through the system.

5.30 pm

I have no doubt that if a well-publicised case of fraud and abuse exists and is published in a local newspaper, it may stop people from claiming locally. I agree with that. However, the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown and the Government must accept that a campaign to stamp out fraud nationally must, by the same token, undermine people's ability and desire to claim their legitimate rights. for that reason, I hope that there will be a change of attitude by the Government on the fraud and abuse campaign.

The new clause tries to protect us against anything else the Government might do. I use those words because it is well known that the Government want to cut the number of statistical inquiries on social security. It would be right for the House to put that new clause in the Bill because it is the only way to ensure that the Government do not say in six months' time that they are terribly sorry but they cannot tell us how many people are not claiming supplementary benefit or supplementtary pension because they have cut the statistical inquiries which would give that information. If the clause is in the Bill, the Government have no option but to produce that report so that we can debate it and discuss the ways in which the Government should improve their services to the public.

That is a major point because the cuts in the survey division will be so serious that it is likely that the information which we want as Members of Parliament will not be forthcoming in future.

I do not want to start receiving ministerial replies to parliamentary questions which say that unfortunately the information is not available or the £50 rule operates and no further information can be obtained because it would cost too much.

For all those reasons, I hope that the House will support the new clause. I hope that the Conservative Party will show that it is more interested in the take-up of benefits than in the so-called "scroungers" campaign.

Mr. Freud

This clause is good. Each hon. Member who has spoken from the Opposition Benches to date has pretended that the Government are against the clause. I have always felt that there should be a standing order preventing people from naming the number of hon. Members in the House at any one time, so I shall simply say that even the sole occupant on the Government Back Benches—that number has now been doubled—also seemed to feel that the clause is good. One has no reason to believe that the Government are not sympathetic towards it.

I am aware that while I have been steadfast in opposition—whoever governed and whoever did not—the official Opposition have steadily reminded the Government of their duty to make the availability of benefits known to those who have a proper claim to them.

It is right that the clause should be part of the measure, not only so that we can monitor progress which is proper, but because not enough information is available. Far too often, when one asks a parliamentary question, the reply is that it would be disproportionately expensive to give an answer.

I believe that those figures are available; they are just not published. Local DHSS offices send a list of their claimants to their headquarters. Knowing the ways of Government—admittedly by repute rather than from experience—one knows that the headquarters send on the figures and they end up as a statistic. If we are to run a decent, fair and humane system, the take-up figure of benefits is essential. If we severely penalise those who commit fraud—I agree with what the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) said on the subject—we have a duty to help honest claimants to obtain the benefits to which they are entitled and no reforms can be achieved in the social security system unless we are in possession of the basic information.

I remind the Under-Secretary of State that I recently asked her a written question about the exceptional needs payments in respect of maternity benefit. If the figures had been high, they would have shown that maternity grant was insufficient. The Government could have done something about it in the knowledge that as so many people were properly claiming extra benefits on maternity grant, they had got it wrong.

The answer I received was that those figures were unavailable. Why are they unavailable? How can a Government get a grant right if they do not monitor how many people ask for supplementary benefit in respect of that grant? The Under-Secretary, who used to feel that 62 out of 500 represented 1.2 per cent., is now persuaded that it is 12 per cent. She needs all the help she can get from statistical departments, which are cutting down on their staff as an experiment. I shall give way to the hon. Lady, perhaps for a lecture in higher mathematics.

Mrs. Chalker

I assure the hon. Member for Ely that, left to my own devices, I can get it right.

Mr. Freud

If the Under-Secretary of State is left to her own devices, she will be interested to hear that I am the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely. The Boundary Commission is currently trying to take away the city of Ely.

I accept that the information that Ministers receive, even if it is from their seniors, is often as bad as that which they receive from other parts of the House—but not to collect information provides far too great and too thick a smokescreen behind which a Government can hide.

When the hon. Member for Kemptown was speaking about the non take-up of benefits in his constituency, I intervened to ask what he was doing about it. I intervened because when I first became a Member of Parliament and I was keen, I decided to use my Young Liberals to wait outside social security offices and post offices to ask whether there was anything about which claimants were concerned and whether they felt that they were receiving the pamphlets and information to which they were entitled.

The hon. Member is right when he maintains that people are too proud and that they are unwilling to give information to random questioners, such as Young Liberals, Young Conservatives, and even old Liberals and old Conservatives, and even people behind post office counters. The House will be pleased to hear that I stopped that method after the first temporary attempt. However, I still believe that there are acceptable ways of informing people of their rights—for example, by pamphlets, local radio and newspaper advertisements.

I know how little many Government Departments care because when we debated index-linked retirement certificates, the amount of advertising which was done in the days when it was advantageous to buy was immeasurably lower than when the rate of inflation came down and those certificates became a pretty poor investment.

The amount of advertising done by the Treasury for premium bonds, which by any account must be one of the all-time bad gambles, is disgraceful when compared with the small amount of advertising devoted to the good investments. On the Liberal Bench we are committed neither to Government nor to opposition for the sake of opposition. I want to make it clear that I am not persuaded that the Government will not concede, at least in spirit, some of what the clause is trying to achieve.

Let me give examples of the failure of the system: First-time claimants of national insurance benefits are meant to be given forms SB8 and SB9 about means-tested benefits, but a survey in 1979 showed that only 20 per cent. received them.

The Supplementary Benefits Commission survey showed that £400 million went unclaimed and that 25 per cent. of those eligible were not claiming; that was in 1979. Those statistics were produced during a Labour Government and were roundly condemned by the Conservative Opposition. Neither party has done much about the problem. In the same year fewer than 50 per cent. of families with children were claiming their full housing benefits, rent rebates and child allowances.

My point is simple. Let the Government prosecute those who abuse the system, but if they wish to hold up their heads as a Government of honour they must try substantially harder to ensure that those who are entitled, receive—and I mean receive—not only benefits, but such information as will allow them to discover what is available.

Between £40 million and 50 million has been bandied about as the cost of additional social security snoopers. It may be the right amount, not enough or too much, but we should like to see a fraction of the money that is spent on prosecuting the guilty, invested in providing extra staff, for citizens' advice bureaux funding, advertisements or pamphlets, and distributing information that will allow rightful claimants to receive their entitlements.

I hope very much that the Government will reconsider the clause and will not refuse to sanction it simply because it was tabled by men opposed to anything that they do. It is a decent clause and proper consideration must be given to it.

5.45 pm
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

I had hoped that by now the Minister would have intervened to accept the new clause. I now assume that she will express her sympathy and tell us that she cannot accept it.

I hope that the Government will view the new clause with sympathy. There is all-party concern about social security fraud and other crimes. However, our major concern is that in his campaign the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) concerned himself not only with that problem. He also tried to create the impression that that was the only problem with social security payments and that if it was solved all would be well. In addition, he tried to show that some people were getting benefits that they did not need and that the system was far too generous. As has gradually been discovered, the system is still extremely harsh and hostile. Week after week people who have become unemployed come to my advice bureau. They are horrified when they find out what benefits are actually being paid as opposed to what they were led to believe were being paid.

The hon. Gentleman's campaign led the country to believe that benefits could be cut and has resulted in the Government making the system even harsher. We want to make the public and the Government aware that the real problem is the under-receiver. Almost 1 million are not receiving the benefits to which they are entitled. That is the major problem. The Government should show as much concern about that as they do about social security crimes.

Last week the Government claimed that £40 million had been saved, but they did not give details so we do not know whether it is a realistic figure. What assumptions did they make about how long a person would have continued to receive the benefit had it not been withdrawn? Did they use a week, a fortnight or a year? How many overpayments have been stopped, and who were they going to? The Under-Secretary of State made a similar smear in accusing decorators of receiving benefits. What percentage of the £40 million was involved there? If he cannot substantiate his claim, he should withdraw it. The Government employ well over 1,000 extra people to chase up fraud and to save £40 million. If underpayments amount to over £400 million, we need 10 times that number to sort that out, but the Government have given the problem little or no attention.

One of the most important ways to ensure that people receive benefits is to make them simple and easy to understand. The Government made a statement yesterday on child benefit, which is one benefit where the take-up is good because it is simple. The Government now appear to be making it more complicated. They are taking away choice in receiving the benefit as circumstances vary from week to week. People have been able to wait three or four weeks to draw the benefit, and keep it as an insurance against a big gas bill or a child suddenly tearing a pair of trousers. The Government are taking that choice away from new beneficiaries and making the benefit more complicated. People will have to opt to have it paid weekly or monthly. If they switch to supplementary benefit, they have to take action to have it paid weekly rather than to have it there as a right to fall back on.

Another problem that is tied up with underpayments is the late arrival of benefits. Many of my constituents find that it can take a week, a fortnight or even longer to claim benefits to which they are entitled. They often receive the benefits long after the urgent need for them has disappeared. Some of my constituents who appeal against refusal to pay benefits find that the appeal runs three, four or even five months after the need for the benefit. The Government should ensure that appeals are heard quickly.

The leaflets to encourage take-up of benefits have improved, but the quality of most of the leaflets does not make the slightest difference. Many of those who are entitled to benefit cannot, or do not, read. The Government should bear that in mind. I have checked up on many of those who come to my advice bureau and particularly on those who have problems with benefits. Often, they cannot read, or rarely read. Therefore, however well designed an official leaflet may be, they find it difficult to follow. Sometimes people have problems with their glasses, or excuse the fact that they cannot read by saying that they have not got their glasses. Those people find it difficult to read and understand forms. The way in which the form is written is also important. I give the Government credit, because they have improved many of the forms. However, for many people that does not solve the problem.

One of the problems of the Strathclyde campaign was that it depended on a leaflet or postcard being sent out. The campaign was successful in a far larger area than Strathclyde, because the media paid it great attention and it was taken up by local radio. As a result of the publicity, three or four of my constituents asked me whether they were getting the right benefit. Until the Government tell us that they are prepared to run a campaign within the next six months, none of their criticisms can be justified.

I accept that the Labour Government started to erode the situation. However, the home visits system was of the greatest help to claimants because it ensured that people received the right amount of benefit. The system was intended to help people to get the benefit that they needed. It is appalling that the Government should return to a system of home visits in order to deprive people of benefit when they think that fraud is involved or that there has been an abuse of the system, when they cannot find enough people to undertake home visits to those who receive less than the correct amount of benefit. More than 1 million people are involved. The Government should do something about that.

The new clause only goes a little way, but it is a start. I ask the Government to accept it and to see that within the next six months a major campaign is carried out to ensure that 1 million people receive the benefit that they are entitled to.

Mr. Cryer

It is interesting to contrast the number of Conservative Members here today with the numbers of those in the Chamber last night when we dealt with the Government's tax on bank profits. Yesterday many Conservatives were in the Chamber to express their shock, horror and amazement at the Government's measure. Of course, they were in the Chamber because the subject under discussion concerned wealthy organisations. This debate is about the poor and, as a result there is a stark difference in the number of Conservative Members attending.

I turn to the intemperate attack made on me by the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden). I was amazed that he should attack my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) and suggest that my hon. Friend, or any other Opposition Member, would state or imply that he condoned fraud. It does not behove the hon. Gentleman to criticise those who express deep resentment at his attack on my hon. Friend. After all, the Labour Government instituted the framework of the Welfare State. When we were in Government, the Opposition made successive attacks on the Government and claimed that "welfarism" was somehow softening the nation. Beveridge reported immediately before the Labour Party was swept into office. We largely implemented that report. It is fair to claim that we built up the framework of the Welfare State.

More deeply than anyone else, we resent the fact that people deceive the Welfare State, because that allows unscrupulous people to attack the system. I understand the difficulty that the hon. Member for Kemptown finds himself in. He is one of the few Conservatives to express concern about those in receipt of benefit. Therefore, he is sensitive about this issue. However, he has never made a complete and utter condemnation of the unscrupulous campaign that was carried out by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat). Labour Members resented the way in which the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South conducted his campaign, aided and abetted by The Sun and other unscrupulous newspapers. Those newspapers found the campaign a convenient stick with which to beat the Government.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mr. Race) said that one reason for the lack of take-up was the stigma attached to benefits. The type of campaign that was started by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South—which was sustained by this Government—inhibited take-up.

Mr. Freud

For the record, I simply wonder whether, as the hon. Gentleman had claimed Mr. Beveridge, he would also like to claim Lloyd George and Mr. Gladstone.

Mr. Cryer

If the hon. Gentleman examines the legislation that Liberal Government introduced in that dim and distant age when such Governments existed, he will find that it does not in any way match the comprehensive legislation introduced by the post-war Labour Government.

The Sun led a national campaign on social security scroungers and on fraud. It was used as a stick with which to beat the Labour Government. It was said that the Labour Government were soft on scroungers and that we were sapping the nation's vitality, because we believed in the Welfare State. There was a national response. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South received about 750 replies. About two dozen of them could be substantiated. About half of them were being investigated, anyway, by the fraud section of the DHSS. The campaign revealed a significant amount of prejudice. In addition, it wasted much of the time of DHSS officals, who scrupulously pursued the matters that had been raised in order to meet the prejudice of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South and of The Sun.

Mr. J. W. Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

It is worth putting it on the record that at the same time as The Sun campaign, casual workers, in league with the management, were doing fiddles not a million miles away to get out of paying income tax. With the co-operation of the Inland Revenue the Labour Government had to declare a tax amnesty. Until a few weeks ago, that was still the subject of a court action by the National Federation of the Self Employed. Therefore, on both sides of the coin, the hands of The Sun are not clean. It was involved in tax abuse and in the scrounger campaign.

Mr. Cryer

My hon. Friend is right. When the Inland Revenue Commissioners—not the Government—declared an amnesty, the Labour Government were criticised, because they seemed to adopt a double standard. On the one hand they were resisting the unscrupulous scrounger campaign, but on the other they were apparently allowing tax avoidance to continue. We had to meet those criticisms.

I emphasise the importance of take-up at a time when more and more people have to apply for social security payments. After 12 months, unemployment benefit ceases. If a person has less than £2,000, he has no option but to seek social security benefit. I have a copy of "Newsflash", which is dated April 1981. It is issued by the Wool Textile and Clothing Industry Action Committee. It states that 10,000 jobs were lost in each month of 1980 in the textile and clothing industry. "Newsflash" states: It was estimated that 100,000 jobs were lost in the whole year. In fact this number disappeared in just 11 months. To make good this job loss the UK would need to secure not only the much publicised Nissan car assembly plant but 24 additional car assembly plants of an equivalent size. In April 1982, how many people will be employed and how many will be in receipt of supplementary benefit? It is likely that in our present economic decline the vast majority of those 100,000 people will be in receipt of supplementary benefit. The take-up and information about rights will become increasingly important.

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That is sad. We prefer people to have jobs. However, the Government's economic policies, supported assiduously by the hon. Member for Kemptown, are resulting in thousands of people being brought face to face with social security benefits.

One local authority has anticipated the new clause and tried to give information. The Bradford authority, under Labour control, has distributed leaflets in the Bradford area. The leaflets are headed "Are you getting enough?". That is perhaps an ambiguous heading but it draws attention to the leaflet that provides information about social security rights and rent and rate rebates. A free postal reply service is provided so that people can ask for more information.

It is too early to estimate the response. I hope that a statistical analysis will be made. Many people believe it to be a valuable service. I am sure that the authority would like to extend the exercise throughout the area but they have cash shortages. It is incumbent upon the Government to finance such campaigns. Labour controlled local authorities, following the Strathclyde example, are using their meagre resources to inform people of their rights. Bradford's campaign is appreciated but the onus is on the Government to initiate a similar campaign, and not only in areas with the greatest unemployment. A national campaign is needed, because there are pockets of deprivation everywhere.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (Newham, North-West)

Some people cannot read, write or understand. The Government have just given millions of pounds to the breakfast television people. Why do they not make it a condition that some time is devoted to the DHSS and other Government Departments so that they can present oral and pictorial advice? The experts could explain to the people and if we believed that the information was not being provided adequately we could demand improvements.

Mr. Cryer

That is an excellent suggestion. When Governments hand over franchises to groups of beautiful people who are already well off and who are given a licence to print money, they could easily make it a condition that part of the transmission time should be used to provide public service information. Instead, the Government are handing over significant sums to purchase advertising time to provide public information.

The Minister's comments on local authority campaigns were ambiguous. I invite the Under-Secretary to comment on the work in Bradford. It has not received the widespread publicity that the Strathclyde experiment received. Nevertheless, it is a valuable exercise. Local authorities should be praised and encouraged when they embark on such a campaign. The Minister should encourage the Bradford Labour-controlled council to work more vigorously on the campaign. She should encourage other councils, whoever controls them, to do likewise. The DHSS should also provide funds for councils which are prepared to undertake such work.

The new clause is of great value because it provides Parliament with a slight improvement in parliamentary accountability. Under the clause a statement in the House is required on the action proposed to improve the take-up of benefits. The clause does not provide us with the right of a debate but a statement would encourage opportunities for debate and put on the pressure for a debate on the range of benefits, their application and take-up. That is an improvement in accountability to the House.

The new clause is modest. It provides an improvement for people who are not well-off and who are in need of the benefits. It affects the poorest in the community. It improves democratic accountability and therefore has much merit. I hope that the Government will either accept it or at least implement the terms of the clause.

Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)

My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) claimed that the Welfare State was established by the Labour Government after the war. His claim is fully justified. When the Labour Party fought the 1945 election, it outlined the establishment of the Welfare State. Arthur Greenwood called upon William Beveridge to take charge of the committee that examined all the social services. There is no doubt that if a Labour Government had not been elected the Welfare State would not have been established.

National insurance, national assistance, national insurance for industrial injuries, family allowances, the National Health Service, the death grant and a whole range of social benefits were established for the first time by the Labour Government. The Tories opposed the Second Readings of some of the Bills which implemented those benefits.

Sir Frederick Burden

The Beveridge considerations took place when there was a national Government. Both parties undertook to implement Beveridge if elected. Why is not the hon. Gentleman honest about that?

Mr. Evans

The Tories promise, pause, prepare, and postpone and end by leaving things alone. They talked about legislation, but when it came before the House they voted against it. They voted against setting up the National Health Service.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We are discussing the question of take-up.

Mr. Evans

I am pleased to learn that the Government apparently are for the Welfare State. Many people believe that the Government want to undermine the Welfare State and that they are withdrawing certain welfare benefits introduced by the last Labour Government. Earnings-related benefit is one example. There are many unemployed people who under the last Labour Government would have received earnings-related benefit, but this Government have withdrawn that benefit. Earlier this week we heard that this miserable Government will not pay a tax refund to the unemployed. How can we say that there is a Welfare State when the unemployed are having their tax rebates withheld?

I congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench on tabling this clause. Although we can claim the right to have established the Welfare State, perhaps we could have done more to draw the attention of people in need to the fact that they are entitled to claim benefit. We have an honourable record in that respect. When Miss Peggy Herbison was appointed Minister of Pensions and National Insurance in 1964 her first step was to make pensioners aware that they had the right to claim supplementary benefit. Within weeks it was found that over 300,000 pensioners were entitled to supplementary benefit. That was established by Jim Griffiths, the Minister for Health and National Insurance.

For 13 years the Tory Government tried to make the people feel that they were getting the pension to which they were entitled but that they should not claim anything else; that there was a stigma attached to claiming supplementary benefit and that they should try to manage without it.

Sir Frederick Burden

Does the hon. Member not recall that Labour Governments refused absolutely to give a pension to widows of ex-Service men who died before October 1950? This Government have not only dealt with that, but have drawn attention to their right to draw it.

Mr. Evans

In some small examples the Tory Party appears to say "We are really concerned about the Welfare State" but on the major matters it tries to undermine it. There are times when Tories try to tell us that they are not bad after all, that they are reformed characters and that they really believe in the Welfare State, but they are undermining its fabric.

I look forward to hearing a contribution from the right hon. Member for Gillingham (Sir Frederick Burden). If he claims that he supports the Welfare State as much as those of us on this side of the House, I hope that he will support the clause. I would finish quickly if I thought I could persuade him to intervene. It would be good to find Conservatives who would say "We are concerned about the problems of the people. We are prepared to show that we support the Welfare State and we will therefore implement the clauses".

6.15 pm

Reference has already been made to the Strathclyde experiment. Hundreds of thousands of people are entitled to benefit which they are not claiming. It is a scandal that the Government should be putting emphasis on that very small minority who are involved in fraud. I am not saying that people who are making fraudulent claims should not be investigated and dealt with, but I should think it would be better to deal with the problem of tax evasion.

Far more revenue is due to the Treasury from that source than from people who are claiming benefits to which they are not entitled.

I hope that we shall get the figures which make up the so-called saving of £40 million. Over 1,000 civil servants are being given the task of finding out what benefits people receive to which they are not entitled. We have heard about the binoculars which have been bought for them to study certain arrangements amongst families to ensure that they are not claiming benefits to which they are not entitled. Has the Minister had reports about harassment, about the wave of anxiety caused to individuals in receipt of invalidity benefit and mobility allowances who have been investigated in this process?

I have taken up certain cases where people who receive invalidity benefit and who have medical evidence to show that their health has greatly deteriorated have been investigated in an effort to try to stop the payments of benefit. People who were granted a mobility allowance for the first time two or three years ago and whose immobility has greatly increased now find that their allowance has been temporarily stopped. The onus is being put on them to make fresh claims. Constituents of mine in receipt of unemployment benefit were told that they had to go to a work camp at Henley-in-Arden, otherwise their unemployment benefit would stop. In 1980 people who were unemployed for over 12 months and who were claiming supplementary benefit were told "If you don't go to Henley-in-Arden your social security will be stopped." I took up the case, and I am pleased to say that the Minister was able to respond and that that nonsense has stopped.

In my area the unemployment rate is 17 per cent. and there are no job vacancies. In these circumstances, it is extremely difficult to determine whether people are work-shy. People claiming supplementary benefit are told that they are getting their full entitlement, yet they might have a blind mother and could be getting a dependant's allowance. People are not informed about the benefits to which they are entitled. I hope that the Minister will employ the civil servants to whom I have referred to look through the records of people who are claiming benefit and to ensure that they are getting all the benefit to which they are entitled.

We are going through very difficult times. There are 2½ million people unemployed. They get very small benefits and they are faced with all sorts of problems. In my constituency the water rate was previously taken care of in the local authority rate. People living from week to week on supplementary benefit are now confronted with an additional bill of this kind.

If there are ways and means of helping people with their problems, then the Government have an obligation to do so. We need to know what benefits are being taken up. It is important that we should be told by the Government what action they are taking to ensure that people are aware of the benefit to which they are entitled. Let us get away from the emphasis on scrounging. Let us put the emphasis on a Government who apparently support the Welfare State. I hope that we shall get a positive response from the Minister and that she will accept the clause.

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)

I apologise for being late in attending the debate, I was in the Public Accounts Committee investigating other scandals of a different kind, namely, the scandals in the black economy. When one compares the Government's response to tackling that problem with their very energetic approach to dealing with what they call scroungers, one sees the difference in attitude to the very poor and, in many case, to the very rich—people such as the Vesteys.

My guess would be that the Government will not accept the new clause. It is contrary to what Sir Derek Rayner is about. There have been letters in the newspapers complaining about the Government's restriction of the availability of statistics about all kinds of things. Sociologists and economists have been writing letters to newspapers complaining about the restriction of information available in all sorts of spheres, information which ought to be available to them and to this House.

If I were a gambling man, I would bet my last halfpenny that the Government will say "No, we shall not do this"—even though it is assumed that several hundreds of millions of pounds rightly belong to ordinary poor people who, for one reason or another, are not claiming it. One of the reasons why they are not claiming it is precisely that the Government have put inspectors on asking all kinds of questions. They were reported on some while ago in the magazine New Society. I remember quoting it at length in the House.

In the extraordinary steps that the Government are taking, Big Brother from the DHSS is watching not Mr. Vestey but Mrs McTaggart in West Fife, who is, maybe, diddling the social security of 50p a week. The Government are not concerned with the millions that Vesteys are getting away with. They are concerned with the pence that someone in. Fife or Bradford might be getting away with.

My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) referred to the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat), who has got maximum publicity in this House. The only publicity that he has ever received in all the time that he has been a Member has been when he has referred to scroungers who were on social security. When the hon. Member was invited by my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme), who was then the Minister, to send in the letters, to produce the evidence, he sent the letters in but he carefully obliterated the addresses of the writers, which alone would have allowed my right hon. Friend to investigate the validity of the hon. Member's charges.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) has properly referred to the undoubted and undeniable fact that in the last two years the Government have clobbered mercilessly, in various ways, the poor, the helpless. the sick, the old and even the disabled. There is a massively miserable record over those two years of the differences of approach to the poor and the handicapped, the people at the bottom of the pile, and the approach to those at the top. There has been and there is no serious and sustained campaign by the Government to make sure that the people who are most disadvantaged—by definition, they are the people on supplementary benefits of various kinds—are getting all that this House and the Government think they are legally entitled to.

I want to quote from a Supplementary Benefits Commission discussion paper produced in 1978. The commission calculated in that document that about 600,000 people were not getting what they were entitled to and that the shortfall was about £200 million. In the nature of things, that must be a very rough estimate of the figure. But that £200 million is no less accurate an estimate than the estimate of £3 billion to £4 billion in regard to people who are evading or avoiding tax. Those are the figures that the Inland Revenue gave to us in the Public Accounts Committee on the black economy. People at the top of the pile are getting away with £3 billion to £4 billion, and £200 million is not going to people at the bottom who are legally entitled to it.

I hear mutterings from the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Patten) to the effect that not all the people who get away with that £3 billion to £4 billion are rich. When we were talking about this matter in the Public Accounts Committee in public session last week, one Conservative Member was at great pains to switch almost the whole of the questioning to the subject of window cleaners. He wanted to pin all the blame on window cleaners for getting away with £3 billion to £4 billion in the year. That was the impression that he was trying to create.

I remarked that there were bigger fish in the sea than window cleaners. The Vesteys and others are getting away with all that cash, and the Government are doing damn all. [Interruption.] The record is there. The Under-Secretary might say that there is something in the Finance Bill to deal with Vesteys, but Vestey is only one of the big fish among the whole lot of sharks in that infested sea. I am making the comparison between the Government's lack of energy in chasing those people and their enormous energy in chasing the so-called scroungers.

All that we are saying is that the Government should be just as active in making sure that people get what they are entitled to as they are active in chasing people who they think are getting illegal benefits.

In the discussion paper, the commission says that it will be necessary to concentrate a good deal of attention on the two most deserving categories—the unemployed and the pensioners. That was in 1978, before the Government came to power, but since then they have added another 1 million to the unemployment figure, so that the problem is much more acute, and many of those, as some of my hon. Friends have said, are long-term unemployed who, at the end of the year, must go on to supplementary benefit. The commission says that these two groups are responsible for the largest amount of unclaimed benefit.

6.30 pm

I quote at length from what the commission says a little later, remembering that this was written in 1978: Although the average amount of unclaimed benefit is low for pensioners, the period of entitlement is likely to be much longer. Moreover given the large proportion of pensioners (about a third) with an unclaimed entitlement of under £1 a week, the amount unclaimed for the rest must be substantially higher and this takes no account of the ECA's which might have been payable in addition. The Commission concludes therefore that families with children should be the top priority in efforts to improve the take-up of supplementary benefit and that pensioners should be the other main group on whom efforts should be concentrated. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett), was seeking to ascertain why people do not claim. It is not necessarily ignorance. It is not necessarily pride. It is a mixture of all kinds of things. The document from the Supplementary Benefits Commission says: We still do not know exactly why particular groups of people are reluctant to claim supplementary benefit. Knowledge of the scheme's existence does not appear to be the main problem and simply providing information does not necessarily lead to significant increase in the take-up of benefit…Failure to take up benefit has been seen as a result of some mixture of the scheme's complexity, administrative failings, ignorance and misconceptions about the scheme on the part of potential claimants and stigmas still associated with supplementary benefit. But the results of research studies have been inconclusive in establishing the reason why particular groups do not claim. All we can say is that this reluctance to claim appears to come from some mixture of pride, ignorance, a sense of stigma, reluctance to make the efforts which a claim calls for, a desire for self sufficiency on the part of the individual or family… That seems to me to be emphasising the fact that the great majority of people who are in this unfortunate position are scrupulously honest. That is not to say that there may not be a tiny minority who are scroungers. Nobody on this side of the House makes any apology for them; there is no defence for them. Do not let that charge be laid at our door. Our charge is that the Government are devoting infinitely more energy to the minority of scroungers than they are to the people who, for one reason or another, are not seeking their legitimate rights.

My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley referred to an initiative that had been taken by his own Labour-controlled authority in Bradford. I remember the violent hostility of the Department to the initiative that was taken by Strathclyde, another Labour-controlled authority, to ensure that people got what they were entitled to. The Under-Secretary herself was very hostile to the Strathclyde initiative. I hope that she will not only deny that but state positively that she will encourage local authorities to take what initiative they can in their own areas to ensure that people get their entitlement.

I have a news item from Harlow council in Essex which reads: Detailed work by the council in a unique survey has brought hundreds of retired people in the town news of extra money to help their weekly budget. Conducted by the Financial and Community Services Department the survey analysed the rebate returns and discovered that many retired people were eligible for supplementary benefit pension entitlements of between one and six pounds a week. Three hundred and fifty letters went out in December 1980 bearing the good tidings and Senior Welfare Rights Officer Tony Bennett reports 'Already dozens of people have taken our advice and claimed this money which is justly theirs. The amount claimed totals some £15,000 a year so far. Towards the end it says: One local resident found he was better off by £1.10 a week as a result of the letter and his supplementary pension claim. However, with other extras the total came out at £4.76 a week when the social security office had examined all the details. A council spokesman said, 'By multiplying even preliminary results across the nation, clearly tens of millions of pounds lie unclaimed by a section of the community which is often in most need. This is a right, not a charity handout'. In the London area alone the Welfare Rights team calculate a staggering £10 million probably lies unclaimed," — in London alone. If the Government have any sense of equity in view of their record in the last two years in their treatment of the very poor at the one end and the very wealthy at the other, they can do no less than make sympathetic noises tonight that they will use as much energy and enthusiasm to make sure that these people get their rights as they do in ensuring that the tiny minority of scroungers get their desserts.

Mrs. Chalker

This has been a long and varied debate.

May I at the outset put paid to the nonsense that the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) spoke at one point—it was not all nonsense—when he talked about the dismantlement of the Welfare State. No Government who are allocating £27 billion public expenditure on benefits in 1981–82 can possibly be accused of ignoring or dismantling the Welfare State. It is 27 per cent. of our public expenditure and the money to pay for it has to come from those of us who are fortunate, who have jobs, and who contribute through taxation and national insurance.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Chalker

I wish to get on. I have only just begun and I should like to continue.

We have had exaggeration on some issues. That always happens in debates on issues that are dear to the hearts of many hon. and right hon. Members. We have had some unusual expressions of what has been going on over the years, but we have also had some sincere interest in the question of take-up and delivery of benefit. For that reason, if for no other, this debate has been worthwhile because it has brought home to many people the fact that there is much more to be done. When people talk about giving media coverage to enable better take-up to be achieved, perhaps media coverage of our debate will help.

I want to make a few remarks about the subject of fraud and abuse since it has been raised by many hon. Members during the debate. This is not the occasion—and you, Mr. Speaker, would rule me out of order if I were to attempt it—to make a full-scale statement on the Government's current campaign on social security fraud and abuse, but I want to say a few brief words about it. I believe that this campaign is necessary if people are to have faith in a system, that their money is being spent properly and that those who are genuinely entitled to benefit get it.

The savings that we claim—£170 million in total, including £40 million through the work of additional staff employed during 1980–81—are not exaggerated; they reflect moderate assumptions from the data we have obtained. The savings have not been achieved using questionable methods. At all times and in every way investigators have been required to observe very high standards of conduct and the campaign has not been conducted at the expense of honest claimants, as some Labour Members would have us believe. The honest claimants have been and remain our main priority. They have nothing whatsoever to fear from successful efforts to prevent unjustified payments. In fact, the more resources that there are for genuine claimants, the better they will fare, and that is something to which we must give our earnest attention.

Over the last year the Department has received many telephone calls from disabled people, elderly people and others who have said "Thank goodness you are taking action because now I know that I am right to make a claim". It is remarkable that they have been complaining about the existence of fraud or abuse and saying that it rubbed off on genuine claimants and beneficiaries; they have been saying that they know we want the system to be balanced. It is in striking a fair balance that sometimes the Opposition do themselves a disservice. They know as well as we do—they have repeated it from the Front Bench and from the Back Benches—that if people are abusing the system they should be stopped.

Some hon. Members might want me to stray into areas covered by other Government Department, but I cannot do that today. Wherever abuse exists it must be right for those in charge of the scheme to rout it out.

Mr. Buchan

It is a great pleasure to listen to a Minister who believes so firmly in her own Department and puts its case forward so strongly. She will accept that some of us are rather sceptical about floods of telephone calls coming directly to the Ministry bearing that message, as no one here has ever encountered it in real life.

It would be interesting to know how many telephone calls there have been. The real charge is that the campaign, as illustrated by the guidelines issued, has as its main effect, even if it is not its main purpose, the discouragement of the innocent from applying and the encouragement of the innocent to withdraw their claims.

Mrs. Chalker

I am sorry to say that the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) is standing the whole argument on its head. I repeat, loud and clear, so that the BBC or any other medium reporting the debate may broadcast or print the good news, that anybody who is entitled to benefit has nothing to fear in taking up a claim with the local office.

I understand why the clause has been tabled and I understand the concern that has been expressed about take-up. I want to explain why I have to say that the Government cannot accept the clause. The report which is envisaged in paragraph (a) would have no relevance to the uprating of benefits which is required by clause 1. That is perhaps the technical objection. Information about the numbers of persons claiming the benefits concerned in the year up to the previous uprating in the preceding November would not in any event be available at the time when the uprating statement is normally made by the Secretary of State. In the Government's view, information about the numbers receiving benefits can more suitably be provided by the publication of statistics in the normal way. Contrary to what some hon. Members have said, the publication of these relevant statistics will continue.

The question of action taken to encourage people to claim the benefits in question is under constant consideration. I probably bother my officals on this issue as much as on any other issue. It has no relevance to the uprating exercise. One by-product of an uprating exercise is that somtimes it brings the existence of the benefit and the size of the benefit to the notice of the general public through the media, particularly through local radio, which is an extremely good way of communicating, and thereby encourages take-up. We believe it is much more appropriate to make all the information available on the specific benefit as the occasion arises.

There is no evidence that take-up is a serious problem in relation to the generality of benefits covered by section 125 of the Act. It has, I know, been suggested that there is a shortfall in relation to attendance allowance claims, which are covered by that section. There are no national data on eligibility to support this, and the increasing number of claims and awards, especially for attendance allowance, are encouraging. The small local studies which have prompted successful new claims suggest that this may be the most effective way of getting people to overcome reluctance to claim, but we shall be looking again at ways of improving information and removing misunderstanding.

6.45 pm

The main debate has been about supplementary benefit, which does not come under section 125 of the Act. The hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) referred to the 1978 report of the Supplementary Benefits Commission. The latest figures relating to 1979 are that about 75 per cent. in terms of those eligible for supplementary benefit claim it and get it, and 83 per cent. in terms of the value of benefits which might be claimed is actually claimed. I accept that that is still not good enough, but the question is how to get the information through to that 25 per cent. or 17 per cent. Many hon. Members have given reasons why they think people do not claim the benefits to which they are entitled.

The reasons are indeed complex. Yes, there is a stigma, especially amongst elderly people who do not want to claim. I say loud and clear that those pensioners who do not get a 100 per cent. old-age pension are beginning to be followed up, and they should always ask for a supplementary benefit claim form. I want to have the right technology to allow us automatically to follow up people who do not get a 100 per cent. pension, because they may be amongst the small losers, those who lose 20p or 30p a week. However small the weekly amount might be, it all mounts up, and I would be the last to deny that. The indications are that the amount of benefit which goes unclaimed in any individual case is likely to be small, although important.

Rash comments were made by Opposition Members about the new supplementary benefit scheme. That scheme emphasises the entitlement of people to their supplementary benefit by putting their rights into regulations and simplifying the rules. We have published a handbook which explains the new scheme—I thank the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) for what he said—and there are new leaflets on which much effort has been spent to make them simpler and more direct than the previous leaflets. The Government do not accept that a statement on take-up would add anything to the efforts which are already being made.

I want now to refer to comments made by the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West. He referred to the small-scale project carried out in North Yorkshire and reported to hon. Members through the Disablility Alliance. In this project 23 disabled people were interviewed and encouraged to apply for benefits for which the project worker considered they might be eligible.

From the results of the project the report concluded that there was a serious problem of failure by disabled people to take up benefits to which they were entitled. If hon. Gentlemen and people outside the House criticise the Government for lack of concern, we have to see how we can better get benefits to those people. Certainly the effort that has been made is helpful, but it is an exaggeration to suggest that the applications of the 20 people who failed to claim would have succeeded. The number of successful claims made during that period was very much smaller. There were, I think, seven successful claims for disability or incapacity benefits not previously claimed and a few for family income supplement or local authority rebate. Whether it is that small but valuable effort in North Yorkshire, or the one taking place in Bradford—about which I want to learn more because I do not have the details at present—it is important for local authorities to target what they are doing.

That brings me to the Strathclyde exercise. My worry about Strathclyde was that it was so widely targeted that for many weeks it prevented the delivery of benefits to people who were genuinely entitled to them. It was not the best way of using the resources available. The fact that only 340 people received weekly benefit out of 100,000 who were sent postcards means that the success rate was only 0.5 per cent. A success rate of that size suggests that if a local authority decides to undertake such an exercise it can target it better.

We could go over this ground for many hours more, but I wish to draw the attention to the benefits and what we are seeking to do.

Mr. Buchan

The hon. Lady referred to the 340 people who received weekly benefit out of the 100,000 who sent in postcards. The 300 figure that I quoted came from the sample of 500.

Mrs. Chalker

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman did not quite hear what I said. Out of that sample of 500, 62 people were entitled to weekly benefit—12 per cent. However, out of the 100,000 postcards sent out, only 340 people received weekly benefits, and according to our statisticians that is a 0.5 per cent. success rate.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, at the end of the period of the old scheme there was a large number of exceptional needs payments, but there was so much variation in the old scheme that many people who should perhaps have made their claims earlier were pushed into making them at the last minute. They succeeded, but because of the discretion of the old system the variation across the country was of concern just as much to the Labour Government as it was to us.

My point is that the resources used to send out those 100,000 postcards might have been better spent had they been used on groups that were much more likely to have an entitlement.

Mr. Ennals


Mrs. Chalker

I must continue. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me.

I should like to comment on the other benefits that have been mentioned.

Mr. Ennals


Mrs. Chalker

In the main, Labour Members have referred to supplementary benefit. However, there is almost a 100 per cent. take-up in terms of national insurance benefits, particularly the retirement pension, in addition to child benefits. If the claim is made but not at the right moment, the arrears are paid.

Those hon. Members who follow these matters will know that the question of a unified housing benefit has been under review. Consultations are now taking place with the local authorities to see whether some sense can be made of the variety of housing benefits—for some of which there is still a low take-up—and the mix between them and the supplementary benefit, where people are perhaps in doubt about which they should claim. Those consultations are now proceeding apace. I hope that it will be possible to simplify housing benefits in the future.

Increasing take-up must be targeted, and two specific areas are already organised. I am delighted to say that Brian Rix has kindly agreed to assist in a television filler, as well as in advertising, to publicise benefits for the handicapped. I am grateful to him for the contribution that he is making, not only through his own organisation on mental handicap but also across this whole area.

The new leaflet "Help for Handicapped People" published earlier this year—the International Year of Disabled People—is, I am told, a good deal better than any which the disabled organisations have received previously. It is much more extensive. Already we are seeking ways in which we can better deliver to that group the benefits to which they may be entitled.

Labour Members have referred to child benefit and specifically to what we now call one-parent benefit, which was formerly known by its rather dubious name of child benefit increase. We changed the name for a good reason—to say to single parents who might be entitled, "Make a claim".

This summer, we are following through a specific letter to 300,000 or more single payees named on child benefit books in case they may have an entitlement to one-parent benefit. We believe that to be important. Regrettably, some of them do not make claims at present, and they should be encouraged to do so.

I repeat a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowen) in his interesting contribution—and I acknowledge the work done by my hon. friend and other hon. Members on behalf of pensioners. Irrespective of the group to which they belong, if people believe that they are entitled to benefit, they should visit their local office and inquire about it. Let there be no doubt about this. People should be encouraged. I am glad that hon. Members have said that they usually get good service in their relationships with local offices. I pay tribute to the staff who make the effort to get those benefits to people.

We shall probably have to look at new ways of doing things for pensioners. Earlier I mentioned new computing techniques which may he available before the second pension scheme begins to eliminate some of the problems associated with too low a pension for the elderly, because that scheme will only come to fruition in 17 years.

I pay tribute to the citizens advice bureaux and other groups which seek to bring benefit to people and to tell them of their rights. I must correct one comment. When the Government came into office, they made an extra grant of £2 million to the citizens advice bureaux so that they could extend their task. The CAB in my own area has told me that it is extending tasks. It is reaching out to do the job to which every hon. Member has referred.

An entitlement in law under the new supplementary benefits scheme, and a clarification of that to which claimants are entitled, is much better than the discretion with which we have laboured for many years, although that played its part in the whole development. It is also important to remind claimants that they can obtain a basic statement of how their benefit is made up. If that statement is insufficient, or if they do not understand it, they can ask for a further explanation to check that they are getting that to which they are entitled.

Some hon. Members have commented on the leaflets that are now written. The hon. Member for Stockport, North referred to the problems of reading them. However, they are extremely straightforward. For example, I do not know how we could make the instructions more simple than they are in leaflet SB1, "Cash Help—How to Claim Supplementary Benefit".

There are four basic instructions. The first is: Tear off this form and post it of us at your social security office. You can get the address or a free stamped addressed envelope from the post office. The second instruction is: We will then get in touch with you. The third instruction is: If you are a pensioner we will visit you at home. But if you would like to talk about your claim at our office instead, put an `X' in this box". For pensioners, we accept that home visiting should continue as a matter of course. The fourth instruction is: If you need money very urgently call on us at the social security office, or telephone. Many people in real need will find that that is the best way to resolve their problems.

A major effort is being made todeal with specific benefits by local office staff, hon. Members and many voluntary organisations. Although I cannot accept the new clause for the reasons I have given, I assure the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) that in spirit I understand only too well what the debate is about. Efforts will be made to improve the take-up of benefits for which there is an unsatisfactory take-up now.

Mr. Rooker

The debate has been worth while for the last quarter of an hour of the Minister's speech. Every hon. Member who has participated and listened to the debate will be grateful for the way in which the Minister has answered the debate positively. I make no bones about that. She has made one or two announcements.

Mr. Arthur Lewis


Mr. Rooker

Once I have begun my speech, I shall gradually give way to my hon. Friends. Many hon. Members are waiting to join the embassy cocktail circuit and I do not intend to curtail my speech for that reason.

We thoroughly approve of the announcement to draw the new single parent benefit to the attention of single payees named on the child benefit book. That is an excellent practical idea after the change of benefit. We share in the thanks to Brian Rix for his agreement to make a television filler. That follows from what my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) said about breakfast time television.

The Central Office of Information uses the radio regularly for public announcements during the day when the disabled and the elderly are at home. We do not use television enough for those announcements. I hope that the filler will be used on all channels at all convenient times of the day, including peak viewing hours, when the advertisers and the TV companies will necessarily be deprived of income.

The debate has been a little one-sided, as most social security debates are. We have heard a speech from only one Conservative Member, the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden). He voted against the Bill on Second Reading and I have no doubt that he will join us in the Lobby, if not on the new clause perhaps after tomorrow's debate. We heard a speech from a member of the Liberal Party but there has been no attendance from the members of the Social Democratic Party. I do not know whether they have a spokesman for social security.

Mr. Mike Thomas (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)


Mr. Rooker

The hon. Gentleman could have made a speech at any time during the last three hours. We are not on a timetable motion and there is no guillotine. The hon. Gentleman may have been on that Bench for the past 10 minutes, but that is the only time in the past three hours when a member of the SDP has been here.

Mr. Thomas


Mr. Rooker

At no time in the past three hours has any member of the SDP sought to catch the eye of the Chair.

Mr. Thomas

I am not sure that I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. As he will note, the Social Democratic Party is represented in the debate. There has been a representative of the party here throughout the debate.

Mr. Cryer

That is not true.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)

Order. I cannot hear what the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Thomas) is saying.

Mr. Mike Thomas

We do not choose to take up the time of the House on every occasion, though I am glad that the hon. Gentleman is so glad to hear our views. That reflects the statement I made yesterday, that opposition for opposition's sake is a waste of everyone's time.

Mr. Rooker

If the hon. Member had been here he would not have said that. The Opposition have introduced a new clause of which the Government have partly and constructively met the spirit. However, they will not accept the new clause. This has probably been one of the most useful debates on any aspect of social security in this Session. Although few Conservative Members have contributed, they know that there is a problem about take-up of benefit, as many hon. Members have shown. It cannot be argued that this is opposition for opposition's sake when all we are seeking to do is to change the law so that those people—mainly, though not solely, pensioners—can receive the legal entitlement that Parliament has already decreed. By using the parliamentary process as parliamentarians we are entitled to make speeches in a debate. What is wrong with that? That is the role of Members of Parliament. Neither I nor my hon. Friends who have spoken will take lectures from hon. Gentlemen who do not use the Chamber to make their case but come in at the end of a debate to make cheap remarks.

Mr. Freud


Mr. Rooker

I want to draw attention to the brief remarks on take-up in the last report of the Supplementary Benefits Commission for the year 1979.

Mr. Freud


Mr. Rooker

The hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) has already made a speech.

Mr. Freud

In all fairness, will the hon. Gentleman accept that in my speech I said exactly what the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Thomas) said? That is, that opposition for the sake of opposition is pointless and alien to the nature of any parliamentarian who cares for due process of legislation and Government.

Mr. Rooker

That is all right. What is the problem in new clause 1 that makes it subject to the charge that it is opposition for opposition's sake?

Mr. Mike Thomas

You are making a meal of it. Get on with it.

Mr. Cryer

It is a major issue.

Mr. Rooker

The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East has a lot to learn if he is to speak on behalf of his constituents for the short time that he will remain a Member. Before he shouts from a sedentary position he should participate in the debate.

I was referring to what was said about take-up by the Supplementary Benefits Commission in its recent report. The Minister quoted figures for 1979. I want to know more about those figures. The Supplementary Benefits Commission said that because it could not yet give the 1979 figure—that was some time ago— it had to give estimates for 1978. But the Government's statistical collections have been changed. Some surveys are not now being done yearly. The Supplementary Benefits Commission said: These estimates require a substantial commitment of staff and computer time and as movements from one year to the next are rarely of statistical significance we accepted that it should be sufficient to provide them every two years. That is under the family expenditure survey. The report continued: The immediate effect…would be to enable the Department to apply its resources to the analysis of the extremely valuable data obtained from the Family Finances Survey. There was a meeting of the Social Services Select Committee recently. The Committee had given the Government a list of questions to answer. Question 16(b) related to recent and expected rates of take-up of social security benefit.

The Government answered that question and included the table for 1977. That table contains most of the figures quoted by hon. Gentlemen today. It states that in 1977 only 73 per cent. of pensioners were thought to be receiving supplementary benefit. That left 610,000 pensioners missing out on £100 million a year. That worked out at £3.10 a week that these 600,000 pensioners were missing out on. Those are 1977 figures.

The footnote to the table stated that estimates based on the 1979 family expenditure survey and the 1978 family finances survey would be available later in the year.

The Minister quoted from figures for 1979. If there are more up-to-date figures for the take-up of benefits—four years out of date is unsatisfactory for a debate—why cannot we have them? Why did not the Select Committee have them? If the Minister has them, I should be grateful if she would ensure that they are put in the Library as soon as possible.

Mr. Ennals

I intervene only because I am a member of the Select Committee, and the Select Committee met yesterday. We questioned civil servants in the Department on these very matters. It became clear that, as a result of legislation passed by the Government, there will be a substantial increase in the numbers who will be entitled, and will need, to claim supplementary benefit. Is it not obvious that the Government should accept the new clause because of the extra need?

Mr. Rooker

That is one reason for raising the issue. The Government are in the business of cutting benefits in real terms and of vastly increasing the numbers eligible for supplementary benefit. The Social Security (No. 2) Act last year shifted between 70,000 and 80,000 unemployed persons on to supplementary benefit. Therefore, the numbers eligible for supplementary benefit have increased.

Having referred to the up-to-dateness of the figures, I want now to refer to some of the surveys that have been mentioned. Many related to the attendance allowance. In February 1980 a question was asked regarding what research the Department had undertaken into the numbers of people eligible to claim attendance allowance; and how much additional expenditure would be required if take-up of the benefit were equal to the numbers eligible. The former Minister for Social Security, the right hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Prentice), said that no research had been undertaken. He then quoted figures from 1971 of the numbers thought to be eligible. That was about the time that the attendance allowance was introduced by the Conservative Government. The right hon. Gentleman then said: There is no evidence that there is any significant further number who are entitled but fail to claim the allowance." —[Official Report, 12 February 1980; Vol. 978, c. 628.] I have a summary of four local surveys by the Disability Alliance relating to the attendance allowance. In Harlow, 117 people were interviewed at a training centre. The outcome of the advice was known in 100 cases. At the start of the survey, 28 people were receiving the lower rate of attendance allowance. After the survey, 44 people were receiving it—an increase of 57 per cent.

In one project, at Leeds, at the start of the survey 10 people were receiving the lower rate of attendance allowance. After the survey, 14 people were receiving it. Again, that was a substantial increase in percentage terms.

Similar increases were recorded in a north Yorkshire project. I understand that there was also a significant project in Bradford.

I do not think that it is right to quote constituency cases from the Dispatch Box, but I know of one case where, five years after the attendance allowance had been granted, it was reviewed and although the circumstances had not changed, was withdrawn. I saw the form filled in by the doctor who visited my constituent at home. In answer to the question "What other relatives live in the house?", he had written "Father and brother" instead of "Husband and son." There were only three people in the house—father, mother and son. When constituents see that kind of mistake made by the doctor filling in the form, they become doubtful about the rest of the comments on the form relating to the capability of the claimant. I have taken this up not with the Minister's office, but with the Blackpool office, as I am sure she would expect me to do initially.

I want to refer briefly to the question of fraud and abuse, which has been touched on by all who have spoken in the debate. Indeed, the Minister kicked off with it. The charge that we make is that over-concentration on fraud and abuse—we do not condone fraud and abuse, as we have made clear—people are put off claiming benefit.

7.15 pm

The Secretary of State's hands are not clean on this issue. Obviously he has other duties today, because he has not attended the debate. On 21 November 1978, the right hon. Gentleman, three times in the space of four columns in Hansard—I shall put the quotations on record not because they are short, but because they need to be pointed out—said: However, we all know that many of the people are not reached. We all know that there is a good deal of abuse…We must strengthen the investigatory machinery and curb abuses of the system…Because it is known that abuse is widespread, people are reluctant to find themselves labelled as scroungers." — [Official Report. 21 November 1978; Vol. 958, c. 1137–40.] Three times in four columns—about ten minutes of speech—from this Dispatch Box the right hon. Gentleman lent his name to that campaign.

The last point to which I want to refer concerns the feeling in the Department engendered by the campaign. There is an excellent quotation from a civil servant who is in charge—if not now, he was a year ago—of the fraud and abuse campaign. He is the same civil servant who was in charge when the Labour Party was in Government—Mr. Arthur Howell. I understand that he is in charge of C3, which I presume is the branch of the DHSS dealing with fraud and abuse. I want to quote from Mr. Howell talking of how his staff perceive their job. I shall give the source of the quotation when I have put it on record. He said: When I came to this job, I must say I'd been brainwashed by the media into thinking that as far as special investigation went, anyone who took that kind of job on must be a rather quirky kind of character, and I think it's really much more earthy than that; that the job gives freedom from office routines, they have to work unpleasant hours but to some extent they can control those hours and get variety in them; there's the chance of travel and car allowances, let's face it, and perhaps most of all there's the chance which at that sort of level in the Department is maybe rarer that it should be of exercising one's own initiative and judgment. I think all that kind of thing attracts people, and one of the things that pleases me most about the way certainly fraud work has developed in recent years, is that a few years ago it was a Cinderella subject and it was very difficult to persuade anyone to take the job up, now in the light of the improved commitment by the Department, fraud work is regarded as quite an interesting challenge and one iin which one will get a decent level of support up the line. I would have hoped that it would not move from the Cinderella to the key post for advancement in the Department. Clearly the Cinderella part of the DHSS is the aspect of improving the take-up of benefits. Mr. Howell was speaking about a year ago on the "File on Four" programme on Radio 4 on Wednesday 12 March 1980.

For the avoidance of any doubt about our commitment, I want to add one final point. I hope that it will be seen in the positive spirit in which it is meant. It might create work for people; that is one of the problems. We know that our debates are recorded. We certainly hope that many of the points made in the debate will be used by the media tomorrow.

I suggest to any members of the public—old, disabled or whatever—who are in any doubt about their entitlement to benefit to get a piece of paper, to put their name and address clearly on it, and to write "Dear Sir, Will you check whether I am entitled to social security benefit?" Put it in an envelope marked "MP for area so-and-so"—it is not necessary to know the name of the constituency; the rough geographical area will do—and address it to the House of Commons, London SW1. We know that the excellent staff in the House of Commons Library and Post Office will track down that person's Member of Parliament, and then he or she can play a role in seeking to improve the uptake of benefits. That is what the new clause is all about—positive help to the hundreds of thousands of people who are not getting their legal entitlement.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

I shall speak for only a moment, merely to take up something that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) said. At the beginning of his speech he made a promise that he has yet to fulfil. He promised me faithfully that he would give way. He never did. He congratulated the Minister on her reply and said what a good Minister she is. I agree. She failed to give way to me, but I make no complaint about that, because she made no promise to me.

I also want to correct a matter of fact. When the Minister was answering my hon. Friend she said that the Government had put in so many billions of pounds—whatever the sum was—to support the National Health Service and social welfare services. She went on to say that we who work and pay taxes pay for them. May I correct her? What she said was only partly true. We who work pay taxes—yes—but every man and woman in this country pays taxes, including the sick, the disabled and the unemployed, because—and here is the point—if they buy anything they now have double tax to pay. The war-disabled pensioner—with one leg or no legs—and those who do not have enough money to pay income tax pay a double tax virtually every time they purchase anything. That applies also to some children, for example, when they have a meal out. So the Minister should not say that it is the man who is working or paying income tax who pays. She should say that every man, woman and many children pay for these various services. They are paid for by everyone in the country.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:-

The House divided: Ayes 222, Noes 276

Division No. 183] [7.23 pm
Abse, Leo Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)
Adams, Allen Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Allaun, Frank Ford, Ben
Alton, David Forrester, John
Anderson, Donald Foster, Derek
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Foulkes, George
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Fraser, J. (Lamb'th, N'W'd)
Ashton, Joe Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald
Atkinson, N.(H'gey.) Freud, Clement
Bagier, Gordon A.T. Garrett, John (Norwich S)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) George, Bruce
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (H'wd) Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Beith, A. J. Graham, Ted
Benn, Rt Hon A. Wedgwood Grant, John (Islington C)
Bennett, Andrew(St'kp't N) Grimond, Rt Hon J.
Bidwell, Sydney Hamilton, W. W. (C'tral Fife)
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith
Bottomley, Rt Hon A.(M'b'ro) Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Bray, Dr Jeremy Haynes, Frank
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Brown, R. C. (N'castle W) Heffer, Eric S.
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith) Hogg, N. (E Dunb't'nshire)
Buchan, Norman Holland, S. (L'b'th, Vauxh'll)
Callaghan, Rt Hon J. Homewood, William
Callaghan, Jim (Midd't'n & P) Hooley, Frank
Campbell, Ian Horam, John
Campbell-Savours, Dale Howell, Rt Hon D.
Canavan, Dennis Howells, Geraint
Carmichael, Neil Hudson Davies, Gwilym E.
Carter-Jones, Lewis Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Cartwright, John Hughes, Roy (Newport)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Janner, Hon Greville
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S) Jay, Rt Hon Douglas
Coleman, Donald John, Brynmor
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D. Johnson, James (Hull West)
Conlan, Bernard Johnston, Russell (Inverness)
Cook, Robin F. Jones, Barry (East Flint)
Cowans, Harry Jones, Dan (Burnley)
Craigen, J. M. Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Crowther, J. S. Kerr, Russell
Cryer, Bob Kilroy-Silk, Robert
Cunliffe, Lawrence Lambie, David
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Lamborn, Harry
Cunningham, Dr J. (W'h'n) Lamond, James
Dalyell, Tam Leadbitter, Ted
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli) Leighton, Ronald
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Lestor, Miss Joan
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Lewis, Arthur (N'ham NW)
Davis, T. (B'ham, Stechf'd) Litherland, Robert
Deakins, Eric Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Dempsey, James Lyons, Edward (Bradf'd W)
Dewar, Donald McCartney, Hugh
Dobson, Frank McElhone, Frank
Dormand, Jack McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Douglas, Dick McKelvey, William
Douglas-Mann, Bruce MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Dubs, Alfred Maclennan, Robert
Dunn, James A. McNally, Thomas
Dunnett, Jack McNamara, Kevin
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G. McTaggart, Robert
Eadie, Alex McWilliam, John
Eastham, Ken Magee, Bryan
Ellis, R. (NE D'bysh're) Marks, Kenneth
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) Marshall, (G'gow S'ton)
English, Michael Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)
Ennals, Rt Hon David Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) Martin, M(G'gow S'burn)
Evans, John (Newton) Maxton, John
Ewing, Harry Maynard, Miss Joan
Field, Frank Meacher, Michael
Fitch, Alan Mellish, Rt Hon Robert
Fitt, Gerard Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Flannery, Martin Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)
Mitchell, R. C. (Soton Itchen) Spriggs, Leslie
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) Stallard, A. W.
Morris, Rt Hon C. (O'shaw) Steel, Rt Hon David
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
Morton, George Stoddart, David
Moyle, Rt Hon Roland Stott, Roger
Newens, Stanley Strang, Gavin
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Ogden, Eric Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
O'Neill, Martin Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Palmer, Arthur Thomas, Dr R.(Carmarthen)
Parry, Robert Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Penhaligon, David Tilley, John
Prescott, John Tinn, James
Race, Reg Torney, Tom
Radice, Giles Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Rees, Rt Hon M (Leeds S) Wainwright, E.(Dearne V)
Richardson, Jo Walker, Rt Hon H.(D'caster)
Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Watkins, David
Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N) Weetch, Ken
Robertson, George Wellbeloved, James
Robinson, G. (Coventry NW) Welsh, Michael
Rooker, J. W. White, Frank R.
Roper, John White, J. (G'gow Pollok)
Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) Whitlock, William
Ryman, John Wigley, Dafydd
Sandelson, Neville Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Sever, John Williams, Rt Hon A.(S'sea W)
Sheerman, Barry Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Sheldon, Rt Hon R. Wilson, William (C'try SE)
Silkin, Rt Hon J. (Deptford) Winnick, David
Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich) Woodall, Alec
Silverman, Julius Woolmer, Kenneth
Skinner, Dennis Young, David (Bolton E)
Smith, Rt Hon J. (N Lanark)
Snape, Peter Tellers for the Ayes:
Soley, Clive Mr. James Hamilton and Mr. Joseph Dean.
Spearing, Nigel
Adley, Robert Butcher, John
Aitken, Jonathan Cadbury, Jocelyn
Alexander, Richard Carlisle, John (Luton West)
Alison, Michael Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Chalker, Mrs. Lynda
Ancram, Michael Channon, Rt. Hon. Paul
Arnold, Tom Chapman, Sydney
Aspinwall, Jack Churchill, W. S.
Atkins, Rt Hon H.(S'thorne) Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th, S'n)
Atkins, Robert(Preston N) Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Baker, Kenneth(St.M'bone) Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Clegg, Sir Walter
Banks, Robert Cockeram, Eric
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Colvin, Michael
Bell, Sir Ronald Cope, John
Bendall, Vivian Corrie, John
Benyon, Thomas (A'don) Cranborne, Viscount
Berry, Hon Anthony Critchley, Julian
Best, Keith Crouch, David
Bevan, David Gilroy Dickens, Geoffrey
Biggs-Davison, John Dorrell, Stephen
Blackburn, John Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.
Blaker, Peter Dover, Denshore
Body, Richard du Cann, Rt Hon Edward
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Dunn, Robert (Dartford)
Bottomley, Peter (W'wich W) Eden, Rt Hon Sir John
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)
Braine, Sir Bernard Eggar, Tim
Bright, Graham Elliott, Sir William
Brinton, Tim Emery, Peter
Brittan, Leon Eyre, Reginald
Brooke, Hon Peter Fairbairn, Nicholas
Brown, Michael(Brigg & Sc'n) Fairgrieve, Russell
Bruce-Gardyne, John Faith, Mrs Sheila
Bryan, Sir Paul Farr, John
Buchanan-Smith, Alick Fell, Anthony
Buck, Antony Fenner, Mrs Peggy
Bulmer, Esmond Fisher, Sir Nigel
Burden, Sir Frederick Fletcher, A. (Ed'nb'gh N)
Fletcher-Cooke, Sir Charles Mayhew, Patrick
Fookes, Miss Janet Mellor, David
Forman, Nigel Meyer, Sir Anthony
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Miller, Hal (B'grove)
Fox, Marcus Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Fraser, Peter (South Angus) Mills, Peter (West Devon)
Fry, Peter Miscampbell, Norman
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)
Gardner, Edward (S Fylde) Moate, Roger
Garel-Jones, Tristan Monro, Hector
Glyn, Dr Alan Montgomery, Fergus
Goodhew, Victor Moore, John
Goodlad, Alastair Morgan, Geraint
Gower, Sir Raymond Morris, M. (N'hampton S)
Gray, Hamish Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Greenway, Harry Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)
Griffiths, E.(B'y St. Edm'ds) Mudd, David
Griffiths, Peter Portsm'th N) Murphy, Christopher
Grist, Ian Myles, David
Gummer, John Selwyn Neale, Gerrard
Hamilton, Hon A. Needham, Richard
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Nelson, Anthony
Hampson, Dr Keith Neubert, Michael
Hannam, John Newton, Tony
Haselhurst, Alan Onslow, Cranley
Hastings, Stephen Page, Rt Hon Sir G. (Crosby)
Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Page, Richard (SW Herts)
Hawksley, Warren Parkinson, Cecil
Hayhoe, Barney Parris, Matthew
Heddle, John Patten, Christopher (Bath)
Henderson, Barry Patten, John (Oxford)
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Pattie, Geoffrey
Hicks, Robert Pawsey, James
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Pink, R. Bonner
Holland, Philip (Carlton) Porter, Barry
Hooson, Tom Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Hordern, Peter Price, Sir David (Eastleigh)
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Prior, Rt Hon James
Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldf'd) Proctor, K. Harvey
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Irving, Charles (Cheltenham) Raison, Timothy
Johnson Smith, Geoffrey Rathbone, Tim
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal)
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Rees-Davies, W. R.
Kaberry, Sir Donald Renton, Tim
Kimball, Marcus Rhodes James, Robert
King, Rt Hon Tom Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Knox, David Ridley, Hon Nicholas
Lang, Ian Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Langford-Holt, Sir John Rifkind, Malcolm
Latham, Michael Roberts, M. (Cardiff NW)
Lawrence, Ivan Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel Rossi, Hugh
Lee, John Rost, Peter
Le Marchant, Spencer Royle, Sir Anthony
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.
Lloyd, Ian (Havant & W'loo) Scott, Nicholas
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Loveridge, John Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Luce, Richard Shelton, William (Streatham)
Lyell, Nicholas Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
McCrindle, Robert Shepherd, Richard
Macfarlane, Neil Shersby, Michael
MacGregor, John Silvester, Fred
MacKay, John (Argyll) Sims, Roger
Macmillan, Rt Hon M. Skeet, T. H. H.
McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury) Speller, Tony
McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st) Spence, John
McQuarrie, Albert Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)
Madel, David Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Major, John Sproat, Iain
Marland, Paul Squire, Robin
Marlow, Tony Stanbrook, Ivor
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Stanley, John
Mates, Michael Steen, Anthony
Maude, Rt Hon Sir Angus Stevens, Martin
Mawby, Ray Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Stewart, A.(E Renfrewshire)
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Stokes, John
Stradling Thomas, J. Wall, Patrick
Taylor, Robert (Croydon NW) Waller, Gary
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E) Walters, Dennis
Tebbit, Norman Ward, John
Temple-Morris, Peter Warren, Kenneth
Thomas, Rt Hon Peter Watson, John
Thompson, Donald Wells, John (Maidstone)
Thornton, Malcolm Wells, Bowen
Townend, John (Bridlington) Wheeler, John
Townsend, Cyril D, (B'heath) Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Trippier, David Whitney, Raymond
Trotter, Neville Wickenden, Keith
van Straubenzee, W. R. Wiggin, Jerry
Vaughan, Dr Gerard Williams, D.(Montgomery)
Viggers, Peter Wolfson, Mark
Waddington, David Young, Sir George (Acton)
Wakeham, John Younger, Rt Hon George
Waldegrave, Hon William
Walker, Rt Hon P.(W'cester) Tellers for the Noes:
Walker, B. (Perth) Mr. Carol Mather and Mr. Robert Boscawen.
Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir D.

Question accordingly negatived.

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