HC Deb 24 November 1981 vol 13 cc735-6
1. Mr. Robert Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what proposals he has to improve the position of the long-term unemployed in relation to their entitlement to benefit.

The Minister for Social Security (Mr. Hugh Rossi)

With effect from yesterday, unemployed men of 60 or over who have been receiving supplementary benefit for a year or more and decide not to register for work have become eligible for the higher long-term rate of benefit. Of course, we have every sympathy with the problems faced by those who have been unemployed for a long time, but, as the cost of extending entitlement to all long-term unemployed people would be well in excess of £100 million, this cannot be done in the present economic circumstances.

Mr. Hughes

Does the Minister realise that that answer is humbug? Does he accept that the under-60s must be facing problems as great as those of the over-60s, and that for a married man under 60 to lose as much as £10 a week is discrimination against the unemployed? Will he for once put his sympathy in the right place, do things properly, and extend the rate for people under 60?

Mr. Rossi

It ill becomes Labour Members to speak of humbug. During the whole of the Labour Administration they spoke of a high priority for extending long-term benefits, but did nothing. We at least have extended it to one class of people and reduced the waiting period from two years to one year. We have done something. They did nothing.

Mr. Paul Dean

I welcome my hon. Friend's original answer, but will he give special consideration to the long-term unemployed who have children, and particularly bear in mind the fact that they are not eligible for the long-term rate of supplementary benefit, however long their period of unemployment?

Mr. Rossi

I note what my hon. Friend said. We shall, of course, consider the matter carefully.

Mr. Mike Thomas

On unemployment benefit as a whole, will the Minister give a pledge that the Government do not intend—it would be the first time in 50 years that any Government did this—to reduce the real value of unemployment benefit?

Mr. Rossi

I cannot speak of these matters today. Public expenditure is under review, and a statement will be made in due course.

Mr. Buchan

The Minister should be a little more honest when he answers questions. The Government have already cut these benefits, and I wish that he would admit that. Does the Minister realise that we are in a new situation? There has been a 70 per cent. increase in the long-term unemployed as a result of the Government's actions during the past 12 months. He is condemning men in their early forties and fifties to a permanent short-term supplementary benefit rate. The cost of putting them on a long-term rate is as nothing compared with the slow consequences of the Government's actions.

Mr. Rossi

I accept that last year there was a 5 per cent. abatement on unemployment benefit, but that was a preliminary to bringing unemployment benefit into taxation, which will take place later this Session.