HC Deb 24 November 1981 vol 13 cc745-6
12. Mr. Knox

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

Mrs. Chalker

Our latest estimate is that one-parent benefit is being paid to about 66 per cent. of the lone parents who stand to gain by claiming the benefit.

Mr. Knox

While this represents an improvement compared with the position 12 months ago, does my hon. Friend agree that it is still rather a disappointing percentage? Does she propose to take any further steps to initiate an improvement?

Mrs. Chalker

There has been an improvement of 6 per cent. since a year ago, but the action that we are taking is as follows. We have already changed the name from "child benefit increase" to "one-parent benefit", which is more expressive and encourages more single-parent families to make applications. This month a note advertising one-parent benefit to all new child benefit recipients will be sent with their books. From January, over a period of 10 weeks, a letter will be sent to 300,000 people who are single payees on the child benefit order book. There will be a television filler film for both BBC and ITV and cassettes for local and national radio stations. In March 1982 we shall update the note advertising one-parent benefit with a special note in the child benefit order books advertising pictorially one-parent benefit on one side and family income supplement on the other side.

Mr. Carter-Jones

Does the Minister agree that one-parent families are probably the poorest families in the country? Is she satisfied about the attitude of inspectors in the Department regarding the harassment of such one-parent families? Will she undertake to investigate such harassment and report back to the House?

Mrs. Chalker

As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are already a large number of disadvantaged two-parent families as well as single-parent families. With regard to his second point, there is no excuse and no reason for any claimants to be harassed. The instructions on the investigators' guide are clear. We are following up any cases of potential harassment reported to us.

Mr. Robert Hughes

As the Minister shows such great sympathy for one-parent and two-parent families facing difficulties, may I ask whether she saw the programme on television last night in which it was alleged that people being investigated by the special squads were taken into a room and locked inside until they could provide answers? Will she make a statement and arrange for a full investigation, and make sure that if someone is to be investigated he is allowed to take a friend with him or at least is not locked in while the investigation is taking place?

Mrs. Chalker

I saw the programme to which the hon. Gentleman refers. With all my experience, I found it to be an unbalanced programme, for a number of reasons. One is that it is often for the privacy and security of the person concerned that he is in a room with the door locked. On frequent occasions, in the public waiting areas of our local offices, people burst in through doors, which destroys privacy——

Mr. Hughes

These doors were locked on the outside.

Mrs. Chalker

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am looking closely at all the allegations that were made in the film, but they were vastly exaggerated and unbalanced in their presentation. I shall certainly look into the matter a good deal further.