HC Deb 10 July 1984 vol 63 cc870-1
9. Mrs. Beckett

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether the £4 earnings allowance for those on supplementary benefit has been changed.

Dr. Boyson

We have no current plans to increase the £4 supplementary benefit earnings disregard.

Mrs. Beckett

Is the Minister aware that the existing allowance is rendered null and void if, in other ways, through the benefit system people have charges imposed on them—such as national insurance—which are more than the earnings allowance? I noted the Minister saying that these matters would be considered in a review. Can he assure us that they will be considered favourably and reviewed to the advantage rather than to the disadvantage of claimants?

Dr. Boyson

The supplementary benefit review will examine all aspects of supplementary benefit, including the earnings disregard. I remind the House that the Conservative Government in 1980 doubled the earnings disregard from £2 to £4 for the unemployed and increased it considerably for one-parent families.

Mr. Nicholls

Does my hon. Friend have any plans for the review to deal with the anomaly whereby a person over the age of 60 who has elected to take long-term supplementary benefit and effectively becomes a pensioner is nevertheless tied to the amount of earnings disregard as if he were not retired?

Dr. Boyson

I appreciate what my hon. Friend says. We are examining that matter. Whatever moneys are available, we have always considered it better to spend that on increasing benefits than on increasing disregards.

Mr. John

If the real value of income disregard is not maintained, does that not restrict access to benefits? Does the Minister agree that income disregard for supplementary benefit, which was introduced in 1975 at £4, ought to be £10 a week so that it keeps its real value?

Dr. Boyson

The hon. Gentleman's calculation is correct. At any time the Government have just so much money for social security. The more that is spent on earnings disregard, the less will be spent on increased benefits. Short and long-term supplementary benefits are higher in real terms than when we came to office. That is where our priorities lie.

Mr. Ralph Howell

Is my hon. Friend aware of the abuse of social security benefits, whereby young people state that their place of abode is somewhere other than their home and thus increase their supplementary benefit from £16 to £51? Will he urgently set up an inquiry into that practice?

Dr. Boyson

The inquirers will be very busy. I appreciate what my right hon. Friend says. I shall meet another of my hon. Friends this afternoon to discuss the same sort of abuse, in which people move to the south coast with no intention of taking work. Just as we must ensure that those who deserve money will receive it, so it is our job to make sure that those who do not deserve it do not receive it.

Dr. Mawhinney

When does my hon. Friend expect to conclude the review of the regulations which allows those receiving supplementary benefit to receive up to £140 a week from lodgers without their supplementary benefit being affected?

Dr. Boyson

I thank my hon. Friend for bringing this matter to my attention, which he did in person last week. The matter has been brought to the attention of the press this week.

Mr. Rogers

Public school sneak.

Mr. Speaker