HC Deb 12 June 1984 vol 61 cc752-3
12. Mr. Yeo

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what representations he has received about the current year's uprating of child benefit.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mr. Tony Newton)

We have received representations from the Child Poverty Action Group, the Family Forum, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children and the Trades Union Congress.

Mr. Yeo

Does my hon. Friend agree that although increasing tax thresholds is one way of tackling the poverty trap, a more cost-effective way would be to increase child benefit? Accordingly, will he bring as much pressure to bear as possible on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ensure that child benefit is increased this year by a percentage not less than the increase in tax thresholds?

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend will not expect me to anticipate the uprating statement, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State must make in due course. I am sure that both he and the Chancellor will take note of what my hon. Friend said. The only basis on which increases in child benefit can reduce the poverty trap is if existing means-tested benefits are comparably reduced, that is, if dependence on means-testing is reduced. There is a conflict between tackling poverty and tackling the poverty trap.

Mrs. Beckett

Does the Minister accept that since his hon. Friend the hon. Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo) is correct in saying that raising child benefit is the most efficient and effective way of reducing poverty, if that increase is not comparable with the increase in tax allowances it will be seen as evidence that the Government are more interested in methods of change to help the wealthy than in those which give greatest help to the poor?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Lady made a number of points about a difficult area, which must be considered. However, she is plain wrong in saying that increases in child benefit are the most effective way of tackling poverty.

Mr. Forth

Does my hon. Friend agree that the effectiveness of child benefit is blunted by its indiscriminate nature? Does he agree that the problem is that too many people, probably including many hon. Members, are receiving child benefit when, patently, they do not need it? Will he consider that point?

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend will be aware that the Minister for Health is currently chairing a review of benefits for children and young persons. I am sure that he will note what my hon. Friend said.