HC Deb 27 November 1984 vol 68 cc765-7
5. Mr. Pike

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will consider extending to all the long-term unemployed the high long-term rates of benefit as recommended by the Social Security Advisory Committee.

The Minister for Social Security (Mr. Tony Newton)

As I told the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) on 12 November, the necessary resources of about £500 million are not available to implement this proposal, which in any case raises wider questions about the supplementary benefit scheme more properly considered in the current social security review.

Mr. Pike

Does the Minister accept that one of the main areas of concern connected with unemployment at present is the growth of long-term unemployment? Does he further accept that the longer that people are unemployed, the greater the expenses that they incur, because their belongings wear out? Should not the longterm unemployed be given a fair deal, should not resources be made available to meet their requirements, and should not the supplementary benefit system be changed so that assistance can be made available by way of unemployment benefit?

Mr. Newton

That view has been put forward by many who have given evidence to the supplementary benefit review, so of course it is a view that we shall consider.

Mr. Galley

In view of the present abuses, will the Government consider, in consultation with the Social Security Advisory Committee, the possibility of new arrangements for mortgage interest payments for the longterm unemployed and others to be made direct to the lender, not to the borrower?

Mr. Newton

I note what my hon Friend says. As I have said before, I am conscious of the concern expressed about the particular instance. However, I hope that, when pressing the point as a generality, my hon. Friend will accept that many people might well feel that it should not be an automatic consequence of becoming unemployed that their building society should immediately be informed by the local social security office.

Mr. Kirkwood

If cost is a reason for not extending the long-term rate of benefit to all claimants, will the Minister consider the SSAC's compromise arrangement of introducing it first to those claimants with dependent children?

Mr. Newton

That is another view that has been put forward to the supplementary benefit review. I answer with some hesitation only because those who say that this should be a priority rarely say which other matters should be given less priority in its place, which is the necessary concomitant.

Mr. Meacher

Given that the cost of extending the benefit to the long-term unemployed would be about £500 million a year, how can the Government justify refusing that benefit to the unemployed when they have this year handed out almost exactly the same sum—£520 million— to the very rich by halving stamp duty on stock exchange transactions and abolishing the unearned income surcharge? Is this not the most blatant example yet of having one law for the rich and another for the poor and the unemployed?

Mr. Newton

The most effective action that the Government can take to help the long-term unemployed is to improve the prospects for employment. [Interruption.] It seems extraordinary to me that the Labour party should apparently believe that unemployment problems do not involve increasing the prospects for employment, but it may explain some of the strange remarks made by Opposition Members.

Mr. Wareing

The Government are not doing it.

Mr. Newton

Our aim is to improve prospects for employment. Part of that policy is to stimulate and encourage investment, and we are doing that with considerable success.