HC Deb 15 January 1985 vol 71 cc168-9
2. Mr. Andrew Bowden

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement on the current state of his social security reviews.

The Secretary of State for Social Services (Mr. Norman Fowler)

I am currently considering the work which has been done on pensions, benefits for children and young people, supplementary benefit and housing benefit. I hope to be in a position to announce proposals for change in the course of the next few months.

Mr. Bowden

I fully accept the need for such reviews, but will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that it would be quite wrong if, to obtain some limited savings on administration by streamlining certain areas, he dovetailed various allowances into one level, which meant that those on the highest level no longer received them? Can he assure me that those who get the maximum amount will not be affected, as they are inevitably those who are in the greatest need?

Mr. Fowler

One of the aims of the reviews is to bring help to people in the greatest need. I shall have to ask my hon. Friend to wait and see in regard to the proposals. I shall not make commitments on that or any other benefit.

Mr. Park

What is the primary purpose of these reviews? Is it to save money, or to discover whether the services are adequate?

Mr. Fowler

The reviews have a whole range of purposes. One of the first is to see whether we can reduce the complexity of the system, which I think the hon. Gentleman will agree is bad for claimants and expensive to administer. A second purpose is to ensure that we are making best use of available resources and channelling them to the people in most need.

Mr. Marlow

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the best ways to alleviate the problem of family poverty is to provide some sort of an allowance for those mothers who stay at home to nceslook after their children? Will he talk to his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer with a view to transferring some of the cash from the married man's allowance to those spouses who are not in employment and who stay at home to look after children?

Mr. Fowler

I hear what my hon. Friend says. I am talking and will talk to my right hon. Friend about the inter-relationship of benefits and taxes.

Mr. Gordon Brown

Will the Minister confirm that among the recommendations of the social security review committees is the abolition of heating additions, and that this could be the last winter that pensioners receive heating allowances, no matter how cold the weather? If, as he has admitted to me in an answer published today, Treasury officials are attending meetings of the social security review committees, how will it be possible for him to resist the Treasury's insatiable demands for public spending cuts?

Mr. Fowler

As to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, as I said, I am not making commitments on particular benefits. As to the second part, not just Treasury Ministers or officials, but officials and Ministers from other Departments and people from outside Government are attending. If the House contrasts that with what the Labour Government did in 1978 when they had a review of supplementary benefit carried out entirely by civil servants, it will agree that the way in which we have approached this matter is infinitely superior.

Mr. Galley

I am grateful for my right hon. Friend's assurance about simplification. In seeking to simplify the system, will he seriously consider the possibility of a simple minimum income support system to replace the current complex supplementary benefit, which acts as a gateway to a plethora of other benefits which, in turn, increase the poverty trap and allow some people to milk the system?

Mr. Fowler

A whole range of proposals have been put forward around that idea. They will be considered.

Mrs. Beckett

Does the Secretary of State admit that for two reasons the reviews are of limited value only? The first is the no-cost theme which pervades them all, and the second is that he and his Department persist in introducing changes which will be disadvantageous to claimants on pensions or benefits without waiting for the result of the reviews? I have in mind the proposal contained in the Social Security Bill, through which 44 per cent. of those who receive invalidity benefit will lose out. How can the Secretary of State claim that the reviews are fundamental when he is making such changes all the time?

Mr. Fowler

The hon. Lady must recognise that we cannot stop all change inside the social security system while the reviews take place. The point of the reviews is to have a new look at the whole of social security. It is the first time that it has been done for many years. It is long overdue, and I am surprised that when the Opposition were in government they did not do something of the same kind.