HC Deb 18 June 1985 vol 81 cc156-7
6. Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what is the estimated cost of child benefit in the current year.

Mr. Whitney

It is estimated that expenditure on child benefit in 1985–86—the current financial year—will be £4.4 billion.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

Will my hon. Friend confirm that most of that huge sum goes to families who are well above the supplementary benefit level? Is it sensible to churn money around the system so indiscriminately?

Mr. Whitney

My hon. Friend will have noted the examination of that proposition in the Green Paper and the fact that we remain dedicated to the existing structure and basis of child benefit. If child benefit were taxed, the effect on the great majority of working families would be the equivalent of a 30 per cent. reduction in child support.

Mr. Frank Field

What arguments has the Minister found to be the most effective in his attempts to defend the universality of this benefit?

Mr. Whitney

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the discussion of that point in the Green Paper. I repeat, we have concluded at this stage that we shall retain the structure and basis of child benefit.

Mr. Andrew Bowden

Will my hon. Friend explain why it is fair and reasonable to pay child benefit to those earning £10,000 or £20,000 a year when he intends to cut housing benefit for pensioners on low incomes?

Mr. Whitney

This is going over the same ground. The arguments on housing benefit are clearly set out in the Green Paper. Our dedication to child support and the family has been a consistent and reiterated principle of this Administration.

Mr. Wigley

Is the Minister aware that child benefit is usually paid to women and that, if there are changes in the structure, women could suffer unless both the value of the benefit and the means of payment are safeguarded to ensure that it goes to them?

Mr. Whitney

That point has consistently been taken into account. It takes us into the area of individual responsibility between husband and wife within the family.