HC Deb 29 April 1986 vol 96 cc774-5
10. Mr. Evans

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many representations he has received in support of the Government's proposals for a family credit scheme.

Mr. Major

Many organisations and individuals responded to the proposals in the Green Paper "Reform of Social Security". The responses were not generally in a form permitting a simple breakdown of numbers for or against specific proposals, but many supported the main objectives of family credit, including the need to improve help for low-income families with children and the need to improve work incentives.

Mr. Evans

Will the Minister confirm that every women's organisation and every employer and trade union organisation representing women has protested in the strongest possible terms about this disgraceful proposal? Why do Tory Governments persist in treating women with contempt?

Mr. Major

I cannot precisely confirm the hon. Gentleman's first observation. To say that we are treating women with contempt is a curious comment to make about a benefit that doubles the number of beneficiaries and ensures that every beneficiary gets more money than before. That is the sort of contempt most people would welcome.

Mr. Squire

Given that the trigger mechanism for activating family credit is identical to the trigger mechanism for family income supplement, but that it is no longer paid to the caring parent, is my hon. Friend satisfied that it will lead to a reduction in family poverty?

Mr. Major

I understand the meaning behind my hon. Friend's remarks. I must point out to him that most two-parent working families rely on one wage and accept responsibility for deciding how to use it. There is no reason why that principle should not apply when family credit is part of the income.

Dr. Godman

What rate of take-up is anticipated for this benefit?

Mr. Major

The take-up for family income supplement is about 50 per cent. We anticipate that family credit will have a 60 per cent. take-up. That, of course, is a matter of speculative judgment and one cannot be sure, but we are relatively confident that it will have a substantially higher take-up than family income supplement.

Mr. Meadowcroft

Does the Minister accept that Governments of various colours have recognised that this benefit ought to be paid to the woman? What made the Government decide to move away from that crucial principle?

Mr. Major

The hon. Gentleman misunderstands the nature of the benefit. It forms a substantial element of help to low-income families. On that basis, it is entirely logical to illustrate its links with employment by payment in the fashion that we propose. We think that it will prove to be a popular benefit.

Mr. McCrindle

I endorse the sentiment underlying the idea of family credit. Has my hon. Friend received any representations from small employers expressing anxiety about the additional workload that will be placed upon them?

Mr. Major

There is considerable misunderstanding about the amount of work that will fall to employers. We intend that the Department of Health and Social Security will make the calculations for family credit and the recalculations when a new period of benefit is due. We shall shortly issue a consultation paper for employers to comment upon and we shall enter into discussions with them about the way in which the benefit will work.

Mrs. Beckett

Does the Minister acknowledge that a more truthful answer to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) would have been "one"? Does he also acknowledge that about like 100,000 families who will lose their entitlement to free school meals are not likely to welcome this benefit, especially as their compensation, when offset against housing benefit, is likely to be about 44p a week?

Mr. Major

In reply to the first part of the hon. Lady's question, I have nothing to add to what I said in reply to her hon. Friend. The hon. Lady mentioned school meals. She should bear in mind that the element of family credit that is applicable to school meals is £2.20 a week. Moreover, that is paid for 52 weeks of the year, whereas free school meals apply generally, but not inevitably, merely for 30 weeks of the year.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

Does my hon. Friend agree that giving more financial assistance to parents with older children by means of family credit is an important step towards helping those greatly in need?

Mr. Major

I entirely agree with that observation.