HC Deb 19 December 1988 vol 144 cc10-2
9. Sir Geoffrey Finsberg

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what steps is he taking to reduce paperwork relating to social security administration.

Mr. Peter Lloyd

The operational strategy—our innovative and massive programme to computerise social security administration—means that by mid-1991 most local office work will be computerised. That will result in a considerable reduction in paper records as well as producing a more efficient service for customers and better jobs for staff.

Sir Geoffrey Finsberg

Will my hon. Friend assure me that he is continuing the work started by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker), now Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, in simplifying the forms, and that the computerisation will enable us as Members of Parliament to get slightly swifter answers to the queries that we send to what was the DHSS and is now the DSS than we are receiving at present?

Mr. Lloyd

Yes, it should certainly help the latter. More importantly, it will enable us to get information more quickly to the claimants. As for the leaflets and forms to which my hon. Friend referred, we have reviewed all our forms. We still have more work to do on them, but the object is to make them fewer in number, clearer and easier to follow. That is already apparent in many of the forms now available, but I should point out that it will not always mean that they are shorter. One of the misapprehensions is that shortness makes for clarity. It does not. We design our forms so that they can be gone through logically and easily filled in, so we are aiming for simplicity as well as a reduction in numbers.

Mr. Rooker

What action is the Minister taking to ensure that paperwork is readable? Conservative Members do not hold as many surgeries as my hon. Friends—[Interruption.] Does the Minister appreciate that the legibility of some of the forms, especially the carbonless paper forms, causes massive problems for constituents and makes it more difficult for us and others to advise them because we cannot read the information entered on the forms? Something must be done to improve that part of the operation.

Mr. Lloyd

If the hon. Gentleman held as many surgeries as he implies, he would know that many of the forms are much better and clearer. Part of the exercise in which we are engaged is designed to ensure that all the information is immediately available and simple to follow, so that even the hon. Gentleman will be able to understand the forms.

Mrs. Gillian Shephard

Will my hon. Friend tell the House how much cash has been invested in the computerisation programme?

Mr. Lloyd

Since the scheme was first developed in 1982, about £1.2 billion has been invested.

Mr. Alfred Morris

Does the Minister recall that reducing paperwork and simplifying the system were among the reasons given for savaging benefits, not least for disabled people on 11 April? Now that we have the authoritative evidence of the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys about mass deprivation among disabled people, will any or all of those cuts be reversed?

Mr. Lloyd

Overall, there were no cuts in April. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, spending this year on social security is higher than it was last year. The changes that have been made have directed money to those most in need. The right hon. Gentleman also knows that the largest changes were in income support, where there is a special premium for the disabled. The other disablement benefits will be examined thoroughly again when we have all the OPCS reports. Therefore, the area in which the right hon. Gentleman is interested benefited in April this year and there is more to come.

Mr. Jack

In the review of paperwork, will my hon. Friend ensure that he maintains on paper a supply of the excellent information to citizens advice bureaux, Age Concern and other organisations which give information to the public about our benefits?

Mr. Lloyd

We are anxious that all outside organisations, in addition to those mentioned by my hon. Friend, have a full knowledge of the services offered by the Department.