HC Deb 19 December 1988 vol 144 cc9-10
8. Mr. Terry Davis

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what representations he received following his decision to freeze child benefit.

Mr. Moore

I have received less than 200 letters on child benefit since my uprating statement on 27 October.

Mr. Davis

Have any of those representations made the point that the people who are most badly affected by this decision are those who are working for low wages and that the take-up rate for child benefit is 100 per cent., compared with 40 per cent. for family credit?

Mr. Moore

It is not 100 per cent.; it is less than that. To be precise, it is 98 per cent. There is a difference. The facts to which the hon. Gentleman refers rightly draw attention to problems with the take-up of family credit, but that does not deny to families the opportunity and the ability, with the help of hon. Members, to avail themselves of family credit. That would mean an increase of almost double what they would have received, had they simply received a flat rate increase in child benefit.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that many Conservative Members do not feel that child benefit as presently constituted is best targeted? Will he particularly bear in mind the importance of ensuring that those very large sums of money go to the families and the children who are most in need and are not spread in the very untargeted fashion that they are at present?

Mr. Moore

My hon. Friend is quite right to remind the House that the absence of an uprating this year does not exclude the fact that we are spending £4.5 billion on child benefit in the coming year. He was right to remind the House that 70 per cent. of child benefit goes to families with above average incomes.

Mr. Madden

Does the Secretary of State accept that information about child benefit and family credit will be much harder to obtain if benefit shops in Bradford, Shipley and Keighley close on Friday and are not re-opened next year? Will he call upon Bradford council to keep those advice shops open pending a meeting that I have requested with Ministers of his Department, Members of Parliament and other representatives from Bradford? Will he urge Bradford council to keep those shops open pending the outcome of that meeting because of the urgency of the situation in which many people will be placed early next year?

Mr. Moore

I am tempted to say that I admire the way in which the hon. Member has got in the point about which he has written to me, but that might only encourage such activity. I remind him, as I did through my Office and in correspondence, that the benefit offices for which I am responsible remain open arid able to give capable advice.

Mr. Neil Hamilton

Does my right hon. Friend agree that most child benefit is paid to households who pay out more in taxation than they receive in benefits of one kind or another, and is, therefore, a badly targeted benefit? Does he understand the extraordinary attitude of the Opposition who oppose tax cuts for average earners, yet are prepared to shower child benefit on the rich?

Mr. Moore

My hon. Friend is right to remind us that more than 80 per cent. of families in receipt of child benefit are taxpayers and have benefited more than somewhat from the reduction in taxation this year and in previous years.

Mr. Robin Cook

Is the Secretary of State aware that during the lifetime of this Government successive Chancellors have raised the married man's allowance by 22 per cent. while successive Secretaries of State for Social Security have cut child benefit by 13 per cent? Will he explain by what leap of mental gymnastics his Government have concluded that the cost of maintaining a wife has gone up by one fifth but the cost of bringing up a child has gone down by one eighth? Will he also explain why they regard universal tax allowances as being well targeted, but universal benefits as being badly targeted?

Mr. Moore

I find it almost incomprehensible that the hon. Gentleman, for whom I occasionally have some fondness, has the temerity to make any comparison across the Floor of the House about the relative help and support for families with children between the Opposition when in office and the Government. In only one out of 62 sad months while they were in office did their ability to help families with children come anywhere near the complete record of the Government in office. That is their record of failure and it is an appalling base on which to ask a question.

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