HC Deb 09 February 1988 vol 127 cc180-1
9. Mr. Wigley

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Services what recent representations he has received concerning the implementation of the new social security regime under the Social Security Act 1986 in April.

Mr. Portillo

Implementation of the new schemes is generally well advanced, and we continue to receive a variety of representations.

Mr. Wigley

Is the Minister aware of the considerable additional work load that is placed on DHSS employees in local offices in trying to cope with the change? Is he aware that some staff have been working successive weekends for weeks on end? What proposals does he have to bring additional staff to the offices to make sure that the public do not suffer as a result of the changes?

Mr. Portillo

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his supplementary question because it gives me the opportunity to pay tribute to the staff in local offices who, as the hon. Gentleman says, have been working extremely hard and have the conversion to income support well on track. We have recruited some 9,000 extra staff over the past two years, and additional staff were taken on precisely for the conversion.

Mr. Dickens

Does my hon. Friend agree that the general public demand a welfare state system that is selective, not universal? Does he also agree that that is exactly what the Conservative Government are doing—targeting help to those in genuine need? What is wrong with that? Is it not right that that is the way we should carry on?

Mr. Portillo

My hon. Friend has put his finger on the main issue of the debate. The Government continue to maintain two sorts of benefits — income-related, and universal, such as child benefit. The two sets of benefits have their place in the system.

Mr. Robin Cook

Does the Minister recognise that there must be very severe hardship in those local offices which have received allocations from the social fund for next year which are less than half their expenditure on single payments for last year? Can he come up with a better explanation of why those offices are concentrated in areas of deprivation such as Glasgow, Leeds and Bathgate, and why the offices which do best are those such as Epsom, Tunbridge Wells and Bognor Regis? Can there be any possible explanation for the ludicrous misallocation, other than naked political bias?

Mr. Portillo

The hon. Gentleman knows that the social fund budget is £210 million, compared with the £190 million being spent this year on single payments. I placed in the Library for the perusal of the hon. Gentleman the method by which this had been calculated. When we last debated the issue, I was not entirely sure that he had read it.

Mr. Favell

if low-income families have to budget, why should not those on supplementary income benefits have to do exactly the same?

Mr. Portillo

The very important consideration in the reforms is that we are giving people on low incomes a sum of money from which they can budget. We are doing away with all the little additions under the supplementary benefit system and are dealing with people by groups, who receive premiums. We think it right that they should manage, but with help from the social fund.

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