HC Deb 22 March 1988 vol 130 cc306-31 10.13 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mr. Michael Portillo)

I beg to move, That the draft Income Support (General) Amendment Regulations 1988, which were laid before this House on 16th March, be approved. It may be for the convenience of the House if we consider also the following motion: That the draft Family Credit (General) Amendment Regulations 1988, which were laid before this House on 16th March, be approved.

Mr. Speaker

If the Minister has the agreement of the House, so be it.

Mr. Portillo

The regulations make a number of changes to regulations that were debated and approved by the House in November last year. Taken together with the original sets, they complete the detailed framework for two of the major strands of the Government's reform of the income-related benefit system that is to take effect next month.

I shall not delay tonight's proceedings with a detailed exposition of the background to the social security reforms and the reasons underlying the changes. They have been debated by the House on numerous occasions. The majority of the changes are necessary to correct minor or technical defects in the original regulations. Work has been going on since November of last year to convert existing supplementary benefit cases to income support and, since January of this year, to transfer claimants from family income supplement to family credit. During this time the regulations have been subjected to very close scrutiny, and it is inevitable that questions have arisen about the interpretation of particular provisions. Amendments are therefore needed at this stage to clarify the drafting and to put the original policy intention beyond doubt.

In a number of instances, similar provisions are included in both the income support and the family credit amending regulations. The most important are the provisions concerning payments from the Macfarlane trust. This charitable trust, which is to be administered by the Haemophilia Society, has been established to provide grants for haemophiliacs who contracted the HIV antibody-positive virus through contaminated blood products. The Government, as hon. Members will recall, have provided £10 million for the trust.

By virtue of the provisions in the amending regulations, any income or capital received from the trust will be ignored completely in the assessment of a claimant's entitlement to income support or family credit. I am sure that the House will particularly welcome that. I should add that, through an administrative arrangement, beneficiaries will not be required to inform the Department that they' have received payments. The arrangement has been introduced, exceptionally, to keep confidential the individual's condition. Similar provisions on disregards and confidentiality are in the Housing Benefit (General) Amendment Regulations, to be debated tomorrow.

A number of amendments in the income support arid family credit regulations are consequential on provisions in the Social Security Act 1988, which received royal assent last week. For example, regulation 27 clarifies the basis on which payment for odd days' entitlement to income support is to be calculated. The new regulation provides a simple method of calculating part-week payments of income support by apportioning weekly entitlement. Without this amendment, weekly applicable amounts and weekly income would have to be apportioned separately. The change will bring a small but welcome simplification for local offices, and the calculation will be more easily understood by claimants.

The effect of provisions in the 1988 Act is to leave it for regulations to prescribe the date from which entitlement to family credit is to commence. This is covered in the Claims and Payments (Amendment) Regulations, which provide for circumstances in which entitlement to family credit needs to start from a date that is different from the date of claim. As a corollary, the Family Credit (Amendment) Regulations 11 and 12 provide for the benefit rates to be used in calculating entitlement to be those applying at the date when entitlement is to commence. This will ensure that those who claim in advance are assessed at the higher rates if there is any relevant change in the rates —ng a child's birthday which takes them into a higher age band, or an uprating—between the date of claim and the date from which the award is payable.

The House will recall that on 1 March we debated the Unemployment Benefit (Disqualification Period) Order 1988, which extended the maximum disqualification period for unemployment benefit from 13 to 26 weeks in cases of voluntary unemployment. Regulations 7 and 11B of the Income Support (General) Amendment Regulations provide for an equivalent period to apply to income support. Like supplementary benefit, income support will be payable at a reduced rate where a claimant has been disqualified from receiving unemployment benefit because of voluntary unemployment.

There are a number of amendments concerning the payment of income support to claimants involved in trade disputes. The amendments are consequential upon the replacement of section 23(8) of the Social Security Act 1986 by section 23A, which has been added to the Social Security Act 1988. The new section 23A, like its predecessor, provides that income support can be paid for up to 15 days when a person who has been involved in a trade dispute returns to work with the same employer, and that any benefit paid is recoverable from either the claimant or his employer. The regulations generally preserve the position as it was under section 23(8). The exception is that payments in kind made during this 15-day period will not be taken into account when calculating entitlement.

Regulations 4 and 5 provide for the seven-day exclusion period still to count where the dispute lasts for less than a week and that a person is not treated as in remunerative work from the end of the exclusion period until the 15th day following his return to work. The other regulations provide for the treatment of income during the 15 days following the person's return to work.

Regulations 6 and 11(a) concern the payment of income support where the claimant fails the availability for work test. These regulations carry forward from the supplementary benefits scheme provision to meet hardship in certain circumstances where the claimant does not satisfy the requirement to be available and is not exempt from that condition.

The new provision is not so rigid as the previous one, when the claimant had to satisfy the adjudicating authorities that the only way to prevent serious risk or damage to the health or safety of the claimant or his family was by way of a benefit payment. Now the claimant will have to show only that he will suffer hardship if payment of income support is not made. The chief adjudication officer will be issuing guidance on the criteria to be used in these cases. Obviously, if a person had some other means of preventing hardship available to him he would be expected to use those resources first; otherwise, it would be difficult to accept that hardship would exist.

The calculation of a person's entitlement under this provision will be based upon the reduced personal allowances used in "voluntary unemployment" cases. It is right to use this level, because the claimant has not satisfied a basic requirement of the scheme. It would be inequitable to make a higher payment. This calculation will be used until either the claimant makes himself available or the risk of hardship ceases.

Regulation 8(b) deals with membership of the family where a person has been in hospital for more than 52 weeks. The effect of the regulation is to provide that children and parents who have been in hospital for more than 52 weeks will be treated as members of the family for income support purposes. This provision is needed for these groups; otherwise, there would be children in hospital for whom benefit could not be claimed and children whose parents were in hospital who would have no access to income support, as children are unable to claim in their own right.

Regulation 9 makes it clear that, in line with existing policy, a home can be treated as a registered residential care home for benefit purposes only if the Registered Homes Act 1984 requires that it be registered.

The regulations before us tonight complete the detailed preparations for introducing a simpler, more coherent, approach to benefit provision for people on low income, whether in or out of work. Much work has gone on behind the scenes, in local offices and in North Fylde, where family credit is administered.

Dr. Norman Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

Before the Minister finishes, will he provide the House with his latest estimate of the take-up rate for family credit and tell us how that compares and contrasts with the take-up rate for family income supplement? Might not many children in Strathclyde be denied free school meals?

Mr. Portillo

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's later point is that family credit families will not receive free school meals; they will receive cash. The amount of cash averaged over the year is more than the average cost of school meals. One hundred thousand more children across the country will receive the cash than currently receive free school meals, through both family credit and local authority discretionary schemes.

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's first point is that we believe that the take-up of family credit will be 10 percentage points higher than the take-up of family income supplement. However, the number of people involved is much higher. The contrast is between about 200,000 families who presently qualify for family income supplement and about 470,000 whom we believe will take up family credit. That is why the new benefit will cost about £220 million more than the old benefit.

As the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) raised the question of school meals, I remind him that every family claiming family credit will automatically get £2.for school meals, whereas before, under family income supplement, over and above the family income supplement, there was an unsatisfactory low take-up rate. Only 70 per cent. of the children on family income supplement took up the free school meals. The new system is superior in all sorts of ways.

Dr. Godman

Will the Minister give the House an assurance that no child will suffer because of the changes by the withdrawal of free school meals?

Mr. Portillo

I cannot guarantee that no child currently getting free school meals will not receive the cash in future. It ought to be of interest to the hon. Gentleman to know that 100,000 more children will get the cash than are getting free school meals under the combination of discretionary local authority schemes and family income supplement. The hon. Gentleman really should be concerned about the 100,000 more children.

Dr. Godman

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Portillo

Why does the hon. Gentleman not stay in the Chamber and make a speech on the subject?

Dr. Godman

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Portillo

No. I have given way twice already.

The exercise to convert more than 6 million supplementary benefit cases to income support which began last November is well on the way to completion, as is the work to transfer claimants from family income supplement to family credit. I wish to express my gratitude to the Department's staff for their efforts and for their remarkable achievement in converting all those cases.

The changes have produced a violent reaction from the Opposition, and no doubt we will hear a great deal more this evening about the alleged inequity of what is proposed. I ask the Opposition one question: what would they have done with the supplementary benefit scheme?

Much of the argument that we have heard during the past two years has been for the status quo. Indeed, on a number of occasions we have heard the case put for adding yet another complicating provision to an already excessively complex scheme. However, we have not heard about the enormous difficulties that people have had in working out what they are entitled to under the supplementary benefit scheme, or of the embarrassment that they may have felt in having to answer questions about their medical condition in order to justify extra payments for laundry, diet or heating.

The most recent complaint concerns the effect of the Budget on those on family credit and housing benefit, on the grounds that they have received only small increases in their incomes instead of tax cuts. This criticism ignores the fact that family credit will cost £200 million more than family income supplement, and suggests that Labour would like to return to a calculation based on gross income so that marginal tax rates of more than 100 per cent. would once again be a feature of the system. The abolition of that absurd situation was a major achievement in the reforms.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

The Minister is right to point out that at times it has been very confusing for people to work out their benefit rights. That was one reason why so many Labour local authorities set up welfare rights teams, which pointed out to people what they were entitled to receive with regard to single payments. Ministers then came to the Dispatch Box a nd said that they would change the system because people were suddenly claiming what was theirs by right.

Mr. Portillo

If that is the example that the hon. Gentleman wishes to take, I must tell him that single payments were supposed to be paid for exceptional needs. Increasingly, they have become part and parcel of day-to-day affairs, because the amount of money spent on single payments has risen rapidly. Indeed, it was doubling every two years. If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about the take-up campaign and people getting that to which they are entitled—which is an important concern—d welcome the reforms, because they will make the benefit scheme much simpler and make it clear to welfare rights officers and to claimants what they are entitled to, because the new basis is so much simpler.

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)

Will the Minister follow the logic of his argument? If single payments for extreme need are doubling, the need is probably doubling. Will he accept that that is a valid point?

Mr. Portillo

No, I will not, because there is no evidence for that. Single payments have been doubling every two years, but for the entire period between 1979 and 1985 the number of people on supplementary benefit rose by only three fifths. Therefore, I cannot accept that point.

Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston)

The Minister is not suggesting, is he, that his Department has been making single payments to people who did not meet the criteria in the regulations? If those payments were made to people who fulfilled the criteria, surely the rising trend shows that more people are becoming aware of their entitlement. His Department ought to take pride in the increased uptake, instead of changing the rules so that fewer people receive what they deserve.

Mr. Portillo

The hon. Gentleman cannot get away from the fact that the purpose for which the single payments system was established was to meet exceptional need. The take-up was such that it became almost part and parcel of the daily requirements of some people on supplementary benefit. Those payments went to a minority of claimants and it was a cause for concern and a reason for reform.

The greater clarity that is involved in the reformed system is another important step forward, and it is one of the reasons for commending the regulations to the House.

10.30 pm
Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South)

I listened with my usual disbelief to the Minister's extraordinary observations about how grateful we ought to be to the Government for their wonderful scheme. They were shot through with inaccuracies and amounted to downright rubbish.

I remind the Minister that his right hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr. Newton) said clearly to the Standing Committee that considered the Social Security Bill in 1985 that the reason for cutting the single payments scheme was that it was being taken up to too great a degree. We hope that family credit will reach a larger number of families than family income supplement. but if it does I wonder how soon it will be before the Government decide to cut it. The extent of the take-up was their justification for the cuts that they made in social security payments.

It is particularly disgusting that the Minister should use such an argument in the case of single payments. The Government have refused on a number of occasions to make the change. They are well aware that the shortfall in benefit for the families of the long-term unemployed is a minimum of £500 million a year. The shortfall in the day-to-day incomes of those families — never mind the pensioners, or the sick and the disabled—is a minimum of £500 million. It is quite disgraceful to suggest that because single payments began to rise towards £400 million there was some element of fraud.

I recall the incredulity of my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), who, sadly, is not here this evening, when the right hon. Member for Braintree appeared in all honesty and sincerity to suggest in 1985 that claimants would prefer a streamlined and simplified scheme, even if it meant that they had less money, because they would be able to understand it. There is no greater measure of the gulf between this Government and those who are forced to live on pensions and benefits than the assumption that they would prefer to have less money, provided that they understand the system.

My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) led the Minister down a path along which he might have preferred not to travel. The Minister made exaggerated claims about the increase in the amount of money that is to be spent on family credit. He knows that it is only the assumptions about the increased take-up of family credit that justify the Government's exaggerated claims concerning the increase in the amount of money that is being devoted to family credit.

The Family Credit (General) Amendment Regulations are comparatively minor amendments. However, almost at the eleventh hour — perhaps I should not say that; there may be another set of income support and family credit amendment regulations before 11 April — the Government have come to the House yet again with another set of regulations to correct yet another set of omissions.

From what the Minister said this evening, one would not have gathered that the regulations that are being amended tonight were published in draft for some time—clearly not for long enough — before they came before the House in what was then said to be their final form. It was clearly not their final form, because tonight we are yet again seeing their final form— unless my worst fears are fulfilled and yet another final form appears in a couple of days' time when the Department has got round to writing another set of regulations.

I should like the Minister to reply to and to give us some information if he can on one point about the proposals to which he referred with regard to the fund for haemophiliacs. He drew attention to the fact that the income support regulations and the family credit regulations will mean that haemophiliacs who receive payment from the Macfarlane trust will not have that offset against any benefit entitlement that they might have. Of course we welcome that.

However, the Minister did not refer to payments from the independent living fund. While we welcome the decision that the Government have made — a little belatedly—about the treatment of payments from the Macfarlane trust, can the Minister say whether it is expected that payments from the independent living fund will be treated similarly? Again, the Government set that up at literally the last minute to try to meet the extra needs of severely disabled people that will not be met from the schemes that the Government are putting before us.

As those payments are intended to cover at least part of the losses that severely disabled people are liable to suffer from April, surely they should be disregarded. It may be that that is an oversight on the part of the Department, but the Minister did not refer to that. Perhaps it is something that the Government intend to do in the future.

The House must forgive me if I do not go through the regulations in numerical order as the Minister did. When we are landed with huge batches of regulations, as we have been, it is not always easy to sort them into the clear and logical order that one would wish. I propose to go through the regulations in terms of the subjects as they appear to me, rather than by their numbering.

Regulation 10(2) of the 1987 regulations provides that if benefit is refused on the ground of non-availability for work, it can be denied, not merely for six weeks but for a full 26 weeks. My understanding is that, under supplementary benefit, the rule is applied only where a specific job is available, or in the case of a single person under 45 years, where short-term work is available locally, and that in future the potential six-month disqualification under regulation 10(1)(b) of the 1987 regulations will also apply to a person who has neglected to avail himself of a reasonable opportunity of suitable employment". That is in the income support regulations.

I should like the Minister to clarify two things. First, is it the case that if, under that provision, someone is ruled not to he available for work, and on that ground a deduction is made from his benefit, that deduction will then run for the full 26-week period and there is no provision for such a person to get off the merry-go-round as might be possible if that person was ruled, for example, to have made himself voluntarily unemployed? That appears to us to be the case from the regulations. That seems undesirable, but I would welcome the Minister's answer as to whether that is the way in which the regulations will work.

Secondly, it appears that one way in which the regulations might be used—we believe, is misused— if they were applied to someone who is, in the regulations, ruled to have neglected to avail himself of a reasonable opportunity suitable employment". It seems that it might be possible for an adjudication officer, an unemployment officer, a restart officer or whoever is the person involved, to use that provision in these regulations — it was not in the supplementary benefit regulations—to force someone off supplementary benefit even though his supplementary benefit might be being paid at a cash-protected level, into perhaps short-term work, if he is a single person under 45 years. When the short-term work ends, that person might end up going back on to income support, which might be — and certainly will be if it is a cash-protected payment—paid at a lower level.

If the regulations could work as I have described—it seems clear to me that they could—the Government's weasel words about how everybody, as was said the other evening, will be no worse off, or certainly the majority of people will he no worse off because they will be cash-protected, are yet again shown to have little worth. The interaction between employment and benefit legislation seems to mean that someone could be pushed into circumstances when he or she gives up the very cash protection for which the Government have been making substantial claims.

Another question for the Minister which I have not had the opportunity to pursue since this and many other regulations were published is how, if at all, the provisions for availability for benefit will tie in with the change made in the Social Security Act 1988, following an assurance given in the Employment Bill Committee. A question was raised there about someone being ruled to be not available for work but not having benefit withdrawn immediately while the question was settled. It is not clear how, if at all, the provisions for deductions from benefit or payment of benefit at a reduced rate or for non-payment of benefit tie up with the provisions made in relation to the withdrawal of unemployment benefit, and following discussions in the Employment Bill Committee.

A further question for the Minister in this general area of concern relates to the way in which hardship provisions will operate—for example, in relation to regulation 8(3). In that case, income support is payable, less a 40 per cent. deduction on hardship grounds, to someone who would not otherwise be entitled to it because he or she was ruled to be not available for work.

Again, that broadly reflects existing rules, but in those circumstances we believe that the question whether someone should receive benefit because of hardship should be subject to a right of appeal if benefit is refused by an adjudication officer. The Government have made so much in their discussions generally about the simplicity of what they are doing, and the attempt to have rules that are the same across the hoard, so that people will always know where they stand.

In these circumstances and some others, it seems strange that whether or not hardship exists is subject to appeal. In the board and lodging regulations, which might disappear in the near future and, more pertinently, under section 4 of the Social Security Act 1988 where 16 and 17-year-olds lose all right to benefits, the question whether hardship exists is subject not to any right of appeal, but only to a decision to the Secretary of State.

It is hard for us to see why rights of appeal should be denied in those cases, especially to the young and vulnerable, when the Government are maintaining such rights generally. Can the Minister justify that exemption?

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Is it not of some relevance that we are dealing with curbs and restrictions of the incomes of the poorest in the country, together with changes in the Social Security Act, almost exactly a week after a Budget that has given the richest 5 per cent. of the community 40 per cent. of all the tax cuts and benefits? What a contrast that is between the way in which this Government treat the rich and the poorest in the land.

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend is entirely right, and he has raised early a pertinent matter to which I intended to turn in my closing remarks. There is no question but that the regulations and the legislation to which they relate are thrown into even harsher relief by the decisions that were made, as my hon. Friend says, almost exactly a week ago.

I want to return to the circumstances in which a 40 per cent. reduction to these already minuscule benefits can be made under regulation 8(2). There are, as many hon. Members will know, circumstances in which someone is ruled by perhaps an adjudication officer to need his incapacity for work reviewed. The case may go to a review authority or to a review medical authority which may decide that the person is capable of some work, or some light work, in the often-used phrase.

Members of the medical profession have drawn attention to the fact that in more and more circumstances the medical judgment of one doctor is being set, deliberately by the Government, against that of another. A GP wrote to me protesting that, while he may decide that a patient of long standing, with whose case he is familiar, is not fit to work, an RMO may decided that he is fit—either fully fit or fit for light work—and that that decision could result in his patient suffering a loss of benefit. He said that he regarded that as a direct infringement of the doctor-patient relationship. He particularly drew attention to the unreasonableness of the circumstances in which a doctor who advised his patient not to work might have that advice countermanded by an RMO after spending, if the patient was lucky, only 20 or 30 minutes on one occasion with the patient.

In another place the Minister attempted to represent the status quo as being the same as that enshrined in these regulations, but we do not understand it to be the status quo. At present, if an RMO pronounces someone capable of light work, that person may continue to produce evidence of incapacity, in the form of certificates, from his own doctor and that may be taken into account. Generally it is felt that, because he knows the case, the view of the doctor should prevail while the decision is being reviewed. I gather that such leeway will not prevail under these regulations and that a 40 per cent. deduction will be made from benefit automatically, even though the person may have made himself available for work pending an appeal.

It appears that when a person's own doctor says he is not fit for work and the RMO says he is fit for work, if that person decides not to appeal—because of feeling discouraged or worried — and says he is available for work he will receive benefit. But if he decides to exercise his right in law and to make an appeal, then for that reason alone he may lose 40 per cent. of benefit. Not only is that harsh and unjust, but it is liable to deprive a person of a right which, in theory, should pertain to him in law. I come to the question of the extension of a deduction for voluntary unemployment when someone has left his place of work. Whereas at one time he might have lost some benefit for six weeks and whereas, as recently as a year ago, he might have lost that benefit for 13 weeks, he may now be liable to lose entitlement to some or all of his benefit for six months.

These regulations deal in social security terms with the employment-facilitating regulations which we debated recently. On that occasion we identified the fact that 400,000 people a year would lose benefit under these provisions. On that occasion the Minister said — his remarks were received almost with disbelief by my hon. Friends—that it had been found necessary to double the period for which a deduction from benefit could be made because the number of initial decisions on disqualification appeared to have gone up by just under 2 per cent. He added that that benefit would be suspended immediately pending a decision.

Did I understand the Minister correctly on that occasion? Did he say that the rise that he claimed to identify represented an increase in the number of initial decisions to suspend people from receipt of benefit? We must bear in mind that the automatic decision to suspend on an initial basis is made without regard to the facts and without any inquiry; it is an automatic decision, meaning that the person is guilty until proven innocent. It is an automatic suspension of benefit even before the facts are investigated. It is a contrast to the provision in the Employment Bill, to which I referred a few moments ago, where, much more sensibly, payment of benefit may be allowed to continue until a proper decision has been reached about whether someone is falling foul of the employment regulations. In this case the benefit is suspended first and the investigation takes place afterwards.

The Minister will also recall that my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) was able to draw attention to the fact that, although the Minister had given a parliamentary reply which indicated that no information was available to enable the Government to reach a decision one way or the other on the justification for doubling the period for which benefit should be lost, a survey had been carried out. The Minister said that he would not have regarded that as a scientific basis for the decision, which is not usually a bar to the Government quoting anything in parliamentary answers or debates. But we take it as a precedent.

Now that we have found out that the report exists and the Minister has put it in the Library, we have had an opportunity to glance at it. We must bear in mind that the report is based on a period when the likelihood of benefit suspension could still apply only for 13 weeks and not the full six months. It is interesting to note that the report showed that 75 per cent. of the periods of disqualification imposed were for the full 13 weeks. Since it also indicated that the average time for disqualifications was over 11 weeks, it appears that of the 25 per cent. remaining, in only a tiny minority of cases was disqualification for less than 13 weeks.

The report shows also that the average time for someone to place a claim, once that person had left his employment, was about 12 days. That appears to counter totally the impression which the Government seemed to be trying to give in that debate—that the country was full of people rushing to the benefit office to demand benefit which they knew they were not entitled to because they had wantonly deprived themselves of the opportunity to work.

The fact that it has taken people some 12 days to get round to going along to sort out their position and to claim their rights appears to indicate, as was suggested at length by a number of my hon. Friends, not that they decided not to bother working, but that often there was distress or difficulty. The loss of the job may be due to other members of the family moving. Yet often those circumstances are used to deny people their right to benefit.

The report shows too that, after the 12 days taken for the initial claim to be made, on average 42 days are taken to decide the claim. So it is six weeks before a formal decision is made on most claims, although for all that period benefit will be lost to some extent. Since we know that it takes an average of 17 weeks to decide an appeal, we are talking about a substantial period, getting on for six months in itself, during which benefit is lost before any proper decision is made, never mind when that decision is confirmed. Again the Minister will recall from the previous debate that my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston pointed out that about two thirds of the decisions are reviewed or overturned.

The implication of what the Government have said is that they made the decision to double the period so as to encourage people to go back to work or not to give up work. In fact, in paragraph 7 of the report which the Minister did not want to quote and preferred us not to know about, there is this observation: there is no indication that either the reason for leaving or the time taken to decide a case has any bearing on the length of disqualification imposed. Later in the report we discover that there is little evidence to suggest that people are less willing to leave work, or find it easier to return to work, as a result of the application of the voluntary unemployment deduction. The authors of the report comment that they had thought that the data would show that those disqualified were unemployed for shorter periods than others, but that that turned out not to be the case, although it is pointed out that that may be due partly—perhaps even largely—to the fact that those disqualified under the extended period tend to be the young, the less skilled and those who may be expected to have the greatest difficulty in returning to work.

I should have thought it particularly relevant to the Government that the authors of the report point out that, once people understand how the system of voluntary unemployment deductions works, far from being encouraged back into work—as the Government claim —they may well be so concerned about the harshness of the penalty imposed on those who make a mistake when seeking a suitable work placement or whose placement is not of long duration that they will find it easier to continue to receive benefit than to look for work. The authors of the survey suggest that the Government may actually be encouraging people to stay on benefit rather than encouraging them to look for work.

Whatever conclusions one might draw from the survey, and however much one might question its scientific nature, the size of the sample or whether answers were given to all the questions asked, one thing is crystal clear. No one could possibly conclude that it offered any grounds for the extension of the period of unemployment deduction—let alone for the doubling of that period. Perhaps it is not surprising, given that the period was doubled not very long ago, but there is simply no information available to sustain or support the case that the Government sought to make to the House—not very well—a short time ago.

As one might expect of amended regulations following on general regulations passed by the House so recently, the provisions are on the whole minor compared with what we have discussed in recent weeks. However, there is no question but that to consider the detail of the regulations and to listen to the questions asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) and note the absolute complacency of the Minister's replies is to be reminded more and more forcefully that most of the regulations are as unnecessary as they are invidious. They are part and parcel of a series of changes for which the Government's justification has been tenuous from the beginning. It has now been proven to be utterly untrue.

From start to finish, the Government have said that the work of which the regulations form part was necessary because the system had to be simplified — the simplification of the system is one thing, perhaps the only thing, on which we do not disagree—and that was not possible without changes and cuts, without making major savings and without literally millions of people losing as a result. That was never true. To anyone who has followed our debates since the introduction of the review —through the Green Paper, the White Paper, the 1985, 1986 and 1988 Acts and all the regulations, some of which have still, unfortunately, to conic before us — it will have become more and more clear that it has never been true that the Government had no choice about the course that they are pursuing.

Anyone unwise enough to believe the plethora of justifications that we have heard from the Government over the past three years and who listened to the Chancellor last Tuesday will now know that the case was simply untrue from start to finish. It has never been true that the Government needed to save hundreds of millions of pounds at the expense of pensioners, the sick, the disabled and the unemployed. It has been true merely that they chose to do so because, like all Governments, they have their priorities. Their priority is those who have and not those who need.

11 pm

Mrs. Audrey Wise (Preston)

I rise to make two points. First, when we discussed the unemployment benefit regulations recently, the Minister saw fit to ignore the point I made. I am asking him to be so courteous as to deal with that point now and I will draw it to his attention again.

Income support is reduced if unemployment benefit regulations cause the main claimant to lose benefit. Income support regulations cause a reduction of 40 per cent. in the entitlement of the main claimant. This becomes a 20 per cent. reduction if a pregnant woman is involved. I want to draw the Minister's attention to the fact that pregnant women on income support are acknowledged on soundly based medical evidence to have insufficient diets. A woman on supplementary benefit cannot buy an adequate diet to maintain her properly during pregnancy. Therefore, how much less can she buy an adequate diet if her income is reduced by 20 per cent.? When I raised that question before, the Minister ignored it. I ask him to deal with it on this occasion if he can, if there is an answer and if he can advise a woman on 20 per cent. less than income support how to buy an adequate diet.

My second point relates to the treatment of capital. We are all pleased about the sensible attitude shown to capital in relation to the Macfarlane trust and haemophiliacs. However, I have to draw attention to the fact that capital is not always dealt with in such a sensible manner. I want to draw the Minister's attention to the adjudication officers' guide and the instructions given on dealing with matrimonial assets on breakdown of marriage. As I understand it, that guide applies to the treatment of capital wherever capital is taken into account.

The fact is that the adjudication officers' guide gives an odd instruction. If there is a matrimonial breakdown and there is any capital involved, that capital is almost certain to take the form of a house in most families. If it is accepted that there is some joint ownership or joint beneficial interest in that matrimonial home, the adjudication officer must treat the wife as having half that property, even if it is by no means certain that ultimately she will be deemed to have half. In fact, the adjudication officers' guide goes so far as to say that, when it is not in dispute that the property is still jointly owned, the extent of the claimant's interest (for example whether 5 per cent., 50 per cent. or 95 per cent.) is irrelevant and half the value of the property should be taken into account as her capital. That can have a serious effect on a claimant's position and the amount deemed to be her capital. It is a nonsensical instruction. I should like to draw the Minister's attention to it and ask him whether he has any answer. If he has no answer, can he bring before the House, if necessary something to alter those instructions? Or perhaps he can do it by administrative action. If the adjudication officer treats a person as owning 50 per cent. of a house when she may really own only 5 per cent., that cannot be irrelevant.

I admit that I am not familiar with the rest of the adjudication officers' guide, but I hope that it is of better quality than the part that I have just read out.

11.5 pm

Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight)

Most people, especially employers, would agree that the new rules for voluntary unemployment were long overdue, but how will they mesh with the rules on seasonal employment? As my hon. Friend the Minister will appreciate, in areas such as my constituency people rely on seasonal employment. The regulations governing that are not dissimilar from those for voluntary unemployment, except that, when the employment has been seasonal for three consecutive years there is an automatic ban on the receipt of benefit. That creates some discouragement from taking jobs that are available in an area in which, although it has been falling, unemployment is still 13 per cent. in the winter months.

11.6 pm

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

In the context of the introduction of income support, will someone who applies for an essential needs payment between now and 11 April and whose application is turned down by the local adjudication officer have the right to appeal against that decision within the framework of the appeals procedure of pre-11 April 1988, no matter how long that appeal takes to be heard by the extant social security appeals tribunal?

The Minister has been given some notice of the second issue I want to raise with him in a letter sent to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field). Will the applications for 13 weeks' arrears of supplementary benefit made by former employees of British Shipbuilders Ltd., some of which have yet to be processed, be assessed under the existing system, even if 11 April overtakes us before they have been heard? The local office of the DHSS in Port Glasgow has received more than 500 applications from former British Shipbuilders employees and the manager has informed me that about 206 applicants have been paid the 13 weeks' arrears of supplementary benefit. That leaves an outstanding backlog of more than 300 of my constituents.

Similar circumstances surround the applicants to the local DHSS office in Greenock. Natural justice demands that they should be treated in the same way as the successful applicants have been, despite the profound changes to come on 11 April.

I represent about 34,000 men, women and children who depend on social welfare payments. The issue of single payments looms large in their lives. In the financial year 1986–87, the Greenock and Port Glasgow offices paid out about £2.5 million in single payments. The budget which the local managers have been given for the social fund for 1988–89 is about £1.5 million, a third of which is designated for the grants part of the social fund. Those of my constituents who, unfortunately, are in receipt of social welfare payments are seeing public provision for moneylending. For those people the local DHSS offices become the moneylending offices.

The only comment one can make in fairness in crediting the Government with anything is that, if my constituents who are on income supplement go to the DHSS offices in Greenock or Port Glasgow after 11 April, they may obtain a loan. Repayments on that loan will be deducted at source but no interest will be charged. That stands in stark and welcome contrast to the interest charged by the loan sharks who, unfortunately, infest some of the council schemes in the communities that I represent.

For almost a third of the people whom I represent, 11 April will be a bleak day. Perhaps that goes some way towards explaining why the Tories in my constituency are notable by their absence at every level of elected representation.

11.12 pm
Mr. Ronnie Fearn (Southport)

Every hon. Member will welcome the setting up of the Macfarlane trust to administer the money given by the Secretary of State to the Haemophilia Society to help those sufferers who have contacted AIDS as a result of treatment with infected blood products. I am delighted that payments made from the fund will be disregarded for the purpose of income support and family credit. It is almost impossible for us to imagine the heartbreak facing haemophiliacs who already face a great burden without the addition of the misery of AIDS, so I am glad to hear that their problems will be relieved in this small way. I am afraid that the sum made available by the Secretary of State, which works out at just over £8,000 per head, is pitifully small considering the difficulties that are faced by those victims, but I nevertheless congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on this sensible and fair decision.

I wish that the Secretary of State would employ the same standards of fairness and generosity when he turns his mind to the disqualification of benefit for people who are classed as voluntarily unemployed. On 1 March we debated this issue and the Government tried, I believe not convincingly, to argue a case for extending the disqualification period from 13 to 26 weeks. They clearly lost the argument in the House but, as so often, won the vote on the night. Tonight we are debating the same question of the reduction of income support for people judged to be voluntarily unemployed.

As many hon. Members, including myself, have said before, there is no convincing argument for extending the period of disqualification. The Government argued that because the number of voluntarily unemployed people was rising, increased sanctions were required. There is no evidence that people are greatly aware that such a sanction exists and that it works. In the previous debate, the Minister for Social Security and the Disabled said : Following the 1986 change one would have expected the percentage of unemployed people claiming benefit in situations of 'voluntary unemployment' to have fallen. On the contrary, the absolute number of instances where a disqualification or deduction was imposed rose".—[Official Report, 1 March 1988; Vol. 128, c. 834.] The Minister appeared to have made a fairly convincing argument against sanctions on the grounds that they did not work, but instead he drew the conclusion that the problem was that sanctions were not tough enough and should therefore be extended to six months.

The Government have decided on this extension despite considerable evidence that, in many cases, the decision to view a person as voluntarily unemployed and to remove his right to unemployment benefit and reduce his supplementary benefit is wrong.

In his 1986 report, the chief adjudication officer concluded that a staggering one in three cases were defective. While that situation prevails, whereby many people are quite unjustifiably facing hardship, it is incredibly irresponsible to extend the maximum period of disqualification to six months. We are not discussing a small group of people. On the Government's own figures, of the 420,000 people a year who are disqualified, about 180,000 also have their supplementary benefit reduced. Most of the remaining 240,000 are not entitled to benefit at all.

In the debate on unemployment benefit, I said that many mistakes are being made and that often people are not even repaid money owing to them when errors are discovered. The survey of citizens advice bureaux commissioned by the Low Pay Unit found an alarming catalogue of fears about the way in which the system is currently conducted. In particular, the survey concluded that people are being automatically disqualified in all cases, except redundancy.

In a previous debate, we heard about a number of terrible cases of people being forced to give up work because of unreasonable conditions, such as over-long hours, poor pay or harassment while at work. None of those accounts was able to move Ministers, but there is little doubt that large numbers of people are forced to leave work through no fault of their own and in circumstances that reasonable people would accept. They should not suffer further by having their benefit reduced for six months as well.

The citizens advice bureaux survey also showed that the maximum disqualification period is automatically imposed in virtually all cases, with no proper evaluation of the circumstances. Poor decisions are being made on a regular basis, and the Minister knows that. Despite that, he is determined to push through the extension of the disqualification period, and I urge him to think again, even at this late hour.

I should like to take this opportunity of raising another matter with the Minister. I have recently seen a copy of the application for family credit. We are used to official literature being difficult to understand, but this form is incredibly complicated. It is no less than 17 pages long. Given that statistics clearly show that many of the people applying will be semi-literate, or even illiterate, and that the Government have estimated that take-up of family credit will be at least 60 per cent., is the Minister satisfied with this situation? Finally, perhaps the Minister will explain the determination of the amounts, which I find it very hard to understand.

11.18 pm
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

When the Minister introduced the regulations, he correctly said that, in the past, it had been difficult for people to understand the nature of their entitlement to claim under the various benefit headings. That is why I intervened and said that a number of Labour local authorities had set up welfare rights teams to go into the communities showing people what they were entitled to claim. That created a great deal of extra demand at the various DHSS offices, particularly in London.

The Government did not applaud those Labour local authorities for rightly pointing out people's entitlement. They did not commend and support such activities. Instead, they condemned authorities such as the Greater London council, saying that that was not their business and they were not social service authorities.

When Labour authorities continued to act in that way, the Government said that, since there was such a large take-up of the various benefits, they would change the nature of the system by removing the entitlement to benefit. I found that a perverse way of dealing with the matter, given that people were only claiming what they were entitled to receive. It was not as if they were fiddling or deceiving; they were simply claiming what was theirs by right.

But the Government relied on the fact that there was widespread ignorance of people's entitlement. Instead of trying to alleviate that, they decided to take away people's rights. Of course the Minister was correct to say that he has made the matter much simpler. He has made it simpler because he has taken away a lot of entitlement. Before, people had very little; now they have nothing. That makes it simple and it can be well understood by everyone.

I have been looking at the regulations. This is intended to be a simple system so that people will get that they are entitled to. I have been trying to understand part VII, entitled "Calculation of income support for part-weeks". I shall read it for the record and for the purpose of illustrating my point. It says: Amount of income support payable 73. — (1) Subject to regulations 75 (modifications in income) and 76 (reduction in certain cases), where a claimant is entitled to income support for a period (referred to in this Part as a part-week) to which subsection (IA) of section 21 of the Act (amount etc. of income-related benefit (a)) applies, the amount of income support payable shall, except where paragraph (2) applies, be calculated in accordance with the following formulae— (a) if the claimant has no income, N × A./7 10(b) if the claimant has income, (N × (A - I))- B." /7 The Minister, being a new young Member, may understand that entirely, but I suspect that my constituents in the London borough of Newham will find it very difficult to understand. That really is not surprising. I doubt whether at this time of night any hon. Member understands precisely what that means.

If the Minister is serious, and determined that matters will be made much more explicable, will he tell us when he replies exactly what the Government are doing to alert people in boroughs such as the London borough of Newham, which has between 32,000 and 33,000 people claiming supplementary benefit, to their exact entitlement? The Government have changed the rules to make it much more difficult for Labour local authorities to inform people of their rights. What are the Government doing to explain in simple terms what people will be entitled to out of this much smaller pot that is now on offer?

While I am talking about smaller pots, let me refer the Minister to the situation in the various DHSS offices in my borough of Newham. In Canning Town, single payments in 1986–87 amounted to £808,392 and in 1988–89 the social fund total will be £408,556. In Plaistow in 1986–87 single payments amounted to £817,146 and in 1988–89 the social fund total will be £540,718. In Woodgrange park in 1986–87 single payments amounted to £1,312,132 and in 1988–89 the social fund total will be £889,186. Social fund allocations as a percentage of single payment awards based on the 1986–87 figures will be 51 per cent. in Canning Town, 66 per cent. in Plaistow, and 68 per cent. in Woodgrange Park. Social fund allocations — grants only — as a percentage of single payment awards based on figures for the same period will be 15 per cent. in Canning Town, 20 per cent. in Plaistow and 20 per cent. in Woodgrange Park.

That is very easy to understand. It simply means that that much less money will be available to service the needs of the London borough of Newham and some of our poorest people. Mine is the second most deprived local authority area in the country.

We do not need the Minister to come here and tell us that the regulations are so complicated that we cannot understand them, and that therefore they will be changed to a point at which there will be nothing to claim. We want him to recognise the depth of poverty in boroughs like Newham, and to do something about it. All the fiddling, the fancy language and the civil servant jargon — and they are not paid pennies for this sort of rubbish —amounts to nothing. What we want is extra resources to deal with the poverty in boroughs such as mine.

The regulations—like everthing else that comes from the Government—amount to nothing but taking from the poorest in our country. The Government are a disgrace, and I am surprised that the Minister has the face and the gall to come to the House, even at this hour, and try to put these measures forward.

11.26 pm
Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport)

Hon. Members —Conservative Members, certainly—will realise that an orchestrated campaign is in progress against the social fund. Many of us welcome the fund, however. I have found that single payments to those on income support — or supplementary benefit, as it is now — create considerable jealousy between those on supplementary benefit and working people on low incomes.

Recently, a working widow in my constituency called me to her home because she was facing a compulsory purchase order. She lived on a poor estate, all of which was being pulled down. She said, "Mr. Favell, I have worked since I lost my husband 10 years ago. I have brought up two daughters, who have been properly educated, and I am extremely proud of them. I am now being removed from my home. I have no savings, and I shall receive virtually nothing to furnish my new home because I have always worked. Next door is a family of five. Both husband and wife have never worked, but they will scoop the pool. I consider that desperately unfair."

I quite agree with her. But now the family next door will —or rather would—be given a loan, which would have to be repaid. That I consider justice; the present system is injustice.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

Did the hon. Gentleman put that to the Chancellor before he gave billions away to the wealthy in our society? It would have been a very proper proposition to make to him then. Now, he proposes to take all this money away from the poorest people.

Mr. Favell

I do not follow the hon. Lady's point. I am saying that here is a widow who has worked all her life and who is bound to furnish her own home, having no savings, because she happens to be working; whereas the family next door scooped the pool, and have a new home permit. She sees no justice in that.

At present, a 24-hour-a-week rule applies to the claiming of family credit. Many women who are separated from their husbands work only 20 hours a week—half the normal working week—and will not be eligible for family credit. Normally, it will not affect a woman who is separated from her husband if she happens to live in rented accommodation. However, if she remains in the family home, as is normally the case if she has young children, she will be adversely affected if she works only 20 hours a week as opposed to 24 hours. Many women with young children want to work only 20 hours a week so that they can take their children to school and collect them afterwards. However, they will not be eligible for family credit if they work for only 20 hours a week. That is an injustice and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will look into that point.

11.29 pm
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

There is really something obscene in the fact that we are expected to debate one set of regulations after another about social security late at night. The Minister moved the regulations in such a technical way that one would have thought that he was describing the repair manual of a car. In fact, he has put the flesh onto all the cuts and misery that have already been imposed by successive Social Security Bills that he and his colleagues have brought to the House.

I sat through both Committee stages of the Bills that brought this wretched process into operation. At every stage, the Government have tried to find someone who is allegedly fiddling the social security system and they have allegedly tried to simplify the system. However, all this is actually a cloak for the most massive cut in social security spending that has been imposed in the past two years.

Last week the Government introduced a Budget that gave £4 billion to those people who already have a great deal of money. They are now trying to further curtail the incomes of those who are already living on the breadline in the capital and elsewhere in the country.

The way in which the Government have introduced these regulations is discreditable. The way in which the Government have introduced a concept of cash-limiting benefits by sleight of hand — so that, instead of measuring the real needs of people, they cash-limit that need so that those people will suffer — is also discreditable.

The Government have also privatised the charitable system by establishing charities themselves. It is offensive that part 2 of the Family Credit (General) Amendment Regulations — the amendment of regulation 2 — deals with the Macfarlane trust. I am not condemning people who have set up trusts to look after people whom the welfare state has forgotten—for example, haemophiliacs. However, it is wrong and discreditable for the Government to seek to use that charitable money to bail themselves out because they have spent all the money that should have been spent on supporting those people on tax cuts for those who can already afford them.

I do not favour a social security system that relies on the poor box and charity, which is what the Government are introducing; I favour a system that guarantees the elimination of poverty and degradation that the Government's social security system has imposed on so many people.

We will debate other regulations later in the week and in future. The Minister will find that, come 11 April, when the full horror of the hardship, chaos and misery hits the poorest and the monitoring begins to take effect of the unfairness, lack of regulation and arbitrary nature of the cash limits that have been imposed and poverty that has been caused in the inner-city areas, he will be brought back to the House, forced to introduce regulations and to admit that the Government's legislation is unfair and unworkable. One day, the Minister will be driven out of office and we will have a Government committed to eliminating poverty from society rather than creating two nations, which is all that Conservative Members understand.

11.33 pm
Mr. Portillo

With the leave of the House, I will reply.

I want first to deal with some points of detail. My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) asked about seasonal workers. There is no relationship between the regulations and seasonal workers. The Social Security Advisory Committee is considering the whole issue of seasonal workers at the moment and is due to report soon. It would be best if my hon. Friend waited for the Committee's recommendations.

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)

That committee has been considering the problems of seasonal workers for well over 15 months now. The Minister said that it will report soon. When will it report?

Mr. Portillo

I am not responsible for those deliberations, but I take the point that the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) would like to see the result of those deliberations soon.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell) is obviously worried about people who are working fewer than 24 hours and are not eligible for family credit. C)One of the important points in the reform is that the maximum number of hours that a person can work and still qualify for income support has been aligned with the minimum number of hours to qualify for family credit. Therefore, a person working only a few hours a week is eligible for income support, and a single parent would have the advantage of the £15 disregard in earnings.

Mrs. Beckett

I am sure that the Minister would not wish to mislead the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell). I remind him that single parents may have that advantage, but they will have the disadvantage of not being able to offset their work expenses against their earnings, and that would probably lose them £25.

Mr. Portillo

That would depend on the case. Not many single parents have that level of expenses. The £15 disregard will apply no matter what their previous expenses in earnings were.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Does not the Minister want to congratulate the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell) on saying bluntly what the Minister cannot say from the Dispatch Box? Clearly, the hon. Member for Stockport had only contempt for the poorest in our community who have to apply for single payments. He said bluntly what the Tory party really believes.

Mr. Portillo

My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport expressed no contempt whatsoever. He said that people living just above the supplementary benefit level who do not qualify for single payments are resentful and find it difficult to understand why people who happen to have an income of a few pounds less qualify for single payments. That is a very serious point and is widely felt around the country. The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) would do well to acknowledge that that is the case.

The hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) was concerned to know whether the disregard of payments in the case of the MacFarlane trust would be extended to the independent living fund. The answer to that is in due course we will introduce regulations to that effect. That was announced by my hon. Friend the Minister of State in a recent written answer.

The hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn) said that the family credit form was incredibly complex. I would ask him to distinguish between two different things. I do not believe that it is incredibly complex. It is a very long form because it explains about the benefit at the same time as it asks the questions. It is designed in such a way that, in plain English, it invites claimants to skip those sections of the form which do not apply to them. The average claimant will not have to fill in all 17 pages of the form.

The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) was worried about how claims made under the supplementary benefit regulation would be treated. I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that any claim made under those regulations will continue to be treated under those regulations until the matter is resolved. That includes whatever level of appeal a claim might reach.

There was enormous talk about cuts, but I can tell the hon. Members for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) and for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) that the family credit system will have £200 million more than family income supplement. In the case of family income support, £100 million extra is being put in. The public expenditure involved in income support is £400 million more than would have been involved in continuing the supplementary benefit system. Those are the relevant figures.

Ms. Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

What about single payments?

Mr. Portillo

The hon. Lady says, "What about single payments?" What about the sums of money which I have just told her about?

The Opposition wish to compare the level of single payments in 1986–87 with the level of the social fund, but they disregard entirely the extra money being put into the basic benefits on which people are being asked to live. They cannot leave that out of consideration. If Opposition Members wish to argue that money is being sucked out of the community and that less money is available for the poor, they have to take into account the extra money that is being put into the basic rate of benefit. They ignore that. I am telling them that £400 million over and above what is required for supplementary benefit is going into income support. That cannot be ignored.

Mr. Tony Banks

Can the Minister guarantee that everybody who is in receipt of some form of state benefit, particularly if it is supplementary benefit, will be better off after 1 April than he is now?

Mr. Portillo

According to our figures, nearly nine out of 10 claimants will be no worse off, or will be better off, in cash terms, after the change in April. In real terms, nearly two thirds will be the same, or better off, taking into account all the changes in benefit.

The figures are well known to the Opposition, yet they are ignored time and time again. The social security reforms are not about cuts. They are about the better directing of benefits to the people who are most in need. The Opposition ought to welcome the fact that they remove some benefits from people who have either relatively high incomes or relatively high amounts of capital and that they direct extra benefit towards particular priority groups, including families with children —they are highly represented among the poorest groups in society—and the sick and the disabled. Both groups will do well by these reforms.

Mr. Robin Cook

The Minister has just made a very important revision of the Government's figures. He said that two thirds of the claimants will be better off, in real terms, as a result of the changes. How does he reconcile that statement with the Government's published figures that show that 500,000 more people will be worse off as a result of the changes? Almost 4 million people will be losers, compared with just over 3 million people who will gain from the changes. That cannot be reconciled with the Minister's extravagant claim that two thirds of the claimants will gain from the changes.

Mr. Portillo

I said that nearly two thirds would suffer no loss, or would be better off in real terms. I stand by that statement.

The hon. Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) referred to a pregnant lady in a family whose benefit is reduced and asked what her position will be. The hon. Lady knows that we are dealing with a reduction of benefit for the claimant, not for the claimant's family. The rate for the claimant's family will continue to be the full rate.

In the event of there being a pregnant woman in the family, the male claimant's rate is reduced by 20 per cent. rather than by 40 per cent. The total effect on the benefit received by the family, taking into account average rent and rates and the receipt of housing benefit, could be as little as 5 per cent. The explanation for that is to be found in the words that I uttered when we debated the voluntary unemployment deductions.

Mrs. Wise

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Portillo

No, because only one minute is left to me. I have given way on a number of occasions.

The Opposition have compared the Budget proposals with social security payments. Since 1978–79, social security benefit expenditure has increased in real terms by £12 billion.

Mrs. Wise

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Portillo


Of that figure, one third — that is £4 billion — is estimated to be on account of real increases in the average amount of benefit that is paid. No family on supplementary benefit is worse off now than it was in 1978. We should not forget that these social security reforms will add £420 million to public expenditure in 1988–89—

Mrs. Wise


Mr. Portillo

—and that the social security programme as a whole will—

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 14 ( Exempted business).

The House divided: Ayes 212, Noes 141.

Division No. 227] [11.43 pm
Aitken, Jonathan Alison, Rt Hon Michael
Alexander, Richard Allason, Rupert
Amess, David Holt, Richard
Amos, Alan Howard, Michael
Arbuthnot, James Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Ashby, David Hunter, Andrew
Aspinwall, Jack Irvine, Michael
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Jack, Michael
Baldry, Tony Janman, Tim
Batiste, Spencer King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Bellingham, Henry Knapman, Roger
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Bevan, David Gilroy Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Blackburn, Dr John G. Knowles, Michael
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Knox, David
Boscawen, Hon Robert Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Bottomley, Peter Lang, Ian
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Latham, Michael
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Lawrence, Ivan
Bowis, John Lee, John (Pendle)
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Brazier, Julian Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Bright, Graham Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Lilley, Peter
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Buck, Sir Antony Lord, Michael
Budgen, Nicholas Lyell, Sir Nicholas
Burns, Simon Macfarlane, Sir Neil
Burt, Alistair MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Butcher, John MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Butler, Chris Maclean, David
Butterfill, John McLoughlin, Patrick
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Malins, Humfrey
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Mans, Keith
Carrington, Matthew Maples, John
Carttiss, Michael Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Cash, William Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Chapman, Sydney Mates, Michael
Chope, Christopher Maude, Hon Francis
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochtord) Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Mellor, David
Colvin, Michael Miller, Hal
Conway, Derek Mills, Iain
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Miscampbell, Norman
Cope, John Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Couchman, James Mitchell, David (Hants NW)
Cran, James Moate, Roger
Currie, Mrs Edwina Monro, Sir Hector
Davies, Q. (Starnf'd & Spald'g) Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Davis, David (Boothferry) Morris, M (N'hampton S)
Day, Stephen Moynihan, Hon Colin
Devlin, Tim Neale, Gerrard
Dorrell, Stephen Nelson, Anthony
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Neubert, Michael
Dover, Den Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Dunn, Bob Nicholls, Patrick
Durant, Tony Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Eggar, Tim Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd) Oppenheim, Phillip
Evennett, David Page, Richard
Fallon, Michael Patnick, Irvine
Favell, Tony Pawsey, James
Fenner, Dame Peggy Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Porter, David (Waveney)
Forth, Eric Portillo, Michael
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Powell, William (Corby)
Fox, Sir Marcus Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Franks, Cecil Rathbone, Tim
Freeman, Roger Redwood, John
French, Douglas Renton, Tim
Gale, Roger Rhodes James, Robert
Garel-Jones, Tristan Riddick, Graham
Gill, Christopher Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Grist, Ian Roe, Mrs Marion
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Rost, Peter
Hawkins, Christopher Rowe, Andrew
Rumbold, Mrs Angela Thorne, Neil
Sackville, Hon Tom Thornton, Malcolm
Sayeed, Jonathan Thurnham, Peter
Shaw, David (Dover) Tredinnick, David
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Trippier, David
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb') Twinn, Dr Ian
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW) Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Waddington, Rt Hon David
Sims, Roger Waldegrave, Hon William
Skeet, Sir Trevor Walden, George
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Waller, Gary
Soames, Hon Nicholas Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Speed, Keith Warren, Kenneth
Speller, Tony Watts, John
Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W) Wheeler, John
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Widdecombe, Ann
Stanbrook, Ivor Wilkinson, John
Stern, Michael Wilshire, David
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood) Wolfson, Mark
Stewart, Andy (Sherwood) Wood, Timothy
Stradling Thomas, Sir John Woodcock, Mike
Taylor, Ian (Esher) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Temple-Morris, Peter Tellers for the Ayes:
Thompson, D. (Calder Valley) Mr. David Lightbown and
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N) Mr. Richard Ryder.
Abbott, Ms Diane Flynn, Paul
Armstrong, Hilary Foster, Derek
Ashdown, Paddy Foulkes, George
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Fraser, John
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Fyfe, Maria
Barron, Kevin Galbraith, Sam
Beckett, Margaret Godman, Dr Norman A.
Bell, Stuart Graham, Thomas
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Bermingham, Gerald Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Boyes, Roland Haynes, Frank
Bradley, Keith Henderson, Doug
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Hinchliffe, David
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Home Robertson, John
Callaghan, Jim Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Illsley, Eric
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Ingram, Adam
Clay, Bob Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Clelland, David Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Cohen, Harry Kirkwood, Archy
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Leadbitter, Ted
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Lewis, Terry
Corbyn, Jeremy Livsey, Richard
Cousins, Jim Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Cryer, Bob McAllion, John
Cummings, John McAvoy, Thomas
Cunliffe, Lawrence McFall, John
Cunningham, Dr John McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Dalyell, Tarn McLeish, Henry
Darling, Alistair McWilliam, John
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Madden, Max
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'I) Mahon, Mrs Alice
Dewar, Donald Marek, Dr John
Dixon, Don Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Doran, Frank Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Duffy, A. E. P. Maxton, John
Dunnachie, Jimmy Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Eadie, Alexander Morgan, Rhodri
Eastham, Ken Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Evans, John (St Helens N) Mowlam, Marjorie
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) Mullin, Chris
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) Murphy, Paul
Fearn, Ronald Nellist, Dave
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n) O'Brien, William
Fisher, Mark Patchett, Terry
Pike, Peter L. Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Prescott, John Turner, Dennis
Primarolo, Dawn Wall, Pat
Quin, Ms Joyce Wallace, James
Redmond, Martin Walley, Joan
Reid, Dr John Warden, Gareth (Gower)
Robertson, George Wareing, Robert N.
Rogers, Allan Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Rooker, Jeff Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Rowlands, Ted Wigley, Dafydd
Ruddock, Joan Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Salmond, Alex Wilson, Brian
Short, Clare Winnick, David
Skinner, Dennis Wise, Mrs Audrey
Smith, Andrew (Oxford E) Worthington, Tony
Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Snape, Peter Tellers for the Noes:
Steel, Rt Hon David Mrs. Llin Golding and
Steinberg, Gerry Mr. Alun Michael.
Strang, Gavin

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Income Support (General) Amendment Regulations 1988, which were laid before this House on 16th March, be approved.

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