HC Deb 10 May 1988 vol 133 cc134-6
5. Mr. Dalyell

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Services what resources his Department is devoting to monitoring the effects of the recent social security changes.

Mr. Moore

The effects of the social security reforms are being monitored using a wide range of data derived from my Department's management, expenditure and statistical returns and from the family expenditure and general household survey. The collection and analysis of this data involve a substantial staff effort, but it is not possible to provide a reliable estimate of the cost.

Mr. Dalyell

Why are those on junior rates, who are mostly under 25 and students, excluded from the transitional arrangements?

Mr. Moore

I am not absolutely certain how that relates to the orginal question, but I shall endeavour to answer it. The transitional arrangements refer specifically to certain groups—the disabled, widows, pensioners and families with children. Throughout the social security reform an attempt was rightly made by the Government, after long consultation and debate, to target help away from those who are younger and independent.

Mr. Sims

Following the changes that my right hon. Friend recently announced, how soon local authorities will be given details so that they can implement the changes to housing benefit? Similarly, when will DHSS offices know about the changes involving hardship cases?

Mr. Moore

I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to confirm in reply to later questions that by the end of this week we should be able to notify specific local authorities. The new unit is being set up this week, and free phone facilities should be in operation within 24 hours.

Mr. Orme

Is the Secretary of State aware that the way in which industrial injury benefit and invalidity benefit are taken into account for housing benefit is having a dramatic effect on tens of thousands of homes? I spent a most depressing week in my constituency talking to constituents who have lost £10, £15, £20 and £25 a week. That is outrageous. What will the Secretary of State do about it?

Mr. Moore

If the right hon. Gentleman checks the very helpful letter that my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Services and the Disabled wrote to him last Thursday, he will see that transitional protection covers the particular problem to which he is referring, as it relates to those who are above income support level but for whom there were local authority discretionary schemes which theoretically under the law stopped at the beginning of last month. They are covered by the transitional arrangements.

Mr. McCrindle

I welcomed the announcement two weeks ago that in future beneficiaries in certain categories should not be more than £2.50 a week worse off, but am I correct in thinking that that does not take into account the 20 per cent. contribution to rates? If so, as a large number of the complaints that I continue to receive are about the effect of having to pay that contribution, may we have an assurance that that will continue to be monitored? If the conclusion reached is that the principle is good, may it be that we are going too far too quickly?

Mr. Moore

As my hon. Friend the Minister of State said on another occasion, we shall continue to monitor this area. However, I would not want to give my hon. Friend false encouragement, because the 20 per cent. contribution to local authority rates was not expected to be covered by the transitional protection.

Mr. Kennedy

One of the things that the Department is monitoring over the transitional period is the number of single payment claims which were outstanding at 11 April, about which I have a later question. Will the Secretary of State give us the average figure, for regional offices within Scotland, of outstanding single payments?

Mr. Moore

I would not wish to abuse the Order Paper and leap to a further question. However, we have had only the first month of initial monitoring of offices in Scotland, and that would be an incorrect statistical basis on which to make a judgment. For example, I know that the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) would not like us to make judgments on the basis of the Bathgate office, where, not untypically, only half the loans provision was used in the first month—a fraction of the grant. However, we are watching the details with great care, and we shall keep the House well informed.

Mr. Hayes

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his swift and sensitive adjustments, but will he make it absolutely clear that if any further injustices appear he will also be swift and sensitive in rectifying them?

Mr. Moore

I thank my hon. Friend for recognising that the Government moved very fast in making these adjustments. This Government, who were involved in a rapid change affecting 8.5 million people and an expenditure of £14-plus billion, and who made modifications to the tune of £100 million, deserve my hon. Friend's congratulations.

Mrs. Beckett

Does the Secretary of State accept that the Department ought to heed the results of the monitoring within the Department and by outside reputable bodies? If it had heeded the advance warnings that it received over the last three years about the results of the changes, the transitional protection, for which the Secretary of State has just claimed credit would have been unnecessary, and a great deal of suffering and anxiety would have been avoided. Will he pay special attention to the monitoring of the social fund, from which most applicants, including the young, will be excluded because of its totally inadequate budget?

Mr. Moore

We shall monitor carefully all aspects of the changes. We have already made a clear public commitment to commission independent research into the social fund. It has already been announced in a private notice question that that research will start in the spring of 1989. I confirm that announcement.