HC Deb 23 October 1989 vol 158 cc463-5
6. Mr. Allen

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he has any plans to increase the level of income support.

Mr. Newton

We have this month substantially improved the level of income support for older and disabled pensioners. I expect to be making fairly soon a statement about the income support rates from next April, when they will of course be increased.

Mr. Allen

Is the Secretary of State aware that my constituents and many others are finding it increasingly difficult to manage on the current level of income support, especially in respect of a healthy diet? Did he read the recent Childright report which, using the Department's own figures, showed that if the amount of money required for a healthy diet were taken out of income support, only £1 would be left to meet all other needs? It is becoming a choice between heating and eating. Will the right hon. Gentleman do something about that?

Mr. Newton

I have already said that we shall take all those matters into account in setting the social security rates for the forthcoming year. There appears to have been a suggestion that attempts were made to suppress the report to which the hon. Gentleman referred. My understanding is that the author of the report has been entirely free to publish it, and I hope that it is well understood that that is the case.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett

Given that 85 per cent. of women whose partners have left them receive no support from those former partners and therefore rely on income support from the state, when will the Government take action to make those men responsible for the dependants whom they have left behind?

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend is aware that the rules of the social security system provide for efforts to be made to ensure that those known in the jargon of the trade as "liable relatives" are found and required to make a contribution. Steps are taken to try to ensure that that contribution is paid and we shall be looking for ways to make those efforts even more effective.

Mrs. Beckett

Is the Secretary of State aware that the Childright report is just one of several recent reports that draw attention to the difficulty faced by many families in paying their bills? The right hon. Gentleman will recall that four years ago, when the Government were planning all their changes in social security, many independent groups warned that they would leave families unable to pay their bills. As the Government's plans for the poll tax, water charges and electricity charges can only make matters worse, what does the right hon. Gentleman plan to do about the situation?

Mr. Newton

As the hon. Lady referred to our previous exchanges in the House some three or four years ago, at the time of the reforms, she will not have forgotten that, among other things, the reforms in the income-related benefit system steered substantial additional sums of money towards low-income families and those out of work, both through income support and through family credit. In particular, family credit is bringing much greater sums to such families than family income supplement did. I hope that the hon. Lady will bear that in mind.

Mr. David Nicholson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that more than 50 per cent. of working people in the United Kingdom are making provision for their retirement, which is by far the largest proportion in the EEC, and that the number of retired people with income from private pensions and occupational pensions is increasing? Is he further aware, however, that in my constituency and elsewhere there remain a number of people who have little income above the basic state pension? Does he therefore recognise that the increases implemented this month are very welcome as the first fruits of the Government's good intentions towards that group?

Mr. Newton

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for recognising our efforts. Obviously, we shall continue, as and when we feel able to do so, to build on that basic policy of seeking to steer additional help to those pensioners who most clearly have additional needs.