HC Deb 15 April 1991 vol 189 cc12-3
12. Mr. Knox

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many letters he has received about the uprating of child benefit in recent years.

Mr. Newton

There were 374 letters to Ministers in 1989 and 164 in 1990.

Mr. Knox

Is my right hon. Friend aware how warmly the decision to resume the index-rating of child benefit has been received? Will he accept my congratulations on winning that battle with the Treasury?

Mr. Newton

That is probably as friendly an exchange as I have had with my hon. Friend in the better part of eight or nine years, mostly as Minister responsible for social security. Perhaps I should congratulate him on being so nice to me.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing

Will the Secretary of State be responding to a report, which came out today from the Family Policy Studies Centre, showing that larger families in the United Kingdom benefit least from Government assistance in rearing their children? It would be helpful if he could place the report in the Library.

Mr. Newton

I shall consider whether to place it in the Library when I have established more about the precise status of the report. It is worth noticing that the only country in Europe where the average family size is not less than two is Eire, so comparisons that rest heavily upon child benefit for larger families apply only to a small minority. What we hear less about is that, for example, if the French regime for child benefit, in which there is no payment for the first child, were in force, 40 per cent. of those who receive child benefit in this country would not get it.

Mr. Favell

As my right hon. Friend knows, the increase in child benefit will be a help to the poorest families. However, one thing concerns me. The number of illegitimate births to women who have never been married seems to be rising. In Manchester last year, 49 per cent. of all births were illegitimate. Have the Government any plans to educate young women at school about the difficulties that they will face? I do not think that people appreciate the problems of bringing up a child alone.

Mr. Newton

It is probably best for me to draw my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science; I have not yet gone into the workings of the education system. Let me pick up one point, however. My hon. Friend said that the increase in child benefit would help the poorest families. That is true of our child benefit increase, but not of the increase proposed in the shadow Budget by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher).