§ 6. Mr. Alison
To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what is the annual spending on family credit; and what was spending on family income supplement in 1979.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Michael Jack)
I am pleased to be able to tell the House that we estimate that in the financial year just ended expenditure on family credit will have been £484 2 million. That is 20 times in cash terms, or eight times in real terms, the expenditure in 1978–79 on family income supplement of £24 million.
§ Dr. Twinn
I very much welcome my hon. Friend's reply, which shows the real increase in spending. I know that he will share the concern of the House about those who are not taking up benefit for which they qualify and I congratulate him on the advertising campaign. How successful has it been so far?
§ Mr. Jack
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words about our campaign. In the television campaign we have drawn attention to the message in the front of the child benefit book which shows what people could receive in the form of assistance through family credit. That is a cost-effective way of reaching 6.7 million families. The success can be judged from the fact that after five weeks of the campaign there has been a 17 per cent. increase in the number of inquiries about family credit over the figure for the five weeks before the campaign started.
§ Mr. Alison
Does my hon. Friend recall that when the predecessor of family credit, the family income supplement scheme, was started by the then Sir Keith Joseph in the early 1970s, the Labour Opposition promised to abolish it? Against that abolitionist background, does he recognise that the Labour party has not the slightest hope of matching, let alone improving, the quality and calibre of family credit as it operates today?
§ Mr. Jack
My right hon. Friend, in his perceptive way, has put his finger on a series of exchanges in the recent Budget debate, when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State drew the attention of Opposition Members to the fact that the Opposition's policy on the uprating of child benefit meant that people on family credit would receive no additional payments—unlike under our much more generous approach to the problem.
§ Mr. Frank Field
How much would the increase in family credit have been had the Government increased child benefit during their 11 years in office in line with prices?
§ Mr. Kennedy
Will the Minister conduct an urgent review of staffing levels for handling family credit in Blackpool? He will know that, like many other hon. Members, I am in regular correspondence with his Department about the massive delays encountered by people trying to secure family credit, not least by those in the self-employed category, in the evaluation of whose applications more attention to detail is involved.
§ Mr. Jack
We in the Social Security Department do not have to wait to be prompted on these matters by questions in Parliament. The hon. Gentleman will find that the target met in March—17 days to deal with family credit applications—exceeded by one day the target that was set. He will also know, if he had time to read the newspapers during the recess, that the Benefits Agency was launched last week, with a commitment to a high quality of public service. I am sure that any remaining problems relating to family credit will be one of Mr. Michael Bichard's first priorities.