HC Deb 04 February 1991 vol 185 cc11-2
13. Sir Rhodes Boyson

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what estimate he has of the cost-effectiveness of staff deployed on fraud work in his Department.

Mr. Jack

The cost-effectiveness of fraud investigation work is measured in terms of staff costs set against the amount of benefit saved. In the year ended 31 March 1990, the most recent for which figures are available, staff costs were an estimated £44 million. In the same period investigators achieved benefit savings of £309 million. In other words, £7 was saved for every £1 spent.

Sir Rhodes Boyson

I thank the Minister for that reply. It shows that the money is well spent because the more money that we spend on genuine unemployed people, the less is spent on the non-genuine. Have the Government any plans to bring back a work test for the so-called able-bodied unemployed, as in 1601 and 1834, so that those who claim benefit and say that they are unemployed can be tested to ensure that that is the case, especially in our big cities?

Mr. Jack

My right hon. Friend has an enviable record in this area. I have noted his contribution to policy development, as outlined in the debate on 28 February 1984 in the House. As a result, my right hon. Friend will know that stringent rules are already in operation which require people who seek unemployment benefit to demonstrate that they are actively seeking employment. The Government have already come under some criticism for the way in which that test was to be applied, but it appears to be working because about 50,000 claimants who have already been advised of the requirements of the test have proceeded to look for work and can continue to claim their benefit.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Perhaps the Minister would also like access to the cat-o'-nine-tails, which I am sure would be equally effective.

The Department's reorganisation of benefit offices is resulting in the loss either of civil servants at the top of the scale—whose useful experience was gained at great expense—or of those lower down, who are unable to retain their jobs. What use is that, pray?

Mr. Jack

I thought that we were whipped enough as it was, without a reference to the cat-o'-nine-tails. In terms of the resources employed to detect fraud, which I believe is the point underlying the hon. Lady's question, the Government have doubled the number of investigating officers since taking office, from 1,724 to 3,179.