HC Deb 04 February 1991 vol 185 c10
11. Mr. Dykes

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will bring forward proposals for modifications to the income support system to enhance flexibility and support levels.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Miss Ann Widdecombe)

We have no proposals to do so at present. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) undertook a full review of the social security system in 1986 and introduced comprehensive reforms which took effect in April 1988. Two of our major aims for income support were to improve flexibility and to enable us to direct resources more accurately than under supplementary benefit. Since then the structure of income support has allowed us to focus extra help on families, disabled people, carers and the elderly. All this has been in addition to the normal annual upratings of benefit levels.

Mr. Dykes

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. In view of the increased targeting emphasis and the result that it has produced, and as extra cases of hardship may come through Members' surgeries, citizens advice bureaux and other agencies in the coming months if the recession temporarily produces further problems, will my hon. Friend ensure that any referrals from Members of Parliament and others are treated with extra special care to help the most needy and hard-pressed in the community?

Miss Widdecombe

It is an essential part of our policy that help should be targeted where it is most needed. Any representations will be carefully considered. Our offices are always seeking means to improve the efficiency and speed with which they deal with such applications.

Mr. Flynn

Has the Minister observed that part of the flexibility which the Government have introduced in the overall support given to the children of war widows has resulted in a real-value cut in the payment to them of one third? That is from 12.3 per cent. of average earnings in 1979 to a mere 7 per cent. today. Does the hon. Lady realise that those war widows, as well as many other people on invalidity support and pensions, will also be denied the value of the £1 increase in child benefit which will be enjoyed by other people? Is that what the Government call flexibility?

Miss Widdecombe

The hon. Gentleman has misread the position. That is surprising as he had an Adjournment debate on the subject which was answered in detail by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. The hon. Gentleman should realise not only that the reasons for the discrepancies that he has identified are historical but that the difference would be about 21p. He should not exaggerate the case before the House.