HC Deb 05 July 1993 vol 228 cc6-8
4. Sir Anthony Durant

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what is the annual spending on family credit; and what was the spending on family income supplement in 1979.

5. Mr. Amess

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many awards of family credit have been made since the introduction of the scheme.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Alistair Burt)

Family credit expenditure for 1992–93 was £864 million. This is 13 times more in real terms than the £24 million spent on family income supplement in 1978–79. Since its introduction in April 1988, more than 3,750,000 family credit awards have been made.

Sir Anthony Durant

In spite of earlier criticisms of the scheme, does my hon. Friend agree that the average payment is now £42 a week and that more than 80 per cent. receive at least £20 a week, which is an incentive to getting back to work? Is it not a better scheme than the earlier one?

Mr. Burt

My hon. Friend is quite right. The average award now compares favourably with the average award of family income supplement, which, at current prices, would be about £17.40 a week, compared with the present average of £44 a week. The average for the self-employed is £55 a week. The numbers currently in receipt of family credit are at a record of 457,000. The scheme is fulfilling its aim of directing resources to where there is most need.

Mr. Amess

Will my hon. Friend confirm that a family credit helpline was introduced in March this year, thus fulfilling another election manifesto commitment? Will he also confirm that our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is conducting an advertising campaign to help unemployed families better to understand the benefits to which they would be entitled when in work?

Mr. Burt

My hon. Friend speaks for some 1,300 family credit recipients in Basildon. I am pleased to tell him and them that our helpline, which now caters for potential as well as existing claimants, has received 250,000 calls so far. My hon. Friend is also right to say that the latest take-up advertising campaign is aimed at the unemployed and informs them of their potential to receive family credit, which can act as a real incentive to getting back to work.

Mr. Pike

Is not one of the reasons for the large increase in amounts paid out in family credit the large increase in the number of people on low pay as a result of Government policy? Will the Minister tell us how many people on low pay and living in poverty are entitled to family credit, but, unfortunately, not getting it?

Mr. Burt

The hon. Gentleman fails to distinguish the fact that the most important determinant in family credit is not the size of the wage, but the number and the age of the children. Part of his anger comes from the fact that family credit is a better system than any supported by the previous Labour Government.

Mr. Rooney

In view of the Minister's comments about the spectacular increase in the numbers receiving family credit and about the amount of the awards, when can we expect the Government to undertake a responsible review of how the money is distributed? How much impact has there been from the change in working hours from 24 to 16? Why does the Minister not look again at the clawback of 94 per cent. for anyone receiving an increase in wages?

Mr. Burt

About 60,000 extra families have received family credit as a result of the change of hours from 24 to 16 as the entry to family credit. We keep the scheme constantly under review. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman shares my pleasure in the fact that take-up is increasing both for expenditure and for case load. Take-up by case load is 14 per cent. higher than it was five years ago and expenditure is 6 per cent. higher. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman welcomes those figures.

Mr. Harry Greenway

Does my hon. Friend agree that family stability comes best from children being born of a loving relationship between a man and a woman? The strong movement towards girls and very young women to have babies to get flats and houses is damaging to them and to the children, because those children do not have the proper background that they should have. Will my hon. Friend consider that point and do all that he can to encourage proper family stability, because it is the bedrock of the nation?

Mr. Burt

Behind some of the newspaper rhetoric over the weekend have been sensible comments from hon. Members of all parties and from a variety of commentators on the issues raised by single parenthood. Family structure is important. It is the responsibility of social security to protect the most vulnerable and it is too often forgotten that the most vulnerable element in a single-parent family is the child. We ought to hear more about the child's situation than about the rights and responsibilities of everyone else.

Mrs. Golding

Given the big increase in the need for families to have family credit, does not the Minister think that, instead of proposing the withdrawal of all benefits from mothers with children who have been recently abandoned by their fathers, the Government would do better to concentrate their efforts on eliminating poverty wages and the threat of unemployment, as that would do more to stabilise family life? Or does the Minister agree with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales who believes that penalising children is the right answer?

Mr. Burt

There is no question of withdrawing benefit in the manner suggested by the hon. Lady. It is important that the social security system acts to protect the most vulnerable. The hon. Lady will also understand that the most important thing that any Government can do for the poorest is to improve the jobs situation. The Government are determined to improve that situation by keeping inflation and interests rates low. It should be noted that the prospects for growth in this country are significantly better than in the majority of countries abroad. I would have hoped that the hon. Lady would welcome that development.