HC Deb 16 May 1994 vol 243 cc538-9
5. Mr. Viggers

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what support is available for (a) widowed fathers and (b) widowed mothers; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. William Hague)

Child benefit, together with the range of income-related benefits, is available to both widowed fathers and mothers. In addition, widowed mothers are entitled to receive contributory widows' benefits and widowed fathers receive one parent benefit.

Mr. Viggers

Does my hon. Friend agree that ever since the Beveridge report in the 1940s, our social security system has been based on the principle of a bread-winning father and a dependent mother? The Government have built upon that recently by increasing widows' benefits. However, does my hon. Friend recognise that some of the 30,000 widowed fathers find life difficult? Would not it be appropriate to consider assisting them further?

Mr. Hague

My hon. Friend rightly draws attention to the existence of widowed fathers. I stress that the qualifying criteria for widowed mothers and fathers for income support, the lone-parent premium in income support, housing benefit, child benefit, one-parent benefit, family credit and the forthcoming disregard for child care in family credit, are all the same.

There is the additional provision of the widowed mothers' allowance, which reflects the fact that women are more likely than men to have been dependent on their spouses and that wives who are working when widowed earn, on average, less than their husbands. To extend equal treatment between widowed mothers and widowed fathers would involve either paying benefits to some men who do not need to be dependent on the state or taking some benefits away from widows, neither of which is an attractive course.

Mr. Winnick

Is the Minister aware that some of the widowed mothers and fathers are disabled people? Apart from financial matters, those people desperately need the sort of measure that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) tried to introduce. In view of the Government's dishonesty and treachery in defeating the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, should they not now acknowledge that the Bill should become law at the earliest opportunity?

Mr. Hague

There has been no dishonesty or treachery by the Government. My right hon. Friend has announced a series of consultations on these subjects, to which the hon. Gentleman should direct his attention.

The point of the main question concerns the benefits available to widowed fathers and mothers. Those benefits are very considerable—a fact which should be recognised