HC Deb 02 December 1997 vol 302 cc174-85 4.30 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Keith Bradley)

With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the uprating of social security benefits and on the re-rating of national insurance contributions for 1998–99. I should also like to report on our objectives for reforming social security.

This is the first benefits uprating announced by this Administration and, unlike those of previous years, it will not be marked by a long list of cuts to the welfare programme—not that we are content with the size of the budget. We cannot be complacent when, despite growing prosperity, spending on social security has continued to grow. It now consumes one third of Government expenditure and is set to break through the £100 billion barrier before the end of the century. That is more than is collected in income tax, twice what is spent on the national health service and nearly three times what is spent on education.

As important, we are not content with the way in which the money is spent. The huge cost that is our legacy has done little to reduce the amount of poverty. The inability to harness social policy, to use it as a tool for change, has not only been the main driver of welfare spending but has resulted in the greatest social division for generations.

We are committed to breaking with the past. We are undertaking a systematic review of the welfare programme. The review is both necessary and timely. We need a modern welfare system to reflect modern circumstances. Our welfare-to-work programme will provide people with a route out of benefit dependency, and our comprehensive spending review will lead to the modernised system that we need. I will say more about that later.

First, we have immediate business. The House knows that we are required to review the rates of benefits and national insurance annually. Our intention for the year 1998–99 is to uprate most national insurance benefits, child benefit and benefits for disabled people and carers by 3.6 per cent. That is the increase in the retail prices index in the year to September. War pensions will also be uprated by the RPI.

As in previous years, jobseeker's allowance and the main income-related benefits will be uprated by the Rossi index, which at September had a year-on-year increase of 2.4 per cent. As hon. Members will know, the Rossi index is the RPI less those elements for housing costs. It is a more appropriate index for income-related benefits, where housing costs are, in the main, met separately.

Most rates of deductions in respect of non-dependants have been increased over and above inflation. That will reduce the benefit that is paid in respect of housing costs to claimants who have a non-dependant living with them. Taking forward that measure allows us to reverse the previous Government's plans to extend the single room rent restriction. The withdrawal of the extension, which would have restricted housing benefit to people aged over 25, has been welcomed both inside and outside the House.

That was a hard choice in maintaining our commitment to live within existing spending ceilings. It is important to remember that the mandate that we so recently received was based on a manifesto which committed us to controlling public expenditure.

I shall deal now with national insurance. We do not propose to increase the rate of class 1 contributions paid by employees and their employers, or the earnings brackets for the three lower rates of employers' contributions. The rates of class 4 profits-related contributions paid by self-employed people will also remain unchanged. The lower earnings limit for class 1 contributions will increase broadly in line with the basic rate of retirement pension, as will the upper earnings limit which applies to employees' contributions only. Similar increases apply to the lower and upper profits limits for class 4 contributions. The weekly class 2 contribution paid by self-employed people and the voluntary class 3 contribution also increase in line with that formula.

The cost of the uprating will be £2.45 billion. The maximum available Treasury grant for the national insurance fund will be set at £800 million. Most new rates of benefit and the changes made to national insurance contributions come into effect on 6 April next year. Schedules showing the new rates of benefit and the new rates of national insurance have been sent to all hon. Members today.

The most pressing need is to develop our approach to people of working age. They are responsible for supporting their children. Their actions while in work will determine how adequate their income will be in retirement. The best we can do for people of working age is to give them the opportunity to work. That is our first objective for welfare reform.

The wage motivation to work is for most people compelling—with the best will in the world, benefits can never be a substitute for earnings. Equally, there are also very strong non-wage motivations for working which, in total, reflect and influence the shape of society. Work enables people to be in the mainstream of society, to make their own contribution, to develop their potential, and to offer a positive role model for their children. Work also provides access to social networks and to new opportunities for advancement. None of this is new. It could be argued that making work the best form of welfare has always been the objective of social policy, but the facts show that the current social security system fails actively to promote a return to work.

An indifference to social policy, and an assumption that unemployment is a price worth paying for economic success, have meant that millions of people have been set aside from the labour market and condemned to a life of dependency. Our objective is to root out that worklessness and to give all people of working age a chance to enjoy economic opportunity. That is why our new deal programme extends beyond the unemployed. We need to give lone parents and sick and disabled people worthwhile help. We also need to make sure that, where possible, work pays, and that tax and benefit systems encourage work, not deter it.

That is why we have a Whitehall task force on tax and benefits to help deliver the Government's pledge to streamline and modernise the welfare system. It is why we are introducing a minimum wage. It is why we are looking carefully at every benefit to see whether it helps or hinders people in achieving their aspiration to be in work. We are seeking totally to recast the aim and operation of welfare, and to make it clear that work, rather than benefit payment, is the right solution, economically and socially, for people of working age. We will continue to support those people who cannot work.

The second group needing our attention is children. Our objective is to ensure that all children are supported, wherever possible, by their working parents. Nearly 3 million children now live in workless households, which represents a threefold increase since 1979. The best way to support these children is to ensure that their parents are working. They benefit from the lasting financial security that work ensures and from role models which help them to learn how they can live independent lives when they grow up. Our new deal for lone parents will help to tackle the problem by providing a comprehensive package of back-to-work help for lone parents.

Effective child care arrangements are vital, as nine out of 10 lone mothers would work if they could afford child care. The Government are committed to a national child care strategy, which will help parents, especially women, to balance family and working life.

Child support maintenance will have a major part to play. Receiving regular maintenance payments helps lone parents to work, independently of all other powerful influences on their ability to work. We must also reach a point at which an absent father's failure to provide proper financial support for his children is regarded as socially unacceptable.

Our ambitions do not stop at people of working age, because it is also essential to help pensioners. On average, pensioners' incomes have grown over the past 20 years, but the gap between the poorest and richest pensioners has widened. Moreover, projections show that the gap will continue to widen unless urgent corrective action is taken. Our objective is to promote financial security in retirement in a way that enables people to build up a stake in their own provision.

It is clear that the difference between richer and poorer pensioners is a result of the extent to which the former have had access to second-tier pension opportunities, and have taken advantage of the chance to save during their working lives. Secure income in retirement will be achieved when people of working age realise that the more that they and their employers make contributions to their own pension, the greater will be the reward when they retire.

Work—to fund savings—is the best form of pension provision, which is why we have launched our pensions review. That is also why we are consulting on stakeholder pensions and developing citizenship pensions, which will extend the opportunities for good-value pensions to the 8 million people who are poorly served by current arrangements. Our review will also begin to address current inequalities between the opportunities of women and men to have adequate pensions.

We are taking action to ensure fair treatment of pensions on divorce, giving greater rights to women who have contributed to the build-up of pension by supporting their husbands in the home.

We are determined to tackle the situation in which nearly 1 million pensioners do not take up the income support to which they are entitled. We have already commissioned research to establish the reasons why they do not take up that support. From April, we will begin pilot exercises to discover the best ways of delivering income support to older citizens.

As our manifesto has made clear, the Government believe that pensioners should share fairly in the nation's increasing wealth. That is not merely a long-term aim. We have already reduced VAT on fuel, and, from next year, we will abolish the gas levy—showing that we will act quickly.

In his pre-Budget statement, the Chancellor announced the winter fuel payment, which will pay pensioners £20 and the poorest pensioners £50. Those payments will be made in time for winter fuel bills and will be on top of normal pensions payments, which will be uprated next year, as I have already announced.

We are a modernising Government. We believe in bringing opportunities equally to all sections of the community, although we also believe that those opportunities bring responsibilities. Our reform will be guided by our objectives for the main groups that we are attempting to help: welfare to work for those of working age; security for older citizens, for now and in the future; and support for children.

As the House knows, the orders introducing the new benefit rates and the main elements of national insurance require affirmative resolution. We look forward to the wide debate on our programme for social policy to which that occasion will lend itself. I commend the statement to the House.

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford)

I thank the Minister for his statement. Will he accept that, in the past, this significant annual statement has been dealt with by the Secretary of State for Social Security, and that, at the previous week's business statement, it was customary for the Leader of the House to publish the date of the uprating announcement? I am mildly surprised that no answer was given to my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard), who raised the matter at business questions, and that we have had such short notice of it today.

Is the Minister aware of the written answer given by the Minister for Welfare Reform, who said that an uprating in line with inflation would cost £600 million above the 1996 budget assumptions? I should be grateful if the Minister will tell the House where that money will come from.

The Government have proved by their actions since 1 May that, although sticking to the previous Government's overall spending totals, they had room to manoeuvre in withdrawing the changes to housing benefit for over-25s. Will the Government repeal the measures for under 26-year-olds? Does the Minister agree that there is something illogical in the current policy? What is the difference between a 25-year-old and a 27-year-old? Perhaps he will explain that to the House.

In the repeal of the housing benefit rules, the Government have shown clearly that they could have honoured their pre-election pledges on lone parents, if they had been minded to do so. Will the Minister—as we are on the issue of lone parent benefits—confirm that the Government have continued the freeze for existing lone parent claimants, therefore effectively allowing that benefit to wither on the vine for current claimants?

Does the Minister agree with the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry), who said this week that, before the election, Labour described the abolition of help to lone parents as "particularly spiteful"? Does he agree with the comments made by the Secretary of State for Social Security in the uprating order debate that Cuts in lone mothers' benefits make the poorest families poorer"?—[Official Report, 19 February 1997; Vol. 290, c. 944.] Will the Minister tell the House—as he and the Secretary of State for Social Security have singularly failed to do so far—what aspect of the issue is different now, compared to last winter, except that there has been a general election, and that the Labour party has milked the issue for all the votes possible by leading people to believe that Labour would not implement the previous Government's policy?

The Minister has also been trying to duck questions on the new deal on child care in the context of lone parents. I should be grateful for some answers on the child care issue, because there are so many unanswered questions. Will he explain what the charging policy for child care will be for the remainder of this Parliament? Will it be means-tested? I should be very grateful for an answer—an answer of substance, not a soundbite—to that specific question.

Does the Minister understand the irony in his statement that the Government's objective is to promote financial security in retirement for pensioners? How can he reconcile that objective with the raid on millions of personal pensions made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his July Budget, which was worthy of Mr. Robert Maxwell?

The Minister also talked about moving towards equality in pension opportunities between men and women. How can he reconcile that aim with the possibility that the Chancellor will remove the independent financial status of women in the United Kingdom?

The hon. Gentleman mentioned also the matter of reducing value added tax on fuel. Will he confirm that the Government—by reducing VAT on 1 September 1997, rather than on 1 October 1997—ensured that the pensions uprating was calculated on a lower inflation figure, costing the average pensioner just over £6 a year, whereas savings from the 1 September VAT cut are infinitely less than that?

Far better than most hon. Members, the Minister will understand that, since 1 May 1997, the Department of Social Security has been riven with differences of opinion between the Secretary of State and the Minister for Welfare Reform; there has been a plethora of reviews, which are getting nowhere, as even some of the reviews are being reviewed; and there seems to be utter chaos, with no one knowing exactly what others is doing.

Could the hon. Gentleman, just for once today, treat the House with some respect and answer the questions that have been posed to him so often in the past in Committee and in debates on the Floor of the House? We want meaningful answers to the questions arising out of the statement.

Mr. Bradley

.It is not the normal practice to announce when the uprating statement will be. In the past, the uprating statement has normally followed the Budget and it has been the Budget debate which has been announced. There is no problem there.

The published plans include an assumption of the cost of uprating. The assumption made for 1998–99 was too low, so the reserve will be used; it is designed for the shortfall between forecast and outturn.

It is extraordinary that the hon. Gentleman raises the single room rent limit. The Conservatives intended to extend the limit to apply to people up to 60, but they should welcome the fact that we did not proceed with that measure. We are continuing to evaluate the impact of the single room rent limit for the under-25s because there is a view that at that lower age, different circumstances apply compared with those for older people, some of whom may be forced to live in houses in multiple occupation or worse. We will continue that evaluation and report on it next year.

I can confirm that the higher rate for lone parents in receipt of child benefit will be £17.10, the higher rate for family premium in income support and the jobseeker's allowance will be £15.75, and in housing benefit and council tax benefit, the higher rate will be £22.05. The family premium for existing lone claimants on income support will still be £4.70 a week more from next April than is paid to two-parent families in the same circumstances. Existing lone parents receiving child benefit will still get an extra £5.65 a week on top of the basic child benefit. In terms of the new deal generally, it is our view that lone parents will be better off in work because of the national child care strategy. From the evidence we already have, they will be an average of £50 a week better off, which is far better than being dependent on very low benefits.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the tax credit system. The Chancellor announced in his pre-Budget statement that a working family tax credit was under consideration. We are considering all options; replacing family credit with a working family tax credit is only one of them. It must be pointed out, however, that most wage earners in low-income households with children are women. The proposed working family tax credit would build on the successful elements of family credit and would involve better help through the tax system for child care costs.

We are trying to create the economic conditions to ensure that pensioners have their fair share of the rising national prosperity which only this Administration are prepared to deliver. My statement, which will ensure that pensioners receive a 3.6 per cent. uprating in their pension, on top of the £20 for fuel costs,£50 for pensioners on income support, the reduction in VAT on fuel and other measures, including the abolition of the gas levy next year, is a package of help for pensioners which the Conservative Administration never even considered.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Is my hon. Friend aware that in trying to meet the rising social security bill of £90 billion-plus, which will rise to £100 billion before the end of this Parliament, he would be in a much better position if, for instance, the Government realised, even at this stage, that it was necessary to increase taxes for people such as Members of Parliament and those who get even more money than we do? That is one approach which has, sadly, been excluded, but it will have to be returned to.

My hon. Friend talks about welfare to work and the new deal. It is difficult for me to understand that kind of language. I have seven villages in my constituency where pit closures took place three or four years ago. One thousand young men, who hitherto had training schemes under British Coal, no longer have training schemes. Almost everybody is out of work in those pit villages. There is nowhere for those young men to go, as I hope the Minister understands. He is not saying, is he, that these people have got to get on a bike? I do not like that kind of language.

I want Ministers to understand that there are areas of Britain, including mine, where the idea of work being available is laughable for many people. Unless special measures are taken in that respect, we can talk about welfare to work only for areas where it is feasible. The Government should not rub the noses of people where there is no work at all in the idea of welfare to work. If the Minister will see the matter in that fashion, he may be able to deal with the problem generally.

Mr. Bradley

My hon. Friend always talks passionately, and rightly so, about the problems of his constituency and I hear clearly what he says. On his first point, I will refer his remarks about taxation to the Chancellor.

My hon. Friend talked about welfare to work. It is essential that we do not give up on unemployed people and that we give them hope for the future. It is essential that the welfare-to-work programme recognises the problems that my hon. Friend identifies. The programme must be tailored and it is important that we recognise that there are different regional economic problems. The programme must deliver hope for my hon. Friend's constituents.

Mr. Steve Webb (Northavon)

I welcome many aspects of the statement, but I want to press the Minister to look more closely at three aspects of it. First, will he look at provision for pensioners aged over 80? As happened under the Conservatives, the Minister has chosen to freeze the extra help for the over-80s at just 25p a week, which is an insulting amount. Does not he accept that pensioners over 80 are the poorest in the land and that many of them do not claim income support? Converting that 25p into a worthwhile sum such as £5 a week would guarantee help for the poorest and would give them not £20 a year, but £20 a month.

Secondly, I understand and appreciate why the single room rent reform was reversed. Would the Minister, however, look at the way in which that change has been funded? Has the increase in non-dependant deductions—that is, the tax on young people who live with their parents—gone too far? For the highest-earning young people, the figure has gone up by 36 per cent. in the statement. Will the Minister at least undertake research to see whether the change breaks up households? It may produce more demand for housing and more burden on the Exchequer.

Thirdly, we must return to lone parents. The statement means a freeze not for new claimants, but for the 1.5 million lone parents who are existing claimants. Does the Minister accept that many of those people will not move from welfare into work? Does he accept that, yesterday, the Secretary of State for Social Security seemed to acknowledge that looking after young children at home was a valid thing to do? Will he explain why he is cutting the real living standards of those families?

Mr. Bradley

I shall try to answer the hon. Gentleman's three questions. We recognise the plight of very elderly pensioners and our pensions review will look specifically at that point. At a recent meeting of the review team at which Jack Jones, a doughty champion of pensioners, was present, that item was specifically put on the agenda. The pilot schemes that we are introducing to find out why the poorest pensioners are not claiming income support will recognise that many of those may be the very elderly. We must study the pilot research projects to find out why that group are not claiming their entitlement.

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support for our decision not to extend the single room rent limit to 25 to 60-year-olds. I recognise that the non-dependant changes are hard choices, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that we have protected the lowest-paid within that to ensure that the system is as fair as we can make it, in context. In our current housing review, which is under way as part of the comprehensive spending review, all those matters will be reconsidered as we develop a sensible housing policy and sensible housing benefit changes.

I have confirmed the figures for lone parents. I must put them in the context of the new deal and in the context of the speech yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about choice for lone mothers and about flexibility. The crucial aspect of the national child care strategy will be to ensure that that is a reality.

Ms Margaret Moran (Luton, South)

: I welcome the opportunities that my hon. Friend outlined to move the poorest from welfare to work. As part of his review, will he consider the opportunity for substantial housing benefit savings that might be afforded through rent reductions? Does he accept that a 10 per cent. rent reduction would not only afford substantial housing benefit savings, but could offer many households the chance to move from welfare to work, alleviating the poverty trap?

Mr. Bradley

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's comments. I recognise and value her expertise, particularly on housing benefit. We recognise that housing costs can be a critical element in decisions on general reform programmes. I assure my hon. Friend that we shall look carefully in our housing policy review at the disincentives that emanate from the current system in our welfare-to-work programme. I should be grateful if she could send any further comments on that to me at the Department.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent)

The Minister may know that I have always been rather in favour of a minimum income scheme. One of the disadvantages of the idea is that it involves a minimum wage at some point. Now that the Government have decided that we shall have a minimum wage, will the Minister look carefully at the advantages of a minimum income scheme?

Ministers have constantly complained about the lack of skills in society. Will the hon. Gentleman give further thought to the 50-year-olds who have been sliced out of employment, often to save their employers' considerable pension contributions? Will he ensure that that pool of potentially highly skilled people with the capacity to learn new skills is properly catered for in the new deal or in some other manner?

Mr. Bradley

I am grateful for the obvious overwhelming support for the Government's reform programme, particularly the recognition of the introduction of a minimum wage. I shall refer the hon. Gentleman's comments to the Taylor review of the tax-benefit system. I am sure that his contribution will be valued. We recognise that many people have been dumped out of employment and on to benefit dependency at too early an age. That is not acceptable. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's recognition of that. It is unfortunate that the Conservatives did not recognise the value of people in that age group when they were in government and did not do anything to help them get into work, where many of them want to be.

Audrey Wise (Preston)

My hon. Friend said that all children should be supported by their working parents. For lone parents, that implies full-time work, as one part-time job is not enough to support a family. Will he clarify what he means? Will he also tell the House why child care is regarded as a job if done by a stranger, but not if done by the child's mother or father?

Mr. Bradley

The purpose of our reforms is to create opportunities and flexibility, so that people can move flexibly into work. Many lone parents want to work. The changes that we have made to family credit and the increase in the child care disregard to £100 will help to fund those proposals. The national child care strategy, with the development of 30,000 after-school and out-of-hours clubs to benefit up to 1 million children will help in that. Our package of measures will give real help to ensure that children do not remain in poverty and are able to benefit from the fruits of economic prosperity.

Mr. John Swinney (North Tayside)

The Minister said that his comments would not be marked by a long list of cuts to the welfare programme. There may not have been a long list, but there were cuts. Does he accept the growing anxiety about the Government's proposals to cut child benefit for lone parents? Will he give a commitment that the Government will think again about the concern that is being expressed and remove the relevant provisions in the Social Security Bill?

Mr. Bradley

I have made the rates of child benefit for next year clear in my statement. Personal allowances and children's additions in income support will be uprated as normal. That will mean an increase in benefits. Lone mothers in low-paid work will benefit from the full uprating of family credit by the Rossi index. I have confirmed that the child care disregard will go up to £100 per week from next June. All those measures will help lone parents and their children. All Departments, including the Department of Social Security, always look carefully at new measures and evaluate them before undertaking the reforms that are necessary for a modern social security system.

Mr. John Cryer (Hornchurch)

The aim of full employment, which seemed implicit in my hon. Friend's statement, is laudable, but I do not understand how that is compatible with cutting the higher rate of child benefit for single parents, which provides a disincentive to work. The higher rate generally applies only to single parents who are already in work. Those who are not in work are likely to be on income support and do not get the means-tested money.

My hon. Friend talks about tough decisions. Tough decisions are not made by people who earn a minimum of £43,000 a year. Tough decisions are made by people who live in genuine poverty, which has affected ever greater numbers in this country for the past 10, 15 or 20 years. People who have to choose between eating and heating are the ones in difficulty. We are in danger of making their situation worse by cutting the higher rate of child benefit.

Madam Speaker

Order. That was an interesting contribution, and would have been so in a debate, but there was not a question in it. If the Minister would like to make some comments, of course I shall allow him to do so, but I want questions from other hon. Members.

Mr. Bradley

I agree with your view, Madam Speaker. As I have said, there will be an opportunity for a full debate on the orders when they are presented to the House, before they are implemented.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Is my hon. Friend aware that, in the year that I was elected to the House, Buckingham palace sent just over 200 telegrams of congratulation to those who had reached their 100th birthday? Last year, the palace sent 5,460. Anecdotally and from constituency experience—I have no definite evidence—I suspect that many nursing homes and homes for old people do not take up the income support that people in their late 90s are unable to claim themselves. Will that be addressed in the review? Will something be done to help carers, who play an increasingly important role?

Mr. Bradley

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's comments. He is right about the number of telegrams that are sent out. As a new Minister, I was surprised to learn that there is a dedicated official for that task because of the number of telegrams to be sent. My hon. Friend has raised important points, which our pensions review and our review of long-term care for elderly people must take into account. It is crucial that elderly people do not live in abject poverty.

Mr. David Rendal (Newbury)

Will the Minister confirm that hidden in half a sentence of his statement was a comment that made it clear that the thresholds at which employers pay national insurance will be frozen in cash terms? That means that he is introducing a real-terms increase in business taxes.

Mr. Bradley

May I clarify that? No employer will pay more on existing payrolls as a result of the freezing of the bands.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Will the Minister bear in mind the fact that unemployed people whom I often see are unemployed not because they want to be but because of genuine disability or age—people who are in their 40s and 50s have been made redundant and cannot find work? They want to find employment. Despite what the Government have said, there will continue to be much difficulty for such people. They should not be penalised by any cuts in social security payments. That would be wrong.

Like my hon. Friends, I welcome what the Government have done for pensioners in the past six months—actions which the Tories would not dream of taking, such as the action on fuel payments. There is more to be done, as my hon. Friend has said. Far too many pensioners are living in dire poverty, and among them are a good number of war veterans. We should do justice to those people, and as soon as possible.

Mr. Bradley

I am well aware of my hon. Friend's continuing and effective championing of the plight of pensioners. I recognise that and pay tribute to him for it. Our pensions review will take into account the matters that he has raised; it is essential that it does.

Clearly, there are barriers to work. Part of the pilot scheme that we are setting up—especially the £195 million of new deal money to help people with disabilities—will look at those barriers so that we can effectively address them. As my hon. Friend rightly said, many such people want to work, to recognise their capacities rather than their incapacities. We have to learn from the pilot experience to ensure that the new deal is effective for all people who want to move from benefit dependency into work.

Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)

My hon. Friend rightly recognised the growing gap between poor and rich pensioners. Does he also recognise that the present generation of pensioners bequeathed to our generation a national health service and a welfare state from which all of us have benefited? Does he further recognise that, for the poorest among them, it is now too late to take out a second-tier or stakeholder pension? At the very least, we owe it to them to restore the link between pension increases and average earnings, which was so callously broken by the Conservative party in 1981.

Mr. Bradley

Clearly, we recognise the plight of pensioners who have not been able to make proper second-tier provision. That is why we are looking closely at those who are not claiming their income-related benefit—income support—to ensure that they at least come up to the minimum level. The pensions review recognises the plight of the poorest pensioners. I assure the House that representatives on that review will not let the Government forget it. Through that review, we will explore how we can most effectively help those poorest pensioners.

Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead)

I thank my hon. Friend for his statement. Will he reflect on his rather anodyne words about the Child Support Agency, which is a vital component of social security? It would be more appropriate to describe its operations with alarm, especially as the resources that it is allocated for the detection and pursuit of people who evade its operations seem to be very low. Does my hon. Friend think that the agency should be deemed not the Child Support Agency but a child neglect agency? Will he consider seriously whether its operations should be more profoundly reviewed?

Mr. Bradley

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. As I mentioned in the statement, we recognise the importance of payment of child maintenance. It is not acceptable for the money not to go to the parent who cares for children. It is an essential element of such parents' income and they need to know that it will be reliably and efficiently received. That is why we are undertaking a fundamental review of the CSA. We hope to bring forward proposals on the matter in the first half of next year.

Mr. Burns

Will the Minister please tell the House categorically whether the Government have any plans at all in the new deal for lone parents to bring in compulsion, as there is compulsion in welfare to work for young people? Yes or no?

Mr. Bradley

The Secretary of State has made it absolutely clear that compulsion is not the issue. We shall continue to work to help lone parents to get into work. That is what they want and that is what we shall continue to do.