HC Deb 28 January 1997 vol 289 cc146-7
11. Mrs. Ewing

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many people in Scotland have received cold weather payments since December 1996; and how many of these received payments for more than one week. [11379]

Mr. Roger Evans

Since the beginning of last December, 195,000 people in Scotland have received cold weather payments. Of these, 188,000 received more than one payment.

Mrs. Ewing

Although we all appreciate that there have been changes in the trigger mechanisms for cold weather payments, which were very important in the recent very cold spells, does the Minister accept that we should be following the examples of countries such as Ireland which make automatic payments during the coldest months and weeks of winter to ensure that people on the lowest state benefits are guaranteed such payments? In Scotland, the excess winter death rate is 16 per cent., whereas in Finland, which has a good programme, it is 9 per cent.

Mr. Evans

The existing scheme is automatic in the sense that a person does not have to make a claim if he is in the qualifying group. A payment is made when the Meteorological Office records seven days at 0 deg or less or, much more important, when it forecasts that the temperature will be 0 deg or less for seven days. The prospect of that payment is widely advertised locally and people realise that it will be coming shortly thereafter.

In the hon. Lady's constituency, Aviemore triggered the payment six times this winter and Kinloss three times. Braemar, which is not very far from the hon. Lady's constituency, holds the UK record for triggering the payment seven times.

Mr. Bill Walker

My hon. Friend will be aware that our cold weather payments scheme quite properly takes account of the differences in temperature throughout the United Kingdom. Does he recall that southern Ireland—Eire—receives massive sums of our taxpayers' funds from Europe and is therefore spending our money?

Mr. Evans

I hear what my hon. Friend says about southern Ireland. On his first point, I welcome his support. The system is designed to target help where it is most needed when the weather is at its worst.

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