HC Deb 28 January 1997 vol 289 cc135-6
1. Mr. Berry

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what proportion of people are currently dependent on means-tested benefits; and what were the figures for 1979. [11368]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Andrew Mitchell)

The latest estimate is that 26.4 per cent. of the population live in households receiving income support, family credit, disability working allowance, housing benefit or council tax benefit. It is not possible to make a direct comparison with the position in 1979 since the present structure of the benefits did not exist then.

Mr. Berry

Can the Minister confirm that in 1979 one in 12 people were dependent on means-tested benefits and that today the figure has doubled to one in six? Is this not the result of what the Bishop of Liverpool recently described as the "running sores" of unemployment, low pay and poverty, all of which have increased dramatically under the Government?

Mr. Mitchell

I am surprised at the question that the hon. Gentleman has asked. He should know that unemployment benefit takes up about 10 per cent. of the Department of Social Security budget. He should condemn the Opposition Front Bench, which wants means testing to be extended. In the unlikely event of a Labour Government being returned after the next general election, I understand that Labour's proposals are to means-test both child benefit and the state pension, which would mean a significant increase in means testing.

The hon. Gentleman should be aware that two thirds of the growth in social security spending has been directed to helping the disabled. The Government have provided an enormous increase in support for them, as they have in helping the elderly. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will tell the House which part of that growth he would like to retract.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes

Does my hon. Friend agree that the best way to get people off means-tested benefits is to get them into work? Is it not important, therefore, to recognise that under this Government two jobs have been created every minute since 1992? That figure has not been disputed by the International Labour Organisation or even by the Labour party. The Government are creating jobs. Should not we take the words of the Bishop of Liverpool as endorsing the Government's policies?

Mr. Mitchell

My hon. Friend is right. The Government's policy is dedicated to getting people back into work. It has been extremely successful, as my hon. Friend has pointed out. Since the general election, unemployment has fallen by more than 1 million. The United Kingdom has more of its citizens in work and fewer unemployed than any other major European country.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has announced the introduction of parent plus, which will be piloted from April. Parent plus will be the best scheme anywhere in the world for helping lone parents back into work. It is shortly to be piloted throughout the United Kingdom. The private sector will be involved as well as the public sector. The Government are taking decisive and effective action to help the unemployed, yet all we hear from the Opposition is meaningless waffle that is designed to con the electorate.

Mr. Wicks

Can the Minister explain why it is that one in three babies in Tory Britain are born to families that are dependent on the means test, compared with one in 10 in 1979? Will he help the House work out why it is that a Tory Government who in 1979 promised to get the state off people's backs have ended up creating a massive dependency state, one which includes a quarter of all households in Britain?

Mr. Mitchell

We all care about helping the people whom the hon. Gentleman has just described. The Labour party has a pretty strange definition of poverty: it means that when we increase income support levels, its measure of poverty also increases. The Government have a range of policies designed to help people back into work. In the lone parent area, the hon. Gentleman will know of the importance of the after-school kiddies clubs, which have been greatly expanded under the Government's programme. The Government have put £24 million on the table to help expand that form of after-school child care. I reject what the hon. Gentleman said, and underline the Government's success in helping people back into work.

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