HC Deb 13 May 1999 vol 331 cc407-8
8. Ms Joan Ryan (Enfield, North)

What representations he has received regarding the increase in child benefit announced in the Budget. [83195]

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Gordon Brown)

I have received a number of representations, including those made at a meeting with the Child Poverty Action Group before the Budget. Most have welcomed the fact that child benefit has risen by 30 per cent. since we came into government and from next April will be £15 for the first child and £10 for subsequent children.

Ms Ryan

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer and for the increase in child benefit, which will help 13,800 families in my constituency. My real reason for tabling the question is to tell him that I have met a number of pensioner groups recently. As ever with pensioners, they were interested in more than just the policies that benefit them directly. They also expressed interest in and support for measures that are beneficial to children, particularly the increase in child benefit. Will my right hon. Friend confirm to me, so that I can confirm to parents and grandparents in my constituency, that the Government will continue to pursue policies that support families when they need it most, which is when they are bringing up children?

Mr. Brown

All our changes, including the working families tax credit and the child tax allowance which will be introduced from 2001, are designed to give families help when they need it most—when children are growing up. Some 7 million mothers and 12 million children will gain from the increase in child benefit. It is the biggest rise that this country has ever seen and is backed up by our working families tax credit, which will start in October. There will be a minimum income of £200 for families in work with children, which will benefit 1.5 million families. I hope that the Opposition will support the measure instead of opposing it.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

Does the Chancellor not recognise that, although the increase in child benefit will at least go to the child, the changes that he is proposing through the working families tax credit will result in the benefit being lost to the child, because in most cases it will go to the married father? Will he admit that the Labour party has failed to deliver on its election pledge of reducing welfare spending?

Mr. Brown

I hope that the hon. Lady will understand these facts. First, child benefit goes to the mother. She seems to have misunderstood that. Secondly, the working families tax credit means an overall increase in family income amounting in some cases to £40 or £50 a week. Thirdly, our proposals for the working families tax credit, backed up by child benefit, are far superior to those now floated by the shadow Chancellor and the leader of the Conservative party for a transferable tax allowance that would give a millionaire £1,734 as a result of tax relief and, in some cases, would give nothing to the lowest-paid in the country.

Mr. Christopher Leslie (Shipley)

Is the child benefit increase a way of showing how the Government are standing up for the many, and not the few? Is that not in stark contrast to the priorities of the Conservative party, which would spend hundreds of millions of pounds on cutting stamp duty on properties valued at over £500,000?

Mr. Brown

I have looked at the voting of the Conservative party on the Finance Bill and the Budget, and it has committed more than £7 billion to measures that include cutting the tax rate for smokers. That money would not be available for the health service or for education, and that makes absolutely hollow the attempt by the Conservative party to put itself on the side of the health service and parents educating their children. As the Minister for Public Health has reminded them, the Tories have to go back and think these things out because none of their figures add up.