HC Deb 29 November 1999 vol 340 cc14-5
10. Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire)

If he will make a statement on his Department's forecasts for expenditure on social security payments. [99070]

The Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Alistair Darling)

Social security spending is growing at well under half its rate during the previous Parliament, and is now taking a declining share of national income—an achievement that the Conservative Government never managed.

Mr. Paterson

That is exactly the answer that I received during the statement about two weeks ago. When the Prime Minister spoke at Church house on 7 May 1997, he said that one of his main priorities would be to reduce social security spending. In that case, why does table B12 of the Government's figures in the pre-Budget report show that social security benefits will increase from £93.3 billion to a massive £103.6 billion?

Mr. Darling

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman is now getting the message that social security spending is growing at well under half the rate that it did under the previous Government. Of course, it is growing slightly, but it is growing at half the rate that it did under the previous Government. He may be interested to learn that so far in this Parliament, as a result of getting more people into work, we have saved more than £7 billion. That is a direct result of the Labour Government's economic policies and of our policy of getting people back into work.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)

Will my right hon. Friend draw the Opposition's attention to the simple fact that, if more and more of us live for longer in retirement, the social security bill—for example, that for pensions—will rise? Is not the important commitment made by the Government that, although the total social security bill will rise, the proportion met by taxpayers—if we consider public and private provision—will fall?

Mr. Darling

My right hon. Friend is right. The Government's strategy, as set out in the Green Paper published a year ago, is to ensure that all those who can make provision for themselves should do so. The first leg of improvements needed to implement that is part of the Welfare Reform and Pensions Act 1999; the second is in legislation that will be put to the House shortly.

Mr. David Willetts (Havant)

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the second most important reason for the reduction in social security plans between March and November is the £1.7 billion fall in disability benefit expenditure? Will he explain why, over the past seven months, he has miraculously reduced his forecast for disability benefit spending by £1.7 billion? Does that have anything to do with the means-testing of benefits that was put through the House only the other day?

Mr. Darling

When the hon. Gentleman thinks about the matter—he has a reputation for thinking about things—he will realise that the changes in the Welfare Reform and Pensions Act do not come into effect until 2001. There are two reasons for the reduction in expenditure, the first of which results from changes introduced by the Conservative Government in 1995. Secondly, we are tightening all the gateways to the social security system to ensure that those who are not entitled to benefit do not receive it. If they are entitled to benefit, we ensure that we give more help than ever before. Those changes will be welcomed by most reasonable people.

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