HC Deb 23 May 2000 vol 350 cc847-8
2. Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)

What representations he has received from political parties on publicising the working families tax credit in Scotland. [121872]

The Minister of State, Scotland Office (Mr. Brian Wilson)

I shall try to speak quickly. The Government are determined to maximise the take-up of working families tax credit, which is why it has been well publicised in Scotland, through television, newspapers and magazines.

Mr. McFall

Is the Minister aware that some of the poorer families to whom I have spoken in the past few weeks are receiving upwards of an extra £60 a week from WFTC? Does he agree that it is one of the main planks of social justice in Scotland and is he proud to be a member of a Government who are trying to take poverty out of Scotland rather than just trying to take Scotland out of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Wilson

I am very proud of the anti-poverty measures being taken by the Government. It is important that people see them as a cohesive philosophy that joins up measures to attack poverty at the root and provides, through educational policies, the means to raise aspirations and give people in our society better prospects. The WFTC could provide help to 130,000 families in Scotland at the significant level that my hon. Friend mentioned. [Interruption.] I have no idea why the SNP sneers at those 130,000 poor families in Scotland. The important point is that of those 130,000, some 99,000 are claiming WFTC. Some 31,000 more families could claim that substantial additional income and if one family sees this broadcast from the House and claims as a result, we will have spent our time well.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

The Minister is right that the WFTC is an important benefit. It has only been paid since October and the Government should do everything they can to publicise eligibility and improve take-up. Will the Minister accept that we should consider not only absolute numbers but the percentage of those who are eligible who claim? The benefit replaced family credit, which had a high take-up, and it would be a shame if WFTC did not reach the same proportion of those eligible. Will he also bear in mind the extreme importance of the success of the new child care tax credit? The old family credit assistance for children was very restrictive and I hope that publicity will also be given to the child care tax credit.

Mr. Wilson

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that constructive contribution. He is absolutely right on all counts, but I can assure him that everyone who was on family credit has moved to WFTC. I can also assure him that by the end of March 10,300 awards had been made of WFTC containing elements of child care tax credit, and that compares favourably with the 4,900 who gained from the child care earnings disregard under the family credit scheme. We have doubled the number benefiting from the child care element and, in general, more people qualify for WFTC. It is a substantial benefit for low-income families and I want every eligible family to claim it. It should be the job of us all, from whatever party, to ensure that that happens.

Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South)

I am sure that my hon. Friend must be as distressed as I am to meet people who still believe that WFTC will not make them better off if they enter work. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall), I have met families who are between £40 and £60 a week better off, but a few people are still convinced that it would not benefit them. Would not it be better if the SNP, instead of being cynical about WFTC, encouraged those people to get back into work and get out of poverty?

Mr. Wilson

I am not interested in stupid point scoring. I am interested in action and in the money that will be paid to less well off families, as is my hon. Friend. No family with a weekly income below £238 will pay income tax. From June, the figure rises to £245. In April 2001, it will increase to £255. If any such family is paying income tax, it should not be. That is an important message. As a result of the Budget and previous Budgets, a single earner family with two children on £12,500 a year will be £3,000 better off. These are important statistics for low-income families. They should be understood and the benefit should be claimed.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

Will the Minister give a commitment to talk to businesses in Scotland that have to administer the working families tax credit? He will know that the burden of rules and regulations has increased and now amounts to £10 billion since the Government came to power. Smaller businesses find it proportionately more difficult to tackle the problems of the administrative burden. Will he talk to them to ascertain what can be introduced to alleviate the extra burden?

Mr. Wilson

I visit smaller businesses all the time. The issue that the hon. Gentleman has raised is not something that comes up as a big problem. We always try to simplify systems. I think that the vast majority of companies are well attuned to administering such a system. If there are complaints which they want to raise with me, I shall be pleased to discuss them.

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