HC Deb 02 April 2001 vol 366 cc12-3
9. Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

If he will make a statement on the means-testing of benefits. [154866]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Hugh Bayley)

Investment in income-related benefits such as the minimum income guarantee and the disability income guarantee has provided the most effective and immediate way of tackling poverty.

Mr. Brady

I am grateful to the Minister. Can he confirm that under the pension credit proposals, a person who has saved £75,000 in a pension fund will be just £6 a week better off than somebody who has saved nothing at all?

Mr. Bayley

That comes badly from a party that never proposed introducing pension credit, that never proposed rewarding savings and that is happy that people who pay into pension schemes and save capital should get no benefit from the state at all. We do not share the view of the Conservative party; that is why we made our proposals for pension credit—so that those who save to provide for themselves in old age see a real benefit from doing so.

Mr. Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale, East)

Will my hon. Friend please ignore the comments of the Opposition and their allegations about increasing means-testing? He will be aware that, since the last general election, the number of people in households forced to depend on income support and jobseeker's allowance has fallen by more than 1 million. That total includes 400,000 children. Is not that a sign that the Government are tackling poverty and that the Opposition's claims are wrong?

Mr. Bayley

One of the real indictments of the previous Government was that the number of children living in poverty trebled. One of the things that the Labour Government will be remembered for is that our policies—not least the welfare-to-work policies, but a whole range of fiscal and benefit policies too—have meant that 1.2 million children, who under the Conservatives were living in poverty, have been removed from living in poverty. That is as a result of the work of the Government.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent)

I get quite a lot of real people with real addresses in my surgeries. One of the things that they complain most bitterly about is that whenever they come into contact with the social security system, not only do their letters get lost but they have to deal with a different person each time they go back into the system. Are there any plans to improve the system so that people can relate to the same person each time they have a problem?

Mr. Bayley

Yes, indeed there are—changes that the Conservatives did not make when they were in government. We are creating a working age agency to provide just such a service for clients: not just dumping them on benefits and leaving them in a labyrinthine system that provides no support, but providing personal advisers who will help clients both to deal with their benefit problems and to get back to work.

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