HC Deb 07 June 2004 vol 422 cc15-6
11. Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con)

How many people he estimates are not claiming the income support to which they are entitled; and if he will make a statement. [177321]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Chris Pond)

We want all people who are eligible for benefits to take up their entitlement. Our most recent estimate is that between 86 and 95 per cent of people who are entitled to income support are receiving it, leaving between 110,000 and 350,000 working-age adults not receiving it. Among claimants with children, take-up is higher at between 93 and 99 per cent.

Mr. Tredinnick

I thank the Minister for that reply. Can he tell us whether the number of people claiming housing benefit, council tax benefit and income support is going up or down overall? If the overall number is going up, does not that show the Government elected in 1997 as a dismal failure?

Mr. Pond

No, it shows considerable success across the board. The hon. Gentleman will have heard my hon. Friend the Minister for Pensions talking about what we are doing and about our great success in extending access to the pension credit. He will know that we have launched a campaign on council tax benefit. Because the eligibility limits for many of those benefits have been increased generously, it is true that more people have become entitled and we are working hard to ensure that those newly entitled people get the benefits to which they are entitled and make claims as appropriate.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab)

Are some people who are in receipt of child support allowance missing out on income support? I have a letter sent on behalf of the chief executive of Jobcentre Plus. It shows that the change that came in on 12 April means that: As the children will not be included in the calculation for Income Support, any income they receive, including maintenance payments, will not be taken into consideration". That is being countermanded by local provision. The Chesterfield manager states that it is misleading because maintenance payments are made not to the children but to the parent. Can the matter be clarified? Are some people missing out on income support because they are on Child Support Agency money?

Mr. Pond

As my non. Friend will know, we have made an important change in saying that maintenance payments will not be taken into account in the child tax credit, but I shall look into the specific issue he raised and the confusion that has arisen as a result of the fact that support for children has moved from income support across to a seamless system of child tax credits.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry) (Con)

On the operation of the benefits system generally, with particular reference to income-related benefits, has the Minister had a chance to read the annual report of the Daventry welfare rights group for the last fiscal year? It reports a staggering 50 per cent. increase in the work load and comments simply that new benefits are introduced and the common factor is chaos. Would not Ministers be better advised to stop tinkering with the system and to make a real effort to reduce its complexity and its over-dependence on means-testing?

Mr. Pond

I have to say that that particular publication did not form part of my weekend's reading, but I shall make sure that it is part of my next weekend's reading. However, I am absolutely sure that the publication will have included reference to the fact that we are the first Government ever to have set ourselves a target of, first, halving and then eliminating child poverty and that we are determined to deal with pensioner poverty. That is why we have had to sort out much of the benefits mess left to us by the previous Government and why we have had to introduce benefits such as the pension credit, which assists many thousands of pensioners in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, as it does elsewhere in the country.