§ 6.30 p.m.
§ LORD ABERDARE rose to move, That the Draft Family Income Supplements (Computation) Regulations 1971, laid before the House on March 25, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, your Lordships will remember the debate we had last December on the Family Income Supplements Bill, which has meanwhile received the Royal Assent. The scheme embodied in it is really very simple. Weekly supplements are to be paid to families with children if the head of the family is in full-time work and the family income is below certain levels, which are provided for in Section 2 of the Act. The supplement will amount to half the difference between the family income and the prescribed income levels, subject to a maximum.
§ During our earlier debate I drew attention to the provision for raising the income levels, or "prescribed amounts" as they are called. By these draft Regulations we propose to raise them from £15 to £18 in the case of a family with one child. The amount will rise as before by £2 for each additional child, to £20 when there are two children, £22 when there are three and so on. The Regulations also raise the maximum payment prescribed in Section 3 of the Act from £3 to £4. There is no change in the other provisions of Section 3, which means that as before no benefit will be payable if the income is 20p or less below the prescribed level.
§ My Lords, it was clear from our debate last year that support for the policy now embodied in the Act was something less than unanimous. It is in some respects a novel policy and there is plenty of room for different views about it. Noble Lords opposite made no bones about their dislike of it, though they were ready to debate it constructively and did not seek to obstruct the Bill.
§ There would. I think, be little point in going over again to-day the ground that was covered by our previous debate. With the Act on the Statute Book and the first supplements due to be paid on August 3 preparations for the introduction of the scheme are now of course far advanced. 605 We shall be inviting claims from next month. As your Lordships will have been made aware during last week, a take-up campaign is in progress, concerntrating at this stage on inviting claims to other benefits, such as welfare foods and remission of National Health Service charges. We shall be sending individual invitations to all families with children who claim these benefits to consider claiming family income supplements, and a second stage of the campaign will be specifically directed to finding other families who are entitled to family income supplement. We are making extensive use of the advertising media, but in addition we are approaching local authorities, social workers, voluntary organisations and everyone we can think of who can help.
§ Over the campaign as a whole we are spending £340,000 on advertising in the national Press, television and posters and we are also sending about 170,000 letters appealing for help in finding beneficiaries to everybody we think can help, including local authorities, individual social workers, the clergy and many voluntary organisations. With these letters we have sent copies of a new family benefits guide which has been specially prepared to help anyone connected with social work to give advice on the various benefits that are available to families with children.
§ I cannot help thinking that noble Lords, and the noble Baroness in particular, who asked at the Second Reading stage what the provisions were for raising these amounts, will welcome these proposed increases. The Chancellor's Budget decision to increase the child tax allowance has greatly improved the relationship between these prescribed amounts and the tax threshold. Family income supplements are not subject to income tax, but we are nevertheless anxious to keep to a minimum the number of people who both receive the supplement and pay tax. The higher lax ratio will greatly reduce the number of cases where this will happen.
§ I am confident that if these draft Regulations are approved the scheme will bring really valuable help to families who are in need and to whom we cannot give sufficient help through other social security benefits. As I said in our earlier debate, we are studying a number of methods of tackling family poverty. We do not claim that this scheme is in any 606 way a panacea, nor are we wedded to it as our own distinctive contribution to the solution of the problem. But it is in the belief that it will be a contribution, and that your Lordships will wish it to be an effective contribution, that I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Draft Family Income Supplements (Computation) Regulations 1971, laid before the House on March 25, be approved.—(Lord Aberdare.)
§ BARONESS PHILLIPS
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for introducing these Regulations. The only point of jargon here which caught my eye was the word "computation", which seems to be a new word for sorting out these matters. Like the noble Lord, I will not reiterate the points which we discussed on the Second Reading of the Bill. I do not think that we on this side of the House will ever like the underlying philosophy of the Bill, though naturally we are glad that it will be a means of helping particularly what I might call the one-parent family. I was ready to congratulate the Minister on the fact that the Regulations appeared to be coming into operation in May rather than in August, as was originally mentioned, but he now says that it will be August and I have to withhold my congratulations.
I am particularly glad to see that the rates have been raised. I assume that the Minister will now be able to tell me the difference in the total cost, which was to be £8.6 million. I assume that it will now be more. I am delighted to know that there is a publicity campaign to make this scheme better known. As the noble Lord will be well aware, the voluntary agencies, with which I have some connection in this country, will be only too anxious to make certain that everyone who can benefit will do so.
I will not go into the other difficulties with which the Government may be faced. Apart from dealing with those who are in employment, I think they may quite soon have to be looking at the other large problem, the number of people who are unemployed. But I will not in any way impede the Regulations now before the House.
§ LORD DAVIES OF LEEK
My Lords, I only want to add, from experience, that every encouragement should be given to 607 people to take up their rights. There are quite a number of people entitled to benefits who do not know that they are so entitled. We must break down the old-fashioned idea that it is like the old Board of Guardians in 1910. This is something that is given to them with dignity by any Government in power, and they are entitled to it. I am sure that the Minister will encourage this knowledge being passed on to the people in local authorities and elsewhere who have the duty of dealing with people who have trouble and who have need of help.
§ LORD ABERDARE
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness and to the noble Lord for what they have said. I noted the jargon "computation". I hope that this has nothing to do with computers, because if it has we might be even longer getting the Regulations into force. Certainly the claims will be coming in during the course of next month, and the first payments will be made, as I have said, on August 3.
I very much take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek. We are doing our utmost to make it quite clear to everybody who might be entitled that they should claim. We hope that not only will the advertising campaign have some considerable effect, but by circulating the letters to the social workers we hope to get a more personal contact with the families who might be able to claim. So far as the cost of the scheme is concerned, we do not expect it to be much more than was originally budgeted for, because a great many wages have increased since then and a great many people have gone out of the scope of the scheme. If I can help the noble Baroness further on that point I will write to her.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.