HL Deb 30 September 1976 vol 374 cc573-5

3.18 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what arrangements have been made to reduce the cost of £10 million incurred in posting social security benefits to able-bodied persons.


My Lords, the £10 million to which the noble Lord refers was the total cost of posting nearly 100 million benefit cheques to claimants in 1975–76. About half the cost arose from postal charges in respect of people receiving sickness or injury benefits, or those who were otherwise incapacitated. Any alternative to posting social security benefit cheques to claimants, whether able-bodied or not, would certainly involve extra cost in additional staff and accommodation requirements.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for his concise Answer, I must point out to your Lordships—

Several noble Lords: Question!


My Lords, is it not the case that in fact I did not mean handicapped people who were going to collect their security benefits?


My Lords, the bulk of them are persons who are not able-bodied. The House might be interested to know that the 100 million cheques which were posted in the year 1975–76 represented only 11 per cent. of the total number of payments which are made by the Department in the course of one year. My Lords, 89 per cent. of payments are made straight through the Post Office by order book payments.


My Lords, would it be possible to deduct the cost of the postage from payments made to able-bodied persons?


I am sure everything is possible, my Lords, but one has to bear in mind the accounting. If we were to do it, it would cost a jolly sight more in accounting to deduct these things and to show them, and so on, and in all the book-keeping involved.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many of the questions that he has been asked have been asked without experience of the difficulties faced in social insurance? Is he aware that there are many remote parts of England, Wales and Scotland where villages are now so remote that, because of the higgledy-piggledy system of transport, the able-bodied needy cannot get to the post office and that, in consequence, it is cheaper to post than to subsidise their fares?


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend because it was a point that I wanted to bring out and thought I might have an opportunity to do so. These Giro payments are sent from various locations. We have a very successful computer—I think perhaps I ought to put that in—at Reading which is responsible for sending over a large area millions of Giro cheques in the course of a year. They go to people who live a considerable distance from Reading. If we did not do that, they, would have to be sent to the local office of the DHSS. This would take up time, money, staff and accommodation.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, will the noble Lord confirm that, in fact, half of the payments made under my noble friend's original Question were to able-bodied people?


My Lords, I am not prepared to confirm that for I am not sure that the noble Baroness is right.


My Lords, is not the cost of posting simply a payment from one national pocket to another?


My Lords, that would be so; but nevertheless the charge would fall on the Department of Health and Social Security.