HL Deb 11 February 1982 vol 427 cc265-6

3.13 p.m.

Baroness Faithful

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 by how much the supplementary benefit rate for children under five has been raised since May 1979.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Lord Elton)

My Lords, the separate scale rate for children under five was abolished when the Government reformed the supplementary benefit scheme in November 1980. There is now a single rate which applies to children of 10 years old and under. The parent of a child under five would qualify for £3.50 a week more now than under the rates in force when the Government came into office. In addition, households with a child or children under five have qualified since November 1979 for an automatic heating addition which is currently worth £1.65 a week throughout the year.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, may I thank my noble friend the Minister for that reply, which is very encouraging. I think this Government are showing an interest in children and particularly the children under five. May I ask the Minister whether he could ask his right honourable friend who is responsible in another place, to take account of the fact that there has been a 2 per cent. shortfall and could this shortfall be made good? The particulars of this are to be found in a book Children and Poverty.

Lord Elton

My Lords, if the noble Baroness is referring to the shortfall described in the book Children and Poverty, I must draw her attention to the fact that the book does not take account either of the heating allowance or free milk. The money received under the present scales is in effect in excess of the standard which the author of the book proposes as necessary.

Baroness Jeger

My Lords, are the Government aware that, though there has been an 8.2 per cent. increase in the allowance for November 1980 to November 1981, inflation has gone up 11.97 per cent. in the same time? Is he satisfied that £1.13p a day is sufficient for keeping a child up to 11 years of age?

Lord Elton

Well, my Lords, this is presumably not the sole resources of the family even if it is depending upon supplementary benefit.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, is it not appropriate to look at the general rate of inflation in relation to the expenditure of parents on children under the age of 10? Should not the Government rather have regard to the figures in the household expenditure survey which show a fairly sharp rise has occurred since the Government came into office in 1979 in respect of expenditure on childrens' clothes, for example, which have gone up by more than the effect of inflation? Would the Government, therefore, re-examine the figures given to the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, to see whether some additional measures of help are required for this group of children?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the requirements of every group under supplementary benefit are looked at with great care every year. The uprating time is November; the review is at the time of the Budget. I really would not want to anticipate anything at this stage.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, would the noble Lord not agree that there is a very good case for a home responsibility allowance for mothers whose earnings are affected by children under five who are not yet going to school?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am not certain I caught the drift of the noble Lord's question. If he is talking about one-parent families, we have already taken note of that problem. The parents benefit from a special tapered earnings disregard, so that of any earnings between £4 and £20 a week only half is offset against their entitlement to benefit, which does remove a great deal of the disincentive for working.

Lord Banks

My Lords, would the noble Lord not agree that the increase in the benefit for children under five to which he referred was paid for by loss of benefit to other claimants?

Lord Elton

Not at first blush, my Lords, no.