§ Mr. Robert Taylor
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will state by reference to any convenient period (a) the number of women who apply for supplementary benefit on the ground that they have been deserted and (b) in how many cases his Department attempted to contact the husband in order to recover a due proportion of the liability.
§ Mrs. Chalker
I regret that information in the form requested is not available. My hon. Friend may wish to know, however, that in 1978 about 233,000 claims for supplementary benefit were made in which the question of liability for maintenance under the Supplementary Benefits Act 1976 was involved. Most of the claims were by separated wives, divorced women or single women with dependent children, but no record is kept to show the number in each category. On the basis of information obtained annually, it is estimated that in November 1978 there were about 342,000 cases in receipt of supplementary benefit, where it was necessary to pursue the question of liability to maintain, and of these about 140,000 were separated wives.
When supplementary benefit is paid to a separated wife who is not receiving maintenance from her husband and who has not already initiated action to obtain 745W maintenance, it is the policy of the Supplementary Benefits Commission to contact the husband as soon as possible so that any action appropriate can be taken to ensure that he meets his maintenance liability under the Act as far as he is able to do so. No statistics are maintained of the number of cases in which this action is taken.