HC Deb 06 March 1986 vol 93 cc213-7W
Mr. Galley

asked the Prime Minister if she will list the main achievements of her Government in social policy.

The Prime Minister

This Government have ensured the continued development and improvement of the National Health Service. We have increased spending on the NHS by 21 per cent. in real terms, and taken steps to ensure better value for money from the resources available. More emphasis has been placed on the prevention of health and social problems.

As a result there have been considerable increases in services to patients. In England alone, comparing 1984 and 1978, there were:

  • —over 750,000 more in-patient cases;
  • —over 660,000 more day cases;
  • —over 3 million more out-patient attendances;
  • —over 750,000 more people treated by district nurses or visited at home by health visitors;
  • —more than double the number of patients being treated for chronic renal failure;
  • —over 1,750,000 extra sight tests;
  • —over 3,750,000 more courses of dental treatment.
The perinatal mortality rate has dropped from 15.4 in 1978 to 10.0 in 1984.

There are many thousands more doctors and nurses working in the Health Service. A major programme of capital investment is under way to restore the damage done by the 35 per cent. cut in capital spending under the previous Government. Capital spending increased from £365 million in 1978–79 to £793 million in 1984–85. In the years 1980–85, 35 major schemes, each worth more than £5 million, were completed. Almost 150 more hospital schemes—worth over £1,100 million—are currently being planned, designed or built.

In order to ensure continued improvements in services to the public, general managers have been appointed by all regional and district health authorities, and many units. Benefits for patients from the cost-improvement programmes put into effect by health authorities are expected to reach £150 million in the current year alone.

In the field of personal social services we have set up the Social Service Inspectorate. The inspectorate's work programme includes the inspection of home help services, community services for mentally ill people and social services for the care of children at risk of abuse. There have been significant improvements in provision. For example, the number of places in day centres for the elderly rose by over 20 per cent. between 1978 and 1984 and there was a 13 per cent. increase in the numbers of home helps.

In the social security field, the Government have maintained the protection of social security benefits against inflation. The uprating to be made in July 1986 will add a further £410 million to social security spending in a full year and take total spending to almost £43 billion in 1986–87. The retirement pension has been raised ahead of prices since 1979 and is being paid to more pensioners than ever before. Help with heating costs has been raised by around £140 million in real terms above the levels of support given in 1978–79. Spending on sick and disabled people has also gone up, by 30 per cent. in real terms over the last five years. At the same time inflation, which led to price increases of over 110 per cent. under the last Labour Government, has been brought under control. That is greatly to the advantage of pensioners and all those on fixed and low incomes.

We have completed the most fundamental and far reaching review of social security carried out since the war. This is now the subject of legislation before the House. Our proposals set out a programme for a modern system of social security that will be simpler to run and to understand; that will give new rights and new opportunities in pensions in addition to the reforms in the Social Security Act 1985; that will improve incentives to save and to earn more; and that will concentrate more help on those who need help most, notably low-income families with children.

We have introduced a range of measures to help the unemployed, particularly those who have been out of work for some time. The expanding community programme will provide 230,000 places this year for some 300,000 long-term unemployed people on projects of value to the community. The enterprise allowance scheme has so far helped 125,000 unemployed people to start their own business. We are developing new measures to help the long-term unemployed. A new job start allowance coupled with a special programme of counselling assistance to find a job or training is being piloted in nine areas. We are establishing a network of job clubs to help people help themselves get back to work. Overall we will be spending some £1,350 million on carefully designed, cost-effective employment measures in 1986–87.

Our principal concern in education has been to raise standards at all ability levels and to obtain better value for money throughout the education system. We have put great emphasis on the need for a closer relationship between the education service and the outside world, particularly industry and commerce.

In schools, this has involved pursuing the objectives set out in the White Paper "Better Schools", in particular defining with greater clarity the objectives and content of the curriculum; financial support for a pilot initiative to promote technical and vocational education for 14 to 18-year-olds in schools and colleges; the support of a pilot programme for improving the education of lower attaining pupils.

Decisions have been taken to introduce a new system of examinations at 16, the General Certificate of Secondary Education, based on national criteria; to introduce the AS-level examination to broaden A-level studies; and to introduce, and to develop through specially financed pilot projects, records of achievement for all school leavers.

The Education Bill, now before Parliament, will reform school government, giving more influence to parents.

The Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education has been set up to review and evaluate initial teacher training courses and a programme of in-service training grants for school teachers; the Education Bill will make provision for new financial arrangements to make in-service training more effective.

More has been spent per pupil than ever before (a 16 per cent. increase in real terms in the four years to 1983–84) and the best ever overall pupil-teacher ratio of 17.8:1 has been achieved.

Education support grants to target resources on activities of particular current importance have been introduced and reports of formal inspections by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of individual schools and colleges are now published.

Positive and practical policies for meeting the widely varying needs of young people have been implemented through the work of the recently established National Advisory Council for the Youth Service.

A programme of in-service training grants for further education lecturers has been established, together with a range of measures aimed at increasing the responsiveness of the further education sector to the needs of employers. These include: the establishment of college-employer links projects; the introduction of the new certificate of pre-vocational education involving in its first year over 1,000 schools and colleges and over 15,000 students; the reassessment of the system through the review of vocational qualifications; and the encouragement of consultancy work.

A Green Paper on the future of higher education has been issued.

The number of home students in higher education has increased, including a 30 per cent. increase in the numbers on science and engineering courses. This reflects a 15 per cent. growth in the proportion of 18 to 19-year-olds entering higher education and an increase of 12 per cent. in the number of mature entrants. At the same time, measures to preserve and enhance quality, and to increase the cost-effectiveness of the system and its responsiveness to the needs of the economy, have been pursued.

The planned continuation of the significant shift towards science and engineering and other vocational subjects has taken place, with the industry itself contributing £24 million towards institutions included in the engineering and technology programme. Specific measures to link higher education and industry in collaborative projects include the appointment of more industrialists to educational bodies.

There has been a range of initiatives aimed at increasing the responsiveness of higher education to the needs of people needing updating and of the unemployed through the PICKUP and REPLAN programmes respectively. The PICKUP programme is helping to secure an increase in updating education of about 10 per cent. a year, especially in the areas of technology and business studies.

This Government introduced the first ever statutory charter of rights for public sector tenants, including the right to buy their homes. The number of owner-occupied dwellings has increased by 2.25 million in Great Britain since 1979 and owner-occupation is now 62 per cent.; the proportion of young people owning their own homes is now the highest in Europe. Home improvement grants have been made more widely available than ever before. Assistance has been given to the owners of defective houses previously in the puplic sector, and an urban housing renewal unit has been set up to help authorities tackle the problems of their rundown estates. Measures have been introduced to encourage lettings in the private sector.

We have given a new priority to crime prevention activity. We have encouraged a wide range of initiatives involving the police and the community. These initiatives have been supported through a crime prevention unit at the Home Office, through a standing conference on crime prevention, and most recently through a seminar which I chaired at No. 10. The active involvement of all concerned in practical measures to prevent crime is proving an effective way to deal with a wide range of criminal activity, as well as strengthening the relationship between the police and the community.

We have also ensured that adequate resources are devoted to fighting crime. Total manpower (police and civilians) in the police service has increased by over 17,000 since 1979. Total expenditure on the police service in England and Wales has increased from £1.1 billion in 1978–79 to £2.8 billion in 1985–86—an increase of one third in real terms. In addition, we have established a new framework for police powers and for handling complaints against the police, in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

Since 1979 the prison service has been expanded by the recruitment of nearly 3,000 officers, and we have continued the major programme of new prison building and refurbishment of the existing prison estate. Under this programme some 2,000 new inmate places have been created since 1983 and a further 15 prisons are under construction or planned. At the same time, we have been taking steps to improve management and efficiency within the prison service and in particular to forge better lines of communication and accountability.

The Government have developed a comprehensive plan for tackling drug misuse. An information and education campaign has been launched; its outcome will be carefully monitored. Action is being taken to reduce supplies of illicit drugs from abroad; enforcement by Customs and the police has been strengthened. New powers to deter drug traffickers (including measures to confiscate their illicit proceeds) are being taken, and rehabilitation services are being expanded.

We have enabled local authorities to control the spread of sex shops and sex cinemas. We have also given assistance with measures designed to restrict indecent displays, extend licensing controls to commercial cinema clubs, and establish a system of classification for video recordings aimed at dealing with the problem of "video nasties". In addition, we have supported legislation to penalise kerb crawling.

We have enacted legislation to deal with drunkenness at designated sporting events. Legislation has also been passed for data protection; to provide for the fourth television channel and for the Welsh fourth channel; to provide for the development of direct broadcasting by satellite and for cable television; and arrangements are being made for an experiment in community radio. We have given the franchise to many British citizens abroad and have extended absent voting rights to holidaymakers.

We have given firm support to the voluntary sector. Between 1979–80 and 1984–85 the level of Government grants given to voluntary bodies has risen in real terms by over 50 per cent.

We have operated a firm but fair immigration control, under which the number of immigrants accepted for settlement has fallen to the lowest figure since controls were first imposed on Commonwealth citizens in 1962.

We have taken steps to reduce the pollution of our rivers, estuaries and beaches. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 was the first piece of major countryside legislation for more than a decade, and represents a significant step forward in the protection of landscape, flora and fauna. We have also taken the initiative in Europe in removing lead from petrol and paint, and we are steadily eradicating it from those water supplies where it is still a problem.

The derelict land programme has been greatly increased. Urban development corporations have been established in London docklands and on Merseyside to bring about the redevelopment of these areas. Twenty-five enterprise zones have been designated. In addition, we are spending substantial sums through various Government programmes on improving conditions in our inner cities. City action teams were established last year to bring together more effectively central Government action in the seven inner city partnership areas. New task forces are being established for eight small inner city areas with particular problems to target more effectively the help that is already being given and to try out new approaches, for which an additional £8 million has been provided. All these measures are having a marked impact on older urban areas in need of regeneration.

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