HC Deb 26 March 1987 vol 113 cc257-9W
Mr. Austin Mitchell

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will estimate the savings in benefits in the next financial year of raising the single and married allowances for both income tax and national insurance contributions to £2,500 and £5,000, respectively; if he will provide an estimate of the number of adults and children taken out of benefit under the various headings; and how many would remain in receipt of benefit as a result of also raising child benefit to £15 and making it taxable.

Mr. Major

There would be a negligible effect on benefit expenditure and eligibility to benefit in 1987–88 as a result of changes in tax allowances, or changes in national insurance contributions in that year (there is, in any event, no single or married allowance for such contributions). It would be disproportionately costly to estimate the effect of raising child benefit to £15 and making it taxable.

Dr. Godman

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what is the average amount received per household in supplementary benefit in (a) Scotland, (b) Strathclyde and (c) Greenock and Port Glasgow.

Mr. Lyell

In February 1986, the latest date for which information is available, the average weekly amount of supplementary benefit per claimant in Scotland was £26.79. Some households contain more than one claimant. No information is available about average amounts of supplementary benefit in Strathclyde or Greenock and Port Glasgow or about average amounts per household in Scotland.

Mr. Gordon Brown

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many prosecutions have taken place for fraudulent claims for supplementary benefit in each year since 1979; and if he will list the numbers, and total costs of fraud investigation, including special investigation, for each year since 1979.

Mr. Lyell

The numbers of prosecutions undertaken by the Department for fraudulent claims for supplementary benefit are as follows:

1979–80 14,588
1980–81 15,837
1981–82 12,260
1982–83 10,693
1983–84 5,753
1984–85 6,480
1985–86 6,537

Information relating to the total numbers of fraud investigations is not held centrally and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost. It may be helpful, however, to indicate the numbers of cases in which fraud was established. Results are available from 1980 and are shown in the table together with the estimated staff costs for each year.

Number £ million
1980–81 78,558 29.6
1981–82 73,141 34.0
1982–83 92,061 33.9
1983–84 95,690 36.7
1984–85 83,047 39.0
1985–86 92,839 42.0

Mr. Freud

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what is the number of single people under the age of 25 years who live independently and claim benefit in Cambridgeshire, North-East.

Mr. Lyell

I regret this information is not available.

Mr. Gordon Brown

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many persons have been deprived of unemployment or supplementary benefit for (a) refusing offers of employment and (b) voluntarily leaving employment in each year since 1979.

Mr. Major

The table shows the number of people disqualified for unemployment benefit under Section 20(1)(b) of the Social Security Act 1975 because of refusal or failure to apply for a situation or refusal to accept that situation when offered and the number disqualified under Section 20(1)(a) because of voluntarily leaving employment.

Year Section 20(1)(b) Section 20(l)(a)
1979 6,954 409,490
1980 7,950 344,403
1981 4,071 241,074
1982 2,181 248,280
1983 1,467 257,289
1985 1,503 295,041
1986 1,385 227,986


(1) The figures for 1984 are not available.

(2) The 1986 figures are for January to September inclusive.

The number of people in receipt of supplementary benefit subject to a voluntary unemployment deduction under regulation 8 of the Supplementary Benefit Requirements Regulations 1983, as a consequence of disqualification under section 20(1)(b) or section 20(1) (a), is not available.

Mr. Kirkwood

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what steps he proposes to take to increase the level of uptake of means-tested benefits.

Mr. Lyell

[pursuant to his reply, 9 March 1987, c. 73]: The Government ensure a wide distribution of leaflets, claim forms and information sheets. Many of these have been redesigned to make them more easily understood, and many have been translated for use by claimants from ethnic minority groups.

In addition, the Department ensures that advice reaches as many potential beneficiaries as possible by identifying the most effective and practical means of communication. For example, supplementary benefit claim forms are issued routinely to all retirement pensioners, widows, unemployed claimants and sickness benefit claimants. Families with children are alerted to the existence of family income supplement by means of an insert in child benefit allowance books.

The nationwide "Freefone" service gives the public free telephone access to experienced staff who are able to give advice to inquiries on a wide range of social security matters. It handled 600,000 calls during the past year.

There are also a wide variety of initiatives taken at regional and local levels to promote awareness of the benefits available. In addition to the regional information officers, many local offices have appointed their own local information officers. Staff are encouraged to co-operate with responsible and well organised local authority takeup campaigns.

Wherever possible the opportunity is taken by local offices to send representatives to meetings, to give talks to people who come into contact with potential claimants, and to participate in radio and television programmes giving advice and information on benefits.

The Government are also seeking to make the social security system more easily understood—this is one of the basic principles underlying the changes introduced in the Social Security Act 1986.

To help ensure a better public awareness of the benefits system, we shall be explaining these changes as clearly as possible in the coming months. This will be achieved through a comprehensive communications strategy, and, with the help of professional advice, we shall be revising many forms and leaflets to make them easier for the public to understand.

Mr. Kirkwood

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what is the departmental budget devoted to promoting increased uptake of means-tested benefits.

Mr. Lyell

[pursuant to his reply, 9 March 1987, c. 73]; The Department's planned budget for publicising social security is £6.7 million for 1986–87.