asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what has been the total cost to public funds of supplementary benefits paid to strikers and their families since the entry into force of the Social Security Act, and the average payment per family per week; and what were the corresponding figures for similar periods in each of the preceding five years.
Section 1(4) of the Social Security Act, 1971, which deals with payments made during strikes for strikers' dependants, did not come into force until 3rd November 1971. The total cost to public funds of larger strikes, of which special records are kept, between that date and 23rd November was £21,273 and the average payment per family £5·29.I will, if I may, circulate details of the other figures asked for in the OFFICIAL REPORT, but my hon. Friend may like to know that the average yearly amount of supplementary benefit paid during November for the five years up to 1970 was about £124,000 and the average payment per family was just under £6 a week.
I will study the figures with interest. It may not be possible yet, but can my hon. Friend say whether there is evidence to establish that the estimate, given by my right hon. Friend at the time of passage of the Act, that it was likely to reduce the scale of subsidisation of strikes by the taxpayer, during their duration, by between one-third and 50 per cent. has turned out to be justified?
It is too early to be sure, as my hon. Friend himself suggested, but the figures already show a downward trend and there is also the happy fact that during this period—the second half of this year—there have been very few strikes of a length which has brought people into the possibility of getting supplementary benefit.
Will the hon. Gentleman dissociate himself from the sentiments expressed in the Question? Does he recognise that, through the family income supplement, the taxpayer is subsidising employers who are not paying a living wage to many workers? Does not he agree that families of strikers should not become involved because the fathers are fighting for a principle?
There is nothing wrong in the Question. My hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) asked how an Act of Parliament was operating in practice and I have tried to give an answer. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the family income supplement. I remind him that many thousands of families are receiving substantial help which was not available previously.
While it is true that the period covered by this Question is too short to determine any trend—and the hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) should have known that—is the Minister not aware that in so far as the Social Security Act hits at the wives and children of men on strike, we on this side are opposed to any proposition that strikes should be broken by starving out the women and children?
The hon. Gentleman knows that that was not the intention of the Act, which was to remove an entirely unjustified preference which strikers' families had over other families.
Following is the information:
1. The total amount of supplementary benefit paid out during larger trade disputes to strikers and their families, from the coming into force of the Social Security Act on 3rd November to week ended 23rd November. (No later figures are available.)
Average Payment per Family
2. Total amount of supplementary benefit paid out during disputes to strikers and their families during the November of each of the five years preceding the Social Security Act:
Amount Payment per Family
3. The figures in paragraph 2 relate to the complete months of November. It is not possible without disproportionate work to isolate the three weeks represented by the figures for 1971. Direct comparison with the figures in paragraph I would not in any event be possible since the 1971 figures relate to larger strikes only, while the figures for previous years cover all strikes.