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Maternity Grant

Volume 885: debated on Tuesday 28 January 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if she will end the national insurance contribution qualification for maternity grants and raise the level of the grant as a matter of urgency.

While I am well aware of my hon. Friend's concern in this matter, I am afraid that resources will not at this time permit us to make either of the changes which she suggests.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. I assure him that when I have an interest to declare I shall do so. My hon. Friend cannot expect me to be happy with his reply. Is he aware that the maternity grant is the one benefit that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would perhaps consider to be eligible to become that noncontributory, non-means-tested benefit? Is he also aware that the 10 per cent. of mothers who are not eligible for maternity grant are likely to be those most in need—that is, the very young mothers, who do not have their own national insurance contributions, and the unsupported mothers? In the light of that, will my hon. Friend reconsider the question of making the benefit dependent on national insurance contributions? The benefit was last raised in 1969. Is my hon. Friend aware that the cost of living has gone up since then?

If I were not aware of certain of those facts before, I am well aware of them now. Both the level of the maternity grant and the qualification for receiving it are matters which are kept constantly under review in my Department.

Is the Minister aware that if there is a case for giving the young unmarried mothers a non-contribution maternity grant there is an even better case for giving a death grant for the elderly who were unable to contribute because they were too old in 1948?

As soon as the hon. Gentleman rose I realised that he would point out the difficulties of deciding priorities. If we increased the maternity grant even to a level of about £30, that would cost £4 million, in addition to the £1·75 million needed to make it noncontributory. To accept the hon. Gentleman's suggestion on top of that would mean making decisions on priorities.