asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what is the level of family allowance payable to first or only children in the nine countries of the EEC.
As the answer contains a table of figures, I will, with permission, circulate it in the Official Report.
As the Government's family endowment scheme was, I think, seen by many as the entry price for this country to the European league of paying a family allowance to the first child, and as that scheme now seems to have been indefinitely postponed, will the right hon. Lady consider, at the relatively meagre net cost of £11 million, extending the family allowance scheme to the first or only child of one-parent families? Would not that mean that the Government would then be accepting one of the principal recommendations of the Finer Report?
The hon. Gentleman is wrong on both his premises. The child endowment scheme of the Labour Party was worked out when we were in opposition as part of our total social policy, completely unrelated to any question of membership of the Common Market. After all, in the Common Market France has no automatic payment of family allowance for the first child. Therefore, it is by no means completely universal there. Nor is the hon. Gentleman right in saying that our child benefit scheme has been indefinitely postponed. An announcement on all these matters can be expected before too long.
To get a true comparison between the United Kingdom and the EEC countries when the record is available, may we be told all the ages of the children and the duration of each allowance? May we also know whether, in the various countries for which information is given, we may learn about the availability or otherwise of free milk, and, again, at what ages?
The hon. Lady is quite right that the payment of the family allowance or the level of the family allowance is not the complete index of family support. There are many other matters of great importance to the family—not least food and housing subsidies, whether there is free medical care, and the level of ante-natal and post-natal care. I entirely agree with the hon. Lady about that. With regard to her request for this detailed information to be made available, I do not think that it is in the table we have prepared for publication in Hansard today, but I shall look into the matter and see whether we can extend the information for her.
Is not my right hon. Friend bewildered by Opposition Members who from time to time demand a levelling-up of social service and any other benefits to compare with those in Common Market countries but at the same time scream murder when our wage-earners, the miners who work at the coalface in particular, try to level up their wages to those paid in the Common Market?
My hon. Friend has made a valid point. But I am even more bewildered that any questions about the need to increase or extend family allowances should come from the Opposition, remembering that the Conservative Party fought the 1970 election on a promise to increase family allowances and promptly broke it.
If I may disregard the fact that in the reply the right hon. Lady overlooked our family income supplement, may I ask whether she is aware of the disappointment in many quarters of the House that she has ducked another opportunity of making her position clear about the family endowment scheme and Child Benefit Bill, which were part of the Government's proposals to bring in the family allowance for the first child? As the whole House knows from leaks, this plan has been put back beyond the intended date of April 1976. When will the right hon. Lady have the courage to come to the House and make a statement explaining why she has abandoned such an important part of the social contract and why she is ratting on a clear election commitment of the Labour Party?
The hon. Gentleman has no ground whatsoever for that assumption. I would point out to him that again, unlike our predecessors, the present Government have fulfilled their promises to increase family allowance, within a year of taking office in February 1974. Therefore we have lost no time, and we shall certainly keep our promise about a child benefit scheme.
Following is the information:
On the latest information available, the rates of family allowances payable for first or only children are as follows:
Sterling equivalent of Monthly FAM
Sterling equivalent of Weekly FAM
|Belgium||…||…||…||…||1,026·50 BFr (3)||12·39||2·86|
|France||…||…||…||…||No general provision (4)|
|United Kingdom||…||…||…||No general provision at present|
|(1) Exchange rates as at 20th February 1975.|
|(2) Weekly rate calculated on basis of 52 week year.|
|(3) Plus an allowance for child aged 6 or over, according to age, of up to 548·25 BFr monthly (£6·62 monthly, £1·53 weekly)|
|(4) In certain circumstances, and subject to a means test, an increase of up to 242·05 Fr monthly (£23·72 monthly, £5·47 weekly) may be added to the allowance paid to a family with only one wage earner.|
|Comparisons of rates and coverage of family allowances are misleading unless they take account of the local cost of living (particularly that affecting the maintenance of children) and other factors which vary from country to country, such as the levels of wages and taxation, housing or food subsidies, and the extent of free education, medical care and ante and post-natal welfare and advice services.|