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Child Benefit

Volume 929: debated on Tuesday 5 April 1977

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3.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether he is satisfied with the administration of the Child Benefit Scheme.

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many children are still not registered for child benefit purposes.

The Child Benefit Scheme started yesterday, and I am satisfied with the way things have gone. Nearly 14 million children will be within the scope of the scheme. About 11 million of these are in families previously getting family allowances and, therefore, already on the record for child benefit. Of the 2·8 million children in families with only one child, about 2·4 million have claimed the benefit. We are, therefore, only about 400,000 claims short out of nearly 14 million. I hope that many of these will claim now that the scheme has begun.

I wonder whether the Secretary of State can explain to the House and to all single-parent families why Form CH11 for single-parent families was not issued earlier than the middle of March so that these families could claim the additional 50p. In many social security offices and in no post office that I have come across is the form available now that the scheme has started. The situation is an utter disgrace.

That is rubbish, because people were able to make their claim, they have made their claim, and we have written to all those who have not made their claim to make certain that they get their full entitlement.

Will the right hon. Gentleman please tell the House when every post office will have the relevant form for every category of both parents and children who wish to claim any of these benefits?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that almost every post office has those forms. [HON. MEMBERS: "That is not true."] It is true. We have made a careful check of the Post Office. I know that every now and again it has been possible to find a post office that has run out of supplies of the leaflet, but by dint of the fact that up to yesterday only 400,000 people out of a total of 14 million had not claimed one can see the extent to which people have known of their entitlement. I have no doubt as a result of the publicity that has been given to the launching of the scheme, and of Press conferences held by my right hon. Friend and by myself, many of the 400,000 who have not claimed will now do so. I believe that we shall achieve almost 100 per cent. take-up within the next few weeks.

The right hon. Gentleman must not mislead the House. The fact is that it is 400,000 out of the 2,800,000 who had to claim. The rest did not have to make a claim. Is not the fact that one person in seven has not claimed a universal benefit of this sort a disgrace and a real reflection on the way in which the Child Benefit Scheme has been bungled from its very start?

Some of the 400,000 who have not claimed will be children who will be leaving school at Easter—they have probably left this week—and others will be leaving school in June. They have 10 weeks in which to claim, and I hope that they will do so. That accounts for a large number of those who have not claimed.

It is about time that the Opposition stopped nit-picking on this issue. In spite of our economic problems, we have been able to make a start with what all of us recognise is an extremely important social change. Not only will it provide immediate help for the poorer families by providing for the first child in every family, but it is the basis on which we shall be able increasingly to channel help to families. It is about time that people on both sides of the House who genuinely believe in the scheme gave a welcome to it instead of indulging in all the nit-picking that is discouraging people from applying.