Skip to main content

Supplementary Benefit (Review)

Volume 957: debated on Tuesday 7 November 1978

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement on the review of the supplementary benefits system.


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will take steps to reform the supplementary benefits scheme.

We published a report by officials in July to provide a basis for public discussion of the issues raised by the review, and we asked for comments by the end of the year. Neither the Government nor the Supplementary Benefits Commission are at this stage committed to any of the options in the report. When the period for public consultation is over, we shall start to formulate proposals for the future of the scheme, and these will in due course be laid before Parliament.

I thank the Minister for his reply. May I ask when the Government expect to receive the separate report which they commissioned on the payment of supplementary benefits during trade disputes? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, with unemployment remaining so high, there can be no justification for the taxpayer subsidising those who voluntarily withdraw their labour and, in so doing, cause others to be laid off work?

I remind the hon. Gentleman that the rules are followed in any trade dispute. We live in a civilised society, and we intend to continue with the supplementary benefit scheme as it is at present. The answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question is that we do not at present propose to review the position.

Does the Minister accept that there is a need for some urgency in dealing with the complexity of the scheme to which the officials' report particularly paid attention? Does he agree that many in need are elderly or confused—perhaps both—and cannot easily understand the multiplicity of schemes? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in some areas, such as housing, there are three separate schemes and that people do not know which would best suit them? Will the Minister look at that point sympathetically and quickly?

I fully endorse what the hon. Lady has said. The review is basically meant to look at the complications of the present supplementary benefit scheme, not least those concerning housing need. We want to move towards simplification so that those who are entitled to benefit can claim and receive that benefit.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the first priority for change in the supplementary benefit system is that long-term unemployed people should be given the long-term rate of benefit? Is he aware that the present system is discriminatory in that some people receive less than others? Does he appreciate that many recipients are old or disabled or live in areas of high unemployment?

I am extremely sympathetic to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley). The Government would like to proceed along the lines that he has suggested. It is a matter of resources, but dealing with this problem is a high Government priority.

In the light of the review, does the Minister agree that a combination, on the one hand, of wages kept low and taxation kept high and, on the other hand, comparatively high social security benefits, has disastrously undermined the incentive to work? Does he not think it grossly unfair that next week the Government will give a 7·1 per cent. rise in benefits to those who do not work—including many who have no intention of working—and at the same time are keeping the increase in wages of those who do work down to 5 per cent?

The hon. Gentleman's attack on the unemployed is greatly to be deprecated. People who are unemployed, the vast majority through no fault of their own, are entitled to State benefit. They have contributed towards those benefits through taxation. I remind the hon. Gentleman and the House that when benefits rise next week a single person on supplementary benefit will receive £12·45 and a married man with no children will receive £25·50. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to try to live on that.

While thanking my right hon. Friend for that reply, may I ask him to take it from me that we would like a little more flexibility? Is he aware that some people do not draw supplementary benefit and thereby lose other substantial benefits? Will he look into that matter at the same time?

I endorse the point made by my hon. Friend. That is one of the areas on which the review is concentrating.

Has the Minister examined the sensible proposal in this year's Supplementary Benefits Commission's report on help with heating costs, and can he say what action he proposes to take further to help elderly people who may face a bleak time this winter because of the increasing expense of heating?

The Government are about to introduce increased heating allowances for this winter. They are aware of the problem. Heating costs and the overlapping effect is one of the issues that will be discussed and considered under the review.