asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what was the increase in the number of people dependent on supplementary benefit between December 1973 and December 1978.
No direct comparison of the statistics is possible because of a change in the method of estimation, but the number of claimants and their dependants went up by about 700,000.
Does my hon. Friend agree that those figures, together with other means-tested benefit figures, lend support to the immortal words of the former hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak Mr. Litterick, when earlier this summer he said that the present Government have a long way to go before their contribution to the sum total of human misery equals the last Labour Government's contribution?
Given that deplorable increase in the number of people who are dependent on supplementary benefit, why are the Government in their White Paper on reforming supplementary benefit procedures planning to cut benefits to 1,750,000 people? Is that the Government's way of reducing the number of people receiving supplementary benefit?
The hon. Gentleman knows that the 1,750,000 people to whom he referred are mainly single people, who will lose between 25p and 40p at the time of an upgrading in order to bring national insurance benefits and supplementary benefits into line. If we are to achieve a simplification of our social security system we must at some stage, as the previous Government well know, align national insurance and supplementary benefits.
Do not the figures indicate that when the Labour Party continues to inveigh against the evils of selective benefits under the social security system they are guilty of humbug, or worse?
Nobody can provide the perfect answer to these grave problems. I notice a great difference between what was said by Labour Members when they were in government and the line that they now take.
In the light of the swingeing reductions in public expenditure and rampant monetarism, can the Minister say what the increase in the number of people drawing supplementary benefit will be between December 1979 and December 1980?
I cannot speculate on unknown figures. Inevitably, some people will have no entitlement to unemployment benefit and may therefore have to claim supplementary benefit. I am not able to speculate, and it would be wrong to mislead the House by so doing.