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Child Benefit

Volume 977: debated on Tuesday 29 January 1980

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7.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services when he expects to announce an increase in the level of child benefit.

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement about child benefits.

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services when he expects to announce an up rating of child benefit allowance.

Is it not clear from the Minister's answer that the value of child benefit willfall, and has now fallen, below the combined value of family allowances and tax allowances? What happened to the present Secretary of State's promise in July 1977 that child benefit would be treated in the same way as direct tax reductions? When will the Secretary of State and other Ministers at the DHSS stop operating as moles on behalf of the Treasury? It has been put to me by constituents and others that this Government now stand charged with an act of unparalleled electoral betrayal and social vandalism. They have been seen through.

The House has been made aware on a number of occasions that the Government considered that, with so many other competing claims last autumn, a general increase in benefit in November last year could not be justified. We fully appreciate the value of the child benefit, particularly for working families with children. But any uprating is expensive. An extra 10p costs about £60 million a year. The right time to increase the benefit is November when all social security benefits are uprated.

The Government intend to take all steps in relation to tax and benefits to make sure that work incentives are improved.

Will the hon. Lady go away and bow her head in shame and put on sackcloth and ashes for the way the Government have let down and cheated families? Is she aware that families are now worse off in relation to child benefit, which the Government side of the House welcomed and said they would support, than they were before child benefit with family allowance and income tax relief? Will the Government abandon their present position and agree now to an up rating in the child benefit allowance?

I do not intend to act in any strange clothes in this House. I must inform the hon. Gentleman that the value of child benefit at present is higher than at any time going back to 1971.

While recognising the deplorably weak economy that the Government have inherited after many years of Labour rule, will my hon. Friend aim to review child benefit along with the other benefits at the annual review as soon as possible?

Does not the hon. Lady accept that many mothers are forced to go out to work because of the eroding of the value of child benefit? There are strong economic as well as social reasons for a substantial increase in child benefit so that these mothers can stay at home when they so desire.

I understand what the hon. Gentleman is getting at. But it is inflation that has eroded family income. We are well aware, therefore, that any inflation will hit benefits already in payment. I cannot accept, however, the hon. Gentleman's statement that women are being forced out to work. The child benefit, raised to £4 last April, and the child benefit increase of a further 50p in November, is obviously losing value because of the state of inflation. The Government's job is to get on top of inflation and to make sure that money retains its value.

Is the hon. Lady aware that her hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) said last Friday that his Government had cheated the pensioners? Today she is cheating the families. How do the Government intend to help millions of working families? Where has all the talk about incentives to work gone? Child benefit is a direct incentive to working families. This Government have let them down.

I cannot accept that this Government have cheated the family. We have been clear and honest from the beginning. If the country does not have the money to pay the benefits, we cannot pay the benefits. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that child benefit plays a most important part in family income and that it is crucial to restoring incentives. His words and mine on that score are in complete accord. They are being said day by day in the proper circles.