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Low-Income Families

Volume 130: debated on Tuesday 29 March 1988

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To ask the Secretary of State for Social Services when he intends to publish the low-income families tables derived from the family expenditure survey for 1985.

Following publication of the last edition in 1986, a technical review of the tables was announced and carried out by a team of the Department's officials with representation from the Central Statistical Office. I have now considered the report of the review and have placed copies in the Library. Copies are also available from the Department.

The report identifies a number of methodological weaknesses in the current tables, particularly in the use of the supplementary benefit scale rates as the yardstick for the measurement of low income. One problem is that there are two scale rates, so that two families each shown as having income at the scale rate level may have significantly different incomes. A second problem is that any increase in the value of the scale rate tends to increase the numbers appearing to be on "low income". The tables give no indication of whether those in the lower income groups were becoming better or worse off in real terms.

In view of these and other weaknesses, and the imminent end of the supplementary benefit scheme itself, the report recommends the introduction of a number of new analyses based on income measures which would be broadly independent of the social security rules and rates, and which could therefore continue unaffected by the forthcoming benefit changes. The report includes detailed proposals for these new tables, which would include data on changes in real living standards and new analyses of the contribution of benefits to income in the lower ranges. Overall, the proposed new tables — which would be entitled "Households below average income: a statistical analysis" — would be significantly more extensive than the current series.

The next edition of tables is clue to cover the years 1981, 1983 and 1985, and, to ensure a proper overlap between the existing and the new series, the report recommends that data on both bases should be published for all three years. In addition, to facilitate analysis of longer-term trends, the report proposes that a later edition should include data for a much earlier year—probably 1971.

I welcome the report's proposals which would put the series on a more robust footing and extend the range of data published on a regular basis. Accordingly, I intend to publish within the next few weeks a final edition of the previous tables, covering 1981, 1983 and 1985, together with the first edition of the new tables for the same years.

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will publish a table showing the numbers of lower paid families, with and without children, whose marginal tax rates including benefit withdrawal will be (a) 90 to 100 per cent., (b) 80 to 90 per cent., (c) 70 to 80 per cent., (d) 60 to 70 per cent., (e) 50 to 60 per cent. and (f) 40 to 50 per cent. after the implementation of the Social Security Act 1986 and taking into account the Budget tax changes for 1988–89.

I refer my hon. Friend to my reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) on 25 March 1988 at column 243–44.