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Income Support

Volume 175: debated on Monday 2 July 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what is the amount within an income support payment which is imputed to cover the 20 per cent. liability for poll tax; and if he will make a statement.

On average, income support beneficiaries receive the equivalent of 20 per cent. of a community charge of £340.

As the average poll tax is £100 higher than was envisaged when the Government introduced the £1.30 payment per person on income support to cover that notional 20 per cent., why have not the Government increased the figure to 20 per cent. of the actual average poll tax? In Tory-controlled Windsor and Maidenhead, for example, the poll tax is £449 and 20 per cent. of that is £1.72; the odd 40p may not mean much to a Minister on nearly £1,000 a week, but to someone on income support it means a loaf of bread.

The level of community charge varies from place to place. The amount that people have to pay reflects the decisions of their local council, and there is an element of that in respect of income support. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept the figure that I gave in my original answer. The weighted average amount included in income support payments across Great Britain is equivalent to 20 per cent. of what has turned out to be the average community charge across Great Britain after allowing for transitional relief.

Is it not a fact that all people on income support receive the full maximum 80 per cent. rebate on their community charge? Do not those on income support also benefit from transitional relief, which cost the Government £350 million in England alone and which benefits 7.5 million people? Does not that show that we are the Government who care for the disadvantaged?

I can confirm that those on income support pay only 20 per cent. of their community charge—the other 80 per cent. is met directly—and that many income support beneficiaries will have benefited from the transitional relief scheme.

Is the Secretary of State aware that in my constituency of Workington, and throughout the north-west, there is a disturbing incidence of young people leaving home because of changes in social security legislation and also because their parents will not help out with payment of the poll tax? Was it really the Government's intention to drive young people out of their family homes? If it was not, will they reconsider the legislative provisions which are having that effect?

The hon. Gentleman will know that we have made a number of changes in the way in which the benefit rules operate, in an endeavour—I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security for the work that she has done in this regard—to ensure that the rules, which are sensible, work as well as we should like them to. I ask the hon. Gentleman to recall the history of social security and young people, especially under the old board and lodging regime. The attempt to solve the problems by social security means has aggravated rather than diminished them.

To revert to my right hon. Friend's original answer, does he agree that his reference to the Government's taking into account an average community charge of £340 underlines the sheer cruelty and lack of concern for the poorest people implicit in the attempt—shortly to be frustrated, I hope—by Bristol city council and Avon county council to levy a community charge of £493?

I agree with my hon. Friend that the core of such problems as are faced not only by those on benefit but by many others whose incomes may be quite modest reflects the irresponsible decisions of many councils throughout the country.