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Earnings Disregard

Volume 175: debated on Monday 2 July 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he has any plans to increase the disregard on earnings before income support is reduced.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security
(Mrs. Gillian Shephard)

We keep the level of the earnings disregards under review. The Government are committed to monitoring them, but we have no plans for change at present.

I thank my hon. Friend for her reply. Would she consider regarding as disregard the cost that a lone parent bears for child care if she decides to go back into the work force? Does my hon. Friend appreciate that many women who are left to be supported by the state because their menfolk have deserted them would like to go back to work? However, if they lose £1 for every £1 that they earn after the first £15, the incentive for them to be self-supporting is reduced. I know that my hon. Friend would not want to punish such women and I am sure that she would like to give them more of a helping hand.

I thank my hon. Friend, and in preparation for her question this afternoon I read her ten-minute Bill that, in part, dealt with that matter. My hon. Friend is right to say that many lone parents want to work, and about one third of family credit participants are lone parents.

The Government have built into the social security system several disregards and incentives especially for lone parents. For example, £15 of their earnings is disregarded in income support, they get the same adult credit in family credit as a couple and, from October, lone parents will have a £25 disregard in housing benefit. The major thrust of Government policy is to ensure that lone parents, 95 per cent. of whom are women, get adequate and proper maintenance from absent fathers.

If we are moving into the season of pre-election largesse—whether as suggested in the Minister's answer to the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) or in the report in today's The Guardian—will the hon. Lady take into account the plight of my constituent Mr. Stewart, about whom she wrote to me last month and who came to see me at the weekend? Mr. Stewart has had no increase in his income since April 1988, when the Government removed his special payments; he is having to pay increased electricity charges, and he is having to pay 20 per cent. of his poll tax. Is there no limit to the extent to which the Government are prepared to inflict real hardship and misery on some of our poorest pensioners?

Transitional protection was introduced to help those who might lose out under the 1988 social security reforms. A small number of people are still covered by transitional protection and the overwhelming majority of them received an increase this April.

The hon. Gentleman will know that I cannot comment on an individual case. I am glad that he pointed out that I have already replied to him.