§ 4. Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many people have lost transitional benefit during April of the current year.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Peter Lloyd)
Some 610,000 income support recipients have been lifted out of transitional protection as a result of last week's uprating.
§ Mr. Bennett
Does the Minister agree that that reply is somewhat disingenuous? Would it not have been better to spell out the fact that last year 2.2 million recipients did not receive the full uprating in line with inflation and that about 1 million lost money? This year, about 500,000 will not receive any uprating and 3.5 million will receive less than the amount necessary to keep up with the inflation figure that the Government have picked. How would the Minister explain to one of my constituents—Mrs. Bridget Williams of 123 Wordsworth road, Haughton Green, Denton—that her uprating this year will be 24p? Does he agree that it is entirely unacceptable in what is basically an oil-rich country for pensioners such as Mrs. Williams to lose in that way?
§ Mr. Lloyd
I answered the hon. Gentleman's question precisely as he asked it. It is right that some recipients will not gain from this year's uprating, and I have given the number of recipients who will find themselves in that position. The number on transitional protection remains at about 14 per cent. of all those entitled to income support. The hon. Gentleman refers to a particular case, but I believe that it would be wrong to discuss that case across the Floor of the House. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to contact me about a particular matter, I will reply to him. The overall position of those on transitional support is that while they are on that support they receive more than those in similar circumstances coming newly on to benefit.
§ Mr. Baldry
Will my hon. Friend make it clear that the entitlement to income support of the overwhelming majority of claimants will be greater than it was under the supplementary benefit system—those who atcually receive an increase—and that for the 14 per cent. who are not in that category and who are entitled to transitional payments £200 million has been spent on transitional payments in the first year alone?
§ Mr. John Evans
The Minister must be aware that the withdrawal of transitional payments has created widespread hardship in many parts of the country, but is he aware that a 66-year-old widow in my constituency has 4 just received an increase of 35p per week, giving her a weekly income of £45.75? Does the Minister agree that that is a poverty wage?
§ Mr. Lloyd
There were massive changes under the new rules which came in last April. As I said in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry), those changes brought real gains to many people. The changes also produced far greater simplicity in the system and greater fairness as between claimants in similar circumstances. It is not possible to make such massive changes without there being some sad and hard cases during the period of erosion of the transitional payments. I accept that, but I repeat that in all cases where the transitional payment is being made or being eroded, the individual concerned has been receiving payments greater than those to which people in similar circumstances are entitled when coming newly on to benefit.
§ Mr. Robin Cook
Did the Under-Secretary of State listen to the BBC feature last week on the loss of transitional protection by disabled people, for which the BBC could not find a Minister willing to take part? Did he hear of the case of Mrs. Hodgson of Northumberland, who cannot even turn over in bed unaided? Is he aware that when her teenage son became 18 he had to leave home so that she would not lose her severe disablement premium but that, as a result, she lost £7 per week in transitional protection? Is the Minister prepared to defend rules which penalise disabled families when they stay together and also when they break up, and if he cannot defend those rules, how does he intend to change them?
§ Mr. Lloyd
I am prepared to defend rules which bring in a special disability premium and make it absolutely certain that the premium reaches everyone in that category. I repeat that I cannot comment across the Floor of the House on particular cases for which I do not have the full details. I did not hear the programme, but it was not a question of a Minister being unwilling to take part —the programme makers did not accept our suggestion that a Minister should make a recording for the programme because the time suggested by the BBC was not possible for us due to other departmental commitments.
§ Mrs. Margaret Ewing
When the Minister claims that many people are better off as a result of the upratings, has he taken into account the real situation facing many people, especially disabled people and single parents? Will he give an analysis of the 610,000 and tell us how many are better off in real terms? Will he also give details of any regional variations as the loss of transitional benefits at the time of uprating has severely hit many people in Scotland, who now also have to face the reality of the community charge which came into effect on 1 April?
§ Mr. Lloyd
All those who had an uprating are better off as a result of it. The question that has been at issue is the difference between the old system of supplementary benefit and that of income support. The figures on transitional protection show clearly that two thirds have gained or are in exactly the same position as previously. As to community charge rebates, that aspect is generously organised and rebates are available to at least 1 million people in Scotland if they will apply for them. Those receiving housing benefit will automatically have rebates incorporated in their community charge bills.