§ 8. Mrs. Bridget Prentice
To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what amount is spent from his Department's budget on benefits for unemployed people.
§ The Minister for Social Security and Disabled People (Mr. Nicholas Scott)
The estimated cost of paying unemployment benefit, income support, housing benefit and social fund payments to the unemployed in the year ending March 1993 was £9.3 billion, representing 12.5 percent. of total benefit expenditure.
§ Mrs. Prentice
Does the Minister agree that with 3 million people unemployed at a cost of £9,000 per person —some £27 billion a year—the best way that he and his team could serve the unemployed would be to argue their case forcefully with the Treasury and put the responsibility for unemployment fairly and squarely on the shoulders of those members of the Government responsible for the economic mess that we are in?
§ Mr. Scott
The level of unemployment since the end of the second world war has depended on a range of factors, including international conditions, demographic change, technological change—[Interruption.] If the Opposition do not believe that, one of them should stand up and say why unemployment doubled during the period of office of the last Labour Government. A range of other factors affect unemployment. Against the background of some of those factors, we are determined to ensure that we reduce unemployment as quickly as possible. Over the past six months, we have been rather successful in doing so.
§ Mr. John Marshall
Has my right hon. Friend estimated the cost of benefits to the unemployed if we were to introduce a national minimum wage or sign up to the social chapter? Would not both of those increase unemployment and spending on the unemployed?
§ Ms Lynne
Does the Minister accept that more money will have to be found for unemployment benefit if so-called "absent fathers", assessed by the Child Support Agency, find that they cannot stay in work because maintenance payments are so high? Does he accept that the legislation will have to be looked at to ensure that fathers who are already paying are not penalised and that real absent fathers do not get away scot free?
§ Mr. Scott
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will answer a question precisely on that issue in a moment. I am not anxious to increase the amount of money spent on meeting the needs of unemployed people, except in so far as it encourages them to accept and benefit from training, and to find their way back into work.