We are carefully considering the future of the grant in the light of public response to the proposals set out in the Government's consultative document last year. An announcement will be made in due course.
Now that we have, not a fresh face but a different face in the Department, we might well expect some action. Does the Minister realise that consultation has been going on for many months? Is he aware that the majority of those who have replied to the consultative document have asked for an across-the-board increase in the death grant? Does he realise that 1 million people signed a petition asking for an increase in the grant? Is it not about time that the Government acted on all the representations that they have received instead of having further discussions?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me all that information in his supplementary question. There was a poll following the publication of the consultative document and the result was as follows: 55 per cent. did not want anything that had been suggested, 30 per cent. suggested other things and 15 per cent. were difficult to understand. There were no spoilt votes. Since the rejection of our proposals we have been thinking about the matter. It is an issue that has been with us for years. The Labour Government did nothing about it for five years. I trust that when we say, we shall make an announcement in due course, we shall do so.
How much consideration is being given by the Government to introducing an element of selectivity in the payment of the death grant? It is to be hoped that such a policy will lead to a substantial increase in the amount received by the dependants of those in need, while phasing out the £30 grant for those who have no particular need of it.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his supplementary question. The idea of directing the money that is available to those most in need of it was one of the Government's options. I remind the House that last year about 16,000 families obtained supplementary benefit, to pay for funerals, of £160 or more a time. These were families who could not afford the cost of a funeral.
How many people have died while the Government have been carrying out their consultations? Surely it would be a good idea for the Government to start increasing the death grant in their upratings, even if by only a small amount, so that we move forward instead of moving back with each uprating.
I am rather touched by the hon. Gentleman's belief in my numerical memory, which leads him to think that I can give him the number who have died during the consultations. If the hon. Gentleman submits a written question, the answer can be provided for him. The concern of the welfare state is to give what help is available to those who most need it. There has still not been agreement on the death grant. I trust that the Government will shortly give a lead.
Is my hon. Friend aware that I carried out a survey when the Government's proposals were first published? Will he accept that 90 per cent. of those surveyed, including a large number of elderly people, thought that it would be sensible to concentrate all the help on those who needed it and to withdraw the £30 grant from the rest of us? May I have an assurance from him that that is the line the Government will want to take, and that they will make a decision soon?
Is the Minister aware that there are thousands of elderly people who are desperately worried about this problem? When will he treat it with the same urgency as the Government are no doubt attaching to their plans to give large tax handouts to those who are already rich? If the Government are really concerned about the problem, why did his right hon. Friend not make a statement about it when announcing the uprating?
It is important that we get the death grant properly sorted out. We must determine whether the £27 million now being spent on it is being spent in the right way, whether it can continue to be spent, whether more can be spent or whether the money can be spent more effectively in another way. It is not just a matter of uprating each year.