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Part of Orders of the Day — Social Security Bill – in the House of Commons at 9:03 pm on 20th May 1986.

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Photo of Dr Norman Godman Dr Norman Godman , Greenock and Port Glasgow 9:03 pm, 20th May 1986

The hon. Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) said that this is a bad Bill and that as an Act it will be unworkable. I agree with those sentiments.

Throughout the progress of the Bill I have sought to assess its impact upon the thousands of my constituents who are in receipt of social security incomes. My assessment is gloomy. They face a bleak future. For many people who live in my constituency in Strathclyde and for many other people in Scotland and Great Britain as a whole this is a dreadful Bill. I have said that on a number of occasions, and I shall continue to say it. It will have a harmful effect on hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens.

I do not believe that the Government are attempting to focus help on those who are most in need. On the contrary, their aim is to adopt a money-saving approach that will damage the interests of those in our communities who are in need. Throughout the Bill's passage the Government have obscured its full impact from both the House and the country. The figures in the technical annex to the White Paper have confused and misled people. They are now three years out of date and are somewhat misleading. In some cases, the Government's figures are based on a one in 250 sample, and in others they are based on a one in 200 sample. But where data have become available, based on a 100 per cent. or near 100 per cent. count, the Government's figures have been shown up as being inaccurate by between 10 and 40 per cent.

If the Government were genuinely interested in social security reform, they would have carried out a more comprehensive survey of the effects of their proposals. Even if the Government's figures were to be believed, the impact on the elderly, the handicapped, single parents, unemployed people and many others would still be devastating. People in Scotland will suffer badly. I say that because social security benefits are more important north of the border than in many areas south of the border. Partly as a result of this Government's economic policies, more people have to depend on such benefits. In my constituency there has been an 85 per cent. increase in the number of those claiming supplementary benefit since the Conservative party came into office. In November 1979, the number of single supplementary benefit claimants in Greenock and Part Glasgow was about 8,800. By July 1985, that figure had increased to more than 16,000. That 85 per cent. increase compares with a figure of 81 per cent. for Scotland and Great Britain as a whole. As a region, Strathclyde has suffered even more. It has suffered a 94 per cent. increase during that period.

In Scotland, 21 per cent. of the population lives at or below supplementary benefit level. In Strathclyde the figure is fully 26·8 per cent. In Glasgow, the number of those living on social security income and their dependants amounts to a massive 39·5 per cent. of the population. In my constituency, the number of those living at or below supplementary benefit level is a staggering 33,660, or 42·9 per cent. of the population.

I have constantly challenged the Government over the replacement of single payments by that dreadful concept, the social fund. Many people in Scotland manage to survive only because of the assistance that they receive through the single payments regulations. The scale of those payments shows just how much people have to rely on them. Before considering the scale of them, it is important to consider why they are so necessary for Scottish claimants. Factors such as the higher cost of living, higher fuel costs because of the cold climate, long-term structural unemployment and so on are all well documented. Indeed, only yesterday I received an answer about the number of exceptionally severe weather payments made in Scotland. So far 57,000 single payments have been made under regulation 26(1)(b) and (c).

It is obvious that to abolish single payments, payable as of right by regulation, and to replace them with an almost wholly discretionary social fund system will badly affect claimants in Scotland and, in particular, in Strathclyde. They will be much worse off than many claimants in other parts of Great Britain. The decision to limit the budget for the social fund is also likely seriously to affect claims in Scotland, depending on the formula used for establishing that budget.

The importance of single payments to enable claimants to survive on supplementary benefit cannot be underestimated. From 1983 to 1985 there was a 64 per cent. increase in expenditure on single payments in Scotland. In one office in Glasgow in the 12 months up to November 1985 £4·6 million was paid out by way of single payments. The office is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown). The increase in Strathclyde was even higher, at 74 per cent. Expenditure on single payments for the year ended April 1985 was more than £36 million for Strathclyde and more than £54 million for Scotland. That shows the importance of the single payment system in my country. The average single payment in my constituency during the past year was £74.

In addition to the absurd and harsh social fund, the Government are to remove the right of appeal from claimants against decisions made in local offices. The right to an independent hearing has been with us for over 50 years. Given the huge increase in the number of people in Scotland living on, or existing on, social security incomes, it comes as no surprise to find that Scotland is to receive 804 of the additional 5,000 jobs to be created at Department of Health and Social Security local offices. That is about 16 per cent. of the total.

I think that the Minister said that Scotland would receive a generous proportion of the additional jobs. Strathclyde will receive just under 10 per cent. That is not a generous provision. Those staff are needed to deal with the increase in work brought about by the Government's disastrous economic policies. I sincerely hope that the Bill undergoes major surgery in the other place.