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

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Photo of Mr Seamus Mallon Mr Seamus Mallon , Newry and Armagh 9:20 pm, 20th May 1986

I shall repeat the remarks I made last night. I hope that I shall not bore hon. Members by doing so, but unless I present the Northern Ireland context I shall completely miss the point. If I miss the point, I cannot blame the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security for doing the same. In Northern Ireland, at present, 26 per cent. of all household incomes are derived from social security payments, as opposed to 13 per cent. overall in England, Scotland and Wales. A total of 62,000 people are on the electoral register in my constituency. Of that number, 21,000 draw either supplementary benefit or unemployment benefit. I speak of an area where one quarter of the spending power is derived from social security payments.

It is against that background that I repeat my remarks tonight. I voice my opposition to the Bill on two counts. The first is on purely factual grounds, which I hope are quantifiable; and I hope that I have quantified them properly. We must realise that about £40 million will come out of the social security payments to Northern Ireland. That is a stark figure, especially when it applies to an area which is so dependent on social security payments.

Let us consider some of the factors in the breakdown of that £40 million. The unemployed on supplementary benefit will lose £14·4 million. Single-parent families on supplementary benefit will lose £1·9 million. Pensioners will lose £13·6 million. The sick and disabled on supplementary benefit will gain £500,000. Families not on supplementary benefit will lose £3·3 million. The family as such will lose £10·4 million. Low-income families as such will lose £4·9 million. We must add to that overall wage losses, in terms of Civil Service jobs, amounting to about £10·6 million. That presents a dismal picture. It is as though what I regard as the degrading social fund does not apply to Northern Ireland. That is the net effect of the loss to those on social security. The new social fund will not apply in net terms to the most deprived part of the United Kingdom.

We have had interesting and long debates on how best to implement the social fund. However, when the stark figures are before us, they are rather frightening. Statistics may vary. However, the figures which have emerged are enough to encourage me and anyone from the north of Ireland, who has the interests of Northern Ireland at heart, to vote against the Bill, and to make people aware of its implications. We must try to persuade as many hon. Members as possible to vote against it.

I am opposed to the Bill for other reasons, some of which are more tonal than statistical. I regard the social fund as having a degrading element to it. I regard it as the Oliver Twist syndrome, except in this case people will ask, "Please, Sir, can I have some?" instead of, "Please, can I have some more?" The Bill introduces an element of discretion into what should be a statutory entitlement. That of itself is degrading and offensive.

I am glad that consideration was given to the implementation of a family credit scheme. In Northern Ireland—I suspect that it is also the case in Scotland and Wales—many small farmers are dependent on family income supplement. We must look further at that element of the measure and decide on a new means by which to implement a family credit scheme.

Anyone who has ever been in receipt of social security will realise the condescension and arrogance that underlies the part of the Bill that deals with budget advice. I know what it is to be on the dole and to have to live on social security. One's pride is not helped when a slip of a girl just out of school comes in to give advice on how to budget the little that one is receiving. It is an offence to a person's pride. For God's sake remove that provision while there is an opportunity to do so, because everyone under this Parliament's jurisdiction can well do without such arrogance.

I hope that you will allow me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to be specific on one point because I did not have a chance to raise it earlier. Clause 40 extends the period of disentitlement from six to 13 weeks. That is a dangerous provision and a dangerous addition for everyone but, in the Northern Ireland context, it is much more dangerous.

Almost daily I deal with people who have been intimidated and forced from their jobs and workplace. Under the Social Security Act 1975 such people have left of their own volition and therefore have not been entitled to unemployment benefit for six weeks. Under this legislation, they will not be entitled to unemployment benefit for 13 weeks. Those men and women want to work and have worked all their lives. If someone puts a bit of lead at the back of a man's head, threatens his family or comes forward with a mask over his face, that man has to leave his job. Will we penalise him? Will we take his unemployment benefit from him?

One of the "in" expressions, which is fast becoming a cliché, is "the caring society". The Under-Secretary of State should take a close look at clause 40 and ensure that the loophole is closed, especially in relation to Northern Ireland.

My last and fundamental objection to the Bill is that, instead of bringing more people who need benefit into benefit, it drives them out. At a time when benefit is needed most, that will be the Bill's net result. For those reasons, both tonal and statistical, I shall oppose the Bill. My main reason for opposing it is that I have seen many people who did not have enough bread on the table, who could not put a coal on the fire and who could not put a proper shirt on their backs—and this is 1986.