Benefits

Oral Answers to Questions — Employment – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3rd February 1987.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Robert Brown Mr Robert Brown , Newcastle upon Tyne North 12:00 am, 3rd February 1987

asked the Paymaster General how many referrals have been made to adjudication officers from newly unemployed claimants, from the date when form UB671 was introduced into unemployment benefit offices.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Paymaster General (HM Treasury), Secretary of State for Employment

The improved procedures which I announced on 28 October are designed to ensure that new benefit claimants satisfy the long-standing legal requirement for entitlement to benefit that the claimant should be available for work. The new procedures have now been introduced in all but a handful of unemployment benefit offices. By 26 December 1986, the latest date for which information is available, 12,688 cases had been referred to the independent adjudication authorities as a result of the new procedures.

Photo of Mr Robert Brown Mr Robert Brown , Newcastle upon Tyne North

Will the Minister tell us how many of the 12,000-odd people did not pursue their claims, how many claims were disallowed and how many people had bogus interviews on the basis of this form when interviewed for the restart programme?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Paymaster General (HM Treasury), Secretary of State for Employment

I hope that I can remember all those points. First, these are people who pursued their claims but had them referred to the adjudication officer because there were doubts about the claims. About 7 per cent. of new applicants do not pursue their claims, and of those who do, some claims are referred. These are early days, but of those referred so far we have adjudicated on about half—6,626—and 2,252 of those had their claims disallowed.

On the hon. Gentleman's final point, a form of this kind has always been used in cases of difficulty in relation to entitlement to benefit. The ancestor of the form that we are now using, and about which so much fuss has been made, can be traced back to 1947. Some of the same questions appear on that remarkably similar form.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short , Birmingham, Ladywood

Are the Government still using it?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Paymaster General (HM Treasury), Secretary of State for Employment

We still use it for guidance for staff where there are doubts about the availability for work, so that we can be consistent in offices up and down the country.

Photo of Mr Martin Brandon-Bravo Mr Martin Brandon-Bravo , Nottingham South

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that in my constituency duplicated leaflets, the printing of which is unattributable, have been distributed by pressure groups instructing people how to fill in—or not to fill in, as the case may be—the forms in question. They have also been used to instruct people in, or to discourage them from, filling in necessary information with regard to equal opportunities. Would my right hon. and learned Friend care to comment on that?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Paymaster General (HM Treasury), Secretary of State for Employment

I disapprove of people giving set answers. The implication of set answers is to tell the claimant, "Never mind telling the truth about your claim. If you give these answers regardless of the truth, you will get benefit." [Interruption.] My hon. Friend will notice that that was cheered by large numbers of Labour Members. The Labour party appears to have moved to the extraordinary position of saying that anyone is entitled to benefit, if he asks for it, without having to demonstrate that he is entitled to it. No doubt, as the Labour party has a very Left-wing candidate in Greenwich, it will campaign on that basis in the area in the near future. I do not think that it will get the electorate's support.

Photo of Mr John Evans Mr John Evans , St Helens North

Will the Paymaster General admit that the leaflets that have been circulated are not "How to claim benefit if you are not entitled to it" but "How not to be tricked by the trick questions framed by the Department of Employment"? Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that one of my constituents, who is typical of many, who has been unemployed for three years, who was offered three interviews more than 25 miles away from where he lives and who has no means of transport to those jobs, has had his benefit stopped? That is treating the unemployed with contempt.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Paymaster General (HM Treasury), Secretary of State for Employment

The questions on our form are not trick questions. They are remarkably similar to the questions that have always been asked and are wholly consistent with the rules that Parliament has laid down for entitlement to benefit. A Labour Act of Parliament—the last of such legislation—laid down availability for work as a condition of benefit. I am not clear from what the hon. Gentleman said whether he agrees that standard answers should be given. If, like his hon. Friends, he says that standard answers should be given, based on the suggestions of the Claimants' Union or others, he is advocating that people should claim benefit whether or not the claim is genuine and truthful, and that is a remarkable change of policy by the Labour party.