Between April 1983 and December 1986, the earliest and latest dates for which figures are available, 395,500 were disallowed. Only during the short period between October 1986 and April 1987 would a woman with a record of 49 contributions paid or credited have been disqualified from receiving maternity allowance. The number so affected must be very small indeed.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. As the exact numbers are not known and very small indeed, it is possible that my constituent, Mrs. Watson, is the only woman in the country who has been so affected and will be the only woman so affected because the Government have since changed the law, so that people who would have lost benefit simply because they were paid monthly rather than weekly will not be denied benefit. Will my hon. Friend reconsider giving that lady the benefit to which she would have been entitled if her employer had paid her weekly rather than monthly?
My hon. Friend is right in saying that the system has changed so that what now matters is whether the lady was recently in employment. I hope my hon. Friend will welcome that change, but I should point out that, in the case of his constituent, it was not just a matter of the way in which we applied the rules. We had also to bear in mind the fact that, while the lady was unemployed, she went abroad for two weeks and was therefore unable to have the credit. If she had not gone abroad, she would have had 51 credits.
Does the Minister agree that the problem would not have arisen if the situation in which someone could make reduced contributions and pay slightly less than the full contribution in terms of the stamp had not been changed in the Social Security Act 1986? Will the Minister further explain how much money the Government have saved by scrapping that reduced rate?
Maternity benefit should be paid to people who leave work because they are pregnant and are used to receiving their money from work. The new statutory maternity payment system and the maternity allowance address that need. The old system, under which we went back to some distant year to see what national insurance contributions had been paid, was much less effective in meeting that need.