The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1983-1987 Parliament

Mr Major’s Parliamentary Answer on Housing Benefit – 25 February 1986

Below is the text of Mr Major’s Parliamentary Answer on Housing Benefit on 25th February 1986.

Mr. Favell Asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what proportion of the domestic ratepayers in (a) Liverpool, (b) Manchester, (c) Stockport and (d) England and Wales as a whole receive housing benefit.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mr. John Major) We estimate that in 1984-85 the proportion of ratepayers receiving a rate rebate in the four areas was approximately 50 per cent., 57 per cent., 31 per cent. and 35 per cent. respectively.

Mr. Favell Does my hon. Friend agree that those figures demonstrate the desirability of a reform of the rating system on the lines outlined by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment?

Mr. Major I concur with that point, as housing benefit now goes a long way up the income scale and many of us feel that it goes an undesirably long way up that scale.

Mr. Eastham Do those figures project an idea to the Minister of the sheer poverty that is being experienced in some major cities? Is it not about time that there was a complete review of the benefits and subsidies that are a burden on the ratepayer? Ought they not to be a burden on the Government?

Mr. Major The figures show that housing benefit now goes to one household in three, and that is a remarkable statistic. The benefit has doubled in real terms over the past five years and is still a substantial amount of money.

Mr. Tony Lloyd The Minister said that 57 per cent. of ratepayers in Manchester receive housing benefit. Is that not, even for this Government, a shocking indictment showing the poverty level of wages in Manchester and the number of people who are dependent on state benefits and who have to claim housing benefit? Should not the Government be doing something about poverty in the urban areas?

Mr. Major I am not sure to what extent the hon. Gentleman’s point arises directly from the main question. However, what clearly arises from the hon. Gentleman’s question and the answer is the extent to which housing benefit exists to help those people.

Mrs. Beckett Does the Minister’s answer not show, first, how rents and poverty have increased under this Government; secondly, that the only way for someone to get housing benefit reasonably high up the income scale is if their rent is well above average; and, thirdly, how much damage will be caused by the proposal to make all such people pay 20 per cent. of their rates?

Mr. Major I do not believe that any of those propositions is correct. Even after the changes in housing benefit, expenditure is still above the 1979 levels. Future proposals for local government finance are still under consultation and we must wait to see what emerges from them.