Below is the text of Mr Major’s written Parliamentary Answer on Pensions and Benefits on 11th February 1987.
Mr. Ashdown Asked the Secretary of State for Social Services (1) if he will estimate the total amount of pensions and social security benefits unclaimed in the last year by persons entitled to such payments; if he has any information on the part played by inadequate skills of literacy and numeracy in such cases; what steps he has taken to overcome relevant difficulties that may be experienced by potential claimants; and if he will make a statement;
(2) what information is available to his Department on the number of persons entitled to pension or social security benefit whose skills of literacy and numeracy are inadequate; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Major The Department’s general policy is to allow the public to decide, on the basis of clearly stated advice, whether to claim benefits to which they may be entitled. A document design unit ensures that forms distributed nationally are expressed in a language which people with only limited literacy should understand – a fact recognised by the receipt of a number of Plain English awards. Contacts are maintained with 300 interested organizations – including adult literacy groups – which often provide valuable suggestions on document design.
On a personal level, local office staff are trained to provide a sympathetic information service. This can be at the office, over the telephone or in the person’s own home. More general benefit advice and information is available through the Department’s freephone, supplemented by regular local media broadcasts.
The Department spends about £6.5 million on media advice, publicity and leaflets. For child benefit and the major contributory benefits, such as retirement pension, it is thought that virtually everyone who is eligible receives the benefit and take-up of one parent benefit is also high amongst those that stand to gain.
Respondents to the “Family Expenditure Survey”, from which estimates of unclaimed income-related benefits are obtained, are not asked questions relating to their literacy or numeracy, but there is some evidence to suggest that entitlements are less likely to be claimed when the amount is small. Take-up of supplementary benefit expenditure was 89 per cent. in 1983 implying £615 million was unclaimed. About £35 million in family income supplement went unclaimed in 1981.
First estimates of housing benefit expenditure take-up and more recent estimates for family income supplement should be available shortly.