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1979-1987 : Mr Major’s Parliamentary Answer on Maternity Benefit

Below is the text of Mr Major's Parliamentary Answer on Maternity Benefit on 28th January 1986.


Mr. Nellist Asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many women he estimates will be affected annually by the changes in the payment of maternity benefit proposed in his White Paper.

Mr. Major Provisional estimates are that an additional 5,000 to 10,000 women will qualify for maternity allowance for the first time. About 75,000 to 85,000 women will no longer qualify because they were not working when their pregnancies began. However, many of those women will be eligible for some sickness benefit as a result of their previous national insurance contributions. As to maternity grant, the abolition of the £25 lump sum will affect an estimated 750,000 women, but this will be replaced by a payment of about £75 to low income families.

Mr. Nellist Given that the Tories are the party of family, why is it that The Times estimated last year that 500,000 women would lose entitlement to maternity grant, and that the new payment, which will go to 220,000 785 women, is about £62.88 less than they would have received had the Government increased the grant to the equivalent of its 1969 level? How much does the Minister estimate is the cost of essentials for a new baby? Does he agree with the estimate made by The Mirror last year that the cost is about £450, not the miserable £75 which the Government propose?

Mr. Major I rarely agree with The Mirror. In this instance, to restore the maternity grant to the 1969 level  - I am bound to say that it was not restored adequately by the Labour Government - would mean providing a grant of £125, at a cost of about £70 million to the Exchequer.

Mr. Favell Far from the Tories not being the party of the family, would it not be far better, as the Minister for Health suggested earlier, for families to look after their own fathers and mothers, to look after their own children and to provide for their own maternity?

Mr. Major My hon. Friend makes a valuable point. It might be worth drawing to the attention of the House the fact that our changes in maternity benefits have several important features that will benefit mothers. For the first time, pregnant widows will receive the statutory maternity allowance as well as the widow's allowance.

Ms. Richardson Does the Minister realise from the figures that he read out that many women will lose altogether? Does he know that more than 1 million families live on or below the poverty line and that an increasing number of children are born into low-income families? With the changes that the Government propose in the Social Security Bill, more pregnant women will suffer stress and will have to go, with a begging bowl in their hands, to the social fund, but will get nothing. That, together with the cut in child benefit, will lead to a worsening of family support.

Mr. Major I cannot agree with the hon. Lady. The reality is that most of the families of whom she speaks, and for whom she cares a great deal, will be entitled to the £75 maternity grant from the social fund, which is triple the sum presently paid.