The total number on income support - the main benefit to help people aged 18 or over whose income is below the poverty level - has risen over the past three years from 4.1 million to 5.6 million. The unemployed accounted for almost half of the increase, the report said.
Donald Dewar, Labour's social security spokesman, said: 'It shows how the numbers dependent on income support have risen under the Conservatives. Income support is a safety net, which holds people in poverty. It works out at about pounds 119 a week for a husband and wife and two children - it is a pretty miserable life.'
The weekly average payment has gone up from pounds 35.75 to pounds 54.77, partly due to higher payments to support unemployed people who are not eligible for unemployment benefit, the elderly in nursing homes, and those with mortgages who are unable to pay the interest on their loans.
The figures show a worrying rise in the numbers of very elderly people requiring income support, although this may be partly due to the increasing ageing population. More than 500,000 people in poverty are aged in their eighties.
The total number of people over 60 on income support rose by 130,000 to 1.7 million and two-thirds of the increase was caused by those aged 80 or over. There are 564,000 women and 131,000 men aged 80 or over depending on income support.
The figures also highlight the increasing burden on the welfare state caused by lone parents. The number of lone parents rose from 756,000 to more than 1 million during the three years. More than two-fifths of single women on income support are lone parents. Of the claimants with children, 45 per cent had one child, 33 per cent had two children, 15 per cent had three children and 5 per cent had four children. A total of 37,000 claimants had five or more children and there were 1.5 million children with parents on income support.
The findings show that typical claimants on income support are single (43 per cent of the total), aged between 20 and 39 years (44 per cent), and unemployed, receiving about pounds 55 per week. Only 5 per cent, a total of 156,000 men and 146,000 women, were under 20 years of age.
The number of claimants on income support in private residential care or nursing homes rose by 100,000 to 286,000 and about 82 per cent aged 60 or over.
About 2.9 million claimants were women compared to 2.7 million men, but the department said the difference was largely accounted for by the numbers of women aged 60 or over. Almost 32 per cent of women claiming income support were widowed, and the majority were over 60.
Income Support Statistics, Annual Enquiry, May 1993; available from ASD Central Support Unit, 071 962 8188; pounds 25.
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