Pensions and National Insurance
Contributions and Benefits
33. Mr. McKay
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will take steps to reconstruct the financing of the National Insurance Fund by charging the contributions on a percentage basis, supported by a supplementary payment similar to that now paid by the Exchequer; and if he will take steps to concentrate additional benefits on the payment of higher retirement pensions, sickness and unemployment benefits, and widows basic rate, whilst requiring all persons with incomes above £9 or £10 per week to pay to a graded pension scheme, and whilst leaving all the dependants' benefits stationary until the new scheme has been implemented.
The Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter)
Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that I had no hope whatever of his giving much consideration to a question such as this because he believes in retired pensioners having to undertake a means test? Does he not realise that the time has come for a different policy to be adopted towards these aged folk if they are to have anything like security? Is he aware that on the last occasion he gave 7s. 6d. to the pensioners he placed 1s. 6d. extra on the National Insurance contributions of ordinary people and that it would take about 8s. 6d. extra to give a £5 pension? Has the time not arrived when a pension of £5 should be aimed at for aged people, although it will never be achieved under the present system?
The hon. Gentleman is not entitled to draw from my answer the inference with which he began his supplementary question. On the merits of the matter, apart from any other difficulties, I should find it very difficult to go with him in the proposal which he makes, that when the time for increases comes, dependants—for example, the children of widowed mothers—should be excluded from such increases.
We really must pass to the next Question.
National Assistance (House Repairs)
34. Mr. Frank Allaun
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what steps he proposes to take to help pensioners living in decontrolled houses who are being compelled to pay for repairs, as such payments are not taken into account for National Assistance purposes.
None, Sir. The Board tells me that if a tenant of decontrolled property who is receiving assistance is known to be responsible for repairs and insurance, allowance can be made for this in assessing his grant. If the hon. Member has a particular case in mind, perhaps he would write to me or to the Chairman of the Board.
Is the Minister aware that I have here a letter from an old-age pensioner tenanting a decontrolled house, who has not the money to mend a leaking roof and who is frightened to report it to the public health inspector for fear of eviction? What advice can the right hon. Gentleman give this old lady? If the National Assistance Board pays rent increases arising from the operation of the Rent Act, should not the Board pay this kind of expense as well?
I cannot advise the hon. Gentleman unless he sends me details of the case. If he will be good enough to send me the details I will gladly study them. I have stated the general rule in my main answer.
Old-age Pensioners, Easington
35. Mr. Shinwell
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many old-age pensioners are in receipt of National Assistance in the area covered by the Easington Parliamentary division.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)
I regret that this information is not available as the Parliamentary Division of Easington is served by three offices of the National Assistance Board which also serve areas in other divisions.
Is it not possible to analyse the number of cases at the various offices? Why should not this 964information be available? Is the hon. Lady aware that we are becoming very worried about the number of cases of hardship brought to our notice? In those circumstances, is it not possible to step up the National Assistance payments so as to relieve the hardship experienced by many of these pensioners?
We could not possibly analyse the payments by any statistical process. It would mean a separate count. I can give the right hon. Gentleman the figures for the three offices which serve his division and areas around it.
That is all I asked for.
The figures for the three offices—which is not the Question asked by the right hon. Gentleman—are: Houghton-le-Spring. Durham and Hartlepool, totalling 8,494.
That is exactly the information that I am trying to get. Does it not denote that the pension is completely insufficient? It is no use the right hon. Gentleman shaking his head in that negative way. Will he come and listen to the tales that we hear about the difficulties experienced by these people? Is he aware that we are not going to put up with this sort of thing very much longer?
I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is disappointed that [ J. Boyd-Carpenter] my right hon. Friend is not answering his Question, but I do not think his conclusions follow from his premise.
36. Mr. Spriggs
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many war pensioners have suffered a reduction in or lost their pensions outright in each of the last five years; what were the reasons; and what guidance is given to pensions tribunals in such cases.
As the answer includes a table of figures, I will, with permission, circulate this in the Official Report. The reasons were that their medical condition had improved to an extent which made them no longer eligible for pension, or for as much pension. As regards the last part of the Question, pensions appeal tribunals are independent statutory bodies 965appointed by my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor, and I neither have nor ought to have, any power to give guidance to them.
Ought not the Minister and the Government to take into consideration that many ex-Service men returning home from military hospitals after being badly wounded can no longer follow their occupations and have to take up light duty types of employment? Will the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friends bear in mind this fact when they next consider pensions for this type of ex-Service pensioner?
We not only have considered this but we have already in operation the allowance for lowered standard of occupation to take care of just that situation.
Following are the figures:
National Assistance Books
37. Mr. Frank Allaun
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will consider combining the old-age pension and National Assistance books to avoid embarrassing pensioners who dislike showing that they have two books and are receiving National Assistance.
This suggestion has often been considered. It has the practical disadvantage that whenever the National Assistance order book has to be withdrawn for amendment the pensioner would be unable to cash his retirement pension. I would add that there are many people apart from recipients of National Assistance who present more than one order book for payment at post offices.
Does the Minister agree that there are very many old-age pensioners in real need of National Assistance but who do not apply for it for the reason given in the Question, even if the Minister thinks that it is a case of mistaken pride that they do not like showing two books in the post office? Surely it is not beyond his wit to devise some way of overcoming any administrative difficulty involved?
I have no reason to believe that the obligation to present two books—which is shared by a very large number of people who draw, for example, family allowances, war pensions and industrial injury benefits—has anything to do with the matter. The hon. Gentleman will know that a little time ago, to deal with any difficulty over the presentation of books, we took the words "National Assistance" off the cover. That was a practical measure. I honestly do not think that the hon. Gentleman's present proposal would really help.
I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that there is a slight difference between the National Assistance book and other kinds of books. Whilst he and I may not think it wrong to apply for National Assistance, lots of people think it slightly shameful and therefore they do not like their neighbours who go in the post office to know about this. Could he not overcome this difficulty?
I do not think that a neighbour can spot out of a pile of books that many people bring in that one is a National Assistance book, when it has not even got the words "National Assistance" on it.
38. Mrs. Castle
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what reply he has sent to the telegram sent to him by Mr. Melling, Secretary of the National Federation of Old Age Pensioners' Associations, calling for an immediate increase in old-age pensions to meet the increased cost of coal.
A courteous acknowledgment.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a courteous acknowledgement without any effective action is just no answer at all? Does he not think that the time has come to increase the basic old-age pension? Does not the fact that he has recently increased the National Assistance scales owing to the rise in the cost of living mean by implication that the basic pension ought to be increased for the same reason, or is he busy turning the Welfare State into the Means Test State?
All Governments have from time to time raised the National Assistance scales at a time when they have not been moving the level of retirement pensions. On the particular point specified in the hon. Lady's Question, on coal prices, a change in retirement pensions would be a singularly inflexible weapon for this purpose when one remembers, first of all, that many retirement pensioners are not in need and, secondly, that coal prices vary throughout the country.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is not only coal that has gone up in price? The cost of living has increased by 6 per cent. since the last increases in National Insurance were made. If I send the right hon. Gentleman a telegram asking him what he is going to do about this, is a courteous acknowledgment all that I will get?
No, Sir, I will send the hon. Gentleman a very courteous acknowledgment.
39. Mr. Spriggs
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many widows of ex-Service war pensioners who have died away from home in Great Britain have been refused financial assistance to have their late husbands brought home for re-interment.
The only application in respect of re-interment known to me is that about which the hon. Member has been in correspondence with my hon. Friend.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that is not good enough? 968Here we have an ex-soldier who came home and was given a 60 per cent. pension. He was unable to work and he died while on his way to Scotland. He was buried in a common grave in the Cockermouth area. Is that the way to treat men who have served their country? This is really shabby treatment and no Government has a right to get away with this. The right hon. Gentleman was asked as a Minister to help to bring this ex-Service man home for reinterment so that the widow and her nine children could visit his grave, but only partial assistance was offered. It is not good enough. This widow had not the money to bring her dead husband home. Why is not the Minister prepared to do more about it?
I do not think the hon. Gentleman is being quite fair. The facts of this case, which I have studied, are that this gentleman unfortunately died away from home and was buried by the local authority, with his widow's consent, in Cumberland. His widow received the National Insurance death grant and, as my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary explained to the hon. Gentleman in a very full letter, there are no powers of which I am aware for the payment under the Royal Warrant of the charge for exhumation and reinterment elsewhere of an ex-Service man. I understand that in this case contact had been made with the voluntary bodies but that they also did not feel that this was an appropriate use for their funds.
Retirement Pensions and National Assistance
40. Sir B. Janner
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what was the cost of living index when the present rates of retirement pensions and National Assistance were granted; what is the index now; and what the difference represents in money value.
The Index of Retail Prices for April, 1961, when the present rates of retirement pensions and national assistance were first granted, was 113.3 and the index for May, 1962, was 120.1. This represents a difference in money value of 3s. 5d. in the standard pension and 3s. 3d. in the scale rate for a single householder.
Sir B. Janner
Is the Minister aware that it is literally impossible for the people receiving these pensions to manage to make ends meet or to live at all adequately? Is he prepared to do something to meet the situation?
The hon. Gentleman is simply not facing the facts, first, that when we are dealing with 5½ million retirement pensioners, some well off, some not well off, but a complete cross-section of our community, one cannot effectively make generalisations of that kind, and, secondly, that today the real value of the retirement pension is higher than it was at any time before the present scales were introduced.
We are getting tired of this kind of answer. Does not the Minister realise that a 3s. rise in the cost of living is much more serious to people on old-age pensions or widows' benefits than it is to any of us in the House? Does not he agree that the method of giving National Assistance increases while not at the same time raising the basic pension is just not good enough today?
As I am sure the hon. Lady knows, the National Assistance Act provided that National Assistance scales might be moved more quickly and more easily by way of Resolution rather than by legislation for the very reason that it would have to be done more frequently. That was contemplated because National Assistance provides the effective method of dealing with hardship, when action has to be 970taken speedily. The hon. Lady is ignoring the whole history of the matter in suggesting that it is National Insurance benefits which should always be moved whenever the Index of Retail Prices moves.
Is it not a fact that, on every occasion since 1951 when the retirement pension has been raised, the amount of increase in the basic pension has been larger than the increase in the cost of living for the comparable period, all of which has, by aggregation, given a real value of the pension immeasurably higher than at any time since it was inaugurated?
It is the fact, as my hon. Friend has said, that the real value of the pension today is higher than at any time under any Government before the present scales were introduced.
Will the Minister bear in mind that, even though he did announce today that there would be a change, it would probably be four months before it took effect, and, remembering how the cost of living has risen in the past four months, can he say exactly what will be the likely level in another four months?
The first part of the hon. Gentleman's question is wholly hypothetical. As to the second part, I think that questions about the Index of Retail Prices are for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, not for me.