HC PQ [Pensions and National Insurance]
|Document type:||public statement|
|Document kind:||House of Commons PQs|
|Venue:||House of Commons|
|Source:||Hansard HC [689/813-40]|
|Editorial comments:||The Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance was first for questions on this occasion, i.e., immediately after Prayers at 1430. Concluding time unknown. MT spoke at cc813-19, 830-33, 835, 837-38 and 840.|
|Themes:||Social security and welfare, Family, Employment, Pay, Public spending and borrowing|
PENSIONS AND NATIONAL INSURANCE
1. Mr. Mapp
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will now increase the present apprentices' earnings limits to enable parents with younger children, in qualifying for family allowance, to consider more favourably apprenticeship schemes.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)
No, Sir. My right hon. Friend has no reason to think that an alteration in the family allowances rules would have the result that the hon. Member suggests.
Is the Minister not aware that in 1963 the Insurance Commissioners themselves in an appeal suggested that, in respect of a boy of 15 to 17, 85s. and 90s. were unrealistic for the problems arising in a home where there are other younger children? In view of the announcement covering a wider field made by the Prime Minister 814a few weeks ago, is it not time that the Minister sent this matter to a committee for re-examination, because the present figures are unrealistic for a family of more than one child?
I am aware of the Commissioner's decision relating to September, 1960. It was after that that the present Measure was introduced. We have no reason to believe that where an apprentice is earning up to 40s.—until that time the family is qualified to receive a family allowance—the receipt of 8s. or 10s. a week would have any influence on the decision of whether or not to take up the apprenticeship.
6. Mr. Montgomery
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether he will introduce legislation to provide for a fatherless family allowance to be paid to a deserted mother and collected by the State from the husband.
Many provisions of existing legislation already help deserted mothers and their children and [ Richard Wood] my right hon. Friend has no proposals for extending them in the way my hon. Friend suggests.
Is my hon. Friend aware of the tremendous hardship there is in this sphere and the difficulty that some women have in getting any money at all from their husbands to support their children? Would it not be possible for some system to be devised whereby the State got this money and paid it to the mothers by this sort of allowance, rather than for these women to have to go to National Assistance, which they do not like doing and which represents an unnecessary drain on the taxpayer? Will my hon. Friend look at this matter again?
Where a mother is unable to get any money due to her under a maintenance order, the National Assistance Board already helps to a considerable extent. The Board will, on occasions, take over the responsibility for getting the money from the husband and pay the mother the allowance instead.
Does my hon. Friend think it fair that these women should have to go to National Assistance? Is it fair, when husbands avoid payments, 815that the general taxpayer should pay for some man's wrongdoing, particularly when the man may be living with another woman and supporting children who are not his own while his legal children must suffer great privation?
The designation "fatherless children" covers a large number of children whose needs are already covered by the National Insurance system, which covers widowed mothers' children, orphans, for whom provision is made under National Insurance, and children of divorced parents where the father died while maintaining the children. As I say, a great deal is already done under National Insurance.
12. Mr. Millan
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether he will make family allowances payable to grandparents or other relations having the care of children in cases where the parents themselves are not qualified to claim the allowances because of residence abroad.
Family allowances are payable in these circumstances if the parents are not contributing at the rate of at least 8s. a week to the support of each child. My right hon. Friend has no power to waive this condition.
Does not the Minister have power to change the law, with the consent of the House, which I am sure would be readily given? Is not the hon. Lady aware, from details of a case which I have sent her, that there is an anomaly here? Is it not quite ridiculous that family allowances should not be payable in these cases because the parents are contributing even as little as 8s. a week, which is completely out of touch with today's cost of living? Will the hon. Lady look at this whole question again?
The general rule that a parent can draw family allowances if he or she is contributing 8s. a week to the support of the child is one which is very beneficial to a large number of parents who cannot afford to contribute a great deal. To alter this rule would put very many parents in a very much worse position indeed. The other rule which comes into play in this case is the fact that, I think, the father has been abroad for a period of nearly ten years, and it is the inter-action of these two 816rules which has caused the decision here. If I could help here I would, but I cannot.
3. Mr. Bence
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many unemployed and persons in receipt of sickness benefit receive National Assistance in Scotland.
In Scotland at 17th December, 1963, 39, 181 unemployed persons and 19,678 persons in receipt of sickness benefit were receiving weekly grants from the National Assistance Board.
Is it not a shocking reflection on the Government that during a period of so-called boom we have to give National Assistance to people who have contributed to the pensions system because their unemployment and sickness benefits are inadequate to maintain them at subsistence level? Is this not evidence that the levels should be raised forthwith?
The number of people on National Assistance at any given time depends on the relationship between the scale rates and National Insurance rates. If the last time we put up the National Insurance rates we had not put up the National Assistance rates the number on National Assistance today would have been very much smaller.
Does not this show that the benefits paid out under the National Insurance Scheme are inadequate to maintain subsistence level, and that this is the reason why we have to supplement them? Would it not be right and proper, therefore, to raise the benefits?
There will always be circumstances for which National Assistance caters and for which National Insurance benefits do not. In Scotland, about 44 per cent. of the wholly unemployed are receiving National Assistance benefits.
4. Mr. Bence
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many retirement pensioners in Scotland receive National Assistance.
At 17th December 1963, 88,043 retirement pensioners in Scotland were receiving weekly grants 817from the National Assistance Board. Some of the grants provided for a household with more than one pensioner.
Here again, is it not time that we took out of National Assistance all retirement pensioners? Is it not disgraceful that under the National Insurance Scheme we cannot provide retirement pensions which eliminate the need for people having to apply for National Assistance? Surely National Assistance was a temporary measure for the period after the war; yet 17 years later we still have to continue this system of providing National Assistance for people when they retire.
As the hon. Member will be aware, people at all income levels how receive National Insurance benefits. He may have seen a notable example this weekend. In Scotland, 20.3 per cent. of retired pensioners receive National Assistance compared with 22.8 per cent. in England.
Surely the hon. Lady must be aware, when she gives figures of 44 per cent. for the unemployed and over 20 per cent. for pensioners who are in receipt of National Assistance—National Assistance which this Government consider to be subsistence level—that the benefits paid for unemployment, sickness and retirement pensions are below subsistence level and that it is disgraceful that people who have contributed all their lives should be in this position?
National Assistance, as the hon. Lady knows, attempts to cater for individual needs. It does so very well indeed, and I should not like to say anything which would detract from its value.
8. Mr. Gourlay
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many persons in receipt of unemployment benefit were also in receipt of National Assistance from his Kirkcaldy office at the latest convenient date, and at the corresponding dates in 1961 and 1962, respectively.
At 17th December, 1963, 434 persons with unemployment benefit were receiving weekly grants authorised by the Kirkcaldy office of the National Assistance Board. The figures for the corresponding dates in 8181961 and 1962 were 200 and 552, respectively.
Is the Joint Parliamentary Secretary aware that these figures demonstrate the failure of the Government to arrest unemployment in Scotland? When will she ask her right hon. Friend to show a less complacent attitude and some signs of compassion by giving an immediate increase in unemployment benefit to those who are suffering because of the failure of this Government?
I doubt whether there would be a great deal of wisdom in giving selective increases in unemployment benefit over the other needs of other National Insurance beneficiaries. The absolute number is down from 1962, and also the percentage of people is down.
While it is true that there was a slight decline in the numbers for 1963, is there any reason why, if the Minister proposes to increase unemployment benefit, all the other benefits should not at the same time be increased?
There is a slight matter of £ s. d.
22. Mr. Manuel
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what criteria are taken into account by the National Assistance Board when deciding to apply the wage stop to an allowance.
The National Assistance (Determination of Need) Regulations, 1948, require the Board to restrict the allowance payable to an unemployed man so that he does not, unless there are special circumstances, receive more than the amount of his net weekly earnings if he were employed full time in his normal occupation, for which he is registered at the local employment exchange.
Is the hon. Lady not aware that this is a heartless rule? Is she also aware that it creates an anomaly among lower wage earners in comparison with higher wage earners owing to the application of the wage stop? Is she further aware that in Scotland the inequality is more pronounced because we have a greater number of lower wage earners than there are in many other 819parts of the country? Would she ask her right hon. Friend to look at this matter with a view to reviewing the procedure?
We are constantly looking at this rather intractable problem. We do not think it would be right in principle to pay a man more when he was unemployed than he could get when working. Equally the National Assistance Board officers are constantly on the look-out for cases of special hardship, when they then make special lump sum payments. If the hon. Member has any individual cases in mind and will let us know, we will consider them, but so far I have had only one case referred to me.
Is the hon. Lady aware that there seem to be some discrepancies in the National Assistance Board's judgment about a man's earning capacity and the judgment made by the local Ministry of Labour of a man's earning capacity, which seem to work out to the disadvantage of the man concerned? Will the hon. Lady look into the matter to see that there is fair play here?
I am well aware that in the case which the hon. Gentleman referred to me there was a difference of, I believe, 10s. If any such case is brought to our notice we shall, of course, look into it straight away.
Is the hon. Lady not aware that there is something wrong when the poorly-paid workers are treated poorly by the Government?
This has still to do with the main principle that we do not think it right to pay a man more when he is unemployed than he could get by going back to work.
5. Mr. O'Malley
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will institute an inquiry into the incidence of chronic bronchitis among workers in steel manufacture with a view to the scheduling of this condition as an industrial disease in the steel industry.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (Lieut.-Commander S. L. C. Maydon)
Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that, while the Steel Confederation is and has been for a long time concerned at the high incidence of bronchitis among steel workers, the Ministry of Health is at present spending nothing on research in this direction? Is he further aware that the Nuffield Foundation recently made a grant towards an inquiry into the incidence and other aspects of this disease, and will he consider again with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Health the possibility of making bronchitis a notifiable disease?
Naturally, I do not draw the line at conversations with any reputable body about this matter. We keep a close watch on the results of current research into bronchitis and we study its implications for prescription, but the present trend of findings is increasingly to implicate non-occupational factors as the origin of this disease.
Sir B. Stross
Is the Joint Parliamentary Secretary aware that everyone who has been associated with steel workers, particularly those who work in a very hot atmosphere, has noted that a great many of them suffer from chronic bronchitis, complicated by emphysema, and that the Answer he gave to both the main Question and my hon. Friend's supplementary question is the type of answer which we have been receiving for the last 20 years and that we are tired of hearing it?
I understand that the consensus of informed medical opinion is that the most important causes of bronchitis are personal and social factors, such as smoking and air pollution.
Is the incidence in this industry any higher than in the population as a whole, and, if it is, is there not a case for an inquiry?
As the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, the questions of incidence and connection are both relevant to Section 55(2) of the Industrial Injuries Act and, as that Act stands, on present knowledge chronic bronchitis does not satisfy the conditions of that Section.
10. Mr. Dalyell
asked the Minister of Pension and National Insurance if he will set up an inquiry into the incidence 821of chronic bronchitis among coal miners with a view to the scheduling of this condition as an industrial disease in the coal industry.
Is it by chance that the incidence of chronic bronchitis among coal miners is thought to be non-occupational?
Incidence is only one of the factors to be considered in deciding whether a particular disease satisfies the tests for prescription under the Industrial Injuries Act.
Is the Joint Parliamentary Secretary aware that his Answers to this and Question No. 5 are both most unsatisfactory? Is he not aware that often those who are working in coal mines and steel works suffer from bronchitis, and that even when pneumoconiosis is diagnosed and payment under the Industrial Injuries Act is made no account is taken of the fact that the man may also have bronchitis and emphysema? Will he not do something to find out the connection between these three diseases so that workers in the steel and mining industries may have justice done to them?
I am afraid that the hon. Lady is mistaken in the last part of her supplementary question. Where those two other diseases are present in a man who is known to be a pneumoconiotic and they contribute to his disability, account is taken of that in his assessment.
Sir B. Stross
Is the Joint Parliamentary Secretary aware that pulmonary disability, from whatever cause it comes, is recognised as such, and compensation is paid for it, to gold miners in the South African goldfields—to white gold miners at any rate? This being so, why cannot this country, so far advanced as we should expect to be, ensure that men who inhale an irritating dust all their working lives, who are X-rayed before they are allowed to enter the industry and are then known to be in good health, get the benefit of the doubt if they fail in health later?
I remember the hon. Gentleman referring last year 822to the position of these sufferers in South Africa and other overseas countries, and at that time I certainly inquired into what was happening in those countries. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the matter is not on all fours with what is happening in this country.
If the incidence is a relevant factor, is it not both common sense and the Minister's duty to investigate it where it is above the average?
As the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, this has been investigated in the past and is always open to fresh investigation. In fact, research is going on at the moment.
Widowed Mother's Allowance
7. Miss Herbison
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will so amend the regulations that payment of widowed mother's allowance may be made in respect of children in approved schools particularly during the periods they spend at home.
The Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (Mr. Richard Wood)
If and when the Family Allowances and National Insurance Bill receives the Royal Assent, I propose to make regulations which will have the effect of removing the present bar to the payment of widowed mother's personal allowance to a widowed mother whose only child is at an approved school. I am writing about this to the hon. Lady, and to the hon. Member for East Ham, South (Mr. Oram), who recently raised the matter.
I am quite certain that my hon. Friends who have raised this matter will be pleased with the right hon. Gentleman's reply.
Limbless Ex-Service Men
9. Mr. Hector Hughes
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he is aware that the principle of assessing the pension of limbless ex-Service men applied after the last war is inapplicable to the economic conditions of today, when the cost of living has changed; and if he will set up an 823official inquiry with a view to establishing what level of pension would be equitable in today's circumstances for such people.
I cannot accept the suggestion that the principles of assessment are inapplicable to the economic conditions of today; and I do not think that an official inquiry is necessary.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the very purpose of these assessment principles, in regard to ex-Service men who lost limbs in the service of the nation, was to make up to them for the lost amenities of life, and that that purpose is being defeated by the failure of the Government to keep pensions in line with the increased cost of living? Will he, therefore, look into the facts again with a view to ensuring that justice is done to these ex-Service men who lost limbs in the service of their country?
The hon. and learned Gentleman is confusing the assessments with the pension rates. The objective which he has in mind has been achieved by the Government by a number of increases in pension rates, which have more than compensated for the rise in the cost of living.
In view of the very unsatisfactory nature of the right hon. Gentleman's reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise this matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible opportunity.
11. Mr. Dalyell
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will take steps to make it a condition that a medical appeals tribunal, considering a case of industrial disease, should be required before reaching a decision to take into account the opinion of the applicant's family doctor.
Every claimant is given the opportunity to submit to a medical appeal tribunal the opinion of his family doctor and any other evidence bearing on his case.
Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that there is great dissatisfaction because, though there may be the opportunity, it very often happens 824that the family doctor is certain but in the long run the application is turned down.
13. Mr. Swingler
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance to what extent doctors who serve on pneumoconiosis panels also serve on medical appeal tribunals; and what steps he takes to ensure that they do not sit in judgment on appeal cases on which they have originally given a decision.
No doctor on the pneumoconiosis medical panels is serving as a member of a medical appeal tribunal, and under the regulations no doctor who has taken part in a case as a member of a medical board can sit on the appeal tribunal.
Will the Joint Parliamentary Secretary take steps to check that, because I sent details of a case of this kind to the Minister last week which appeared to show that the same doctor appeared on a panel and on a medical appeal tribunal in the same case? Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman make a comprehensive inquiry in his Department to ensure that the Answer he has given today is strictly accurate and is strictly observed?
I am aware of the case to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I am having full inquiries made into it, and I will be writing fully to the hon. Gentleman later. I understand that the complaint is that the medical member has been a member of a tribunal deciding another appeal from the same man, not the same appeal.
Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that the case to which my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) refers is not by any means the only case? I have referred to the hon. and gallant Gentleman a case in which the same doctor has appeared on the tribunal, and the excuse appears to have been given that the appellant did not recognise the doctor. This is no reason at all, though there may be a gap in time. Incidentally, I was a long time waiting for the reply from the hon. and gallant Gentleman's Department.825
I apologise for the length of time the hon. Gentleman has been kept waiting, but I can assure him that it is only to check that the regulations are being properly followed.
In view of what has been said, does not the same principle apply? Will he take steps to ensure that the same doctor does not appear more than once? If a man is appealing for the second time to a tribunal, can steps be taken to ensure that the man appeals to a different panel of doctors from those to whom the original appeal went?
A member of one of these tribunals, because he has dealt with a previous application by the same claimant, is not debarred from sitting again. This matter was referred to a tribunal of Commissioners, and they came to the view that there was no real risk of bias in these circumstances.
Ought not this decision to be reconsidered? It is hair-splitting to have a man adjudicated on for one complaint and then let a doctor sit on an appeal about the same man. It is what you call hair-splitting, or man-splitting.
I cannot see that it is contrary to the interests of the man in question if the doctor sits subsequently on an appeal concerning a completely different matter.
In view of the unsatisfactory reply, I beg to give notice that I will raise this matter on the Adjournment.
15. Mr. Wainwright
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will give the number of persons certified as suffering from pneumoconiosis at the rate of 90 per cent. for the years 1959, 1960, 1961, and 1962, respectively.
At 31st October in 1959, 1960, 1961 and 1962, the estimated numbers of industrial disablement pensions in payment for pneumoconiosis assessed at 90 per cent. were 50, 65, 75 and 75, respectively.
Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman not agree that it would not cost much to pay constant 826attendance allowance to these people who are suffering from 90 per cent. or more disability and need the allowance to keep them? Does he not appreciate that their wives usually act as nurses throughout the 24 hours of the day? Has he no compassion whatsoever and a desire to help these people in the needy time which they go through in the last days, months or perhaps years of their lives?
I can assure the hon. Member that the measures which have already been taken to help these severely disabled men show that compassion is felt for them.
17. Mr. B. Taylor
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will state the number of persons certified as suffering from pneumoconiosis for the year 1963; and, of the total, what was the number in the East Midlands division of the National Coal Board.
In the year to 30th September, 1963—the latest for which figures are available—2,773 persons were first diagnosed as suffering from pneumoconiosis. Of these, 2,347 were in the coalmining industry, including 299 in the East Midlands Division of the National Coal Board.
35. Mr. Swingler
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what further consideration in his Department has been given to recognising chronic bronchitis and emphysema, when associated with pneumoconiosis, as occupational diseases of the mining industry.
All such questions are kept under constant review in the light of current medical findings.
How long has this review been going on and when will the results be apparent? In the course of the review, has the Minister consulted informed medical opinion in the mining areas? Since mine workers now are not receiving disablement compensation for the associated conditions of bronchitis and emphysema when pneumoconiosis is recognised, will the Minister now consult informed medical opinion in the mining areas and let the House know the result?827
As I said in answer to an earlier question, informed medical opinion is consulted on these matters.
In the mining areas?
I should, perhaps, remind the hon. Gentleman of what has already been done. Certain kinds of emphysema are accepted as part of the pneumoconiosis disease process and thus taken fully into account in assessing disablement. Where a person found to have pneumoconiosis is also found to have some other respiratory disease, such as bronchitis or generalised emphysema, the normal rules provide for the assessment of his disablement to be increased by the extent to which the effects of the pneumoconiosis are made worse by the other diseases.
Does not the hon. and gallant Gentleman recall that in two debates in recent years he promised the House completion of an inquiry into this matter? Further, is not he aware that the incidence of chronic bronchitis is rising in the mining areas today? Is not the time overdue when the inquiry ought to be completed and a full report brought to the House?
If the hon. Gentleman will look at the undertakings I have given in the past, he will find that I have said that this matter is under constant review.
Does not the hon. and gallant Gentleman see the difference between what he calls "informed medical opinion" and experienced medical opinion? My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Sir B. Stross) has considerable experience in this matter. Is it not time that a complete review was made and that there was a complete change in the Ministry's attitude to the whole problem?
I have always recognised that experience leads to information.
Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that there are numbers of men in the mining industry who are suffering from emphysema, bronchitis and pneumoconiosis and that the medical men and those who examine men for pneumoconiosis admit that it is 828impossible to apportion the degree of disability caused by these diseases and that there is a great deal of guesswork attached to this problem? Will he not follow the practice in South Africa and other countries and allow benefit to be paid for pneumoconiosis in view of the serious doubt which exists in these cases?
I do not think the hon. Member can have heard what I said to the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler), namely, that in cases of this nature the assessment of the disability can be increased by the extent to which the effects of pneumoconiosis are made worse by the other diseases.
14. Mr. Wainwright
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what would be the extra annual cost to the National Insurance Scheme if all widows upon reaching the age of 45 years were granted a widow's pension.
32. Mr. Hannan
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what would be the cost of giving the full widow's pension to all widows of 45 years and over.
About £16 million a year.
Is it the cost that is preventing the Government from granting widow's pensions to widows over 45 with no dependants? Does he agree that we should not in this age ask a woman who has not worked probably for 20 or 25 years to return to industry and take up hard work again?
Although the cost is considerable, that is not the main factor. The point here is that the change which the hon. Gentleman suggests would not have the effect of benefiting those widows who are most in need, because the £16 million would go mainly to widows who can and do support themselves by earnings. That is the reason.
How can the Minister decide which widows are not suffering under this Government? They are all suffering. Will he reconsider this matter in order to afford some relief by lowering the age, even if it is done by stages? After all, the same principle is adopted in connection with another aspect of 829social security: the age for the repayment of post-war credits has been reduced.
As I have pointed out several times recently, widows under 50 and without children and who, therefore, do not qualify for widow's pension do qualify and are covered for sickness benefit and unemployment benefit.
26. Mrs. Slater
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many women are now in receipt of industrial widow's pension, war widow's pension and widow's pension, respectively.
It is estimated that last September there were 23,000 pensions being paid under the Industrial Injuries scheme, 131,000 pensions under the war pensions scheme, and 537,000 pensions and allowances under the National Insurance scheme. Rather more than a million widows have retirement pensions on their late husband's insurance and a further substantial number have such pensions on their own insurance.
Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that this last figure of 537,000 ordinary widows means that a very large proportion of widows, not industrial injuries widows or war widows, are suffering because the other two categories get higher pensions, and they can go on earning unlimited amounts? Is it not time that we stopped getting these hard-hearted replies and that these widows, no matter how they were widowed, were treated in exactly the same way?
No, Sir. In completely different schemes, as they have been since they were set up, naturally different conditions apply. It would be quite wrong to do as the hon. Lady suggests and to pick out certain features from one scheme in which they happen to be desirable and to put them into another scheme in which they do not apply.
Surely the time has arrived when we should get away from that kind of outlook and look at these cases as cases of people, no matter whether they were in one class in 1945 or 1948, or in one or another class in the First World War. We should do 830something to get them on to an equal level.
It has for a long time been the joint wish of the House to give preference to the war widow and the industrial widow. Therefore, the schemes under which they get their compensation are quite different from the National Insurance scheme.
29. Mr. Lawson
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether a widow in regular receipt of sickness benefit on her late husband's insurance may, under his regulations, at any time engage in gainful occupation without being deprived of that sickness benefit.
Sickness benefit is paid only when a person is incapable of work. Exceptionally it may be paid to a person who, on medical advice, is doing a limited amount of therapeutic work.
While I appreciate the difficulties of paying sickness benefit and enabling a person to work, may I ask the hon. Lady whether she is aware that there must be many thousands of widows who do not receive any widow's pension at all and simply subsist on this sickness benefit on their late husband's insurance, perhaps with the additional odd shilling or two of National Assistance? These people must be suffering real hardship. Has the hon. Lady any knowledge of how extensive this state of affairs is, and could she do anything about this category of persons?
If the widow is drawing sickness benefit and is not entitled to widow's pension, then I doubt very much whether anything could be done, short of giving compensation for widowhood as such, and I do not think at the moment that is the policy of any political party.
Does not the hon. Lady realise that there are many women who missed the widow's pension by, perhaps, a week or two or a month or two, and a large number of them must now be well over 50 years of age, having no right to receive pension until they reach 60 years of age? Does not the hon. Lady realise that many of these widows must be suffering real hardship and, perhaps, hidden hardship of which we are not aware?831
The amount which they receive by way of sickness benefit, as the hon. Gentleman knows, is £3 7s. 6d. a week basic benefit, which is exactly the amount to which they would be entitled either by way of widow's pension or retirement pension.
31. Mr. Small
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many widows who have not qualified for the widowed mother's allowance or the widow's pension are in regular receipt of sickness benefit for which they qualify under their late husband's National Insurance contributions.
Information is not available in exactly the form for which the hon. Member asks, but I can tell him that the Department made an inquiry into the record of a number of widows who did not qualify for a National Insurance widow's pension following their period on widow's allowance. This showed that, in the second year after widowhood, about 6 per cent. of them received sickness benefit, title to which depended wholly or partly upon their husband's contributions, for six months or more.
Does the hon. Lady realise, as a result of her search for information, that the 6 per cent. claiming sickness benefit are a group of people who have no other opportunity of augmenting their income by earnings? This is the group of people between 50 and 60 years of age who normally live alone. Is there not obvious need for an inquiry into some means of meeting the needs of widows in this category? If they are living alone, dependent upon themselves, £3 7s. 6d. by no means represents luxury living standards at the present time.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the standard rate of National Insurance benefit went up by 10s. last May.
33. Mr. Millan
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether he will introduce a graduated scale of benefit for widows so that none may be denied pension rights merely because she fails to qualify by a few days or months at the age of 50 years.
I have nothing to add to the reply I gave my hon. Friend the 832Member for Shrewsbury (Sir J. Langford-Holt), on 10th February.
Does not the Minister appreciate that this is a source of quite considerable hardship and many widows who are just disqualified from receiving widow's pension fail to understand the clear-cut distinction which is set at the age of 50? Is there anything administratively impracticable in introducing a sliding scale? If not, why does not the Minister introduce it?
The effect of a sliding scale would be to transfer this anomaly a little further back in the widow's life, to a younger age, but, in any event, it would suggest, as I said in answer to my hon. Friend last week, that the chances of a widow again getting employment increased gradually as she was younger, and I do not think that this is necessarily the case. What we should be doing, if we paid benefit under the age of 50, would be paying it to a large number of widows who were, in fact, working and earning.
Does the right hon. Gentleman want to do anything about it at all, or is he just leaving the situation exactly as it is, with all its hardships and injustices?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have just taken action—with his support, I am glad to say—to increase the benefit paid to a number of widows.
34. Mr. Ross
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what proposals he has to help widows in receipt of sickness benefit in respect of their late husband's National Insurance contributions.
My right hon. Friend has no proposals for changing the present arrangements which date from 1957 and were introduced on the advice of the National Insurance Advisory Committee.
The whole House will be very disappointed by that reply. Judging by the sympathetic ear which widows seem to have in the House, we are getting tired of the Westminster sound of, "No, no, no". By definition, are not these widows living alone and are not they incapable of earning because of sickness? Why cannot a definite category like this 833be dealt with specially? The slogan of subsistence in sickness is not worthy of this House or the country.
These widows who are drawing sickness benefit are in exactly the same position as the widow entitled to widow's pension who is too sick to be able to work.
Is there not a case for letting seven fat years follow the seven lean ones since 1957?
I think that there have been twelve fat years following six lean ones.
The Minister must be aware that the answers to all these later questions show very clearly the concern felt on this side of the House about the position of widows on sickness benefit and the position of all people on National Insurance benefits which are hopelessly inadequate at present. Will the Government, even at this late day in their life, do something to help all those who are on sickness, unemployment or widow's benefit?
The record of this Government on widows' pensions shows that a great deal has been done. For example, the child of a widow will qualify for 37s. 6d. after the present Bill is passed, and this is to be compared with 7s. 6d. for the first child and 5s. for the second and subsequent children under the Labour Government.
Workmen's Compensation Act (Latent Cases)
16. Mr. B. Taylor
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will state the number of latent cases under the Workmen's Compensation Act; and what would be the cost to the Industrial Injuries Fund of giving a weekly benefit equivalent to that given to the partially disabled under the Pneumoconiosis and Byssinosis Benefit Scheme.
I do not know how many latent cases there are, but it is thought there may be something like 50,000. On this basis, the annual cost of an allowance such as the hon. Member suggests would be £5½ million.
In view of the smallness of the figure, if the number is 50,000, 834would the Minister give some consideration to these cases, who appear to be forgotten? They are the only residual victims now of the old Workmen's Compensation Act. The totally disabled and the time-barred cases have been dealt with and now, in the main, it is only the latent cases under that Act who have had no consideration at all. Would the right hon. Gentleman give his earnest consideration to this type of case?
As the hon. Member knows, my predecessors and I have taken the view, I hope rightly, that it was only justifiable to make payments out of the Industrial Injuries Fund where there were clearly established cases of hardship. Although I am aware of some of the arguments which the hon. Member and other hon. Members have put forward, on the face of it the latency of these cases suggests that there has been not only no loss of earnings but also no considerable degree of hardship.
18. Mr. Finch
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what is the average payment made to 100 per cent. industrially disabled persons taking into account industrial injuries disablement pension, hardship allowance and constant attendance allowance.
The average amount currently in payment to 100 per cent. industrial disablement pensioners by way of disablement pension and constant attendance allowance is about £6 16s. a week. Special hardship allowance is not payable to 100 per cent. disablement pensioners but, if these pensioners are incapable of work, they can qualify for sickness benefit or unemployability supplement of £3 7s. 6d. per week, with additions for dependants.
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many men and women have been continuously in receipt of sickness benefit for a period of two years or more.
The precise figure requested is not available, but the number is probably of the order of 220,000.
Is the hon. Lady aware that among these cases of prolonged 835sickness there are many who require special attention and constant care and that in many instances this requires that a member of a family stays at home and deprives himself or herself of employment to be in constant attendance on these people who have been sick perhaps for two, three or more years? Would the hon. Lady consider the payment of a constant attendance allowance on a similar basis to that provided under the Industrial Injuries Act?
I am aware that a number of them need special care. Provision for this is made in the payment of National Assistance. On the further point, the next Question on the Order Paper deals with constant attendance allowance for the chronic sick, and I would not wish to encroach on the questioner's preserve.
Does the hon. Lady not realise that the Answer given to Question No. 18, where the average payment will be a little over £9, shows clearly that the payment made to the chronic sick of £3 7s. 6d. creates a very wide gap? These are two payments for people who are suffering similarly, though one may be suffering from an industrial disease and the other from a natural disease. Does this not make it more imperative that the Minister should give serious consideration to giving what we call fringe benefits to these chronically sick?
I still think that this is the next Question, which my hon. Friend will be answering.
30. Mr. W. Hamilton
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what is the number of women living alone whose sole source of income is the basic £3 7s. 6d. pension or sickness benefit with the possible addition of a few shillings National Assistance supplementation.
I regret that this information is not available.
Will the Minister see that he gets it? Does not he recognise that it is important for the House and the country to realise that there are many thousands of people who have no place in our affluent society so long as this sort of thing is going on? Does the right hon. Gentleman deny that 836there are many thousands of women in this category?
I doubt whether I could get the information without asking about 500,000 individual questions about means other than State benefit available to women who are living alone, and I do not think that it would be a practical exercise. To answer the substance of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, I am aware that there are a number of people who are drawing National Assistance as well as their retirement or other pension, or sickness benefit. That is, in fact, the purpose of National Assistance—to make up extra income in these cases.
Constant Attendance Allowance
20. Mr. W. Hamilton
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will refer to the National Advisory Committee the question of the payment of constant attendance allowance to the chronic sick.
Constant attendance allowance is one of a number of supplementary benefits attaching to a disablement pension in schemes of compensation for loss of faculty. It can be paid to a person who is working and earning. It is difficult to see how it could be fitted into a scheme which provides a basic benefit in replacement of lost earnings.
Since the right hon. Gentleman admits that there is a difficulty here, does not this make it obvious that the matter should be referred to the National Insurance Advisory Committee? Does he not recognise that we get a little tired on this side of the House when we are referred to the cost of a recommendation which we are making, in view of the fact that the Government this year, without blinking an eye, are increasing defence expenditure by £160 million?
I do not think that the hon. Member would expect me to answer about Government defence expenditure. The reason why I should not be willing to refer this matter to the Advisory Committee, although I am perfectly well aware of the objective which the hon. Member has in mind, is that this would be an alien benefit in a system which gives benefits in respect of loss of earnings.837
Is there not common sense in giving something, whether we call it this allowance or the same allowance by another name, to the chronically sick?
If the hon. and learned Member reflects on this, he will realise that it would not only be a question of paying it to the chronically sick, but of paying a constant attendance allowance to a large number of other people such as retirement pensioners and widows who might also be in need of constant attendance.
National Insurance Benefits (Exchequer Contribution)
21. Mr. Carmichael
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what proportion of the cost of all National Insurance benefits, including retirement pensions, was met by the Exchequer in 1951 and 1963, respectively.
In 1951–52 the Exchequer contributed some 21 per cent. of the income of the National Insurance Fund. The cost of benefits in that year was, however, covered to the extent of nearly 90 per cent. by contribution of insured persons and employers. For 1963–64 the Exchequer contribution is estimated at about 15 per cent. of the fund's income, all of which will be required for the payment of benefit.
Is this Answer not evidence of the deterioration in the distribution of income over the last 12 years under the present Government, in that income for pensions has been more and more taken from the wage and salary earners? Is it not time for a return to the principle of the Exchequer meeting a larger proportion of these pensions?
In the year 1951–52 the Fund's income exceeded its expenditure by £101 million, which is almost the same as the total Exchequer payment of £109 million. This year Exchequer support will be £212 million, and every penny of that will go out in benefit payments.
Is it not the case that the Exchequer contribution's share of the total has been going steadily down all the time? Is it not also the case that 838the Treasury has done disgustingly well out of National Insurance?
The hon. and learned Member perhaps will be aware that because of excess income over expenditure in 1951–52 the then Labour Government took action to reduce the Exchequer contribution. When that Act took effect the Exchequer contribution became 13½ per cent. of income, a lower proportion than it is now.
23. Mr. Manuel
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what consideration he has given to the payment of a National Assistance allowance to unemployed boys and girls between the ages of 15 and 16 years.
My right hon. Friend has no proposals for amending the minimum age for making independent application for National Assistance, which was fixed at 16 by Section 7(5) of the National Assistance Act, 1948.
Is the hon. Lady aware that the non-payment of the allowance is causing distress in many homes in areas where there is high and persistent unemployment over a period of years? Would she ask her right hon. Friend to get the National Insurance Advisory Committee to look at this question of unemployed school leavers between the ages of 15 and 16 to see if they can be helped because of the undoubted hardship in those areas which I have mentioned where distress is being caused?
If the father of a family is out of work or sick and applies for National Assistance, the needs of the 15-year old person are taken into account in assessing any amount that is given to the applicant.
Surely the hon. Lady must be aware that where the father is a low wage earner, which is often the case in an area of high unemployment, grave hardship is caused to the family when he cannot get anything for the boy because he has not the right to claim National Assistance?
He will, of course, have been supporting the child while he was at school. It is only during the 839period between the boy's leaving school and attaining the age of 16 that the father cannot apply for National Assistance.
27. Mr. Lipton
asked the Minister Pensions and National Insurance, what further investigations he is now making into pensions anomalies.
I continually watch the working of the various schemes for which I am responsible.
Does this mean that there will be no more changes until after the General Election, so that until then nothing will be done about abolishing the earnings rule altogether and doing something for the 10s. widow, or narrowing the inexcusable gap between the previous code of pension and the latest code of pension for ex-Service men and their widows? Those are the three things that require absolute priority. Is nothing going to be done about them until after the election?
The hon. Gentleman has mentioned, among other things, the 10s. widow. He also mentions in his Question "pensions anomalies". The 10s. widow is a pension anomaly. I am sure he would not like me to remove it by removing the 10s. pension from the widows.
Does my right hon. Friend not realise how extraordinarily difficult it is to explain these nuances to the widow herself? We understand how this situation has grown up, but I hope my right hon. Friend appreciates that once a person becomes a widow it makes very little difference to her how her husband died, in view of the fact that she has to face the bringing up of her children?
I think it is a misconception to think that every difference in the treatment of widows is an anomaly. For instance, the industrial injuries and war pensions schemes were deliberately and by the wish of this House made preferential schemes in favour of those widows.
28. Mr. Gourlay
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he 840will state the amount of refunds of prescription charges in Scotland for the years 1962 and 1963.
£226,000 and £251,000, respectively.
Does the hon. Lady not recognise that this is a considerable increase from 1959 when the total amount in Scotland was about £70,000? Do not those figures clearly indicate that a considerable amount of unnecessary form filling and clerical work are proceeding in her right hon. Friend's office? Could this not be eliminated by providing some means of identification for retirement pensioners and chronic sick sufferers so that they can have their prescriptions free of charge at the chemists instead of going through the paraphernalia of reclaiming the money?
That is a question which ought to be referred to my right hon. Friend [ A. Barber] the Minister of Health. The figures for refunds of prescription charges show that the people who need them get them.