More help for those in need
For most of our people, earning and living standards have improved enormously in the last ten or twelve years. We do not need to consult statistics to prove this. The evidence can be seen around us. There has been a notable increase in the comforts, pleasures and labour saving equipment in the home. Many more people have cars. Large numbers enjoy holidays abroad.
Social Security Benefits
As well as earnings, social security benefits have also increased. Our grand-parents (and in many cases our parents) brought up their families without a national health service, without maternity benefits or family allowances, or cheap milk or subsidised school meals. Contrast our position to-day. A new baby can entitle his or her parents under the national insurance scheme to—
1. a £16 maternity grant
2. a home confinement grant of £6 if born at home
3. if mother is insured in her own right, £3 7s. 6d. a week for 18 weeks.
This makes a possible total of £82.
For a second or subsequent baby the parents will receive family allowances of 8s. and 10s. each respectively. Cheap milk will be provided for each child until five years old and after that free school milk will be available. Throughout life, there need be no worries about paying for medical treatment or for a spell in hospital. I sometimes wonder if we of this generation realise what a great relief this is. If misfortune strikes in the way of unemployment or sickness then certain cash benefits are payable, and in retirement there is a basic state pension which can be supplemented in various ways.
Supplementary Cash Benefits
It is these several cash benefits available under national insurance and national assistance that I want to talk about particularly. The retirement pension is the main one in terms of the number of people drawing it and its total cost. Nearly six million of our elder folk draw the pension now compared with only four million some twelve years ago. Some of them have other sources of income as well. We know for example, that there are about 1½ million occupational pensions now in payment and many older people will be drawing such pensions. Further, about 1½ million people draw pensions above the basic rate because they carried on working after the age of 65 for a man or 60 for a woman. Yet others have part-time earnings or help from their families.
There are, however, some of our old people who have no other income at all apart from their retirement pension and it is they who need and must have supplementary pensions payable through the National Assistance Board. Some people do not like the name, some are fearful of taking the first plunge. May I reassure them from experience of dealing with many personal cases. The money has been set aside by British people acting through Parliament to ensure that no-one in this country who needs help shall go without. The task of the National Assistance Board is to identify those who need help.
In a free country no-one keeps a complete dossier of the affairs of every single citizen—only tyrannical systems do that. We therefore rely on our people to come forward and make a claim, or on their friends to let us know about them. This is the easiest thing in the world to do. You do not have to fill in a lot of forms, you do not have to go before a Committee, you do not even have to set foot in a Government office. All you have to do is to write to the local National Assistance Board office (40 Ballards Lane, N.3) saying you think you might be entitled to an allowance. Someone will then come to see you in your own home. Alternatively, you can write to me as your M.P. (Mrs. M. Thatcher, House of Commons, Westminster, S.W.1).
One or two common misunderstandings still exist about national assistance which should be dispelled.
1. Ownership of one's own house does not prevent anyone from getting an allowance. The amount you pay in rates is taken into account in awarding the allowance, and if the mortgage is not completely repaid, an amount to cover the interest payments is also considered.
2. People with some savings can still apply. The first £125 is disregarded completely. Those with up to £600 in savings plus a further £375 in war savings can still be eligible.
3.Some people think that we pay out national assistance without question to those who they regard as “work shy” . A man of working age who is fit will not get an allowance unless he is registered for work at an employment exchange and is ready to accept a suitable job. Moreover, he never gets more by way of national assistance than the wages he would get at work in his regular occupation. It would clearly be wrong to pay a man more when out of work than he could receive by going back to work.
National assistance sets out to provide a guaranteed minimum standard of living for all. A guaranteed minimum income would not be enough for the cost of living varies from area to area and peoples' needs are different. To provide the same standard of living for a pensioner living in a flat in the London area with a rent of say £3 a week requires a higher weekly sum than a similar pensioner living in Scotland paying 7s. 6d. a week. Fuel costs too vary from person to person. Someone who is an invalid may need more because she has to stay at home the whole time. She may also need more for food because her doctor has put her on a diet. National assistance takes care of all these problems. The minimum income system could not.
In the long-term future the numbers needing additional help should fall. Instead of 1½ million people drawing occupational pensions now there will be many more as 10 million people are now covered by such schemes. Then too, with to-day's high earnings, people should be able to save more either through some form of personal savings or private insurance for their retirement years. Graduated pensions too will be building up in the long term. But for the next few years we shall have to deal with the folk who had little opportunity to save. For them national assistance is a life line.
The basic insurance pension has of course been increased many times in the last twelve years, so have the contributions required to pay for it. In 1951 the total weekly stamp payable on behalf of an employed man was 9s. 5d. To-day, if that man is earning £9 a week (and is in the graduated scheme) his weekly stamp will come to 21s. 4d. and if he is earning £19 a week it will come to 36s. 8d. These increases have been brought about by paying increased benefits to an increasing number of pensioners. Even if the benefit rates were to stay the same, which is unlikely, contribution rates would still have to go up to pay for the greater number of pensions.
It is not Governments who provide increased pensions but the people. When government expenditure is criticised we should remember that, after defence, the largest single spending department is the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance. Nevertheless, it is part of the responsibilities of an increasingly prosperous society to look after its older and less fortunate members. It is a task we must continue to discharge.