3. Mr. Frank Allaun
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance to what extent the difference between National Assistance payments and average wages has increased or diminished since 1948; and what is his policy regarding the relationship between these in the future.
The Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter)
Does the Minister agree that the drop in income on retirement is far too great and that at least until the pension reaches an adequate level every increase in pension should be accompanied by an equal increase in the National Assistance benefit; otherwise the very poorest will benefit least, as they did from the last increase?
On the last point, the difficulty is that if that happened the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends would then quarrel with the large number of people receiving supplements to retirement pensions. They cannot have it both ways. The hon. Gentleman's supplementary question goes far beyond the original Question, the Answer to which merely shows that the percentage increase in the National Assistance Scales is substantially more than that in wage rates over the period which he selected.
Mr. Hector Hughes
Is the phenomenal rise in the cost of living taken into account when these calculations are made and, if so, in what way?
If the hon. and learned Member had studied the Question he would have seen that it is expressed in terms of increases in the cash value of these things.
9. Mr. Spriggs
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many people in the St. Helens constituency were in receipt of both National Insurance benefits and National Assistance allowance in each year since 1951 up to the latest convenient date; and what were the numbers in receipt of National Assistance only in each year since 1951 to the latest convenient date.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)
As the Answer contains a number of figures, I will, with permission, circulate it in the Official Report.
Have the recent increases in the supplementary allowance been made because of rent and rate increases?
That is a rather different question from the one on the Order Paper, but I will certainly let the hon. Member know the answer by letter.
The following table gives an analysis of the numbers of authorisations for the payment of weekly National Assistance Allowances current at the end of each year in the area served by the National Assistance Board's office in St. Helens, which extends beyond the town and since the middle of 1955 has covered a somewhat smaller area than formerly
27. Mr. Small
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what was the average weekly supplement paid by the National Assistance Board to retired couples at the latest convenient period.
At the end of 1961, 21s. 8d.
Does not this indicate that the pension is inadequate and it is time that the scale was reviewed?
No, Sir; it does not indicate anything of the sort. It indicates the very wide variety of needs to be found among our older fellow-citizens which have to be met by varying payments of supplement—for example, the very considerable difference in rents between Scotland and the South.
4. Mr. Frank Allaun
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many people received National Assistance grants for extra fuel in the last 12 months; what was their average weekly amount; and whether a further grant is made for those who must use smokeless fuel.
Information is not available precisely in the form requested, but it is estimated that 402,000 of the weekly National Assistance allowances current at the end of 1961 contained discretionary additions to provide for extra fuel requirements, the average amount being about 4s. 6d. a week, and the additions amounting in total to between £2¾ million and £3 million a year. I am advised that the use of smokeless fuel is not necessarily more expensive, but exceptional cases are considered on their merits.
Since in this very long and cold winter many pensioners have had to go without a fire for long periods and were yet unaware that they could obtain extra fuel allowances, will the Minister take some suitable step to notify them? Secondly, is he aware that 4s. 6d., the figure he gave, is nothing like the price of half a bag of smokeless fuel which in most parts of the country costs 12s. or more; yet the pensioners are forced to have it if they live in a smokeless zone? Could the right hon. [column 6]Gentleman therefore ask the Assistance Board to increase the allowance in these cases?
I think that any doubt as to the Assistance Board's alertness to the position is surely met by the fact that the number of these allowances paid this winter—402,000, the figure I gave—is a very big rise on the number in the previous winter—350,000. As to the adequacy of the amount, this is an average figure which, of course, takes into account the individual needs of the person concerned.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that pensioners are suffering hardship today as the result of the inevitable increase in their fuel bills resulting from their being put in smoke-controlled zones? Is it clear that pensioners entitled to a supplement can draw the increased amount of their fuel bills in an increased Assistance allowance? If there is any doubt about that, will the Minister give a direction to the Board to that effect?
The position is quite clear. My Answer related to recipients of National Assistance, not to pensioners generally, but it is possible, as the very large figures I have given to the House indicate, for persons in receipt of weekly Assistance supplements to apply, and, where the circumstances are suitable, to obtain extra allowances in respect of fuel.
7. Sir B. Janner
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will state the number of people over 70 who are not entitled to a retirement pension as they had no opportunity of being insured; how many of these are in receipt of National Assistance; whether he is satisfied that these people are not living in want; and whether he will investigate their position with a view to providing them with funds giving them security until their death.
I estimate that people over age 70 who are not receiving retirement pensions total some 650,000, of whom about 200,000 are receiving National Assistance, non-contributory old-age pensions, or both. I have no means of telling [column 7]how many of these persons had no opportunity of becoming insured either as voluntary contributors under the old schemes or as late-age entrants under the present National Insurance scheme. As regards the last two parts of the Question, Parliament has already made financial provision for all persons in need through the National Assistance scheme.
Sir B. Janner
Will the Minister realise that this is a very exceptional case? About 300,000 of these people are over 80 years of age. Will the Minister take some steps to make it possible for them to have a proper allowance, because, as I understand it, very many of them are living in a state of penury? I think that this is a case in which the right hon. Gentleman might consider the matter to see what can be done generally.
As I said in my main Answer, Parliament has already made provision through the National Assistance schemes for dealing with hardship amongst this class of case, as amongst other classes of cases, and it is clear, in the case of the very old people to whom the hon. Gentleman refers, that the Assistance Board is particularly careful to see whether discretionary additions cannot be made.
Will the right hon. Gentleman bear that reply in mind when he answers Question No. 14?
I will bear in mind the proper Answer to Question No. 14 when I come to Question No. 14.
15. Mr. Thorpe
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many persons aged between 70 and 80, and 80 and upwards, respectively, are not in receipt of old-age pensions by reason of being non-contributory to the National Health Service; and what would be the cost to the Exchequer of giving pensions to each of these two groups of persons.
None, Sir. The National Health Service is not contributory and does not pay old-age pensions. If what the hon. Member has in mind is National Insurance retirement pensions, and on the further assumption that by the Exchequer he means the National Insurance Fund, the figures are £50 million and £40 million a year for the [column 8]370,000 and 280,000 people in the two groups, partially offset by a saving of £24 million to the Exchequer in payments by the National Assistance Board.
Now that the Minister has so clearly understood the information I am seeking to elucidate, are we to assume that for these two categories of age groups the Government have no plans other than to throw them on to National Assistance? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that these people are the real underdogs of the Welfare State? Has he no plans whatever to help them, apart from National Assistance?
The people in this category represent a wide variety of people, some of whom took a repayment of contributions as late age entrants and others of whom had the option of becoming voluntary contributors but decided not to do so. I cannot, therefore, see why one should make a distinction in the help given to them and a distinction in the help given to other unfortunate people in need through the National Assistance Board. I did not wholly like the tone of the hon. Gentleman in the use of the phrase “thrown on National Assistance” , constituting, as it does, a serious reflection on the many people who quite properly exercise their right to draw National Assistance.
Would the Minister not agree that when the Beveridge scheme was originally introduced it was hoped that National Assistance would be a real exception? Since so many people must now regularly draw National Assistance, would the right hon. Gentleman not agree that they are doing so because their pensions are inadequate and that this was never intended when the National Assistance arrangements were set up?
True or not, that has absolutely nothing to do with the original Question, which related, as a matter of definition, to people without National Insurance pensions.
8. Mr. Lipton
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many copies of the official pamphlet entitled Everybody's Guide to National Insurance, dated April 1961, were printed; how many have been sold; and when a new edition will be issued.
One hundred and seventy-five thousand copies of this edition have been printed, and approximately 106,000 have been sold. I have no plans at present for a new edition.
Is it correct to assume that the Minister wants as many people as possible to live long enough to draw their retirement pensions? If so, will he remove from the front cover of the next issue the two smoking characters, one of whom is a teenager with a cigarette in his mouth, and add something about lung cancer and smoking?
Anticipating that supplementary question, I counted the figures on the rather amusing front of the document. It is true, as the hon. Gentleman says, that two figures appear to be smoking, but 17 are not; and I do not think that the two who are smoking constitute any real example or inducement to others to smoke. One looks like a rather bumptious adolescent, and the other looks remarkably like a rather elderly Left-wing intellectual.
10. Mrs. Slater
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how much it would cost to improve the National Assistance Regulations in order to give the special scales of assistance, as applied to blind persons, to those who are severely physically handicapped.
I regret that it is not possible to make such an estimate.
Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that these people who are home-bound—cripples, and those with severe physical disabilities—are as greatly handicapped as those who are blind and need the same extra attention that the blind need? Could he not, in a review, look at the possibility of at least giving to these physically handicapped home-bound people some such special Assistance rates?
I agree that it is very difficult to distinguish between degrees of hardship amongst people with serious physical disabilities of one sort or another, but I doubt whether these special scales really are as important as they were in view of the fact, as I said in answer to an earlier Question, that the Board now exercises its discretionary powers to the full; and that is probably [column 10]a more flexible method than laying down arbitrary scales for a particular disability.
But does not the right hon. Gentleman know that people like officers of local authorities looking after this particular section of people are themselves convinced that these extra rates are absolutely necessary? Could not the right hon. Gentleman collect some information from those doing this kind of work so that he would have knowledge of the persons to whom these rates should be applied?
I do not think that in the really serious cases these special rates would make any difference—because, by way of discretionary additions, the seriously handicapped are almost certainly receiving that sort of amount now. As regards practical experience, while I admire the work done by local authorities, I think that I can say that the National Assistance Board has more comprehensive and national experience than any other of these organisations.
Why does the right hon. Gentleman take this line with regard to the handicapped and a different line with regard to the blind? Does he not realise that, in some cases, these handicapped people are as badly off as are the blind? Why cannot he give them the same consideration?
It was not I who initiated the distinction between the blind and the tuberculous, with their special rates, on the one hand, and the rest; that was a distinction that was made many years ago. All I say is that in these days, when the discretion of the Board is very flexibly used, there is no need to multiply these special rates by creating new ones.
Industrial Diseases (Dupuytrens Contracture)
11. Mr. B. Taylor
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will consider prescribing dupuytrens contracture as an industrial disease.
That is a very brief and unsatisfactory reply, but may I draw the Minister's attention to the fact that there [column 11]are quite a number of these cases—and I believe that the number is growing—most of whom cannot go back to their pre-accident work, who have no assessment for disability in the form of special hardship allowance? Would the right hon. Gentleman consider submitting this question to the Industrial Diseases Sub-Committee for report, with a view to prescription?
I keep the matter of all these diseases under review, but I must say that on the present evidence this complaint does not seem to get anywhere near satisfying either of the conditions of Section 55 (2) of the Industrial Injuries Act, 1946.
But would the right hon. Gentleman promise to refer the matter to the Industrial Diseases Sub-Committee, so that we can have an up-to-date report on what is a very serious matter to those people concerned in the mining industry? In the Mansfield area, I have quite a number of people who are suffering from this disease and cannot go back to their pre-accident work?
In the present state of the evidence, I do not think that it would be either appropriate or in accordance with ordinary practice to submit a disease which does not appear to come anywhere near meeting the conditions of Section 55, but if the hon. Gentleman has any evidence that he would like to send to me, I shall always be very glad to consider it.
12. Mr. B. Taylor
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will state the number of retirement pensioners in the Mansfield area receiving supplementation from the National Assistance Board.
At the end of March, 1962, the number of National Assistance supplements to retirement pension in the area served by the National Assistance Board's office in Mansfield, which extends considerably beyond the town, was 2,995.
18. Mr. Ross
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will state, as a percentage, the number of pensioners who on retirement had earned an addition to their pensions by [column 12]delaying retirement beyond the statutory age in 1951 and 1961, respectively.
Of all pensions awarded in the year to 30th June, 1961, 37 per cent. included increments; the corresponding figure for 1951 was 17 per cent.
The Minister will remember that last week he expressed a certain measure of satisfaction that there was more or less stability in relation to the number of pensioners drawing National Assistance? Is it not surprising that despite this considerable increase in additional earnings, we still have the same number, and does not this point to an inadequacy of the present pension?
No. It points to the steady improvement in the real value of the National Assistance scales.
25. Mrs. Cullen
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will state the number of retirement pensioners in Scotland who were in receipt of a weekly supplement from the National Assistance Board at the end of September and December, 1961 and March, 1962.
The number of National Assistance supplements to retirement pension in Scotland at the dates given were, respectively, 79,779, 81,062 and 81,855.
Does the hon. Lady appreciate that the old people on National Assistance are very much worse off than they were a year ago? The things which have come down in price in the Budget are not the sort of things that old people buy. I do not know who does the shopping for hon. Members opposite, but can they imagine an old woman going out to buy a cabbage for 1s. 6d. or a turnip for a 1s., or a tomato for 6d.? How do they expect old-age pensioners to be able to pay for these things?
The number in Scotland on National Assistance at the latest date is very considerably less than the number on National Assistance in March, 1961. As the hon. Lady is aware, the scale rates are not by any means the whole of the story. Taking an average single householder of retirement age, the average income is just over £4 and not 53s. 6d.
Married Women Contributors
13. Mr. Houghton
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether he will arrange for all married women contributors under the National Insurance scheme who are approaching retirement age to be informed when they have completed the average number of contributions to qualify for the full pension on retirement so that they may avoid paying excess contributions.
Arrangements are already in force whereby any married woman who inquires of her local Pensions and National Insurance office may be advised as to the earliest date on which she can expect to have completed the necessary number of contributions.
Is the Minister aware that, when a married woman in my constituency inquired about this, she was, unhappily, misinformed by the local office? She then brought her problem to me. I could not find the answer right away, and not until I wrote to the Ministry did we get the correct information. That, I suggest, shows that this sort of information should be given without inquiries having to be made and in a form which puts any doubt beyond question as to how a married woman in this situation stands regarding her contributions.
I am aware of the particular case about which the hon. Gentleman was in correspondence with my hon. Friend. On the general issue, married women, with their option to come in or out of the scheme and their freedom from compulsion to contribute, are already in a favoured position. It is doubtful whether it would be right, considering the extra administrative costs, to do what the hon. Gentleman suggests in all cases, whether asked for or not.
14. Mr. Houghton
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what steps he is taking to improve the qualifying conditions and amount of the non-contributory pension for persons over 70 years of age.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his Answer has a very important bearing on Question No. 7? These people over 70 who have been non-contributors are still conditioned to the old means test and are still on the old rate of pension, subject only to a slight improvement on the withdrawal of the tobacco concession. Will the right hon. Gentleman not now do something tangible for the remaining number of these people—only about 135,000 of them—who will not number more than 250,000 as being likely to benefit if the right hon. Gentleman improved their conditions?
No, Sir. These pensions are administered on a means test by the National Assistance Board and the people concerned are, therefore, already looked after and can be more flexibly looked after—as I said when replying to Question No. 7—by the exercise of the Board's discretion. It was never intended that these pensions should continue indefinitely, and the Act provided that people who became 70 after 30th September, 1961, should not become entitled to them at all. This is, therefore, an obsolescent provision.
Unemployment and Sickness Benefit
16. Mr. Lawson
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will state the percentage of the payments from National Insurance made in respect of unemployment benefit and sickness benefit, respectively.
In 1960–61, 3.2 per cent. of the expenditure of the National Insurance Fund was in respect of unemployment benefit and 14.5 per cent. in respect of sickness benefit.
In view of the very small proportion in these two categories, would the Minister not consider providing for them a genuine insurance scheme—separating them from the very large number of old-age pensioners? Will he bear in mind, for example, that when a man falls sick he may have no other income apart from the £2 17s. 6d. paid to him and that this may cause severe hardship? Will the right hon. Gentleman consider viewing these people separately to see what might be done for them?
That would be a very retrograde step from the point of view of the State scheme. The hon. Gentleman will no doubt be aware of the large development that has taken place in employers' sick pay schemes.
17. Mr. Wainwright
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what would need to be added to the present National Assistance scale rate in respect of a husband and wife, who are both blind, to regain the value that the sum had on the date of the announcement of the last increase.
Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise that these unfortunate people should not have their rates decreased in terms of real value? Does he not think that in this affluent society we should be increasing these amounts in real value terms? Since they cannot receive any increments between Budgets, would it not be good idea to review their position every six months so that their rates might be adjusted, a step which would help them to enjoy a better life?
I said in reply to an earlier Question that the amount paid to these singularly unfortunate people, of whom there is a limited number, is watched carefully by the National Assistance Board—not every six months, but the whole time. Any question of what is the special scale rate, particularly in a case of grave misfortune such as that which the hon. Gentleman described, is very nearly an academic point, because it is the duty of the National Assistance Board to look after these people and see that they get what they really need.
Did the Minister say in his original reply that the loss in value was 7s. 1d.? If so, can he say what increase they got last year?
They got the same increase last year as everyone else.
Five shillings, which means that these people are worse off now than they were eighteen months ago. Does the right hon. Gentleman not think that something should be done for them as well as for the others on National Assistance?
First of all, I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's figures of bare scale rates. If he had listened to my earlier Answer, he would know that they are not worse off than they were eighteen months ago but that they are receiving the greatest care and solicitude from the Board.
19. Mr. Ross
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will state in money terms the difference between the average weekly earnings of an adult male worker and the retirement pension payable in respect of a husband and wife at the most recent available date; and if he will give the same figures for October, 1951, October, 1955, and October, 1959, respectively.
The difference in October, 1961, was 214s., and the corresponding figures for 1951, 1955 and 1959 were, respectively, 116s., 158s. and 191s. These figures being, as requested, in money terms do not, of course, reflect either changes in the value of money, or the real relationships between earnings and pensions.
22. Mr. J. Bennett
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance, what increase would be required in the single rate of retirement pension to represent the same proportion of average earnings as it did in April, 1961.
On the basis of the latest available information about current earnings, approximately 1s. 1d. for men and 9d. for women.
May I ask a very simple question? Is the Minister satisfied that the present rate of pension is adequate to meet present-day needs?
As I have already told the House, the present rate of pension is better than at any time before April last year. Therefore, while with good and responsible government one can hope for progressive improvements, the pensioner is a great deal better looked after now than he has ever been before.
Welfare Food Services
20. Mr. Manuel
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance why he expects to recover in 1962–63 £87,000 [column 17]more from the health departments for welfare food services.
Because it is expected that the number of milk token books to be issued in 1962–63 will be greater than in 1961–62.
Can the right hon. Gentleman say, in connection with this agency work of his Department, to how many expectant mothers and children he intends to distribute these welfare foods in 1962–63? Could he say whether a proportion of this added cost to his Department is attributable to payments being made to local government officers in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland who work for his Department?
In reply to the first part of the supplementary question, I cannot give the figures without notice. As to the second part, this is an illustration of the fact that as my Department has done more work it has to receive more pay from the Departments on whose votes these costs are borne.
Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that the difficulty with this assessment is that his Department is so lax in getting up to date? We are dealing in mid-April with figures for 1960. Instead of giving breezy answers to Questions, would the Minister not do something to speed up the work of this Department and get the 1961 figures? Is the Minister not aware that we are having to deal with the figures for 1960, namely, 900,000 expectant mothers and 4 million children, and that we have no opportunity at all of knowing what his Department is catering for in this connection for 1961?
The hon. Gentleman has a perfectly good opportunity, if he wants, of putting a Question on the Paper.
But the information should be available in a report.
21. Mrs. Cullen
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what steps he proposes to take to insulate those on National Insurance benefits from the increased costs consequent on the Budget proposals.
The effect on retail prices of these proposals is not likely to be substantial, and the people to whom the hon. Lady refers are among the main beneficiaries of my right hon. and learned Friend's determination to check inflation.
Does not the Minister think that there is only one solution to this problem, namely, an increase in the National Assistance scales?
The hon. Lady has asked me a Question about the effects of my right hon. and learned Friend's proposals, and I have answered it.
Can the right hon. Gentleman give a forward promise to the old-age pensioners? Will it be before or after Schedule A tax is abolished?
Any promise made from these benches would carry far more weight with pensioners——
—than the 10s unsuccessful bribe which the hon. Gentleman offered at the last election.
Despite that brave speech, the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the old-age pensioners are faced with increased costs of clothing, footwear and household goods, as well as their bag of sweets. In fairness the Chancellor should face this question and give the old-age pensioners an increase in their pensions.
The hon. Gentleman must face the fact that the real value of the pension is higher today than it was at any time before April, 1961. The hon. Gentleman may not like that fact, but it remains a fact.
National Insurance Fund
23. Mr. Wainwright
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what he estimates is the average weekly disbursement from the National Insurance Fund in respect of all National Insurance benefits, allowances, grants, &c.; and by how much in aggregate this would need to be increased to give each £ sterling the value the £ sterling had in November. 1960.
About £21 million and, on the basis of the Retail Prices Index, just over £1 million.
Would the right hon. Gentleman give a little more sympathy to all recipients in the grades which have been mentioned? Does he not think that the Government, especially as they are supposed to be a good Government, ought to apply their sympathy and make certain that every person who draws benefits under this scheme receives a far better rate of pay than he gets at present?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, there have been progressive improvements in the real value of the benefits, and that in practical terms is far more valuable than the verbal sympathy which the hon. Gentleman has expressed.
Does the right hon. Gentleman still think that in this affluent society these people are getting sufficient benefit under this scheme? Why do the Government keep saying that they are looking after these people, when they are neglecting this section of the population while giving great benefits to those who already have too much?
It is untrue to say that the Government are neglecting this section, whose position has steadily improved over the years.
24. Mr. Lawson
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will state, in respect of the contributions of employees, employers and the Exchequer, the increase of their payments into the National Insurance Fund in 1962–63 compared with 1961–62.
On the latest available estimates, the figures are £15 million. £16 million and £2½ million.
Does this not continue the process whereby the cost of paying mainly for the retirement pension is being put on to the contributor? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware, for example, that in the previous year something like £152 million went on to the contributor, employer and employee? This process would seem to be continuing, and the Exchequer is getting away more and more from meeting this large liability.
This is not so. The greater part of the increase in the payments by employers and employees is merely due to the fact that there is a certain time lag in the payment of graduated contributions, which means that in the first year a less amount than a full year's due is paid. In subsequent years, of course, that does not follow. I think it is that which misled the hon. Gentleman.
As was well brought out when we discussed the graduated pension scheme in Standing Committee, the contributors to the graduated pension scheme would never get back anything like the amount of graduated contributions which they paid. In fact, the graduated pension scheme was introduced specifically for the purpose of meeting the flat rate contributions of a large number of old-age pensioners.
I do not think that has much to do with this Question. The fact remains that on the contributions as a whole the contributors get an extremely good bargain.
Coal, Gas and Electricity
26. Mr. Small
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what action is being taken by the National Assistance Board to mitigate hardship which will arise from the projected increases in the cost of coal, gas and electricity.
I have no doubt that, when the time comes, the Board will, as always, take account of all these matters.
I thank the Minister for that Answer, and I hope he will keep it as a promise, because these increases will be real increases which will cause great hardship. Will the Minister fulfil his promise?
Mr. W. Hamilton
When the Board takes into account the increases in price referred to in the Question, will it also take into account the fact that the prices of cars are coming down as a result of the Budget?
All relevant factors will be taken into account.
Rents and Rates
28. Mr. Manuel
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what amount of the £4 million increase in the estimated expenditure of the National Assistance Board represents projected increases in rents and rates in Scotland.
I regret that no such figure is available.
This matter is causing great concern to Scottish Members on this side of the House. Will the Minister have very full consultations with the Secretary of State for Scotland and keep firmly in mind that the Secretary of State has taken power under the new Housing (Scotland) Bill to increase rents to the figure which he thinks fit? Will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that there will be an on-cost to his Department as a result of decisions by the Secretary of State in regard to rents in Scotland?
I can only say that, in the vast majority of cases, the National Assistance Board, in assessing its payments, takes full account of rent and rates, and it will continue to do its duty.
War and Industrial Disabilities
30. Mrs. Castle
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether he will now abolish the upper limit of disregards under the National Assistance Act, 1948, for all payments in respect of war and industrial disabilities.
No, Sir. The upper limit was raised substantially in 1959.
Does not the Minister agree that these payments for industrial injury and war injury are compensation for loss of faculty and enjoyment of life and, as such, ought to be additional to ordinary social security payments such as widows' and old-age pensions? Will he, therefore, reconsider the question as a matter of justice?
Some weight is given to that consideration in the fact that these are, as I have no doubt the hon. Lady knows, the largest of the disregards. On the other hand, the further [column 22]one takes this business of disregards the further one separates entitlement to assistance from the relief of need.
National Health Service Contributions (Expenses)
31. Mr. Millan
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will supply details of how the figure of £1,619,000 to be retained in 1962–63 by his Department in respect of the collection of National Health Service contributions is made up.
The figure of £1,619,000 is the proportionate share of the expenses incurred by my Department in the collection of flat-rate contributions.
If, as the right hon. Gentleman said in reply to a Question from me last week. the additional cost of collecting these contributions is, in fact, very small, why should the National Health Service be deprived of this quite substantial sum of money?
Because it seems reasonable to allocate the cost of collection in proportion with the amounts collected, whether for the National Health Service, on the one hand, or for Industrial Injuries and National Insurance, on the other.
Was there any increase of costs at all to the Minister's Department when the last increase in relation to the National Health Service contribution was made?
A very small one, if any. As I think the hon. Gentleman understands, the point is that when a large sum of money is being collected the fair thing to do is to allocate the cost in proportion to the amount collected.
32. Mr. Prentice
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether he will introduce a system of sweet coupons for retirement pensioners to enable them to buy sweets at pre-Budget prices.
Does the Minister appreciate that most of us on this side would prefer to see a really adequate [column 23]pension rather than devices like tobacco and sweet coupons, but, so long as the pension is so low, does he not recognise that he has an obligation to do something about the loss of pensioners who have to balance their budgets down to the last penny and who often rely on a modest bag of sweets as about the only pleasure in life that they can afford?
I share the hon. Gentleman's dislike of benefits in kind. On the other hand, one must put this in proportion. The pensioner households survey indicates that the pensioner household's consumption of sweets is about 7½. worth a week, and the tax is at the level of 15 per cent.
Has the Minister come to the conclusion that his retirement pensioners will benefit more from the impending Surtax concession than they will suffer from the extra they will have to pay for sweets?
They will certainly benefit very considerably from my right hon. and learned Friend's firm front against inflation.
Since the Ministry puts no reliance on sampling techniques, why does the right hon. Gentleman rely on a sampling technique to find out how old-age pensioners spend their money on foodstuffs? Is he aware that only 1,200 people were sampled out of about 5 million or 6 million old-age pensioners?
The surveys conducted by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour are carried out completely objectively and with professional skill and expertise. They are very different from the one the hon. Gentleman was seeking to rely on last week.