Pensions and National Insurance
Mr. P. Browne
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will give the value of the basic retirement pension in real terms at 31st May, 1962, as compared to the same dates in 1960 and 1961.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (Mrs. Thatcher)
The standard rate of retirement pension at 31st May, 1962, was 57s. 6d.; the equivalent value in real terms at that date of the standard rate payable at 31st May, 1960, was 54s. 5d., and the corresponding figure for 31st May, 1961, was 60s. 9d.
I find myself in some difficulty today in framing my supplementary question. Without wishing to comment on the temporary nature of Ministerial appointments, may I ask my hon. Friend if she will be sure to leave a note for the future Minister of Pensions and National Insurance drawing his or her attention to the debate we had last Friday dealing with the plight of pensioners generally? Can my hon. Friend say, if the last Minister of Pensions and National Insurance was right in saying that the National Assistance rate was a holding operation, there is justification for doing the same for pensioners? Can she give me some idea what the present pension would stand at if it had been tied to the cost of living during the past two years?
I will tell my right hon. Friend, the Minister when I have one, what my hon. Friend has said in the first part of his supplementary question. Had the retirement pension kept pace with the rising cost of living, the 26s. single person rate introduced in October, 1946, would be 47s. 11d. and the married couple rate of 42s. would be 77s. 4d.
2. Mr. W. Hamilton
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance [column 4]what was the percentage increase in the basic retirement pension in each of the two periods June, 1945 to June, 1951, and June, 1951 to June, 1962; and to what extent the purchasing power of the pension was diminished in each period by rising prices.
There was no basic retirement pension in June, 1945. Such a pension was not introduced until October, 1946, under the National Insurance Act of the year. Between that date and June 1951, retail prices rose by about 25 per cent. There was no increase in rates of benefit. The purchasing power of the pension was consequently reduced by 20 per cent. Between June, 1951, and June, 1962, the percentage increase in the rate of the basic retirement pension was 120. As the increase in retail prices over that period was 48 per cent., the purchasing power of the pension increased by 49 per cent.
Is the hon. Lady aware that when the Labour Government came into power the pension, whatever it might have been called, was 10s.? It subsequently went up by very nearly 200 per cent. under the Labour Government. Is the hon. Lady further aware that, whatever might be the records of the respective Governments, the pension has been considerably eroded under both Governments and that therefore, there is an urgent case for reviewing the situation, particularly now, in view of the impending retirement of the Prime Minister himself?
I am aware that there was a 10s. old-age pension, which was on quite a different basis in 1945. I am also aware that the Coalition Government, in which all parties participated, agreed that the pension should be increased to 20s. for a single person and 35s. for a married couple. It was subsequently increased by the Labour Government to 26s. and 42s. and was not further increased until the erosion had amounted to 22.4 per cent.
Does the hon. Lady recollect that one of her right hon. Friends at that time accused the Labour Government, when they put the pension up to 26s., of acting too hastily?[column 5]
I do not remember because I was not here. I wish I had been.
6. Sir Richard Pilkington
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what is his estimate of the number of people who were over 65 years of age when the present contributory pensions scheme was introduced in 1948 and so did not qualify for a pension; and how many there are today.
We have no means of knowing how many people over age in 65 in July, 1948, were prevented from qualifying for retirement pensions solely by that fact, since many of them would at some time have had an earlier opportunity of becoming insured as voluntary contributors under the Contributory Old Age Pensions scheme. We estimate that there are about 330,000 men and women living today who were over age 65 in July, 1948, and who are not eligible for National Insurance retirement pensions.
Sir Richard Pilkington
While paying tribute to the excellent record of my hon. Friend's ex-chief, may I ask her to convey to her new chief the desirability of helping this small but very important part of the nation?
I will gladly join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to J. Boyd-Carpenteran outstanding Minister who was superlative even by the best of standards. I should have thought that Members of all parties would have paid tribute to the outstanding Parliamentary skill of my right hon. Friend. I will, of course, convey the second part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question to my next chief, but I would point out that there is very little point in saying, on the one hand, that to get the pension as of right one should contribute to it and, on the other hand, “Never mind whether you contributed or not, you will get it in any case.” That seems quite contradictory.
Can the hon. Lady tell us how many of the 330,000 are receiving National Assistance because they are not getting a pension?
No, I cannot tell the hon. Member that. If he will put down a Question I will do my best to get the information, but many of these people have private resources or occupational pensions.[column 6]
Unemployment Benefit (Fishermen and Merchant Seamen)
5. Mr. Prentice
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether he will introduce regulations to enable unemployment benefit to be paid to fishermen and other seamen while taking approved pilots' courses, on the same terms as members of the Merchant Navy who take other forms of training.
While the unemployment benefit arrangements for merchant seamen may be a little unusual, can the hon. Lady suggest any reason why there should be this distinction between those who are members of the Merchant Navy and those who take pilots' course? Ought not this to be looked into again to remove the sense of unfairness which exists?
As the hon. Gentleman is aware, the arrangements made for members of the Merchant Navy were an anomaly and, as such, I do not think they should be extended. They amount, in fact, to using unemployment insurance to subsidise the training of people in the Merchant Navy.
Graduated Pensions Scheme
7. Mr. Houghton
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many employees have now contracted out of the graduated pensions scheme; how many applications are still under consideration; and whether that from the building industry is one of them.
About 4,457,905 employees are now contracted out of the graduated pension scheme; 32 applications are under consideration. No general application from the building industry is among them.
8. Mr. Houghton
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what was the total amount of graduated contributions received during the first year of the operation of the scheme; and how much was paid out in graduated scheme benefits.
Final figures are not yet available, but it is estimated that such contributions amounted to about £148 million. Benefit payments will, of course, have been very small.[column 7]
National Insurance and National Assistance
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether the current Government studies designed to lead to a long-term incomes policy include consideration of National Insurance and National Assistance rates, and the need to relate these payments to the general level of wages and salaries.
The rates of these benefits are kept under constant review and, as the hon. Member knows, the House approved on Friday draft Regulations increasing the scales of National Assistance. The matters referred to in the last part of the Question are, as has often been explained, among those which are taken into account.
In case these talks on a long-term incomes policy lead somewhere, is it not important that the next Minister, whoever he or she may be, should be represented at the talks so as to stick up for the pensioners? In doing so, will the Government bear in mind the long-standing Labour Party proposal for an annual review of rates of all National Insurance benefits so that they can keep pace with increases in the cost of living or with the level of incomes?
The pension has more than kept pace with the rising cost of living. It seems to me that part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question is concerned with my former Minister and part with the next Minister.
Is the hon. Lady aware that since the last announcement of increases the pension for married couples has not kept pace with the rising cost of living but has lost 6s. 9d.?
I am aware that it is nothing like the amount lost in percentage terms between 1946 and 1951.
10. Mr. Dalyell
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what provision is made under his regulations for those suffering from complicated diseases of the chest as a result of work [column 8]in coalmines but who are not registered as pneumoconiotics.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (Mr. Richard Sharples)
In the case of people suffering from a disease not scheduled under the Industrial Injuries Act and which has the effect of making them unfit for work, the provision is by way of sickness benefit.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that many miners are extremely unhappy about the partiality of the boards and would prefer the X-ray plates to be sent to some impartial body such as the South-Wales Pneumoconiotic Unit?
I think that raises a somewhat wider question than that on the Order Paper.
Surely the Parliamentary Secretary must be aware of the great dissatisfaction amongst miners, steel workers and others who suffer from pneumoconiosis at the decisions of these boards compared with the decisions of specialists in hospitals and infirmaries throughout the country? Surely the Minister must be ready to try to do something to alleviate the misery of those who are told that they are not suffering from pneumoconiosis?
The determination of entitlement is made under the Industrial Injuries Act and the Minister has no influence over the decisions of the boards.
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that many on this side of the House who have been interested in these cases because of your experience as branch secretaries fully realise that many men suffering from emphysema, bronchitis and other chest diseases ought to have better medical examinations than they have at present? Could he look into this question, or ask his future chief to look into it, and make certain that these unfortunate miners receive fair judgment and fair play?
This matter was considered in great detail by the Beney Committee, and also by the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council.[column 9]
11. Mr. Hayman
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will now increase the amount that many be earned, without deduction from pension, by retirement and widow pensioners.
May I ask the hon. Lady to inform her next chief that the cost of living has risen by 9.5 per cent. since the amounts were last altered and to request him to bring the allowance up to date and, as far as widows are concerned, to abolish them altogether? [Laughter.]
Not even the Prime Minister could do that.
The Present Government have increased the earnings limit by 30s. for retirement pensioners and 40s. for widowed mothers. There is a Question later on the Order Paper relating to the earnings scale and the cost of living.
12. Mr. Wainwright
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will estimate the cost of the National Insurance Fund of the abolition of the earnings rule as applied to retirement pensioners.
About £100 million a year immediately.
Does the hon. Lady realise that this takes a tremendous amount of money from retired persons? Does the hon. Lady not think that consideration must be given to increasing the amount allowed under the earnings rule so that not so much is taken from these people and they can keep what they earn?
I will consider later in conjunction with others what the hon. Members has said, but I could not possibly undertake to put forward on my own account any proposal for the complete abolition of the retirement rule. That would be a most unwise step to take. It would prevent many people from earning increments on their basic pensions and, at a time when we have an increasing number of old folk, would [column 10]result in reducing the age of retirement and the age at which a person would draw a pension.
Is my hon. Friend aware that Professor Cairncross in a Minority Report to the Phillips Committee advocated exactly what the hon. Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) has asked, namely, the total abolition of the earnings rule on economic grounds? Is she aware that, as a reward for his perspicacity, Professor Cairncross now holds the position of principal economic adviser to the Treasury? Would my hon. Friend undertake to consult Professor Cairncross again about this important matter of the abolition of the earnings rule?
I think that my hon. Friend is mistaken about the Department which this afternoon is answering Questions. My main worry is that the hon. Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Wainwright), who asked the initial Question might become the economic adviser to the Treasury.
16. Mr. Ross
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what change would require to be made in the earnings rule scale to make up for the depreciation in the value of the £ sterling since March 1960.
I assume that what the hon. Member has in mind is the figure for the real value of earnings which can be obtained without any reduction in pension resulting. On this assumption the figures are 6s. 8d. in respect of retirement and widow's pension, and 9s. 6d. for widowed mother's allowance.
When will the Government do something about it?
If the Government were to take the hon. Member's yardstick, which is the Index of Retail Prices, the earnings limit at the moment for retirement pensioners would be only 57s. against 70s. and for widowe mothers 86s. against 100s.
That is quite unreal. The Government made a promise in March 1960, when they raised the limit, but by erosion as a result of the cost of living these people are now 6s. 8d. and 9s. 6d. [column 11]worse off. When will the Government make up these amounts and keep their promise?
By the hon. Member's own yardstick they are very much better off than they would have been under a Labour Government
15. Mr. Ross
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what is the aggregate weekly disbursement to all recipients of National Insurance benefits for the latest available date; and what would require to be added to that sum to give it the real value that that sum had on the day when the last announcement of National Insurance benefit increases was made.
About £21½ million and £1½ million.
Does the hon. Lady agree that this gives an idea of the extent of the robbery of the poor as a result of the Government's failure to keep down the cost of living? Will she invite at least one Minister whom we know will be in his place for at least a week, namely, the Prime Minister, to attend to this matter?
As the hon. Member knows, retirement pensions are paid to all people who have contributed, regardless of their means, and therefore it is not fair to say that this is robbing the poor. If we were to make good the 6 per cent. decrease since April, 1961, it would mean immediately the expenditure of an extra £13 million by the Exchequer and an extra 6d. a side on the weekly stamp.
I am not interested in April, 1961. I am interested in the real value on the date when the announcement was made and the fact that on that basis the extent of the present suffering is even greater and the figures should be even higher.
And therefore the contribution which the ordinary taxpayer and contributor would have to make. There would be, for the hon. Member's date, an extra £16 million to be paid by the Exchequer to the Fund and there would be an extra 8d. a side on the weekly stamp.[column 12]
17. Mr. Millan
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what would require to be added to the adult death grant to allow for the decrease in the purchasing power of the £ sterling since the announcement of the last increase of that benefit.
About £2 17s. 6d.
Whatever the Government may claim about other benefits, may I ask the hon. Lady whether this is not one case where it is obvious that the grant has not kept pace with the rising costs? The original death grant was £20 and the present grant is £25. Would the Ministry look at the whole question of death grants, including the question of those disqualified from receiving it?
The death grant has been raised only once to my knowledge since it was introduced in 1948. The hon. Member has taken the cost-of-living index, which is a curious one to take when applied to the death grant. I will, of course, communicate what he has said to the appropriate quarters.
Pensions and Earnings
18. Mr. Millan
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will state as a percentage the relationship of the basic pension to the average weekly male earnings in 1946, 1955 and the latest available date in 1962, respectively.
For a single person, 21½, 17½ and 18½ and for a married couple, 35, 30 and 30. The latest available figures are for October, 1961.
Do these figures not demonstrate that the percentages are lower than they were in 1946 and that the claims made by the Government that pensioners would share in rising standards have not been substantiated? Is not this the real test that we should apply to National Insurance benefits?
The actual erosion from 21½ per cent. to 18 per cent. for a single person and from 35 per cent. to 30 per cent. for the married couple took place during the years 1946 to 1951, but since then the relationship has remained constant.[column 13]
19. Mrs. Braddock
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what would require to be added to the current pension and allowances of a widowed mother with two children to make up for the decreased purchasing power of the £ sterling since the last increase of insurance benefits was announced.
About 7s. 11d.
Will the hon. Lady look at the position of widowed mothers? Is she aware that they are often in great difficulty? They do not understand percentages. All they understand is the cost of living—the cost of things they have to buy. They are in difficulty unless they are able to obtain employment. Which often leaves the family without a responsible person to look after it. Is it not time that something was done for them?
I can understand the hon. Lady's special sympathy for widowed mothers. As she is aware, the Government, under the National Insurance Scheme, have given special preference to the widowed mother to the extent that the widow with one child has benefited by 44 per cent., the widow with two children by 58 per cent., the widow with two children by 58 per cent. and the widow with three children by 71 per cent. more, in real terms, over 1951.