Pensions And National Insurance
Pensions and Benefits (Applications)
2. Mr. Hale
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether he is aware of the difficulty confronting applications for Service disability pensions and industrial injury benefit in providing the cost of medical evidence on their behalf; and what action he will take to assist them.
The Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (Mr. Niall Macpherson)
In my view the interests of these applicants are safeguarded by the arrangements under which medical evidence can be obtained for the awarding authorities or by them without cost to the applicants.
If such arrangements exist, will the right hon. Gentleman take steps to publicise them, because in case after case in my experience applicants have not found it possible to provide medical evidence? How does someone in Oldham in a byssinosis case or a disability case provide the funds to bring a doctor to testify in London on his or her behalf?
I am informed that the Industrial Injuries Commissioner may allow at his discretion fees for a report or for an attendance, as well as travelling expenses.
4. Mr. Dugdale
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether he will consider including Dupuytren's contracture in the Schedule of Prescribed Industrial Diseases.[column 906]
Mr. N . Macpherson
No, Sir. On present evidence this condition in no way meets the requirements for prescription as set out in Section 55 (2) of the Industrial Injuries Act, 1946.
Is the Minister aware that the T.U.C. thinks quite otherwise? It says that this disease, which arises from the tight holding of instruments such as hammers, is directly due to the employment of persons who hold such instruments in their work and it should be placed on the Schedule. Will the Minister look at this matter again and consult further with the T.U.C.?
I am told that this is a condition which occurs in 1 per cent. to 2 per cent. of adults from 40 to 50. Non-manual more than manual workers are affected.
Will the Minister consider the matter again? Is he aware that even when his medical officers are satisfied that it is due to injury by process, there is no possibility of benefit being made obtainable for the injured workman, and it is very difficult, even though it is suspected that an actual accident has occurred, ever to prove it because accidents are repeated at such frequent intervals in the industry concerned?
I cannot deal with the second part of the supplementary question because that would concern evidence in a particular case, but the hon. Member will be aware of the provisions of Section 55 (2), which lay down the circumstances in which a condition of this kind can be prescribed—which, broadly speaking, are that it must be the risk of a particular occupation. Even if we accepted that in some cases the damage had an occupational origin, those cases would have to be differentiated from cases arising from other causes. Given that condition, I am afraid I have no evidence at present which would warrant me referring this matter to the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council, but, if the hon. Member has further evidence, I shall gladly consider it.
Service Disability Pensions and Industrial Injuries Benefits
7. Mr. Hale
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance in how many cases in the last 12 months, to the [column 907]most recent date for computation, application has been made to his Department for an ex gratia award or payment to an applicant for Service disability pension or of industrial injury or disease benefit who has failed in his application but has produced new facts.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (Lieut.-Commander S. L. C . Maydon)
As regards war pensions, it is not possible to identify those representations about entitlement to Service disability pensions or about the assessment of them which explicitly of implicitly ask for an ex gratia award on the grounds of new facts, but 1,290 final awards have been re-opened under special sanction in the year ended 31st March, 1962.
The question of ex gratia awards does not arise under the Industrial Injuries scheme.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that we are now getting case after case of men who have had awards for disability pensions based on 20 per cent., 25 per cent., or a 35 per cent. assessment of disability? I put a case to him last week in which a man has been out of work for two and a half years, registered for a disablement pension, but he was told that nothing can be done by the Ministry of Labour. He was told that assessment of disability by the Ministry is 30 per cent. Is it not time that something was done, some liaison established, and some steps taken, to deal with cases of this kind?
I cannot agree with the contention made by the hon. Member. The great majority—1,223 out of 1,290—of these cases were First World War statutory final awards and represent a very small proportion of the total number of such awards. To contend that the Ministry is withholding justice from these men is quite beyond the facts.
Mr. Hector Hughes
Does the original Answer about the numbers include the number of old people suffering from this disparity in Scotland as well as in England? Does the Minister realise that the present system, instead of diminishing the disparity between the well-to-do and the poor, is increasing that disparity? Will he take steps to see that there is a fair system substituted for the present unfair system?[column 908]
In answer to the first part of that supplementary question, the total number of final awards which were reopened—that is the figure of 1,290—includes those from Scotland. The second part of the supplementary question goes very much further than the subject of this Question.
8. Mr. H. Hynd
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what arrangements are being made to pay unemployment benefit to workers who are unemployed for two working days during Christmas week.
Mr. N. Macpherson
I understand that the hon. Member has in mind difficulties which may arise from the effect of certain guaranteed week agreements, but this is not a matter in which I can intervene. The terms of these agreements are a matter for the parties concerned, and it is for the independent adjudicating authorities to determine their effect upon claims for unemployment benefit.
As the Minister knows the case I have in mind, will not he agree that it is very unfortunate that because of a complicated technicality in the adjudicator's award these men will lose unemployment benefit for two days at Christmas, just at the time when they most need it, and the same will happen in respect of New Year's Day? Is there not a way of getting around the adjudicator's award, or of putting the matter right in some other way?
Yes, but this is the effect of this guarantee agreement. There is nothing to prevent men on short time during Christmas week, or any other week in which a holiday occurs, getting unemployment benefit subject to the conditions of the agreement, which can be negotiated and re-negotiated.
I do not think the right hon. Gentleman should shelter behind the agreement. It was the adjudicator's award, not the agreement.
That does not seem to be a question.
11. Mr. Prentice
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will initiate a new study into the adequacy of the present level of unemployment benefit, in view of the rising [column 909]level of unemployment; what percentage of those receiving unemployment benefit is also in receipt of National Assistance payments; and whether he will take steps to introduce an improved scale of unemployment benefit.
Mr. N. Macpherson
In reply to the first and last parts of the hon. Member's Question. I would refer him to what I said towards the end of my speech in the debate on 26th November. I estimate that rather less than 20 per cent. of those receiving unemployment benefit are also in receipt of National Assistance payments.
Will the Minister confirm that present unemployment benefits for a single man are less than one-fifth of average weekly earnings and, for a married man with two children, still less than two-fifths? Will he confirm that the ratios are smaller than they were in the 1930s and a great deal smaller than unemployment benefit paid in most other European countries? Does he not think this an urgent matter in view of the facts of rising unemployment and payments under hire-purchase agreements and mortgages, which play a big part in many family budgets? There is a real crisis here which he should do something about.
I would not disagree with the figures the hon. Member has given, but we have to compare like with like in these matters. The figures for earnings are gross. From them have to be deducted taxation, insurance contributions and the like, but in any case I do not think it would be possible to consider unemployment benefit in isolation, and certainly not apart from sicknes benefit.
That is not a satisfactory answer at all, because in the 'thirties we had deductions taken from gross wages. As shown by a graph published in the Observer, yesterday, the unemployed or sick man has a standard of poverty which is much worse than it was in the thirties. It is shocking that an unemployed or sick man should get benefit which is only 9 per cent. of the average earnings in the country.
This is the time for questions, not speeches.[column 910]
12. Mr. Prentice
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will introduce legislation to restore the provisions of Section 62 of the National Insurance Act, 1946, in view of the increase in long-term unemployment.
Mr. N. Macpherson
No, Sir. I would remind the hon. Member that following the lapse of the temporary provision made in Section 62 of the 1946 Act, improvements were made in the insurance provisions which enabled unemployment benefit to be paid as of right for up to 19 months.
Will the Minister confirm that in most cases unemployment benefit is payable for only 30 weeks, which is the standard arrangement, but a growing number of unemployed are out of work for a longer period? In view of the long period of unemployment and inadequate rates of unemployment benefit, does not the Minister agree that it is intolerable to impose on top of that a means test after so short a period?
The position is that, on top of the 180 basic days, by contributions over a period of years men and women can earn unemployment benefit for up to 19 months.
30. Mr. Small
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will estimate the total amount paid out in Scotland in 1961 in respect of unemployment benefit and in National Assistance supplements to unemployment benefit, respectively.
33. Mr. J. Hill
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how much has been paid out in the first six months of this year in Scotland in respect of unemployment benefit and National Assistance supplements to unemployed persons, respectively.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)
In 1961, in Scotland, about £6,840,000 was paid in unemployment benefit, and about £390,000 in National Assistance supplement to unemployment benefit. In respect of the first six months of 1962, the corresponding figures were £4,570,000 and £220,000.
Does the hon. Lady recognise that these figures reveal that [column 911]there should now be an increase in the straight unemployment benefit; and that the National Assistance supplement is now becoming standard practice when people are off their official earnings and on to the requirement of the service?
As Niall Macphersonmy right hon. Friend has already said, I think that only about one person in five of those in receipt of unemployment benefit is now receiving National Assistance. National Assistance is meant for this kind of contingency. Those suddenly faced with misfortune should be able to get extra help, and National Assistance does, indeed, act in that way.
Is the hon. Lady aware that if she looks again at the figures she has quoted she will find that the figures for Scotland are not one in five? And if she will look further at the figures of those unemployed for over four weeks in Scotland she will find that the number is probably one in two.
Will the hon. Lady point out to her right hon. colleagues in the Government that, as a result of Government encouragement, there has been a considerable increase in hire-purchase commitments, which can have a very serious effect on a man when he becomes unemployed?
I doubt whether hire-purchase commitments have been encouraged in that particular way by the Government, but these are factors that are taken into account for special grant by the National Assistance Board.
10. Mr. Lipton
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many supplementary grants are being made by the Brixton and Kennington area offices of the National Assistance Board; what is the total value of such grants; how much of this total is in respect of rent; and what were the corresponding figures last year.
At 25th September last, the number of weekly National Assistance allowances payable in this area as supplements to non-contributory old-age pensions and as supplements to retirement pensions and other National Insurance benefits was 7,137, compared with 7,064 [column 912]at the corresponding time in 1961. I regret that the remainder of the information asked for is not available.
Will the hon. Lady explain how it is that, whereas it is known how many grants are being made, apparently no total is kept to show what those grants amount to? Is it not rather curious that, in a comparatively small area like this, records are not kept to indicate the total amount paid out weekly and how much of that amount is in respect of rent? Why should these figures not be available?
Figures are not available for particular areas because the figures are taken for the country as a whole from a 2½ per cent. sample. Figures are not kept separately for rent on an absolute basis because this stems back to the basis on which needs for National Assistance are assessed, and rent is part of the need. It is the difference between needs and resources which is the amount of grant given.
Could not the Ministry give us the average calculation taken into account in respect of rent in the London area? That certainly would help us.
If the hon. Member will put down a Question on that, I shall try to do so.
22. Mr. Wilkins
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many supplements to retirement pensions are currently made in the area served by the National Assistance Board offices in Bristol; and what was the comparable figure a year ago.
The figure at 25th September last, which is the latest available, was 14,369 compared with 13,991 a year before.
In view of this very substantial increase in the number of people applying for supplementary benefit through National Assistance offices in Bristol, and as this appears to be nation-wide in view of the fact that 1¾ million people are having to resort to National Assistance benefits, would not the hon. Lady suggest to her right hon. Friend that it is time that there was a review of basic insurance benefits, especially of old-age pension and unemployment benefits? As her right hon. Friend quoted a figure of 20 per cent. [column 913]unemployed, which the hon. Lady seemed to indicate was rather small, and as many of these unemployed have had to apply for additional benefit from the National Assistance Board, is it not time that consideration was given to increasing the basic payment—or do we have to wait until just two months before the next General Election, as usual?
The figure is 378 more than the previous year, and part of that is due to increasing the National Assistance scale rates and therefore making more people eligible to get the extra help which they need.
Industrial Injuries Scheme (Disablement Benefit)
13. Mr. Oliver
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether he is aware of the disparity in a large number of cases between the pre- and post-accident earnings of injured workmen within the provisions of the Industrial Injuries Act, notwithstanding the addition of the special hardship allowance; and whether he will take steps to ensure that earnings plus allowances after injury approximate more closely to earnings before the accident.
Disablement benefit under the Industrial Injuries scheme is based primarily on loss of faculty and it follows that in any particular case it may be either more or less than any earnings lost. Special hardship allowance provides an additional measure of compensation for loss of occupation in certain cases, but subject to maximum figures designed to preserve the general principle of the scheme. My right hon. Friend has no proposals for legislation in this field.
Would the Minister be good enough to see if the Government can get any information on this problem from the employers or the trade unions? Is the Minister aware that, under the computation of loss, many highly paid workers who meet with a minor injury, but one sufficient to present a man going back to his original job, lose between £5 and £8 a week when resuming their work, because they cannot go back to the old job as a result of the minor injury? This is a very serious matter for a large number of workmen, particularly for injured miners.[column 914]
That is a very much wider question. I shall certainly look at it and write to the hon. and learned Member to let him know the results of my investigations.
Is it the case, as it was when the last Ministry Report was published, that something like 90 per cent. of the special hardship allowance is being paid at the maximum rate? Does that not indicate that the average amount of earnings lost is far in excess of the rate of special hardship allowance?
At the latest date for which figures are available—31st October, 1961—113,000 allowances were in payment. That was the total, and 99,000 were at the maximum rate.
Graduated Pensions Scheme
14. Mr. McKay
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how much the graduated pension would be improved for individuals with £12 and £15 wages, respectively, if the contribution for this purpose were raised above the £9 limit from 4¼ per cent. to 5 per cent.; and, if the 5 per cent. contribution were continued up to a wage of £20, thereafter reducing to 4 per cent. and above £30 to 3 per cent., what would be the graduated pension for the man with £20, £30, £40, £50 and £100.
It is not possible to answer the hon. Member's Question without knowing on what terms benefit would be calculated if graduated contributions and the liable earnings range were extended in the way stated.
I am very surprised at the Answer, because with a little work the whole Question could have been answered very simply. I admit that it means work, but it can be worked out. If instead of the existing position the graded contribution were raised by 1s. for both men and women, making men pay 8s. 8d. and women pay 7s. 8d., an income would result which would provide 74 per cent. of all basic benefits in the scheme. Is it not true that the graded contribution also works into the ordinary insurance scheme? Is it not true also that there is a tremendous balance of money coming from the contributions [column 915]to the graded pensions which the Government are using to finance the scheme altogether? Does not the hon. Lady agree that it is time that the Government realised the conditions which exist in the country and provided a better basic benefit in future for everybody?
The hon. Gentleman not only has a genius for cramming a great deal into the written part of the Question but into his supplementary questions as well. It is quite true that graduated contributions go into the main National Insurance Fund. I have tried to follow the points made in the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question. I assure him that it is not for lack of work that we cannot find the answers. We cannot always produce calculations from his own starting point.
Because of the answers given, I want to notify the hon. Lady that I shall raise this on the Adjournment.
15. Mr. Frank Allaun
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will estimate the approximate additional number of those contracting out of the Government's graduated pensions scheme in the next 12 months.
No such estimate is possible, but it may help the hon. Member to know that in the last three months some 14,042 employees have been contracted out.
Is the hon. Lady aware that because the Government's scheme has been such a rotten one for the pensioners it has proved a highly profitable one for the life assurance companies and that their profits for 1962 are estimated to be an all-time record, even greater than in previous years?
If they are an all-time record, Reginald Maudlingthe Chancellor of the Exchequer will be doing very well in taxation with which to subsidise the National Insurance scheme.
When will the Minister be able to tell us what effect this wholesale contracting out has on the basic finances of the scheme?
By the end of December we shall have transferred the information on 30 million cards to their [column 916]separate insurance records. I am afraid not before March.
18. Mr. Wainwright
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will give the estimated number of men and women, respectively, who are now members of the graduated pension scheme.
It is estimated that the average numbers of men and women contributing to the graduated pension scheme in any week are very broadly of the order of 9 million and 2 million respectively.
Is not the hon. Lady surprised that so few women are in this scheme? Could she tell the House the number of women who have contracted out of the scheme, and also the number of men who, because their earnings are less than £9 a week, cannot hope to be members of the scheme?
The earnings of many of the women are below £9 a week because they are on part-time work only. [Hon. Members: “No” ]
36. Mr. Houghton
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether, in view of the rise in average male earnings above £15 a week since 1959, he will raise the maximum earnings upon which graduated contributions are payable.
Mr. N. Macpherson
I have no power to do so under present legislation, but I shall bear the hon. Gentleman's suggestion in mind when legislation to change the level of benefits and contributions is being considered.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he need not be grateful to me for making any such suggestion? He will have to take this into consideration when making an increase in the flat-rate pension after his “close review” . Is the Minister really in the muddle he conveys to the House on this matter? Has he any clear idea where he is going?
The hon. Gentleman asked a Question about graduated contributions rather than about the flat-rate contributions—unless, perhaps, he was referring to the contracted-out ones.[column 917]
Is the Minister aware that he has to milk the graduated contribution in order to pay the flat-rate benefit, and will, therefore, have to raise the graduated contribution to finance an increase in the flat-rate benefit? Does he not see the relationship between the two?
I am well aware that, at the present time, the graduated contribution makes a general contribution to the National Insurance Scheme; and that, even so, the whole benefit is a very good bargain indeed.
16. Mr. Frank Allaun
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what would be the cost of increasing the retirement pension by £1 1s. 5d. a week.
If the increase applied to all retirement pensions but to no other benefits, about £310 million a year immediately, rising by 1981–82 to about £430 million.
Is the hon. Lady aware that both the T.U.C. and the Labour Party are now committed to this sum as a minimum increase, that we are determined to get it, and that if the Government do not give a similar increase before the General Election they will get rough treatment from the electorate, and deservedly so?
The figure of £1 1s. 5d. is a new one to me and one which I have not been able to calculate from any well-known premises.
Is the hon. Lady aware that it is the average national rent allowance which is given to those on the £2 17s. 6d. National Assistance scale, to which both the T.U.C. and the Labour Party are now committed by their annual conferences?
If the hon. Gentleman studies it, he will find that that is not quite true. The rent allowance rose by 1s. 5d., but I do not think that it gives the figure which the hon. Gentleman thinks it gives.
25. Mr. J. Bennett
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what would require to be added today to the retirement pension of a married retired pensioner to maintain the ratio [column 918]that sum bore to the average weekly earnings of manual workers, when it was announced in November, 1960, as the new proposed pension rate.
28. Mr. Ross
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance, by how much the pensions of a married retired pensioner would have had to be raised to keep step with the increase in the earnings of adult male workers in manufacturing and certain other industries from the date of announcement of the last pension increase up to April, 1962.
Mr. N. Macpherson
About 7s. 1d.
Will the Minister, in view of his reply—I ask this more in hope than anything else—take immediate steps to bridge the gap which has just been mentioned?
I have dealt with this question in replies to earlier supplementary questions.
The Minister may well have dealt with the questions but he has not dealt with the problem. This 7s. 1d. is to be denied these pensioners every week. Is it not time, in view of the time-lag already announced which will take place before the increases are paid, that an increase was announced?
I would remind hon. Members opposite that the level of pensions is now still a good deal higher in real terms than it was before they were raised on the last occasion.
Mr. P. Browne
Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are some of us on this side who would dislike intensely the pension to be raised immediately before the election, which would appear to be a bribe to the electors? Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the depreciation in pensions since the last increase, and will he please look sympathetically at the suggestion that he should make an announcement in the fairly near future?
I shall take note of what my hon. Friend says.
27. Mr. Ross
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will state the financial gap between single flat-rate pension then payable and the average weekly earnings of manual male [column 919]workers in manufacturing industries in October, 1956, October, 1959, and April, 1962, respectively.
Mr. N. Macpherson
In money terms, the differences at these dates were; respectively, £10 5s. 7d., £11 11s. 3d., and £13 6s. 4d. In percentage terms, the differences in 1956 amounted to 83.7 per cent. of average earnings, and the differences in 1959 and 1962 were a little less—82.2 per cent. in both cases.
Would the right hon. Gentleman agree that those figures give the actual financial hardship of stepping down from earnings to these benefits? Does he appreciate that this country seems to be doing less well in this respect than any other part of Europe, and would he take this into account in this mythical “close review” of which we hear so much?
In making comparisons with other countries one has to bear many considerations in mind, and in this instance we are taking the worst case. Only one out of 10 of those claiming retirement pension is a single man. As I have said, the comparison is not on all fours. To make an exact comparison, we should have to consider what a person receives in basic benefit, plus his increments, his graduated pension as it builds up, and any occupational benefits, and, on the other side, we should have to deduct the various expenses that have to be met from earnings.
Is the Minister aware that we would stop asking all these questions if he would only say what he intends to do about the level of retirement pensions? The right hon. Gentleman says that he has this matter under close review; would he kindly say when that review will be completed, and when he hopes to say something about it?
I realise well that the Opposition would stop asking all these questions, for the time being, if I made any announcement.
32. Mr. Lawson
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what is the present value of the single adult retirement pension expressed in terms of 1946 prices.
Mr. N. Macpherson
On the basis of the Retail Prices Index linked, for the [column 920]period before June, 1947, with the Cost of Living Index, about 31s. 6d.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his Answer means that there has been an increase in real purchasing power of about 5s. 6d.? After 16 years of prosperity, is it not absurd that old-age pensioners are getting only some 5s. and a few coppers more than they got, in effect, in 1946?
We think in terms of existing values rather than previous values. The fact is that since that time there has been an increase of 21 per cent. in real value, and whether we look at it as 5s. 6d. at 1946 prices or 10s. at current prices does not very much matter.
Are not these prices given in relation to the general price index, and are they not wholly false when one considers the true value of pensions in terms of the things that pensioners spend their money on?
It has to be remembered that pensioners are now drawn from all sections of the community. I should say that if we did construct a special pension index it might well prove to be not as favourable to the pensioners as the existing one.
How can the right hon. Gentleman say that when, in relation to the actual basic pension, rent, which must first be paid by pensioners, is one-third of the pension but is only given one-tenth weightage in the Retail Prices Index?
The hon. Gentleman knows that rent can be taken into account by the National Assistance Board if there are no other resources to meet it. That, surely, is his answer.
Widows (Earnings Rule)
17. Mrs. Slater
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance by how much, in total, the pensions of widows were reduced last year by the application of the earnings rule.
21. Mrs. Braddock
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how much in total was withheld from the allowances due to widowed mothers during 1961 by application of the earnings rule.[column 921]
Mr. N. Macpherson
About £7 million, of which about £2 million relate to widowed mother's allowance.
Would the right hon. Gentleman look at this in the light of the hardship which the earnings rule causes to folks who most need its abolition? In view of the situation of these people, particularly widowed mothers, would it not be a charitable gesture on the part of the Government at least to review the whole situation and revise the legislation so that these people could have some justice done to them?
I am not certain that I agree with the hon. Lady that this would benefit folks who need it most. The National Insurance Advisory Committee has said that it would prefer to see any additional benefit for widowed mothers going to increasing the basic allowance for the mother and her children rather than to the abolition of the rule.
Is the Minister aware that this matter is causing great concern in the country? I was at three of the recent by-elections and this matter was mentioned to me by many people when I was on their doorsteps. Is it not time that this matter was looked into, instead of the Government saving out of the difficulties which these widowed mothers are in?
I do not think that that is what is being done. After all, the whole concept of the National Insurance scheme is that benefits are provided for people whose earnings are interrupted or have ceased. It is consistent with that that there should be an earnings rule for widows and widowed mothers.
Why has the Minister changed his mind about this? When he was a back bencher he said that a million or two did not matter so long as it gave justice to widows and widowed mothers. Now he has his chance. When is he going to take it?
Perhaps I have learned wisdom and a good many things since then.
20. Mrs. Braddock
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance by how much the present earnings limit for [column 922]widowed mothers would have to be raised to make up for the loss in the value of the £ sterling between the date of the announcement of the last change and 19th June, 1962.
Mr. N. Macpherson
On the basis of the Retail Prices Index, 9s. 9d.
Is not that ample justification for raising the earnings rule limit for women? There does not seem to be an argument against it. Will the Minister see if it is possible to increase the earnings limit in order to give to these widows the amount that they were receiving previously?
As I have already said, this is a matter that we are keeping under close review. I would, however, point out that the hon. Lady has chosen rather selective figures, because 19th June was when the highest point was reached in the Retail Prices Index.
Workmen's Compensation Act
19. Mr. Wainwright
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will give the number of persons who were injured between the period of 1924 and 1948 and are at the present time receiving payment under the Workmen's Compensation Act; and what was the total annual amount of benefits paid up to the latest convenient date.
It is estimated that some 20,000 persons injured between 1924 and 1948 are at present receiving weekly payments of compensation. The total annual amount is not known.
Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that there are many men who were injured in this period who are not receiving a penny? They were permanently disabled, having lost an eye, an arm or a leg. Why do not the Government take steps to ensure that these people receive the same benefits as they would have been entitled to if they had been in the 1948 scheme?
These old schemes are between the employers, or insurance companies representing the employers, and the men who were [column 923]employed and became injured. In certain cases, but not in all cases, responsibility can be taken over under the new Industrial Injuries Scheme.
Does not the hon. and gallant Gentleman realise that some pre-1924 cases are receiving benefit? If they are entitled to it, does he not agree that these men, who have a permanent disability, who have scarcely received a penny for it, and who are losing wages now and have lost wages for a long time because of their disability, should also be considered?
I am not quite sure whether the hon. Gentleman is referring to cases who are not in receipt of any sort of award or to cases who have been in receipt of an award but are no longer receiving one.
May I put this from the point of view of the man who previously did not receive an award and is now receiving an award for a certain period of time? These matters are too complicated for me to give details of the scheme, but the hon. and gallant Gentleman knows them. There are men who, since wages went up in 1940, have been injured very severely and have not drawn benefit since then. Cannot the Government do something on behalf of these men?
There is a wide difference between pre-1924 and post-1923 cases. I do not think that this difference could properly form a subject for a Parliamentary Question. I should like to write to the hon. Gentleman to clear up these matters in his mind if he will allow me to do so.
23. Mr. Gourlay
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will state the time-lag between the announcement of pension increases and the appointed day in respect of each of the last three increases.
Mr. N. Macpherson
About 21 weeks, 12 weeks and 22 weeks respectively.
In view of the considerable delay which takes place between the announcement and the implementation of pension increases, and particularly at this time when we have [column 924]unwarranted hardship among old-age pensioners, would not the Minister consider an immediate announcement of increases in old-age pensions, rather than wait so that he can make an increase in pensions as a bribe before the General Election?
I shall consider the interests of beneficiaries and contributors and of the economy as a whole in judging the right time for making any proposals.
In view of the fact that it may be four months after the announcement before any increases are paid; that we are right into winter and that the cost of living is unlikely to come down, will the Minister make an announcement quickly about this?
24. Mr. Gourlay
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance by how much the pension of a married retired pensioner would have to be raised to take account of the rise in the index of retail prices between the date of announcement of the last pension increase and 19th June, 1962.
Mr. N. Macpherson
By 7s. 5d. jointly.
Is the Minister aware that between the announcement of the previous increase and 19th June, 1962, we have had an increase of about 10 per cent. in the cost of living. Since then, the cost of coal has increased considerably and in these particularly cold days pensioners obviously require two bags of coal per week, which alone costs them over 20s.? Does not this in itself justify an immediate increase in pensions?
All these are matters which we take into account in the general review.
26. Mr. J. Bennett
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how much the combined contribution for male employed persons was in November, 1951; and how much it is today.
Excluding the National Health Service element, the weekly contribution payable for an employed man in November, 1951, was 8s. 7d. The current flat-rate contribution for National Insurance and Industrial Injuries is [column 925]15s. 10d. for a man participating in the graduated pensions arrangements and 18s. 8d. for a man who is contracted out.
May I ask the hon. Lady—with even less hope—if it is the deliberate intention of the Government to take more and more from the employed worker in benefits and continue to give him less and less in return?
Yes—[Hon. Members: “Oh.” ] The “Yes” was to indicate that I had successfully translated the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question into basic English or basic Scottish. I should scarcely call an increase in basic benefits from 30s. to 57s. 6d. a decrease.
Will the hon. Lady also translate the question into basic facts? I know personally old-age pensioners who can buy only one bag of coal per week, and when the weather becomes very cold they have to go to bed for at least two days every week to keep warm. Will the hon. Lady consider dealing with this problem from that point of view instead of in the facetious way in which she treated it?
I am concerned only in translating the answers in terms of basic facts and not the questions. In so far as the hon. Gentleman knows the people needing extra fuel, I trust that he will see that they receive a visit from the National Assistance officials and that they get the extra help.
29. Mr. Small
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will state the increase in the total contributions including National Health Service element and National Health Service contributions, levied on all contributors, in 1961 compared with 1951; and how much was levied from employers and employees, respectively, in graduated contributions in 1961.
The increase between the financial years 1951–62 and 1961–62 was about £673 million. Of the 1961–62 total, about £148 million was paid in graduated contributions, of which half came from employers.
I thank the hon. Lady for those figures, but is it not realised that, since there have been increases in contribution from employers and employees, [column 926]this is an opportune time for an increase in the Exchequer contribution? Overtime earnings enter into the total calculation, as well as loss of earnings, and the time is now ripe for the Exchequer to increase its contribution.
There has been an increase in the Exchequer contribution, which is running at roughly £200 million this year.
34 and 35. Mr. Millan
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (1) how much it would cost in the year 1963 to pay a full death grant of £25 in the case of the death of men born between 5th July, 1883, and 5th July, 1893, and women born between 5th July, 1888, and 5th July, 1898;
(2) if he is aware of the hardship that can arise on the death of a man born before 5th July, 1883, or a woman born before 5th July, 1888, because no death grant is payable; and how much it would cost in the year 1963 to pay a death grant of £25, or of £12 10s., respectively, in these cases.
To pay death grant on the death of men born before 5th July, 1883, and women born before 5th July, 1888, is estimated to cost £5½ million if the full grant of £25 were payable, or £2¾ million if the half-rate grant of £12 10s. were payable. To pay the full grant in respect of deaths of people whose ages only qualify them for the half-rate grant would entail an additional cost of nearly £2 million a year. My right hon. Friend has no evidence that the transitional arrangements which the hon. Member has in mind are causing hardship.
Whatever the justification for making these discriminations in 1948, is it not time to look at them again, 14 years later? Is the hon. Lady aware that despite what she has just said, there is hardship, particularly on the death of an old person for whom there is not any death grant at all? Of these people the males are all 79 years of age or over, and quite a small sum would be involved in giving the death grant. That would save a great deal of the present humiliation of the survivor of an aged couple when there is no death grant.[column 927]
Death grant is a benefit under a contributory scheme, and we think that it would be quite wrong to give a benefit for which no contributions have been paid. The hon. Member says that quite a small amount is involved here, but £7½ million in total is not a small amount. In fact, an increase of £7½ million a year would be more than the present annual expenditure on death grant, which is £6 million.
To bring the very oldest people on to half death grant would cost only £2½ million. Could not even that small step be taken?
To pay the half death grant was part of the transitional arrangements made for those within 10 years of pensionable age in July, 1948. That was the bargain then made, and the reasons for making it are as valid now as they were then.
Widows (Three-Year Rule)
37. Mr. Houghton
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether he is aware of the hardship suffered by those who, on becoming a widow for the second time, are denied widow's benefit because they have been married to their second husband for some weeks short of three years; and whether he will take steps to end the three-year rule in such cases.
Mr. N. Macpherson
Widow's allowance is always payable in such cases and so is widowed mother's allowance where there are children. Nor does the rule apply where the second marriage links with an earlier marriage. This is in accordance with the relaxations recommended by the National Insurance Advisory Committee in 1956, when provision was also made for payment of unemployment or sickness benefit to widows not qualifying for a long-term pension. I appreciate however that wherever a line has to be drawn difficulties arise for those who fall just on the wrong side of it.
Is the Minister aware that a woman wrote to me and asked how many times she had to be widowed in order to get the widow's pension? She was widowed first at the age of 47 and was given a widow's pension of 10s. a week and told to go to work and try [column 928]to find another husband. She did both. She married a retired pensioner who died within three years of the marriage and she gets nothing. Does she have to get married again and be widowed a third time before she gets anything?
I think one has to draw a line somewhere and the line drawn now is very much more favourable than it used to be. The qualifying period, if I may put it that way, has now been reduced from ten years to three years.