PENSIONS AND NATIONAL INSURANCE
Discretionary Grants (Clothing)
2. Miss Herbison
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many discretionary grants for clothing were made by the National Assistance Board during 1962.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)
In 1962 the Board made 223,000 discretionary lump-sum grants to meet exceptional needs, mainly for clothing.
Is it not a fact, since there are almost a quarter of a million of these grants made in one year, that the National Assistance rates must be too low? Surely the Minister must be aware that there are many people who do not make a claim for any such grant but who desperately need it? Will the hon. Lady ask her right hon. Friend to give some consideration to these matters?
I think the figures show the flexibility of the National Assistance system to meet special needs as they arise.
How many of these cases are sent in the first place to, say, the W.V.S. before a grant for clothing is made?
Since I have been answering from this Box, only three cases have been brought to my attention, and we have quickly remedied the instructions so that people are given a cash grant first if they need it.
3. Miss Herbison
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many widows whose husbands were in receipt of benefit as persons suffering from pneumoconiosis were denied, during the last five years, either death benefit or an industrial widow's pension as the result of decisions of the Pneumoconiosis and Byssinosis Medical Board.
The Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (Mr. Niall Macpherson)
No widow is denied benefit as a result of decisions of the Pneumoconiosis and Byssinosis Medical Board. The right to [column 891]widow's benefit under the Industrial Injuries Scheme is determined by statutory authorities. Whether a widow receives such benefit or not depends on whether the death of the insured person is found to have been caused or materially accelerated by an accident or disease covered under the Act.
Surely the Minister must know that when a man who has been suffering from pneumoconiosis dies a post mortem examination is carried out by the Pneumoconiosis and Byssinosis Medical Board. Surely the Minister is also aware that it is on the result of the decision of that Board given to the statutory authorities that the widow gets or does not get money. Since that is the case, surely the Minister must be aware of the number of widows who are denied this benefit although their husbands suffered from pneumoconiosis.
Yes, but the opinion of the Pneumoconiosis Medical Board can be challenged under the appeal procedure. The difficulty in providing the hon. Lady with the information she wants is that the Question, if I may say so, contains a fallacy. The fallacy is that people who have an industrial disease necessarily die of it. That is not so.
The Question does not contain a fallacy. The Question asks very clearly how many widows have been denied benefit. If the Minister would give some study to these questions he would find that diseases which can be very closely related to pneumoconiosis are indeed found but that the widow is denied benefit. Will he ensure that much greater attention is given to these matters?
The difficulty is that the hon. Lady is assuming that, where benefit is refused, it is on the basis of the decision, as she called it, of the Pneumoconiosis Medical Board, but that is not so. The Board's opinion can be challenged on appeal, and it is the statutory authority which decides, not the Board.
Mr. J. Griffiths
Arising out of the Minister's reply to the original Question, will he give careful consideration to what is felt by many people, including myself, [column 892]who have had years of experience of this matter? He used the term “materially accelerated” . That has been given much more limited scope by the statutory authorities than it was given under the old Workmen's Compensation Acts. This is felt to be so by many who have had years of experience in this field.
I shall be glad to look into the point further.
I beg to give notice that, because of the unsatisfactory nature of the replies to these Questions, I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.
School Leavers, Buckhaven
4. Mr. Gourlay
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he is aware there are 71 school-leavers in Buckhaven looking for work, and that many of them have been unemployed for long periods; and what consideration he has given to making alterations in the National Assistance regulations to enable unemployed persons under 16 to secure National Assistance benefit with a view to removing hardship.
Mr. N. Macpherson
I am aware of the situation which the hon. Member describes, although I understand that the latest figure of unemployed school-leavers in Buckhaven is rather less than 71. The minimum age for making independent applications for National Assistance was fixed at 16 by Section 7(5) of the National Assistance Act, 1948, and I have no proposals to amend it.
Is the Minister aware that the Buckhaven Town Council is thoroughly dissatisfied with the Government's refusal to help these young persons in distress at this particular time, and will he not reconsider his answer to meet the urgent need of young persons still seeking work?
Where there is definite evidence of need, assistance can be obtained in respect of the child, although it cannot be given to the child. Successive Governments have taken the view that National Assistance should not be paid to somebody under 16 as of right. I have seen the correspondence which the hon. Gentleman was kind enough to send me.[column 893]
5. Mr. Swingler
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance in how many cases in each of the last three years claims for disablement benefit have been rejected on appeal on the ground that the worker suffered disablement as a result of injury by process and not by accident or disease; and what is his estimate of the annual cost of extending the industrial injuries scheme to cover injury by process.
Mr. N. Macpherson
The independent statutory authorities are required to decide whether claimants have suffered personal injury by industrial accident or, alternatively, whether they are suffering from a prescribed disease. Any statement which may happen to be made during proceedings on an individual case to the effect that claimants have suffered injury by process is therefore not germane, and the information asked for in the first part of the Question is not available. For this and other reasons it is not practicable to make the estimate asked for in the second part, but, as the hon. Member knows, cost is not the fundamental reason for excluding injuries by process.
Surely this is a very important question, and an issue about which many trade unions are greatly dissatisfied. Will the Minister, therefore, cause inquiries to be made in order that we may know how many workers today are not receiving benefit for disablement because the statutory authorities have decided that the disablement has resulted from an industrial process and not from an accident? Would he establish how many workers are involved so that we may know the extent to which this deficiency in the industrial injuries scheme is causing hardship?
I am sorry if I appear to be precise in this matter, but one must be precise in the use of words. The statutory authorities do not decide that a worker has suffered injury as a result of process. They are not asked to decide that. They are asked to decide whether injury by accident has been suffered or a prescribed disease has been incurred, and not whether injury by process has resulted.
The right hon. Gentleman will remember the recent case of [column 894]Mr. James Wilson, which I submitted to him, in which the Commissioner said that although the disablement was the result of his work he was disqualified from benefit because it was caused by industrial process and not industrial accident. How many such cases have there been in recent years, and what is the extent of the hardship which has been suffered by workers because of this judgment?
If the hon. Gentleman will study my reply, I think he will see the reason why it is not possible to give him the information he is asking for. I must emphasise that this was not a decision of the statutory authority; it was a remark made on the basis of what had been said in the course of the tribunal proceedings. In many cases where what is said is not germane on the matter it is not challenged because this is not the point which has to be decided. It is a different point, namely, whether the disability is caused by accident or by prescribed disease.
In view of that unsatisfactory reply, I beg to give notice that I will raise the matter on the Adjournment.
Widowed Mother's Allowance
6. Dame Irene Ward
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what would be the estimated cost of continuing the widowed mother's allowance in respect of boys and girls awaiting university places.
Mr. N. Macpherson
No precise estimate can be made, but assuming that any concession could be restricted to widows and their children the eventual cost might go beyond £¼ million a year.
Dame Irene Ward
May I ask my right hon. Friend how long the Cabinet will take to decide on this matter? Can he also inform me whether the Cabinet is guided by National Productivity Year or whether it is immune from it?
As my hon. Friend knows very well, the Cabinet is very much interested in Productivity Year, but this is a matter which has many implications and which cannot be quite as easily decided as my hon. Friend seems to think.[column 895]
7. Mr. Curran
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether he will seek powers to enable him to make the discretionary payment of a widow's pension to a woman who has lived with an insured contributor without being married to him.
Mr. N. Macpherson
No, Sir. I do not think that such a provision could reasonably be added to the National Insurance Scheme.
Does not my right hon. Friend agree that when he is making rules that cover the lives of so many millions of men and women there ought to be some elasticity about them? Does he not think that it is very hard indeed that when a woman has lived with a man perhaps for forty years she should find at the end of this time that she has no claim at all on his funds? While I recognise that hard cases make bad law, does he not think that there is room for a little more humanity in the administration of his Ministry?
My hon. Friend will realise that although a woman has been living with a man for forty years he may still have a legal wife for whom he is providing in his contributions and that when he dies it may be the legal wife who may get the pension and not the woman with whom he has been living. This is a very difficult matter in which to apply discretion, and under the National Insurance Act there is no scope for discretion in this matter.
Widowed Mothers (Earnings)
8. Dame Irene Ward
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance the estimated cost of abolishing the earnings rule in respect of widowed mothers.
Mr. N. Macpherson
Rather more than £1 million a year assuming that no other changes were involved.
Dame Irene Ward
Is my right hon. Friend aware that practically the whole of women's public opinion is in favour of the withdrawal of the earnings rule as applied to widows with children? Why is it that in a free country, on a basis of partnership, women's views are always [column 896]neglected? When will we get this alteration?
I assure my hon. Friend that neither her views nor those of other women are neglected in this matter. It would, however, be very doubtful whether the abolition of the earnings rule for widowed mothers could be restricted to widowed mothers.
Is the Minister aware that on this matter the Labour Party and the women agree?
I am aware that on this matter the Labour Party do not seek to restrict the abolition of the earnings rule to widowed mothers. That is part of the difficulty.
Is there not a certain confusion in the Minister's mind in classing widows' pensions with retirement pensions? One thing that a widow cannot do is to retire. It seems to me that, in respect of earnings, this class of person should come under a totally different heading from the retirement pensioner.
The risk against which insurance is provided is the risk of the absence of earnings, and it has been accepted since the beginning of the scheme that if a widow is able to work, and does work, it is reasonable to take into account her earnings beyond a certain point.
Unemployment Benefit (Seasonal Workers)
9. Mr. P. Browne
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will amend the National Insurance (Seasonal Workers) Regulations, 1950, to enable persons to draw unemployment benefit during the whole of the off-season if no other work is available to them.
Mr. N. Macpherson
No, Sir. Unemployment benefit is an insurance benefit payable for a limited period only, as compensation for loss of earnings; if could not properly be paid year after year for periods during which the claimant does not normally work and has no prospect of working.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that I violently disagree with him? Will he please read what his predecessor [column 897]said in Committee on the Family Allowances and National Insurance Bill on 30th November, 1961, when his predecessor used as one of his arguments the fact that at that time it would be wrong to increase expenditure? When he has read this, will my right hon. Friend please refer the matter to the National Insurance Advisory Committee?
In reply to the first part of the question, I am aware that my hon. Friend violently disagrees with me. With regard to the second part, I have read those proceedings and am aware that it was as a result of the steps then taken by my predecessor that credits were given during periods of unemployment. I am sure that we all appreciate that action. As to referring the matter to the National Insurance Advisory Committee, it was the N.I.A.C. which originally made this recommendation. The Committee has looked at the matter twice subsequently, and I see no object which would be gained by referring it again to the Committee.
11. Mr. Lawson
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will estimate the additional number of death grants which would be payable in the year 1964 if the disqualification in the case of the death of women born before 5th July, 1888, were removed.
13. Mr. Small
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance, if he will estimate how much it would cost in 1964 to pay a death grant of £25 in the case of the death of men born before 5th July, 1883, and of women born before 5th July, 1888.
14. Mr. Ross
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will estimate the additional number of death grants which would be payable in the year 1964 if the disqualification in the case of the death of men born before 5th July, 1883, were removed.
Mr. N. Macpherson
About 50,000 additional grants would be paid for men and 120,000 for women at a cost of some £4½ million.
Is the Minister aware that even his Government are not now trying to pretend that this is an insurance [column 898]scheme which is being operated on actuarial principles? Recognising that the scheme is operating on a year-by-year payment basis, will the Minister bring the old people under the same kind of protection as is given to the younger people?
While the National Insurance Scheme is not in all respects being run on an actuarial basis, it is, nevertheless, an insurance scheme and the fact remains that the people whom the hon. Member has in mind paid no contributions for this benefit and that the benefit was not provided for them under the legislation of 1946.
Recognising that the number of people affected is diminishing each year, is not the time opportune to review the situation with a view to paying everybody? In the public mind, there appears to be differential treatment by the Ministry in the cases of death of old people.
Obviously, the people who are not covered will be a diminishing number, but the principles which I have explained still apply.
Surely the amount of money involved would not break the National Insurance Fund. Why does not the Minister anticipate the ending of this anomaly with the passing of the years by being a little generous now?
One reason is that many of these people had insurances of their own, often several insurances of their own, to cover this risk.
Sir J. Langford-Holt
Can my right hon. Friend tell me what principle, actuarial or otherwise, decided the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), I presume, to include these dates in the original Act?
The dates are included automatically because of the ages of the people concerned when the 1946 Act came into effect.
Is the Minister aware that many of these old people who have paid for private insurance throughout their lives do not have enough money at the time of their death to cover the cost of the funeral because of the reduced value of money? Is he aware that these [column 899]costs bear heavily on some families who can little afford to pay them? Since in many ways the insurance principle is not operated for many of the old people who are now getting the higher pension, surely it would be a good thing to extend the scheme to provide death benefit in the case of these old people.
I doubt whether that would be the right way to proceed. A case might be made for doing it in other ways. Surely, however, it would not seem right, fifteen years after the passing of the original Act, suddenly to include these old people in the insurance scheme for the purposes of death grant alone.
12. Mr. Millan
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will estimate the number of restricted death grants of £12 10s. which will be payable in the year 1964.
Mr. N. Macpherson
In view of the small number involved, whatever may have been the reasons for making this restriction in 1948, is it not about time that we got rid of it now? These are all very old people, many of them in extremely indigent circumstances, and great hardship is caused to a surviving wife or husband. Could not the full amount be paid in these cases?
All I can do is to take note of what the hon. Member has said and consider it.
15. Mr. Hannan
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how much it would cost in the year 1964 to pay full death grant in the case of the death of men born between 5th July, 1883, and 5th July, 1893, and of women born between 5th July, 1888, and 5th July, 1898.
Mr. N. Macpherson
About £1¾ million.
Since, in several occasions, the Government have increased the benefits in other branches of National Insurance to cover the increased cost of living, is it now to be said that the cost of dying is to be sacrosanct? Is not the Minister aware that these expenses also have increased and that anxiety is caused to surviving relatives? Will he now [column 900]consider the deprivation that the Government by their mistaken policies have caused in this matter and increase at least these restricted benefits?
These benefits have been increased on one occasion, in 1958.