PENSIONS AND NATIONAL INSURANCE
Unemployment Benefit (Personal Case)
2. Mr. C. Morris
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether he will introduce legislation to amend the National Insurance (Unemployment and Sickness Benefit) Regulations to obviate the anomalous situation which arises when an employee ceases to be entitled to unemployment benefit as a result of a reduction in his weekly working hours, details of which have been supplied to him by the hon. Member for Manchester, Openshaw.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)
No, Sir. The hon. Member is referring to a claimant who during the winter works part-time only. The adjudicating authorities decided that during the period in question he had been employed to the full extent normal for him. Unemployment benefit is not intended for days when a man does not in the normal course expect to be working. I am writing more fully to the hon. Member about the particular case.
While thanking the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for that reply, may I ask her if she is aware that, through no fault of his own, John William Marshall, a park attendant in Manchester, finds himself in a situation in which, if he were not more conscientious than he is, he would derive greater financial advantage by drawing unemployment benefit than by working for his living? Surely this anomalous [column 910]situation is worthy of more consideration than it has received so far, and I ask the hon. Lady to reconsider the decision not to amend the Regulations.
I have been through all the details of the case which the hon. Gentleman sent to me in advance. It depends on the “full normal extent” rule, the principle behind which is that a person should not be entitled to benefit for days when he would not normally be working. This rule was considered in 1955 by the National Insurance Advisory Committee and it recommended no change.
4. Mr. Shinwell
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what is the number of persons in receipt of National Assistance in the County of Durham; and what was the average amount paid to them at the last available date.
In the areas served by the Board's offices in the County of Durham, there were 89,793 cases in receipt of National Assistance on 26th May, 1964. I regret that information about the average payment in the County of Durham is not available.
Does not the existence of 89,000 persons in receipt of National Assistance in one county alone indicate that because the pension is inadequate the majority of old-age pensioners are compelled to apply for National Assistance? How does the Ministry justify that situation? Why cannot the hon. Lady give me the figures of the average amounts paid? Surely that information must be in the possession of the Department?
If I may take the last point first, information about the average amounts paid comes from a sample inquiry. That sample is accurate for large areas but not for areas as small as Durham. The average amount of payment for the Northern Region as a whole is 38s. 9d. The Northern Region includes Northumberland, Durham, the North Riding of Yorkshire, Cumberland and Westmorland.
As to the earlier part of the supplementary question, had the Government followed the principle of not putting up [column 911]National Assistance benefits when they put up retirement pensions, there would be fewer people on National Assistance than there are now. The Government took the view that it was more important to give those in need a share in the rising standard of living.
Does not the sum of 38s. 9d. which the hon. Lady has furnished, being the average for the Northern region, indicate that the pension itself is wholly inadequate? That is the point that I wish to impress upon her. Would she agree that the pension is inadequate and that, therefore, probably a majority of old-age pensioners are forced to apply for National Assistance?
I would not necessarily agree with the right hon. Gentleman. As he knows, the 6 million people drawing retirement pension cover many ranges of income groups. The pension rates were put up by about 17 per cent. in May, 1963.
5. Mr. Shinwell
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many applications were made for National Assistance in the first five months of 1964 in the County of Durham; and how many were rejected.
In the areas served by the Board's offices in the County of Durham, 39,035 applications were received, of which 5,564 were rejected, withdrawn or not proceeded with.
Is it not a strange situation that in five months of the year nearly 40,000 people have had to apply for National Assistance? Does this indicate the prosperity which the Government have been bragging about in the North-East?
The Government are quite right to provide a Department charged with the duty of getting help to those in need. I do not find anything strange in the fact that people in need should go to the Department whose duty it is to do that job.
That is not the point that my right hon. Friend was making; of course, the National Assistance Board helps people in need. Does the Answer not show, however, that in the northeast of England there is a far greater [column 912]proportion than in many other parts of the country of people who are in such great need that they have to apply to the National Assistance Board? Does not this also show, as my right hon. Friend has suggested, that the affluent society has certainly not touched the North-East?
The average amount of grant payable in the North, which I gave as 38s. 9d., is less than the figure for the country as a whole, which is 40s. 1d.
Captain W. Elliot
Can my hon. Friend tell the House what proportion of old-age pensioners were drawing National Assistance in 1951 and what proportion are drawing it today?
The proportion is approximately the same as in 1951. It has remained remarkably constant at approximately 22 per cent. of retirement pensioners.
15. Mr. Clive Bossom
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what improvements there have been in the standards of National Assistance since 1951.
The rates have been increased eight times and the rate for a single householder is now 111 per cent. higher than at October 1951. Over the same period, the Index of Retail Prices shows an increase of 50 per cent. Changes in the treatment of resources have also been made, the disregards being increased by some 50 per cent.
While thanking my hon. Friend for that enlightening Answer, may I ask whether she does not agree that this shows that a Conservative Administration gives top priority to looking after those who are less well off? As there sometimes appears to be misunderstanding about who can apply for National Assistance, can my hon. Friend make a statement on what the disregards are?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that if the Government had not increased assistance rates as often as they have there would be far fewer people on National Assistance. Also, if they had not increased the disregards as they have there would be fewer people on National Assistance. The capital disregards, broadly speaking, are [column 913]these. An owner-occupied house is disregarded entirely; war savings up to £375 each for husband and wife are disregarded completely; other savings up to £600 do not disqualify a person from receiving assistance. On the income side, the disregards are: 30s. and half the next 20s. of earnings; 30s. war disability pensions; 15s. superannuation; and 15s. charitable payments.
Without wishing unduly to interrupt the orgy of self-congratulation which is going on, may I ask whether the Government do not think that it is high time some inquiry were made into the effect of changes of prices on the type of people, the groups of people, who are affected over National Assistance and so on, instead of relying on a general retail index of prices which may not have by any means the same effect?
As the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, there is a number of inquiries made, particularly through the National Food Survey and the Household Expenditure Survey. I deliberately did not confine my Answer to the Index of Retail Prices, giving other comparisons by which to measure the increase in National Assistance rates. One can compare it with the increase in average earnings. The increase in scale rates then compares with an increase in average earnings of 102 per cent., the increase in scale rates being 111 per cent.
7. Mr. McLeavy
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what representations he has received from women's organisations urging an increase in the 10s. widow's pension to 20s. and for the removal of the earnings rule in respect of all widows; and what reply he has made.
The Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (Mr. Richard Wood)
Five such organisations have written on these points during the last 12 months, although none suggested exactly the combination of proposals to which the hon. Member refers. The Government's views on these matters were given on 30th January last during the debate on the Measure which improved the provisions made for widows under the National Insurance Scheme.[column 914]
Is the Minister aware that, apart from the organisations which have made representations to him, a recent conference of Conservative women passed a resolution, against the Minister's advice, to abolish the earnings rule? If the Minister feels that it is not possible to abolish the earnings rule altogether, will he consider the rather modest suggestion contained in my Bill, which has been blocked by hon. Members opposite, whereby widows would be relieved from the earnings rule? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House why it is not possible for the Government to make this reasonable concession to widows, who have great responsibility and who, in my judgment, are entitled to this consideration?
I was aware of the resolution passed by the conference to which the hon. Member has drawn my attention. The reason which I gave on that occasion, and which it is perfectly suitable to give on this occasion also, is that the removal of the earnings rule, either for widows, or for widows and retirement pensioners also, would impose a substantial extra cost. That, however, is not the main consideration, which is that the substantial extra cost would not be devoted to helping the most needy among the widows whom the hon. Gentleman has in mind. That is precisely why the Government have opposed the principle of his Bill and introduced their Measure early this year to help widowed mothers, for whom great sympathy is felt on all sides of the House.
Mr. H. Hynd
Will not the Minister at least bring up the 10s. to the present-day value of what it was when it was first paid?
This matter also has been debated. To increase the 10s. widow's pension would merely widen the gap between widows in exactly similar circumstances, some of whom have reserved rights and others of whom do not. I do not think that this would be the right thing to do.
Is it, therefore, the Government's final determination to do nothing for the 10s. widow or in respect of the abolition of the earnings rule for widows during the lifetime of the present Government?[column 915]
The hon. Member must continue to be patient.
There is still a chance?
He may hear all kinds of information about all kinds of subjects which may be very interesting to him.
9. Mr. W. Hamilton
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether in view of the fact that budgetary provision has already been made, he will now announce an immediate increase in retirement pensions.
22. Mr. Bence
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if, in the light of the budgetary provision already made, he will make increases in retirement pensions and other National Insurance benefits.
25. Mr. L. M. Lever
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if, in view of the fact that budgetary provision has already been made, he will now take steps to increase the basic pension in order to assist retirement pensioners to meet travelling expenses.
35. Mr. Frank Allaun
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether it is Her Majesty's Government's intention to introduce an increase in the retirement pension before the General Election, in view of the fact that budgetary provision has already been made; and when it will start to operate.
No, Sir. I would refer the hon. Members to my reply to the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. W. Hamilton) on 23rd June.
Is the Minister aware that, in view of that Answer, there must have been calculated deceit of the electorate in the Devizes bye-election by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when he said:
“We have budgeted for further pension increases” ?
Does not the right hon. Gentleman recall that, when his hon. Friend was answering Questions last week, she referred to the White Paper on Public Expenditure, in paragraph 11 of which these words are used: [column 916]
“The figures given for 1967–68 do not represent decisions by the Government to spend particular sums in that year” .
In view of that, will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear that there will be an increase in the lifetime of the present Government, which means during the next month?
I do not think that my noble Friend can be charged with calculated deceit. The hon. Member could as easily be charged with calculated indifference to the contents of the White Paper, paragraph 21 of which points out clearly that this is an exercise based on constant prices. Consequently, the Government have not committed themselves to figures of exact expenditure. They have merely outlined the kind of level at which benefits, if prices remain constant, would be in 1967–68.
The White Paper, Cmnd. 2235, gives a figure of assistance and benefits plus £360 million. That is the figure which, we presume, is budgeted for in 1967–68. Is this a budgeted figure for an increase in pensions, or is it an estimation of further inflation, from which we seem to be suffering under the present Government?
As I pointed out to the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. W. Hamilton), this is an exercise based upon constant prices, so that it has nothing to do with inflation. This is a measure of the extra amount which the Government foresee being spent on benefits of various kinds in 1967–68 if prices between then and now remain constant.
The point of Question No. 25 is the question of travelling expenses for retirement pensioners. Is the Minister aware of the serious hardship to many old-age or retirement pensioners who wish to travel and who have to pay the present high cost of fares? If the Minister will not increase the basic pension, will the Government introduce a system of concessionary fares to retirement pensioners?
The latter part of that question is not a matter for me. My duty is to watch over the level of retirement pensions. The position is that the cost of living has increased by 3 per cent. since the last pension increase, and, [column 917]therefore, the present rate of pension is still well above, in real value, any other previous rates.
Since the pledge has been given that a Labour Government will introduce its basic pension increase at the earliest moment after its election, does not the Minister think that this should force the Government to make an announcement very shortly?
The hon. Member had better wait and see.
21. Mr. Dalyell
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what estimate he has made of the number of retirement pensioners whose total income is such as would entitle them to a supplementary grant from the National Assistance Board, but who have not applied for assistance from public funds.
I would refer the hon. Member to my reply to the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) and the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) on 22nd June.
Does not his reply to my right hon. Friend commend to the Minister a minimum income guarantee to overcome this problem?
The Questions put by the right hon. Member for Llanelly and the hon. Member for East Ham, North, related to some kind of inquiry, but there was no suggestion of a minimum income guarantee. The suggestion was that I should undertake some kind of inquiry to see whether there were people who could be entitled to National Assistance who were not applying for it.
10. Mr. W. Hamilton
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what is the value of the present family allowance as measured in 1951 terms; and whether he will now increase the allowances.
36. Mr. Frank Allaun
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if, in view of the deprivations of children of many low-paid workers with large families, he will now increase family allowances.[column 918]
The figures asked for by the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. W. Hamilton) are, in terms of 1951 prices, 5s. 2d. for the second child and 6s. 6d. for the third and subsequent children. Richard WoodMy right hon. Friend has no proposals for increasing family allowances.
Does the hon. Lady not agree that that is a shocking reply in view of the Government's declared intention that all sections of the community shall share in the increasing affluence about which she so often talks? How do the Government explain that big families, where there is increasing evidence of malnutrition, are not to share in this affluence, nor does the White Paper about which the hon. Lady has talked make any provision for any increase in family allowances between now and 1967–68? How is she prepared to defend this shocking treatment of big families?
The hon. Member asks about large families, and I will give him figures for four-and five-children families. In 1951, family allowances for a family with four children were 15s. The present equivalent of that would be 22s. 5d. In fact, the amount paid is 28s. For five children the allowance in October, 1951, was 20s. The present equivalent would be 29s. 11d., and the present rate is 38s. We have also to remember that average male weekly earnings have increased very considerably, from £8 6s. in October, 1951, to £16 14s. 11d. in October, 1963.
Is it not a fact that the 8s. for one child recommended by Beveridge in 1944 would be worth 28s. today? Does not the Parliamentary Secretary remember that last month, in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), she said that there were 100,000 children of parents who, because of the wages stop, were getting less than the National Assistance Board level of income, and that these children, plus an even larger number of children of parents who are working but on very low wages, are getting insufficient and inadequate food to eat? Is that a correct state of affairs in the affluent society? Surely, in the name of humanity, there should be an increase?
I understand that Beveridge recommended 8s. a week, but his proposals were ignored by the Labour [column 919]Party, who introduced 5s. a week. I also understand that in spite of what the hon. Member said about malnutrition, children are generally heavier and taller than they were 12 years ago. I understand from the Report of the Chief Medical Officer to the Ministry of Education that the percentage of children in England and Wales found to be in an unsatisfactory physical condition on medical examination at school was 2.9 per cent. in 1951 and was down to 0.54 per cent. in 1963.
Since average wages of £16 a week mean nothing at all to the man who is earning about £9 a week, and since average size and weight mean nothing at all to under-nourished children, will the Minister at least have another look at this matter, and will she give serious consideration, in particular, to the problem of children of low-wage earners in this country and what might be done through family allowances to help them?
I think that the hon. Lady knows that the amount spent by the Government in looking after the nutritional needs of children, by way of cheap milk, free school milk, cheap school meals and free school meals to those living on small incomes, is very considerable. This year the cost of school meals to the Exchequer will be £62½ million and the cost of free school milk will be nearly £13 million.
11. Sir Richard Glyn
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what was the total weekly compensation paid in pension and related allowances to an almost completely disabled ex-private with a wife and two dependent children in October 1951; what would be the total paid now if it had increased in proportion to average industrial earnings; and what is the total now paid in the circumstances set out above.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (Lieut.-Commander S. L. C. Maydon)
In 1951 £8 6s. 7d. was paid; the amount necessary to match the increase in men's average earnings between then and October 1963 would be £16 16s. 1d.; and the amount paid today is £19 7s. 3d.
Sir R. Glyn
Is my hon. and gallant Friend aware of the general satisfaction [column 920]at the fact that the income of this substantial group of disabled ex-Service men has increased very much faster than the average increase in industrial earnings?
12. Captain Elliot
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many allowances have been awarded under the arrangements to help widows of severely disabled war pensioners during the weeks immediately following their husband's death; and what has been the average period of delay in putting them into payment.
In the first six months the special allowance for widows of severely disabled war pensioners has been awarded to 469 widows for the thirteen weeks after their husband's death. In nearly all cases the allowance order book was sent to the widow within two working days of the notification of death reaching the Ministry. Amounts have ranged up to £18 a week and the most common is between £12 and £13 a week.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the whole House will heartily agree with his last sentence? Does he not agree with me that the greatest credit is due to those in his Ministry who deal with these allowances and who, by their prompt and efficient action, have brought much-needed help to these people?
I am obliged to my hon. and gallant Friend.
Mr. H. Hynd
Will the Minister contrast those figures with the amount paid to the 10s. widow?
I do not think that the figures are quite comparable.
13. Captain Elliot
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what improvements have been made, other than in rates, in the war pensions scheme since October, 1951.
The new benefits which have been introduced are the age allowance, the elderly widows' grant, the severe disablement occupational allowance and the temporary allowance for the widows of severely disabled pensioners. A number of improvements have enabled various benefits like the comforts allowance, constant attendance allowance, clothing allowance and widows' [column 921]rent allowance to be paid more widely among pensioners. The War Pensioners' Welfare Service has been steadily developed, particularly by the extension of visiting to elderly widow pensioners.
Is my hon. and gallant Friend aware that this is an extremely good record and one of which the Conservative Government can be proud? But is he satisfied that all those who are eligible for these benefits are aware of them? Will he consider the possibility of wider advertisement of them, in newspapers, placards and in any other way, which will bring to these people the knowledge that they are entitled to these benefits?
From time to time my right hon. Friend issues leaflets publicising all increases and improvements. In addition, these matters are publicised through the Welfare Service and through the very good work of the war pensions committees in various areas. There is no reason to think that they are not well known to all those eligible for them.
How many of these war pensioners have had to apply for National Assistance?
I have not the figure immediately available, but I will certainly let the hon. and learned Gentleman know if he will be good enough to write to tell me exactly what he wants.
14. Miss Vickers
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what a war pensioner entitled to unemployability supplement received at the latest convenient date compared with 1951.
A disablement pension at the 100 per cent. rate, with unemployability supplement, and with comforts allowance which since 1957 has been automatically paid with it, totals £9 19s. The corresponding amount in 1951 was £4 and, allowing for increased retail prices, the present rate is worth 66 per cent. more.
While thanking my hon. and gallant Friend for that reply, and agreeing that many of these people are better off, may I ask how many are in receipt of this benefit? In view [column 922]of automation, does he feel that some of them might be rehabilitated and perhaps employed in some occupation, which would give even more satisfaction?
About 5,500 pensioners are in receipt of the higher disability rates. I am glad to say that the figure for the occupation allowance for the very severely disabled is only a few hundred.
24. Mr. Farey-Jones
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what is the current basic rate of war pension for a 100 per cent. disabled man; how this compares with the rate in October, 1951; and whether the increase has been in proportion to the rise in average industrial earnings.
The rate in 1951 was £2 5s. If it had been increased exactly in proportion to the rise in men's average earnings, the rate would be £4 10s. 9d. The actual rate today is £5 15s.
Mr. Farey Jones
I thank my hon. and gallant Friend for that remarkable Answer. Will his Department keep a watchful eye on this matter in view of the supreme importance to these most deserving of all the people concerned?
It is our intention to keep a continuing watch on this very point.
Mr. H. Hynd
I congratulate the Government on improving pensions in accordance with the fall in the value of the pound, but why do they not apply the same principle to the 10s. widow?
17. Mrs. Castle
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether he is aware that Mr. Derick Dunkley of Blackburn, who has a wife and five dependent children, has had his National Assistance reduced from £10 4s. 6d. to £8 16s. owing to the operation of the wages stop; and whether, in view of the hardship caused in this and similar cases, he will review the operation of this regulation.
I am aware of the facts of this case. The hon. Lady's constituent is currently receiving £8 16s. [column 923]a week from the Board. In addition £1 18s. is received in family allowances. The Board believes that the regulations have been correctly applied in this case. As regards the principle of the wagestop, it would be wrong for a man to be better off out of work than when he is employed.
Is the hon. Lady aware that the manager of the National Assistance Board told me that had it not been for the operation of the wages stop this man and his family would have received £10 4s. 6d. plus family allowances, so the addition of the family allowances factor is, therefore, irrelevant to the comparison? Is it not astonishing and disgraceful that under a Conservative Administration a man can still be earning wages which are less than the National Assistance Board calculates as being the minimum necessary for subsistence? In view of this fact, and in view of all these panegyrics of the Conservative administration which have been so carefully planned this afternoon, can we now have from the hon. Lady some action in a case of hardship which has been brought to her attention, as she promised last week that if such cases were brought to her attention she would deal with them?
I have looked into cases brought to my attention. I have looked into this case, and I can tell the hon. Lady that the Board was satisfied that in this case the wages stop provision had been correctly applied. She is now either challenging the principle, in which case she says this man should be paid more than if he were in work, or else she is challenging the application in this individual case. If she is challenging the latter, perhaps she would advise her constituent to appeal to the National Assistance Tribunal.
Is the hon. Lady aware that I am perfectly satisfied that the Board locally has done the correct thing under the current regulations? It is not, therefore, the administration I am challenging but the principle. Is it not obvious that such a principle, operating under a Conservative Administration, where wages are so low in many cases, is one which cannot be reconciled with the humane treatment of five children in such a family?[column 924]
The hon. Lady would, I should have thought, have known that wages are paid regardless of the family. Wages do not vary according to whether a man has five or 10 or 15 children, but the amount which a man can be paid out of National Assistance is calculated by reference to his family commitments. The principle is absolutely defensible that a man should not receive more when he is out of work than he can get by returning to work.
Can my hon. Friend explain how it is that at a time when average earnings are of the nature at least of £16 a week this man seems incapable of earning more than about £10 or £11 a week?
I would not be responsible for the wages paid in a particular area, and I would not like to make any further comment on this particular case, except to say that this gentleman was classified at the employment exchange as a factory labourer.
Does not a man need, and do not his family need, enough to live on, and are not National Assistance scales intended to provide him with enough to live on in reasonable comfort—just to live on? Is there not, therefore, something wrong in a principle which results in a reduction, in what is awarded, below a reasonable standard of living for a man and his family?
For the first time we appear to be getting from the hon. Members opposite a fairly clear enuniation that the Labour Party, if it were to be returned to office would pay a man more when he is out of work than he would get if he returned to work.
In view of the totally unsatisfactory nature of this reply, I give notice that I shall raise this matter on the Adjournment.
37. Mr. Lawson
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many unemployed persons in receipt of National Assistance within the Motherwell area have a total weekly income which is less than the National Assistance scale rate because of the operation of the wages stop.
33. Mr. T. Fraser
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how [column 925]many unemployed persons in receipt of National Assistance within the Hamilton area of Lanarkshire have a total weekly income which, because of the operation of the wages stop, is less than the National Assistance scale rate.
34. Mr. Willis
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many unemployed persons in receipt of National Assistance within the Edinburgh area have a total weekly income which is less than the National Assistance scale rate because of the operation of the wages stop.
I regret that this information is not available.
Does not the hon. Lady think it rather strange that she is so much less well informed than her predecessors were? Is she aware that I was given an answer to similar Question on 17th December 1962, when I was told that 18 per cent., or about 176, of the persons mentioned were suffering in this way? Are the hon. Lady and her Department now trying to hide what is happening under this wages stop procedure?
No, Sir. As I and Niall Macphersonmy immediate past right hon. Friend explained to the hon. Gentleman after he had asked a question on this subject, wages stop figures are taken from a sample. That sample is taken in December in each year and I cannot therefore give him the figures current today. I can give the hon. Gentleman the figures from last December when there were 6,500 wages stop cases in Scotland. The only departure from the sampling technique comes when we have an up-rating operation, when a special count is taken. That is why the hon. Gentleman got special figures on one previous occasion.
Does not the hon. Lady agree that, if 6,500 people are affected in this way, this represents a problem of sufficient size to warrant continuous information and scrutiny? Will she see that there is continuous information about and scrutiny into this problem? Will she look again at the manner in which the wages stop is applied? I am not objecting to the wages stop as such, but to the way in which it is applied in many cases.[column 926]
To take the latter point first, very little use appears to be being made of the appeal procedure to the National Assistance Appeal Tribunals which, as the Hon. Gentleman knows, are independent bodies and therefore can give a totally impartial decision. I have already given my views and I do not think that there is anything that I can usefully add about the principle of the wages stop provision.
But are not the hon. Lady and the Minister seriously perturbed that there are more than 6,000 families—because they are almost all family men—who are living below what even this Government consider to be the mere subsistence level? Are not they aware that it is amongst the children of those families where we find malnutrition? Is not the Minister also aware that, in the working of the wages stop, there may be a man who is classed as a general labourer, and a wages stop is applied to him, but he can prove—as has been proved to me—that he has worked many hours overtime, as labourers do, earning about £20 a week? Thus, we are not asking that they should get more when they are idle than when they are working. Will the Minister and her Department examine these matters much more thoroughly than they have done so far?
If, as the hon. Lady contends, a person is wrongly classified, she ought to let us have details of the particular case. Since I made the offer last week to look into individual cases, there has been only one, from the hon. Lady herself, and another which was referred to me as a wages stop case, but in fact was the case of a widow who does not get benefit. I stand by the general principle and will look into individual cases.
Pensions and Benefits
18. Dame Edith Pitt
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance by how much the real value of the pensions and benefits of the National Insurance and Industrial Injuries schemes has improved since October 1951.
As the Answer contains a number of figures, I will, with permission, include a table in the Official Report.[column 927]
Dame Edith Pitt
Would I be right in thinking that all these figures show an increase in purchasing power since 1951? Does this not mark up two credits, one to the Government, who have honoured their pledge that pensioners shall share in the increased prosperity, and secondly, to the management and workpeople who, under a private enterprise system, have brought about the production which has made the increase possible—contrary to what happened when the party opposite was in power?
My hon. Friend is totally correct on all counts.
Does the hon. Gentleman not realise that none of us is unaware of this death-bed repentance of Tory Members on the back benches, and that this pre-election stunt with no promise of doing anything for these people counts neither here nor outside? Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise that this argu[column 928]ment which is being put up, that all these increases have been given to people, bears no relation at all to the circumstances in which people are living, and that the hon. Lady herself says that the Tory Government do not intend to abolish prescription charges, which bring in £200 million a year, and that that is an added burden for the old-age pensioners and other people to whom these Questions relate? Do the Government intend to make an announcement before the election, or are they once more making frothy promises to the electorate?
The answer to the hon. Lady is that the Government have made a series of announcements since 1951, not only improving the benefits at frequent intervals, but improving benefits over a very wide range indeed. There is no question at all of a death-bed repentance. This has been a continuous operation since 1951.
Following are the figures: