Mrs. Margaret Thatcher (Finchley)
This will probably turn out to be a short debate. On other occasions we have had quite lengthy debates on a Friday when different sets of rules of order, with respect, Mr. Speaker, seemed to prevail, and we have had very wide-ranging debate on National Assistance. However, this is not a Friday and, therefore, we have to keep to strictly relevant matters.
We on this side welcome the increases in National Assistance. I thank N. Pendanathe Joint Parliamentary Secretary for the details he gave about them. I shall make only one or two comments about them. I want, first, to say a few things about the disregards, which I have mentioned before and upon which Miss M. Herbisonthe right hon. Lady might be expecting a few words from me. The disregards have been increased only once since National Assistance began; that is to say, they were increased very substantially in 1959 and the increases took effect upon the same date as the then increases in scale rates. They took effect at a time when the scale rates for a single householder had increased by 26s. over those in 1948.
Under these Regulations the scale rates for a single householder will have increased since the disregards were last increased by a further 26s. We have, therefore, reached an identical point for the consideration of disregards. The right hon. Lady might—I hope that she will—tell me that separate Regulations will be laid to increase the disregards to take effect from the same date as these scale rate increases. I shall be delighted if she does, because I think that we have reached the time that the disregards should be increased further.
The right hon. Lady and the many hon. Members who have been present at our debates in the past will know that a good deal of time was taken up during those debates on considering the problem of some people who, it has been thought, are reluctant to apply for National Assistance. Because we have been so anxious [column 335]to solve that problem, I think that sometimes we have not given sufficient consideration to a parallel problem, namely, that there are quite a number of people who would like National Assistance, but whose capital is just above the level which would permit them to apply.
During the last few weeks, particularly when I was electioneering, I came across many who wanted income help, but whose capital was just above, or in some cases a few hundred pounds above, the present £600 limit above which they are ineligible for assistance. I therefore ask the right hon. Lady to consider increasing this capital disregard and the absolute disregard of £100 of capital at this point in time.
There are other disregards which I think sometimes have a disincentive effect on people who would otherwise help themselves. One which I have come across is the present income disregard of 30s. a week for the person not required to register for work. I would hope that this, too, could be increased as it was in 1959.
A third disregard, about which I have been approached by charitable organisations, is the one of 15s. a week which operates by analogy to the superannuation and trade union disregard, whereby if a grant of more than 15s. a week is made to a person in receipt of National Assistance the extra amount comes off the National Assistance allowance. Again, this amount was increased in 1959 from 10s. 6d. to 15s.
I think that the time has come when we should urge the right hon. Lady to ask the Board to increase it, at any rate to £1, which is a nice round sum and one which many charitable organisations would be very willing to give——
Mr. James H. Hoy (Edinburgh, Leith)
Why did not the hon. Lady do it?
I started, I hope very logically and reasonably, by saying that the disregards were increased when the scale rate for the single householder had gone up by 26s. It has now gone up by a further 26s., and I base my argument on that.
We put up the disregards, and when they are increased they usually go up by a considerable amount. Generally, [column 336]they went up in 1959 by 50 per cent. all round; the capital disregards were increased from £400 to £600 the income disregards went up from £1 to £1 10s. Generally, the disregards go up less often than the scale rates, but when they do they are increased by a considerable percentage. The time has come when they should be increased again by a considerable percentage amount. I hope that the right hon. Lady will consider laying draft Regulations which will take effect on the same day as the increases in scale rates come into operation.
The wage-stop is far easier to debate than to solve as a problem. We have debated it in the House on many occasions, and in listening to the debate today I found myself reaching for the arguments with which to defend the wage-stop because I had to do that from the Dispatch Box opposite on a number of occasions. This came up as recently as the last Question Time devoted to the Ministry of Pensions before the General Election, when, as usual, I was under fire. The right hon. Lady now the Minister defended the principle of the wage-stop. Her right hon. Friend the present Barbara CastleMinister of Overseas Development, the only lady in the Cabinet, challenged the principle in a way which only she can challenge any principle; we thus have an example of what must be the only eternal triangle to consist of three women.
Lord MitchisonAn hon. Member who is now in another place and who was then the “shadow” Minister of Pensions also challenged the principle and in a previous debate to which reference has been made tonight a number of other people challenged it. I have only one comment to make on this point. It relates to family allowances, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Curran) has referred tonight as he did on a previous occasion.
Family allowances are certainly not taken into account for the wage-stop equation, which says that a person shall not get more when he is out of work than he receives when he is in work, but the allowances are taken into account for the purpose of calculating the resources and, therefore, they have an effect on the wage-stop provision. In other words, if family allowances were to increase all round there would be a reduction in the number of people who are [column 337]limited by the wage-stop in what they can receive from National Assistance, but it is a difficult and obscure effect and it arose because family allowances are taken into account for the purpose of resources but not actually for the work-stop equation.
This is the eleventh increase in the National Assistance scale rates since they were introduced in 1948. We on this side of the House made eight increases. In five out of the eight blind persons had a preferential rate of increase over and above the increases afforded by the ordinary scale rates. On three out of the eight occasions blind persons received the same increases as those who were on the ordinary scale rate. On this occasion the Board has followed the lesser provision. It has not given preferential increases at all to blind persons, so that a married couple of whom one or both are blind receive exactly the same increases as a married couple neither of whom is blind. There must be a reason for this. It cannot be money because there are only 53,000 blind persons receiving Assistance and, of course, there has been a tendency in recent years to give special allowances to blind persons under the tax system. It is possible that the reason is that the preferential scale rates also apply to tuberculous persons, and it may be thought anachronistic these days to select that particular illness out of many for the giving of preferential scale rates.
One or two other points of detail. The Parliamentary Secretary mentioned people living in Part III accommodation. I wonder whether the pocket money allowance will be going up.
On the last occasion, it went up from 11s. 6d. to 13s. 6d., and I expected that on this occasion it would be raised again.
Am I right in thinking that the increases in respect of the children of widowed mothers given under the 1964 Act will continue to be disregarded for the purposes of this increase? We had a special provision in the 1964 Act which made certain that this was done.
The Parliamentary Secretary gave a number of figures about total expenditure on the basis of existing cases. There will be extra people who will become [column 338]eligible for National Assistance and who will greatly benefit from coming within the National Assistance system. If my calculations are correct, expenditure on National Assistance next year cannot be less than £257 million, and it may be even more.
In conclusion, I pay tribute to the excellent work of the Board and to the sympathetic and understanding way in which its officers never fail to discharge their duties.
I have great pleasure in supporting the right hon. Lady's Regulations.