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National Insurance

Volume 463: debated on Tuesday 22 March 1949

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Retirement Pensions


asked the Minister of National Insurance whether, in view of the fact that in rural districts many people have no desire to retire at the age of 65 or subsequently, and may therefore never be able to draw their pension, he will consider granting them the option of drawing their pension at 10s. a week at the age of 65 irrespective of whether they continue in employment.

Under present arrangements a person over pension age can draw retirement pension at 70–65 for a woman—whether he has retired or not. If he goes on working between 65 and 70–60 and 65 for a woman—he is covered against unemployment and sickness and can earn a larger pension. These arrangements generally make much better provision for insured persons than that suggested by the hon. Member.

Do I understand from the right hon. Gentleman that it is now possible for a man working beyond the age of 65 to draw his pension of 10s. or is he compelled to wait?

No, he does not draw a retirement pension at 65 unless he has retired. If he stays at work he contributes towards the scheme and is covered for unemployment and sickness benefits. He also gets an added pension. When he reaches 70 a retirement pension is paid to him whether he retires or not.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this reluctance to retire is not confined to rural areas?

Is not the Minister under a contractual obligation to pay a man a pension at 65, and ought not a man to have the right to do what he likes after that age?

If we were to regard it from the purely contractual standpoint, then a man would be paid 10s. a week which is the full amount of the contract. In October, 1946, we made pensions of 26s. and 42s. available for people who previously had only earned 10s.

Coalminers, Industrial Diseases


asked the Minister of National Insurance how many cases of epidermophytosis have been notified to his Department as occurring in coalminers using pithead baths and sustaining infection of the skin of their feet, and whether he accepts this condition as an industrial disease for which compensation should be given under the Industrial Injuries Act.


asked the Minister of National Insurance whether he will consider adding to the list of prescribed industrial diseases the disease of epidermophytosis in cases where that disease has been contracted by coal-miners in pithead baths.

I regret that information is not available about the number of cases of this disease notified to the Department. I am considering the position in relation to benefit under the Industrial Injuries Act in the light of a recent decision of the Commissioner. In this case while stating that the disease is not prescribed under the Industrial Injuries Act, he suggested that in certain circumstances it might be regarded as contracted by accident and as such already within the scope of the Act.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that these cases are quite numerous, tend to spread and that they are easily preventable? Would my right hon. Friend use his influence with the National Coal Board to see that the necessary steps are taken at the pithead baths to ensure that further contagion is prevented?

We have no evidence so far of any material increase in the number of cases, but I am given to understand they can in the ordinary way be prevented. I shall take what steps I can in association with my right hon. Friend, the Minister of Fuel and Power to see what improvements can be made.

Will my right hon. Friend provide a copy of the decision of the Industrial Injuries Commissioner on this particular point?

Retirement Pensions


asked the Minister of National Insurance whether, in order to secure greater equality of treatment between insured persons reaching pensionable age before and after 5th July, 1948, he will give to the latter who postpone their retirement the option of drawing 10s. a week while still at work in lieu of the increment of 2s. a week for each year worked after retirement age.

The exercise of such an option would be a matter of great difficulty for individuals and might result in the forgoing of substantial benefits now available. It would in any case run counter to the principles underlying the scheme of retirement pensions so recently approved by Parliament.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the strength of feeling on this matter among insured persons who reached pensionable age after the new scheme came into operation? If they continue at work not only do they lose the 10s., but they have to pay 4s. 11d. a week in addition. They are in a less favourable position.

There are those who regret very much the loss of the 10s. pension but there are 10s. pensioners who would like to come under the new scheme. It is too early yet to arrive at a decision about the effectiveness of the retirement provision.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are many who would like the choice to operate the other way round; that there are many people receiving the 10s. a week who would prefer to remain in insurance in order to qualify for sickness benefits and qualify for the extra pension at the end?

That is what I have just said. There are some who would rather have the 10s. and others who would prefer to be under the new scheme.

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider this point. I have drawn his attention to a case of two men who were working at the same bench. Before the Labour Government came into power, one of them received the 10s. pension, but the other did not receive it afterwards. Is not that a retrograde step?

Perhaps my hon. Friend will have a word with them in two or three years' time when one of them is getting the increased pension and the other is not.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he is asking the House to believe that these people are not in a position to exercise their discretion in a matter of this kind? Why cannot he leave it to them to decide where, in their view, the balance of advantage lies?

The Act was passed by the House only recently. The question whether or not there should be an option was very fully discussed and it was decided—it was a recommendation of the Beveridge Report and was included in the White Paper of 1944 and in the Act —that the retirement pension should take the place of the old 10s. pension.

Will not my right hon. Friend agree that the proposal to make the pensions retirements pensions rather than old-age pensions was based on the desire to make them at the same time a contribution towards the relief of unemployment; and in view of the fact that labour conditions have wholly changed since then and that it is desirable now to keep people at work if they wish instead of encouraging them to retire, is there not now a case for reconsidering it?

The whole purpose of the new provision is to encourage older people who are able to do so to stay at work. Indeed, at the moment 64 per cent. of the men who reach 65 years of age do not retire. There is a very much larger proportion of old people at work today than at any time in the last 50 years.

Industrial Injuries Commissioners (Decisions)


asked the Minister of National Insurance whether he is prepared to make arrangements for the publication of the decisions of the Industrial Injuries Commissioners in cases which have arisen and which may, from time to time, arise under the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Acts.

Yes, Sir. Arrangements have already been made for the publication of certain decisions selected by the Commissioner, on cases arising under the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act, copies of which are in the Library.

Sickness Benefit


asked the Minister of National Insurance whether, in view of the widespread hardship which is being experienced by large numbers who are unable to follow their employment due to illness and whose financial resources are insufficient to enable them to subsist until they are able to resume their employment, some steps will now be taken to expedite payment of sickness benefit to these people.

The increase in sickness in the last few weeks has led to delays in some places but I am not aware of any foundation for the suggestion that delays are widespread. If the hon. Member has any particular places in mind and will let me know I will have immediate inquiries made.

Is not the Minister aware that there are very large numbers of delays? Is it not a fact that to a large extent this is due to shortage of staff? Is it not possible to utilise the services of some of those who are no longer required in connection with clothes rationing to expedite these matters?

The fact is that in the last few weeks we have had a very substantial increase in sickness claims. This is not uniform all over the country; it is unfortunately confined to some places where we have been having a very stiff time. There are delays but with improvements in our organisation we are hoping that the situation will be remedied.

Old Age Pensions


asked the Minister of National Insurance why an old age pensioner has his pension reduced by 10s. a week after he has been in hospital more than 56 days.

The rates of benefit at present in payment for patients maintained without charge in hospital are in accordance with the National Insurance (Overlapping Benefits) Provisional Regulations. The appropriateness of these rates is still under consideration by the National Insurance Advisory Committee.

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that this deduction presses very hardly on pensioners and it is very difficult for them to see why they should be dealt with in this manner when other people in better circumstances do not suffer the reduction?

I am awaiting the Committee's Report, and I will then consider the matter.

Will my right hon. Friend have a look at the category of case in which 21s. a week is deducted?

This works both ways. There are old age pensioners who for the first time in their lives under the new Act are receiving some proportion of a pension none of which they would have received before 5th July last.