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National Insurance

Volume 466: debated on Tuesday 28 June 1949

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Offices, Kent

11.

asked the Minister of National Insurance what future arrangements are proposed for maintaining offices of his Department in Whitstable and Herne Bay.

Both these offices are being retained but as from 15th July next the Whitstable office will be open on three days a week only. This change is being made in view of the small public use of this office and of the necessity for staff economy.

Personal Case, Wallsend

14.

asked the Minister of National Insurance if he is aware that a married woman with four children applied for national assistance on the 18th June, 1949, as she was left with no money to buy food for her children, but was informed by the official at Wallsend, that she could have no assistance until Monday, 20th June; and if he will have this case thoroughly investigated and inform the Wallsend National Assistance officers that more sympathetic treatment was needed.

I have asked the Board to inquire into this matter and will write to my hon. Friend as soon as possible.

Is the Minister aware that this applicant had to go to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children where he got a better reception than at the National Assistance office? Is he also aware that there is a general feeling of dissatisfaction with regard to the spirit in which National Assistance is administered in Wallsend? Will he consider changing these officers for the benefit of Wallsend?

I have heard of no complaints. This complaint was put down in the form of a Question, and it is my duty first of all to inquire from the Board whether the facts are right or wrong. I will reply to the hon. Member as soon as I am able.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I had to intervene in a personal case at Wallsend and that after the intervention a different attitude was adopted, which all indicates carelessness on the part of the officials?

This is the first complaint I have had. I was not aware that there had been any dissatisfaction.

Unofficial Strikers (Family Relief)

15.

asked the Minister of National Insurance what total amount of relief has been paid to the families of unofficial strikers since the beginning of the year; and what are the scales of relief in these cases.

I regret that the figures asked for in the first part of the Question are not available. As regards the second part assistance in these cases is assessed in accordance with the National Assistance (Determination of Needs) Regulations, 1948.

Would it be possible for the Minister to have a circular or pamphlet prepared to be issued during the period of unofficial strikes saying what amount of relief is given to strikers' wives and families in Russia and what happens to strikers here, whether the strikes are official or unofficial?

Retirement Pensions

16.

asked the Minister of National Insurance if the amendment to the regulations to enable the retirement pension a woman may receive when her husband reaches the age of 70 or on his earlier death will require confirmation by this House.

The regulations to which the hon. Member refers have now been made. They are subject to the normal procedure of negative resolution.

Is this another instance that the Socialist Government can impose charges upon the taxpayer without asking this House?

No, Sir. This makes the benefit of a scheme available to a new class of contributor, and no extra charge is involved.

Office Staffs

17.

asked the Minister of National Insurance how many employees of the former approved societies, who are now employed by his Department, have been required, or will during the next twelve months be required, to work at places out of daily reach from their existing homes; and why.

Transfers of station are an inevitable incident of service in a large Department with a local office network, as a result of promotions, retirements and experience of local work loads. A number of such transfers have already been made and others will continue to be necessary. These transfers include certain former employees of approved societies in common with established staff recruited from other sources. I regret that the total numbers affected are not available but out of a group of 52 officers in one region recently given notice of transfer only 17 were from approved societies. All such transfers are carried out under a priority system agreed with the staff associations and every possible consideration is given to individual circumstances.

Is not the real reason for these transfers that the Minister grossly miscalculated the distribution of manpower required for his Department? Will not this cause great hardship among the people affected?

No, Sir. There was no gross miscalculation. If it is a miscalculation of 52 over 1,000 offices, that is not a bad record. The arrangements made have been agreed by the staff. There will have to be transfers. The hon. Gentleman will not suggest that we should keep staff where there is no work for them. These arrangements are made in complete understanding with the staff associations.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recollect the categorical assurances he gave during the passing of the National Insurance Act that the officials of the approved societies would as far as possible be absorbed and given every consideration? [HON. MEMBERS: "They are!"] Does he consider that this type of consideration is fulfilling his earlier pledge?

I gave an assurance that they would be absorbed in the new Ministry, and they have been. I gave an undertaking, which I have carried out, that as far as possible their new work would be as near their present homes as possible. One of the difficulties is that our scheme of administration is far more decentralised than was the old system, and that inevitably involves some transfers.

Workmen's Compensation (Settlements)

19.

asked the Minister of National Insurance whether he has now reached a decision as to the entitlement to sickness benefit under the National Insurance Act of workmen who met with accidents and received compensation under the Workmen's Compensation Acts and subsequently after 5th July, 1948, fall sick or become temporarily incapacitated as a result of their old accidents or in cases where they have received lump sum settlements under the Workmen's Compensation Acts before or after 5th July, 1948, subsequently suffer an incapacity attributable to their earlier accidents.

I would refer my hon. Friend to regulation 9 of the National Insurance (Overlapping Benefits) Regulations, 1948. Its effect at this date is that personal sickness benefit would normally be paid in full to persons who are totally incapacitated through injury by accident prior to 5th July, 1948, but if my hon. Friend has any particular case in mind perhaps he will let me know.

Hospital Patients (Allowances)

20.

asked the Minister of National Insurance why the advice of the National Insurance Advisory Committee is required to prove that 5s. per week is insufficient to meet the needs of tubercular and other long-term hospital patients for tobacco and/or cigarettes, haircuts, razor blades, toothpaste, stamps, writing materials, newspapers, magazines, books, clothes maintenance, and even an occasional drink.

This is a matter on which I am required by Section 77 of the National Insurance Act, 1946, to submit a preliminary draft regulation to the National Insurance Advisory Committee and to consider the Committee's Report before making substantive regulations. I am sending the hon. Member a copy of a circular issued by the Ministry of Health from which he will see that hospitals under the National Health Service are empowered to provide for their patients most of the articles enumerated in the Question.

Will the Minister take my assurance that the patients in the hospital which prompted this Question receive none of these articles? For his information, it is the County Hospital at Wick. Is it not a fact that these invalids receive 13s. a week in the bad old days of Toryism before the 1948 Act whereas they are now receiving 5s. a week? In an obvious case of hardship like this why does not the Minister act rather than wait from 5th July, 1948, to now?

First of all, I deny the statement about the old benefits and the new. Secondly, the whole matter is being investigated very carefully by the Advisory Committee. I am expecting their report within the next week or two. I shall publish it, and then there will be a full opportunity of discussing what we shall make as substantive regulations.

Can the Minister say how long this matter has been under consideration?

This is a very important matter which involves much more than the payment of benefit; it involves the whole treatment of long-term patients in hospital. The Committee has gone into it carefully, has received a large number of representations and discussed it with workers in this field, and I am sure that its Report and recommendations will be after the fullest consultation.

I have already said that I am expecting the Report within the next week or two.