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National Insurance

Volume 497: debated on Monday 10 March 1952

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Hernia (Disablement Benefit)


asked the Minister of National Insurance whether his attention has been drawn to the many cases where a workman suffers from hernia due to accident but is unable to obtain operative treatment within six months and is later penalised in any claim for loss of faculty unless it be appreciable and permanent; and what action he proposes to take in such cases.

I am not aware of any cases in which a man has been deprived of disablement benefit in the circumstances described by the hon. Member, but if he has such a case in mind perhaps he will let me have details.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that an alteration in the regulations is considered desirable so that a workman shall be able to claim that his date of disablement is the date of the operation rather than the date when the hernia was actually sustained? Would not that be a desirable way of getting over the difficulty which I have put to the Minister?

No, Sir. Both the policy and the practice of the medical boards and the medical appeal tribunals are to prevent the occurrence of what the hon. Member fears may happen, but I should be obliged if he would send me the details if he has a case in which this has happened.

Industrial Dermatitis


asked the Minister of National Insurance whether he is aware that assessment of loss of faculty in cases of industrial dermatitis does not take into account the increased susceptibility of the worker's skin to a wide range of other irritants; that the worker is restricted in his choice of occupation, and that the assessments are too low; and what steps he proposes to take to remedy the position.

I am advised that such increased susceptibility is taken into account by medical boards and medical appeal tribunals. I would remind the hon. Member that special hardship allowance is available, in addition to the main disablement benefit, in appropriate cases.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the advice given to him does not seem to tally with our experience in the field of work and that these assessments are considered by the workers as being ridiculously low in very many cases? Will the right hon. Gentleman have another look at this?

I can only say that I do not share all the hon. Gentleman's advantages in putting Questions on these technical subjects, but the medical boards and tribunals are composed of the best medical men that we can obtain to serve on them, and I am told that their assessments in these cases take into account all the matters mentioned in the Question.


asked the Minister of National Insurance whether he is aware that some of his insurance officers appeal against every case in which a worker is certified to be suffering from industrial dermatitis; that there is a considerable delay before the worker is examined by the medical tribunal, and that certifying surgeons serve no useful purpose while this practice continues; and whether he will give instructions that this practice should cease.

The great majority of claims for benefit for industrial dermatitis are decided by insurance officers on the basis of the examining medical practitioner's report. But if the hon. Member has any particular office in mind, perhaps he will let me know.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the trouble which my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross), seeks to remedy is partly due to the fact that there is a shortage of dermatologists? Will he bring this to the attention of the deans of the medical schools?

I will certainly consider any suggestion which the right hon. Lady makes to me on this technical matter.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that men who have suffered from this complaint afterwards often have the greatest difficulty in finding employment in which a recrudescence will not occur? Will he consult his colleagues in other Departments who may be interested in instituting a special inquiry into the causes of the disease and the selection of suitable employment for men who have suffered from it?

Old-Age Pensions


asked the Minister of National Insurance whether he is yet in a position to reply to the representations made to him by the Old-Age Pensioners' Association for an immediate increase in the old-age pension.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, owing to a steady increase in the cost of living since this Government took office, the old-age pensioner is suffering acute hardship, and as official representations were made to him by the Old-age Pensioners' Association last December, is it not callous and discourteous not to reply to those representations?

In reply to the first part of the hon. Lady's supplementary question, I shall be giving the exact figures for which she asks in answer to the next Question on the Order Paper. With regard to the second part, the statement which the Chancellor of the Exchequer made on 26th February, that he will make a statement about the review of pensions to the House in due course, still holds good.

Will the right hon. Gentleman inform his right hon. Friend that any increase in old-age pensions which does not take account of the cost of living increase which has already taken place, and is merely in respect of any proposed increase in the cost of living which the Government are planning through a reduction in the food subsidies, would be quite inadequate?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the position of old-age pensioners is the cause of just as much concern on this side of the House as it is on the other side?


asked the Minister of National Insurance by what amount the present scale of old-age pensions would have to be increased to compensate for the reduction since 1st November last of the purchasing power of the £; and what the cost of granting such an increase would be.

On the basis of the Official Index of Retail Prices introduced in June, 1947, the increase in retirement pensions that would be necessary to give them the same purchasing power as on 1st November, 1951, would be about 7d. on 26s., 8½d. on 30s. and 1s. 2d. on 50s., the pension for a married couple. The cost would be of the order of £7 million a year.

Will the Minister bear in mind that he still has time to send these figures to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for appropriate action to be taken in tomorrow's Budget?

Weekly Contributions


asked the Minister of National Insurance if he can give an estimate of the additional income, excluding the corresponding additional Government contribution, which would accrue to the National Insurance Fund if weekly contributions were increased by Is, for men with corresponding additions for other contributors.

Does the Minister agree that it is usually socially better that contributions to the national emergency by wage earners should come when they are at work rather than by cutting the benefits when they are most in need of them?

Retiring Pension Age


asked the Minister of National Insurance if he will give an estimate of what would be the additional net income accruing in the current year and in the three following years to the National Insurance Fund if the retiring pension age was increased by two years.

This information is not available. To form an estimate one would have to make a number of assumptions about the details of a plan for raising the pension age, and I cannot undertake to go into all these points within the limits of a Parliamentary answer.

Does not the Minister at least agree that the saving should be very considerable? If so, would it not be worth while making the savings and using part of them to improve the condition of those who have retired and are suffering because of the rise of prices?

Unemployment Benefit (Nantlle Valley)


asked the Minister of National Insurance if he is aware that unemployed persons in the Nantlle Valley, Caernarvonshire, are being disallowed unemployment benefits if they refuse to accept work in Bristol or London or other distant towns; and if he will change this.

I am aware that certain claimants in this valley have been disqualified for unemployment benefit on the ground that they refused without good cause to accept employment which was offered them elsewhere. But I have no power to vary the decisions of the independent statutory authority in these cases.

Is the Minister aware that these men were offered jobs which were so poorly paid as to make it impossible for them to maintain two homes; that it was most unfair and that they had no alternative but to refuse these jobs? Is he further aware that the application of the regulations under his dispensation is far harsher than it ever was under the previous Government? Would he bear in mind that next month a new factory is due to open in this valley, and that it would be a pity to disperse the available labour force which is already there?

These offers of employment are, of course, made by the Ministry of Labour, and perhaps the hon. Gentleman would put any question on that aspect to my right hon. and learned Friend. So far as I am concerned, there are four cases of men who have been disqualified by the insurance officer. One appealed to the local appeal tribunal, which has upheld the decision of the insurance officer.

Retired Pensioners, Sunderland


asked the Minister of National insurance the number of old-age pensioners who retired after 1st September, 1951, on a pension of 26s. for a single person and 42s. for a married couple, in Sunderland; and how many of these are in receipt of Assistance Board supplementary allowances.

When the information comes to his notice, will the right hon. Gentleman make representations to his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he has old-age pensions under review, to abolish the anomaly that exists between pensioners who retired before September last year and after September last year?

Personal Case


asked the Minister of National Insurance whether he is now in a position to reply to the communication addressed to him by the hon. Member for The Hartlepools on 27th November, 1951, and to which he sent an interim reply on 10th December, under reference M.C. 54404.

While thanking the right hon. Gentleman for the reply which I have received, may I ask if, in view of the evidence revealed in this case, he will now review the administrative machinery in his local offices about references to local tribunals to avoid repetition of this type of case?

This particular case was one of special difficulty, but I have the whole question of principle under consideration.

Should not the administrative machinery in the local offices be reviewed to prevent this type of case arising in the future?

Local Appeal Tribunals


asked the Minister of National Insurance if he can now make a statement on the working of local appeal tribunals, with particular reference to the avoidance wherever possible of purely formal or abortive hearings of matters within the jurisdiction of the Minister himself.

Arrangements are being made to meet the point which the hon. Member has in mind, and I hope to put them into operation shortly.

I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, but will he bear in mind that my purpose in drawing attention to this matter was not to suggest any alteration in the machinery of justice, which is still far from perfect in the Department, but rather to draw attention to the loss of wages and time being sustained by the workers, the inconvenience to employers, and the loss of public money?

Blind Persons (Weekly Allowances)


asked the Minister of National Insurance what is the purchasing power, as compared with 1948, of the 15s. additional weekly allowance given to blind persons and those suffering from respiratory tuberculosis.

On the basis of the Official Index of Retail Prices the present purchasing power of this additional allowance is 12s. 3d.

Will the right hon. Gentleman convey to the National Assistance Board the views held by many Members on both sides of the House, and I hope himself, that the case for the raising of these scales is unanswerable?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the initiative and the responsibility in this matter lie with the Assistance Board.

Sickness Benefit (Chronic Illness)


asked the Minister of National Insurance whether, in view of the fact that the cost of living has greatly risen, he will increase the sickness benefit, as the 26s. fixed weekly allowance is now insufficient for chronic sufferers.

I must ask the hon. Member to await the outcome of the Government's review of pensions, but I can assure him that I have been keeping the position of these people in mind.

In view of the fact that these people are in very serious difficulties because the amount they are receiving is too small to meet the increased cost of living, will the right hon. Gentleman propose that the amount should be increased?

I cannot add to the reply which I have already given to the hon. Gentleman.