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Disability And War Widows' Pensions (Increase)

Volume 498: debated on Wednesday 9 April 1952

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I should like, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, and the leave of the House, to make a statement about disability and war widows' pensions.

The Chancellor announced in his Budget speech an increase from 45s. to 55s. a week in the standard basic rate of disability pension for 100 per cent. disablement, with proportionate increases for lower assessments. This improvement will take effect from the first pay-day in May and will apply to about 695,000 pensioners. He also said that there would be some increases for war widows and that I would make an announcement in due course.

I am glad to say that with effect from the first pay-day in May the standard rate of 35s. payable to a widow who is over 40 or receiving an allowance for a child or who is incapable of self-support will be increased to 42s. The amount of the increase for comparable widows of officers will be £18 a year. The new rates benefit about 150,000 widows of both world wars. Application will not be necessary.

The revision of both disablement and widows' pensions is now proceeding and I hope that all pensioners affected will have received their increased awards by about the end of July, with arrears from the first pay-day in May. The cost of these improvements will be about £10 million a year.

I also take this opportunity of announcing that it has been decided to increase from £52 10s. to £57 a year the allowance towards maintenance and running expenses paid to those severely disabled war pensioners to whom my Department has supplied motor cars. The increased allowance will take effect from the 12th of March, 1952, and application will not be necessary.

I am sure the Minister will be aware that the whole House welcomes the statement he has made, especially that part relating to widows' pensions. In particular we shall all welcome his decision to make the payments from the first pay day in May and we wish to commend him upon that prompt action.

I appreciate that very much, particularly coming from the right hon. Gentleman who, when Minister of Pensions, took such an interest in the well-being of the disabled.

With reference to that part of the statement dealing with disability pensions, has the attention of the Minister been drawn to the front page of the "British Legion Journal" for April, which purports to show that a 100 per cent. disabled man received formerly 45s. and now can receive only 55s.? Is that a correct statement of the case either before or since his answer, and if not, will he correct it?

Yes, Sir, my attention has been called to this picture and I am surprised that the headquarters of the British Legion should have thought fit to approve of this picture and caption, because I believe it to be a complete misrepresentation. The clear implication of that picture was that the unfortunate amputee concerned received only 55s. with the improvement I have just announced, and that was all. In fact, the very least he could get if he were a single man and able to work would be £4 8s., if he were unable to work, £6 3s., and if he were a married man, he would get more. If he were a married man with children and in need of constant attendance, he could get a sum which might go up to as much as £9 1s. 6d., including the new family allowance. I cannot think that the Legion authorities are best serving the cause of the disabled by propaganda of this kind.

Is the Minister aware that we are very pleased that he has continued the policy of increasing the car allowance, but that as the car allowance has now been increased by £12 over a period of years and the motor-propelled tricycle has no petrol allowance at all, would he kindly consider whether some little recognition should not be given to the difficulties of those using motor-propelled tricycles?

I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that that is a separate question. In the case of the motor tricycles, the Departments concerned, the Ministry of Health and my own Department, are responsible for the whole cost of maintenance, and the petrol consumption is a good deal lower than that of cars.

While thanking my hon. Friend for having answered some of the questions which I ventured to put to him just after the Budget, may I ask him whether the Ministers concerned propose to receive a deputation from the British Legion, who desire to put before them the inadequacy of the rise which has recently been made in the basic rate so far as the overwhelming majority of war pensioners are concerned?

As I have told my hon. Friend before, I am always glad and prepared to receive a deputation from the British Legion. As regards the alleged inadequacy of the present increase, I think the House will agree that the cost of living has risen substantially over the past six years and, personally, I am very pleased that the Government have found it possible at a moment of unprecedented financial difficulty, and in their first Budget, to make a useful contribution to the increased cost of living.

I understood the Minister to say that the increased pensions related to widows over 40 years of age. Is there anything for the widow under 40 years of age?

The widow under 40 who is in receipt of an allowance for children or is incapacitated will qualify for the rate I have mentioned. The widow under 40 who is not incapacitated and has no children will continue to receive the pension of 20s. a week. It has not been found possible under present circumstances to increase that.

May I ask my hon. Friend to give me a specific reply to my question? Will the Ministers receive this deputation before the Finance Bill goes through its final stages?

I am not prepared to say today on what date it will be possible to receive a deputation from the British Legion. Indeed, I think I am right in saying that I have not yet been approached on that subject. However, I say again what I have said before, that I am prepared to receive a deputation from the British Legion.

In making this review, has the hon. Gentleman had an opportunity of considering the basis of need test for parents' pensions, which now seems to be a case of hardship? If not, will he take an opportunity of making a review of this matter which I know was commenced by my right hon. Friend the former Minister of Pensions shortly before the Election?

I know the hon. Gentleman is interested in that matter and we have been in correspondence about it. It is not covered by what I have said today, but I have it always under consideration, and I am looking forward to discussing it with the hon. Gentleman.