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Pensions And National Insurance

Volume 531: debated on Monday 26 July 1954

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Night Shift Workers (Payment Of Benefits)

5.

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether he will make arrangements with the British Transport Commission to ensure that his Department's selection of the excluded day for purposes of National Insurance benefit shall coincide with the British Transport Commission's calculation of the first day on which the employee was absent from work.

I assume that the hon. Member has night shift workers in mind. I am satisfied that the present regulations governing the payment of National Insurance benefits to such workers are fair and reasonable. In any case, it would not be practicable to make different arrangements for different industries.

Does the right hon. Gentleman not appreciate that the consequence of that answer is that in a number of cases, including one from my own constituency of which I have sent him particulars, a worker must go two days without either pay or benefit? Would it not be appropriate that employers, particularly in nationalised industry, should be asked to follow the Ministry's own simple rule that the last day on which a man or woman works should be the day in respect of which he or she receives pay?

I am glad that the hon. Member accepts that it would be impracticable for me to alter my practice in order to adapt my regulations to conditions in a particular industry. Conditions in a particular industry are not matters for me, but should be settled by the parties directly concerned.

Old-Age Pensioners

6.

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he is aware that, since decontrol of meat, prices have risen to such a high degree as to make choice cuts of meat beyond the purchasing power of old-age pensioners; and whether he will, therefore, increase old-age pensions to compensate them for this loss in the purchasing value of their pensions.

That is the reply which I expected. The right hon. Gentleman seems quite oblivious of the sufferings of old-age pensioners, particularly with regard to the rapid and excessive rise in the price of meat. Is he aware that this rise means that old-age pensioners cannot afford to buy any decent cuts of meat? Surely the right hon. Gentleman could do something for these old people before the further increases in prices which are expected later this year.

—on which some of the old-age pensioners rely has gone down in price since derationing.

7.

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance on what dates since 1947 increases have been made in the basic rate of pensions paid to old-age pensioners; on what dates since 1947 increases have been made in the maximum scales of National Assistance; and to what extent his Department are making known to retirement pensioners the facilities and grants provided by the National Assistance Board.

The basic rate of retirement pension was increased for certain pensioners in September, 1951. In September, 1952, an increase was made for all retirement pensioners. The scales of assistance were increased in July, 1948, when the National Assistance scheme was introduced, and again in June, 1950, September, 1951, and June, 1952.

As regards the last part of the Question, the pension order book gives information about National Assistance and explanatory leaflets and application forms are readily available at local offices of my Ministry, in post offices and elsewhere.

Does my right hon. Friend think that the information in the first part of the answer is generally known to the public, including the editors of most newspapers? Could he also tell us in what circumstances his officers are authorised to advise pensioners to apply to the National Assistance Board if it is apparent that their means would entitle them to assistance?

I can only say that anybody who appears to be entitled to assistance is advised to apply for it. The trouble is much more reluctance to apply for assistance than ignorance of the facilities which exist.

In view of the obvious reluctance on the part of a large number of very deserving old-age pensioners to apply for assistance from the National Assistance Board, will the right hon. Gentleman consider, during the Recess, whether a change in title from National Assistance Board to something which is less suggestive of assistance might be worth while, so as to remove from these old people doubts about making an application?

No, Sir. As I have said before, it would be a mistake to forfeit the large amount of good will which has been built up by the National Assistance Board.

19 and 20.

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (1) the number of old-age pensioners in receipt of supplementation from the National Assistance Board in June, 1948, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1953 and 1954, respectively;

(2) the average weekly rate of supplementation received by old-age pensioners during the years 1948, 1950, 1952, 1953 and 1954, respectively.

15 and 16.

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (1) the number of old-age pensioners in Wales, and the number in receipt of supplementation from the National Assistance Board for July, 1948, and the month of June in 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953 and 1954;

(2) the average weekly rate of supplementation to old-age pensioners in Wales for the years 1948 to 1953 inclusive, and the latest convenient week in 1954.

22 and 23.

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (1) the number of retirement pensioners in Scotland receiving a supplementary allowance from the National Assistance Board in June, 1948, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953 and 1954, respectively;

(2) the average weekly rate of supplementation received from the National Assistance Board by retirement pensioners during the years 1948 to 1954, inclusive.

As the replies contain a number of figures, I am arranging to circulate them in a table in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

On a point of order. Is it right that the Minister should say he will answer en bloc all Questions that entail a column of figures when those Questions deal with different subjects? The Questions asked by my hon. Friends deal with England and Wales, but my Question deals specifically with Scotland and an entirely different set of figures. I do not think it is fair for the Minister to give an answer of that kind.

I do not think that that is a point of order. The Minister said that he would publish a table of figures which included the answer to the Question of the hon. Member and I see nothing wrong with that.

NATIONAL ASSISTANCE GRANTS
Number in Payment (thousands)Average Weekly Rate
Great BritainScotlandWalesGreat BritainWales
To Old-Age Pensioner HouseholdsTo Retirement Pensioner HouseholdsTo Old-Age Pensioner HouseholdsOld-Age Pensioner HouseholdsRetirement Pensioner HouseholdsOld-Age Pensioner Households
19485102835Not available
19496213845
s.d.s.d.s.d.
19507004551118115112
195183155591110111111
19529276167149141145
19531,05170741411143149
19541,1317778Not yet available

Note

(1) "Old-Age Pensioner" includes retirement pensioner and non-contributory old age pensioner
(2) The number national assistance grants in payment is for a date in July, 1948, and for a date in June in later years.
(3) The average weekly rate of National Assistance grant is an estimate based on a sample taken in the Autumn of each year
(4) The number of old-age pensioners in wales in each year was about 250,000.

9 and 10.

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (1) how many old-age pensioners in Liverpool are receiving supplementary grants from the National Assistance Board to the latest date;

(2) how many old-age pensioners in Liverpool are receiving contributory pensions and how many are receiving noncontributory pensions to the latest date.

The number of retirement pensioners in Liverpool is not known. The National Assistance Board tell me that many of their Liverpool offices cover areas outside the city. They estimate, however, that at the end of June there were in the city about 3,650 non-contributory pensioners and about 18,000 cases in which assistance was supplementing retirement or non-contributory pensions. Some of the latter include the needs of more than one pensioner.

Is the Minister aware that the first part of the answer indicates that the National Assistance Board offices

That may be so, but the answer may include the figures for which the hon. Member asked.

Following are the figures:

must be fewer in number than they ought to be if they have to cover areas greater than that of Liverpool? Is he aware that it is surprising that he cannot give fuller information and that that indicates that the concern of National Assistance officers is such that they are not aware of the picture of the poverty of old-age pensioners which is being constantly brought to the notice of the Department in this House?

The hon. Member will recognise that the records of retirement pensioners are kept centrally at Newcastle and do not take account of municipal or constituency boundaries. There are four National Assistance offices inside the city of Liverpool and five offices outside it which deal with cases partly from inside the city and partly from outside.

Will the Minister look at the matter again? Is he aware that these arrangements largely concern elderly people, that one office covers nearly two constituencies and that considerable travelling distances are involved for those who have to attend at them?

Consolidating Regulations (Publication)

8.

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance when the proposed pamphlet consolidating regulations governing contributions and benefits under the National Insurance and Family Allowances Acts will be available.

I have come to the conclusion that it would be advisable to defer publication for the time being.

Has the Minister finally made up his mind? Is he aware that over two years ago he informed me that he would publish such a comprehensive pamphlet, which would be most helpful not only to hon. Members but to the public generally? Is he aware that it is very difficult when one has to go through all the pamphlets to obtain relevant information?

I quite appreciate that a revised edition of the general guide would be useful, but in view of the changes which are now coming along I think that it would be better to postpone publication until those changes are made.

Would the Minister undertake that as soon as the changes take place he will speedily produce a comprehensive code?

War Pensioners (Comforts Allowance)

12.

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will take immediate steps, by a more generous interpretation of the comforts allowance, to compensate war pensioners of the 1914–18 war for disability and lack of mobility aggravated as a result of increasing age.

I am satisfied that the provisions laid down in the Royal Warrant for the award of this allowance are interpreted generously. If the hon. Member has in mind any individual case I shall be happy to look into it if he will send me particulars.

Does the Minister realise that I suggest this only as one of the reasons of dealing with this problem of the ageing war pensioners? Has he any alternative suggestions for securing that objective?

I know that the hon. Member was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry when this comforts allowance was first introduced. I should like to pay my tribute to the useful purpose which it has served; but I think we shall have to look for other and better ways of helping the larger number of pensioners whose cases I am considering, as I indicated in the debate on Wednesday of last week.

Limbless Ex-Service Men (Allowances)

13.

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if, in view of the fact that, of the 23,740 limbless survivors of the 1914–18 war, only 2,156 are in receipt of any of the supplementary allowances, he will have a review of their position made with a view to alleviating their position as soon as possible.

We can, I think, be glad that the number of 1914 war limbless pensioners in the categories calling for supplementary allowances is comparatively few. I am satisfied that the conditions governing payment of these allowances are generously applied.

Is the Minister aware that it is a very small percentage of the total number of 1914–18 men who are receiving any supplementary assistance? Will he see that they are all receiving what they ought to be receiving?

On two occasions in recent years leaflets have been circulated to all pensioners to inquire whether they are quite sure that they are getting all the allowances to which they are entitled. I shall certainly consider a further circulation of that sort at the appropriate moment.

14.

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will investigate the effect on the paired limb of wearing an artificial limb from the purely physical, rather than medical aspect, by means of an immediate and swift examination of 25 per cent. of 1914–18 limbless war pensioners.

As the hon. Member knows, about 4,500 limbless pensioners of the 1914 war have recently been examined in connection with the investigations of the Rock Carling Committee and I think we had better wait and see what that Committee reports before making up our minds on this point.

Is the Minister aware that we are concerned, not with the foibles of the medical profession, but with the facts about these aged limbless men? The suggestion in my Question does not mean a medical examination but an examination, say, by the welfare staff of the Department, to see what the physical effect of the wearing of an artificial limb is rather than the medical effect, which can mean anything according to the interpretation of the medical officer.

I am not quite sure what is the distinction the hon. Member draws between a medical and a physical effect, but I am sure that the investigation by the Rock Carling Committee will throw light on this point.

The distinction which I draw is that medical men are concerned with medical terms and the physical condition is concerned with whether men are more quickly tired and more easily handicapped by advancing age because of the wearing of an artificial limb. That is a purely physical matter which can be determined by observation by sympathetic observers rather than by medical men, who are purely concerned with medical terms.

I trust that the hon. Member is not suggesting that medical men are not sympathetic.

When does the Minister expect to receive the Report of the Rock Carling Committee?

National Assistance Allowances (Disregards)

21.

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will introduce legislation to increase the minimum scales of National Assistance allowances and disregards.

No, Sir. I would refer the hon. Member to Section 6 of the National Assistance Act.

Will the Minister reconsider that answer in the light of the closely reasoned, factual article that appeared in the "Manchester Guardian" last Friday? Does the Minister agree that the standard of these scales was fixed against one of the darkest backgrounds of British history? In view of rising productivity, does he not think that those who suffer through no fault of their own should have their standards improved?

Section 6 of the National Assistance Act, 1948, places fairly and squarely on the Board the duty from time to time of preparing and submitting to the Minister draft regulations covering the scale of assistance. The Board, on a number of occasions, has shown itself prepared to act under Section 6 without any prompting from me. Therefore, I think we should follow the course laid down by Parliament in 1948.

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether the disregards are the subject of examination by the Phillips Committee, bearing in mind that they are concerned with financial provision for the aged?

I am not aware that the Phillips Committee is considering disregards for National Assistance purposes.

Will my right hon. Friend kindly ask the Phillips Committee to consider them? Is he aware that in my opinion it is most important that this aspect of provision for the aged, which involves thrift and saving, should be considered by the Phillips Committee?

All I said was that I was not aware that the Phillips Committee was considering the matter. I cannot say, however, that it is not considering this matter. It certainly is not for me to dictate to that Committee what it should or should not consider within its terms of reference.

Is the Minister aware that the scales of National Assistance for two people are 5s. higher than for a contributory pensioner? The time is long overdue when he should have a look at that.

Married Persons (Pension Rate)

24.

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he has considered the desirability of granting the same old-age pension to each married person as to single persons, widows or widowers, or of reducing the difference between that paid to the former and to the latter.

Where a husband and wife are both insured they will each be granted a pension at the single person's rate. I see no reason for providing similar treatment where the wife relies on her husband's insurance.

Is the Minister aware of the anomaly of two people living in two separate rooms, in the same household, or, indeed, actually cohabiting, each receiving a pension and, therefore, receiving an aggregate income, by pension, much larger than if they were married?

That may well be so, where each has been a contributor to the Insurance Fund.

Old People (Coal Supplies)

25.

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will consider making a winter-time allowance for old-age pensioners for the purchase of coal, beyond any increase that may be made in the pension.

As the Minister has power to make an allowance for the purchase of tobacco, could be not secure power to make this very necessary grant?

No, I can assure the hon. Member that it is quite beyond my power to interfere in that way with the working of the National Assistance Board. There used to be a special winter-time allowance for fuel which was abolished by general consent in 1944 because it was found to be unsatisfactory.

As old-age pensioners find it impossible to lay in stocks of coal during the summer, could not the right hon. Gentleman ask the Minister of Fuel and Power to ensure that stocks are put aside especially for them?

27.

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether he has yet considered the comments of the National Council of Social Service in their recent report on the difficulties about the coal supplies of people over 70 years of age; and if he will discuss with the appropriate authorities before the winter the problems involved with a view to finding a solution.

I have not yet had an opportunity of examining this report which, I gather, was only published on 23rd July.

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether, by the time the House reassembles after the Recess, he will have studied this report? May I take it that then, as heating fuel of all kinds is most important to old people, he will, after he has read the report, consider the proposals which it makes and ensure that action is taken? If I put down a Question by the time we return, will my right hon. Friend have an answer for me?

I will certainly take an opportunity of reading this excellent report during the summer Recess—[An HON. MEMBER: "Excellent?"] I gathered from Press reports that it was well worthy of careful consideration—but I hope that I shall not come to a conclusion on it quite as quickly as my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Miss Ward).

In view of the fact that some of these people will be limbless ex-Service men, could the Minister tell us when he hopes to have the report of the Rock Carling Committee?

I think I should be right in saying that I hope to receive this report before many months have gone by.

Widow's Benefits (Disregarded Earnings)

26.

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what decision has been reached on the question of increasing the amount that may be earned by a widow without this affecting the drawing of a full widow's pension.

I would refer the hon. Member to my reply to the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) on 12th July, to which I have nothing to add.

Does the Minister realise that that does not really alter the grievance that there are widows to whom it is a burden and an anomaly that they cannot earn more than a certain amount without affecting their pension; and that they might be encouraged to work more and longer if they had a better allowance in respect of earnings?

As the answer to which I referred made clear, this is one of the matters which I have referred to the National Insurance Advisory Committee.