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Prescription Charges

Volume 640: debated on Monday 8 May 1961

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asked the Minister of Health if he will estimate the loss of revenue which would result from exempting from payment of prescription charges all persons with incomes of £9 per week or less.

I have no means of estimating the number of prescriptions dispensed for these persons.

Is it not regrettable that this information should not be available? Is it beyond the scope of human—or, perhaps I should say, Ministerial ingenuity—to evolve a scheme which would exempt small income earners from paying prescription charges except through the machinery of the National Assistance Board?

That is a separate question. My hon. Friend's Question asked for an estimate. It is impossible to know the incomes of persons when prescriptions are dispensed for them or their dependants.


asked the Minister of Health if he has yet considered ways and means to ensure that those living on small means, but above the National Assistance scale, can be relieved from paying health charges.


asked the Minister of Health whether he has yet considered methods to relieve persons with small incomes from prescription charges, so as to obviate the necessity to claim from the National Assistance Board.


asked the Minister of Health whether he has yet worked out a scheme whereby those with small incomes may be relieved from paying prescription charges.


asked the Minister of Health if, following his further study of the problem, he will now exempt from the payment of prescription charges all persons who are not assessed for income tax in any year.

I am keeping under review the detailed working of present arrangements for the ascertainment and prevention of hardship, but I am satisfied that in principle those arrangements are on the right lines.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that, whatever he thinks, a lot of people disagree with him? Quite a number of people in the Conservative Party disagree with him. May I ask him, therefore, whether he is consulting the Treasury to see whether some other arrangement cannot be made to deal with this very important and pressing question for those living on small fixed incomes?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I sent him particulars of a very proud old soldier—whose name cannot be given in public—whose total income from all sources, for himself and his wife, is £8 10s. a week? He pays rent of over £1 a week. The old lady has a weak heart and it is continually necessary for her to have prescriptions. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in his reply to me it was stated that this old soldier could have no assistance?

I will look or look again at the case mentioned by the hon. Member for Cannock (Miss Lee). As my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) knows, alternative methods have been very carefully considered, but no method can be workable which imposes upon doctors or chemists the obligation of themselves assessing hardship or need.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that although a great deal has been done through the National Assistance Board, it is my experience in my constituency that a number of people are still too proud to go to the National Assistance Board and, therefore, suffer in silence? I hope that my right hon. Friend, in conjunction with the Inland Revenue, will do something to work out a method, other than that through the National Assistance Board, for bringing relief to these people.

There are great difficulties in using taxable income as a standard of obtaining help in hardship in these cases, but my right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance and I will certainly not close our minds to any practicable method of improving the existing procedure.

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that there is some justification for assuming that most persons whose incomes are so low that they are not assessable for taxation should be relieved from paying these charges? Surely it should be possible, in conjunction with the Inland Revenue, to find some scheme which would exempt people who do not pay tax from paying prescription charges in future?

This question is primarily for the Treasury, but assessability for tax does not appear to afford a practicable method for giving immediate relief to people in these circumstances.

Does the right hon. Gentleman now realise the sense of the case put from this side of the House—that the whole idea of the increases in prescription charges was wrong? Now, apparently, just before the municipal elections, his hon. Friends are finding out the same thing.