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Old-Age Pensioners

Volume 649: debated on Tuesday 21 November 1961

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asked the Prime Minister what instructions he has given to the departmental Ministers concerned to implement the policy, outlined in his speech at Guildhall on 13th November, concerning benefits for old-age pensioners at Christmas.

In my speech at Guildhall I said that I hoped we would all try to see that old people are not lonely at Christmas.

Since the Prime Minister recognised in his speech that the old people had not shared in the general level of prosperity, is that all that he meant? Is it good enough for him to raise false hopes that something is to be done to help their material well-being, when what he really meant was that people should, perhaps, be a little kind to old folk at Christmas, which, important though it is, does not meet the real needs of the old-age pensioner? Will the Prime Minister consider asking the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance to double the old-age pension at least for Christmas week?

No, Sir; I do not think that that would be a practical suggestion. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] We have discussed in detail the material questions of the rate of pension, and so on, and, as I have said, ours is the highest and most effective that there has ever been in the country. What I was trying to say on that occasion—I am happy to think that Members of all parties join in it—is that there is still room, whatever may be the material arrangements made, for personal effort and work on a different plane. It was for that that I was trying to appeal, and I am happy to feel that many hon. Members of all parties join in that appeal.

Is the Prime Minister aware that, while old people will, I am sure, greatly appreciate his concern for their loneliness, they would nevertheless appreciate a practical measure which only the Government can take? Will he explain just why it is impossible to double the old-age pension over Christmas?

That is an entirely different question as to the material benefits which are given by the pension. I think no one was under any misunderstanding about what I said, which was to make an appeal—I am happy to know that hon. Members join in it—to ensure that, even in the Welfare State and with all our various social services, people do remember that there is a great place for personal and human relations.

Is the Prime Minister aware that the old-age pensioners will take a very dim view of that explanation? Would he not have been well advised, before offering sympathy, to have devised some practical means of helping them?

I do not think that they will take a dim view if they look back to 1951 and remember what their pension was like then.

As old-age pensioners are so much better off now than they were in 1951, what about taking some of the old people out of the Cabinet and putting them on the old-age pension in order that they may have the benefits?

If we were to make a fair examination of the two sides of the House, it would be quite clear where the old-age pensioners were.