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Retirement Pensioners

Volume 654: debated on Monday 19 February 1962

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asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what has been the percentage rise in the cost of living since the date when the National Insurance Act, 1960, was passed; and if he will consider giving the beneficiaries under the Act the equivalent rise in benefits.

On the first part of his Question, I would refer the hon. Member to the Answer which I gave him on 12th February. So far as the second part is concerned, as I explained in replying to a Question by the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) on 5th February, the real value of the retirement pension remains appreciably higher than at any time before the last increase, which was, in fact, made in April, 1961.

While not disputing those points, the fact remains that at present there are any amount of single men who must pay £3 for board and lodgings, and often more, and their National Insurance does not even cover that. If the benefits were raised in accordance with the cost of living, as outlined in my Question, they would not even amount to £3, and does the right hon. Gentleman therefore not think that, in the circumstances, he should examine the whole position? Is it not about time the National Insurance benefits were reviewed and the scheme reconstructed so that better benefits are given?

The fact remains, to use the hon. Gentleman's own expression, that the real value of these benefits today is higher than at any time prior to April, 1961.


asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will state the number of retirement pensioners in receipt of an allowance from the National Assistance Board in the week following the introduction of the present scales, and at the latest available date.

Such figures are obtained quarterly. The count nearest to the time when the present scale rates came into operation, on 3rd April, 1961, was made on 28th March, 1961. On that date, the number of weekly National Assistance grants payable to retirement pensioners was 1,079,000. It is estimated that the number payable in the week following the pension and assistance increases was about 1,050,000. In December, 1961, the number was 1,056,000. Some of the grants provided for the requirements of a household with more than one pensioner.

I note that those figures show a slight decrease since April, 1951, but does the Minister not think that they indicate that far too many old people are still living at a bare subsistence level? Does he not consider the time now opportune for a further review of old-age pensions with a view to increasing them?

The hon. Gentleman knows that a change was made less than a year ago. It is interesting to notice that, in absolute terms, those figures are smaller than they were early last year in spite of the increase in the number of retirement pensioners generally.

Is the Minister satisfied with a position in which well over a million old-age pensioners have to apply for National Assistance? Would he not do better to give thought to future legislation that would take old-age pensioners, as such, out of the realm of National Assistance?

No, I disagree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. It is the function and purpose of the National Assistance Board, as set up by Parliament, to relieve those, whether above or below retirement pension age, whose means are below the levels that Parliament lays down, and it is perfectly proper that that function, which, by all accounts and by all the evidence, is most humanely and efficiently administered, should be undertaken to help those of our older fellow-citizens who need it just as much as the younger ones.


asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what would be the National Insurance retirement pension today if it were raised to 19·4 per cent. of men's average earnings, as occurred in April, 1948; and what would have been the figure on the basis of the average earnings of men in October, 1961.

On the basis of the provisional figures for average earnings among men covered by the Ministry of Labour's half-yearly inquiry in October, 1961, which are the latest available, 59s. 7d.

Does not that reply admit that the present National Insurance benefits are not up to the standards of 1948 in relation to average earnings? In 1948 the figure was 19·4 per cent., as compared with 18·7 per cent. now. If, in general, a country's workers are doing better, surely we should be able to do better for those unfortunate people who are sick or unemployed. Again I ask: is it not time that we made the National Insurance benefits equal to, or probably greater than, National Assistance scales? In 1960, 1,300,000 people were applying for National Assistance and were getting as much as 30s. more than the National Insurance benefit? Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that he should arrange that the National Insurance benefits should at least be equal to the National Assistance scales?

The last two paragraphs of that supplementary question dealt with National Assistance, which does not appear in the main Question. As to the main Question, the hon. Member will, of course, be aware that in terms of what they will buy, which is the important consideration, these benefits are very substantially above the 1948 level.