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Pensions And Benefits

Volume 654: debated on Monday 19 February 1962

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9.

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether he will introduce legislation during the present Session of Parliament to raise the level of retirement pensions and other National Insurance benefits.

10.

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether National Assistance scales and National Insurance benefits will be increased to match increases in salaries and wages during the next phase of the pay pause.

I have no statement to make on this subject other than by way of reminding both hon. Members that the rates of National Insurance benefits and the National Assistance scales were substantially increased as recently as April.

That is the third time the right hon. Gentleman has said that this afternoon. Is he aware that most other civilised countries have put up their pensions in recent years—most of them to a much higher level than ours—and that it is really not good enough for him to make comparisons with the past? Would he agree that, in addition to about a million pensioners on National Assistance, a recent survey seemed to indicate that probably another half million would qualify for National Assistance but do not apply? In that situation, will anything do to alleviate their distress except an increase in their subsistence rates?

The hon. Member has put at least half-a-dozen items into that supplementary question. I can only say that his comparisons with other countries very often miss the point, and I certainly know of very few foreign countries which, having raised their pensions to a new level last April, are raising them again.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many incomes were raised last year and that the modest increases in National Insurance benefits and in National Assistance scales will soon compare unfavourably with the rises in incomes that may be expected this year? Is he aware that large-scale increases in wages and other incomes will take place in April next, and that unless increases to match are made in the scales of National Insurance and National Assistance, social security beneficiaries will fall behind? What does he intend to do about that?

The Government's record on this matter is, as the House knows, an excellent one, while there is, of course, no precedent in the action of hon. Members opposite to justify them in talking about an increase in these benefits within eleven months of their being raised to a new high level.

When more money is available, will my right hon. Friend see that it goes to those pensioners who have been retired for some time, the sick and the widowed mothers with children?

That is an important suggestion, which I shall certainly bear in mind.

But is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has stated that, from July to December of last year, the Index of Retail Prices rose by 2·2 per cent., in spite of the Government's wage pause policy? That being so, are not these people really entitled to some increase, if only to offset that rise in the index figure?

The hon. Gentleman suggests that a rise of 2·2 per cent. in the Index of Retail Prices justifies a change in rates of benefit, but he may recall that it required an increase of 27 per cent. before his hon. Friends moved.