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Index Of Retail Prices (Old-Age Pensioners)

Volume 656: debated on Monday 19 March 1962

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asked the Minister of Labour whether he will bring forward new proposals for a revision of the cost-of-living index, and include in it special provision for old-age pensioners.

As I informed my hon Friend the Member for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Leavey) a few moments ago, I have accepted the recommendations of the Cost-of-Living Advisory Committee for revision of the Index of Retail Prices. The Committee did not recommend any change in the group of households to be covered by the new Index.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that such things as roasting chicken and motor scooters are not very realistic when considering the cost of living of old-age pensioners? Does he not think that it would be a good thing to have a parallel index of necessities so that the position of old-age pensioners may be gauged more accurately?

We know that a substantial proportion of old-age pensioners live in households with younger people. That is a fact. To compile an index for those pensioners who live alone in households or with other pensioners would be misleading if it were to be regarded as applying to all pensioners. But in order to cover my hon. Friend's anxiety and that of the hon. Member for South-wark (Mr. Gunter), I should explain that we regularly collect, at the request of the National Assistance Board, statistics about changes in price levels which affect the pensioners' group. We publish these in considerable detail in the Ministry of Labour Gazette, and we shall continue to do so.

Does not the Minister agree that it would be wrong and cowardly to use the figures which will emerge from the new Index of Retail Prices as an argument against an increase in old-age pensions?

That is an entirely different point. I was asked whether my Ministry could or should produce figures in respect of old-age pensioners where they lived alone or with other pensioners, and without larger earnings going into the house, in order that proper care should be taken to give the National Assistance Board facts on the level of prices which most affect that group. That is not only being done for the National Assistance Board; the figures are also made available by publication in the Ministry of Labour Gazette.

Surely the right hon. Gentleman collects figures such as these for the use not only of his Department but of other Departments. How can the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance, for instance, or any other people decide how much is fair and just for old people and people on low incomes or on National Assistance unless they know the true facts about the cost of living to these people? Is it not rather stupid in these days to say that because some old people live with relatives therefore they must not be counted as among the most needy?

The hon. Lady must not misinterpret what I said. Statistically it is not right to assume that all old-age pensioners do not live with younger people. Fortunately, many live with relatives, and more money is going into the household than their pensions. Statistically, therefore, it would be wrong to do as the hon. Lady suggests. What is right is that the National Assistance Board should have full information about the price levels affecting the pensioners' groups.

Is it not a fact that the pattern of spending of old people living alone is becoming further and further removed from the pattern of spending indicated by the cost-of-living index? Is it not a fact that those pensioners must spend a big proportion of their income on food and that they will not spend very much of it on motor scooters, sherry, jeans and other things which will be included in the cost-of-living index when it is reformed?

That is the precise reason for which my Ministry provides a special service for the National Assistance Board—in order that they may take it into account for the group of old-age pensioners to which the hon. Gentleman refers, where obviously less money is spent on transport costs and so on. That is the precise reason that full information is made available for those who need it.