asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what representation he has received from the National Federation of Old Age Pensioners about the level of the death grant.
Representatives of the federation urged my right hon. Friend to raise the death grant when he met them in February. Two branches of the federation have also written to us this year on the same issue.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the present level of death grant is creating great personal distress for some elderly people, particularly those who have no savings left? It is therefore imposing a burden on their families. Will he admit that it is scandalous that there has been no increase in the death grant since 1967?
The straight answer is that this is a question of priorities. The Government have to consider this matter against pensions and other benefits. We know that the pressure is on for an increase, but this matter comes lower down the scale at the moment.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that I have a later Question relating to this matter? Is he also aware that the death benefit is hardly sufficient to pay the tips of the men who are handling the burial? Will he please consider the urgency of increasing the death grant?
I am aware that many hon. Members, including my hon. Friend, have raised this matter with mc, but I must reiterate that it is a question of finance, public expenditure and priorities.
Although one recognises that this question is a matter of priorities and that it is unlikely that the death grant can be increased for everybody for a long time ahead, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is time that there was some selectivity and that those whose families are in receipt of supplementary benefit should be allowed an increase in the death grant?
I find it difficult to follow the hon. Gentleman's reference to selectivity. I can understand much of the pressure that I am getting from my hon. Friends on this matter, but not that from Opposition Members. They are again urging more public expenditure at a time like the present.
Does the right hon. Gentleman not recognise that for these schemes to have reality the benefits must bear some relationship to the contributions? Since the contributions have been advancing steadily over the years, is it not high time that the death grant was raised?
That is a very fair point and I take note of it. Certainly the Government want to do something about this matter when the finance is available.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Tory-controlled local authority in Rossendale, in my constituency, recently introduced massive increases in charges for grave spaces and that this action in itself is causing a great deal of hardship among old people who are concerned about the fact that they can no longer afford to purchase a grave space for their relatives?
I am tempted to say that that is a very grave matter. In effect, my hon. Friend has reiterated the point made by the Secretary of State earlier today about expenditure by some of these Tory authorities. When it comes to the issue, they cut vital social services.