HC Deb 30 October 1919 vol 120 cc871-3

asked the Prime Minister whether his attention has been called to the hardship suffered by old age pensioners owing to the rise of prices having been out of all proportion to the increased granted in the rate of pension; whether he is aware that numbers of old age pensioners are obliged to apply to the guardians and are offering to give up their pensions if they are allowed a slightly larger sum in Poor Law relief; and whether His Majesty's Government will take steps to increase the old age pension in proportion to the rise of prices?

The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Chamberlain)

The Government will await the Report of the Committee which is inquiring into this question before deciding whether to make any change in the rate or conditions of old age pensions; but I must remind the House that, as I stated yesterday, no provision is made in the Estimates which I have presented to the House for further expenditure under this head, and if further expenditure is undertaken additional taxation will be required.


Considering the almost destitute condition of many of these people, will some arrangement be made so that they may receive from the Poor Law authorities some supplementary allowance while awaiting the Report of the Committee? They can hardly wait till the Committee's Report comes out to get food and clothing.


The question as to Poor Law administration must be addressed to the Minister of Health.


I addressed my question to the Minister who answers questions for the Prime Minister, and I would invite an answer from some Minister who is able to deal with the whole of the subject.


I hope my hon. Friend will not think there was a personal discourtesy intended.


No, no‡


A question as to the Exchequer is clearly one for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but I must ask the hon. Gentleman to put any question as to the Poor Law to the Minister of Health.


Are the Government to take no responsibility for this possible addition to the cost of old age pensions and to leave it entirely to the House?


I hope I have not suggested any addition to the expenditure. As long as the Government is in office it will be the joint work of the House of Commons and the Government, but what I want the House of Commons to understand is that if they add charges on the Exchequer they must add to the taxation on the public.


When may we expect the Report of the Committee or are we to wait until next year?


I understand that the Committee is likely to report very shortly.

97 Mr. DAWES

asked the Minister of Health (1), whether hunger which an old age pensioner cannot satisfy out of his pension or other means is a disease entitling him to receive Poor Law medical assistance, including food, without being thereby disqualified for his pension;

(2) what information he has as to the number of old age pensioners who are suffering hardship owing to the lack of food or comforts; and what steps he is taking to provide an adequate remedy?

(3) whether it has been officially decided by his Department that food, boots, clothing, or other comforts supplied to an old age pensioner by a board of guardians through or on the recommendation of their medical officer who is professionally attending the pensioner, disqualifies the latter for his pension;

(4) Whether he will direct the attention of boards of guardians to the fact that any medical or physical assistance, including food or comforts, supplied by or on the recommendation of a medical officer, does not disqualify an old age pensioner from receiving his pension; and will he instruct all boards of guardians to use their powers in this respect to the fullest extent compatible with the non-disqualification of any old age pensioner?

Mr. PARKER (Lord of the Treasury)

The receipt of food and comforts given by the guardians, on the recommendation of the medical officer attending the pensioner, as incidental to medical assistance and not merely for the relief of destitution, does not disqualify for an old age pension. I regret that I have no definite information as to the number of old-age pensioners who are suffering hardship owing to the lack of food and comforts. Boards of guardians are, I feel sure, aware of the provisions of the Old Age Pensions Acts in regard to the medical assistance under which they may give to pensioners without disqualification, and I do not think that it would be desirable to issue fresh instructions pending the Report of the Departmental Committee which has all these matters under its consideration. If my hon. Friend has any definite cases in mind I shall be glad if he will kindly furnish me details of them.