Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £11,200,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1941, for the payment of Supplementary Pensions to certain persons in receipt of Old Age Pensions or Widows' Pensions, and for certain administrative expenses in connection therewith.
§ Mr. Gordon Macdonald (Ince)
On a point of Order. May I ask for your Riding, Colonel Clifton Brown, at the commencement of the Debate, on this point? We heard earlier a long statement from the Prime Minister on the same subject-matter as that with which we are about to deal now. Since that will involve legislation I wonder to what extent we are at liberty to discuss the statement.
I am afraid the rule is perfectly definite. The Prime Minister's statement involves legislation, and it cannot be discussed on this occasion.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
It is true that the proposal requires legislation, but the Prime Minister announced that the Government proposed to remit the principle to the Assistance Board and ask them, later on, to submit Regulations. Would it be in order for us to discuss some of the things about which the Assistance Board will have to make up their mind? Will you rule out references of that kind?
§ Mr. Graham White (East Birkenhead)
It seems to me that, in order to discuss the Estimate intelligently, we shall have to take into account certain consequential changes which are likely to arise as a result of the Prime Minister's announcement. There may be a question of the load of expenses as between the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Health.
Hon. Members have raised rather difficult questions. I am inclined to think we must see how we go on. I have no desire to limit the Debate unduly, but I do not want it to go outside the scope of what is legitimate on the Supplementary Estimate before us. While I could not answer in advance the definite questions which have been put, I think it better to trust hon. Members to keep within reasonable limits.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Ernest Brown)
The original Estimate was submitted before the Act was passed on 21st March and before the Regulations were made on 8th June. There was, therefore, no material on which an Estimate could be based with any confidence except, of course, our knowledge of the old age pensioners who were receiving supplementary allowances through the then existing system of supplementation by public assistance authorities. I do not think I need stress at length the need for the Supplementary Estimate, for the figures themselves demonstrate that we need the money, but I think, in view of the Prime Minister's statement, which will of course rule out of order those things which involve legislation in the future, I should be meeting the Committee if, as far as possible, I confined myself to the outstanding facts in order that the Committee and the country may get a broad picture of the results of the three months' work.
This Supplementary Estimate is intended to make provision for 34 weeks, that is, from 3rd August to 31st March next year, for 1,060,000 supplementary cases. That does not mean individual pensions. Allowing for the fact that a married couple are usually treated as one case where both parties are pensioners, it is equivalent to about 1,325,000 persons. We have taken this figure as the basis for the Estimate in view of the fact that there has been a gradual increase in the number of supplementary cases since the scheme began, and the increase appears likely to continue. For the purpose of the Estimate the average payment per case—not per person—has been taken at 9s. a week, which is 2d. in excess of the average amount shown by a sample examination of cases dealt with in the first few weeks of the scheme. We have grounds for believing, that, as these cases come under periodical review, 1371 payments will, on balance, be increased. I will not give any figures about that. We shall have to discuss them in the light of the consequent changes which will be necessary when the new Bill is brought in.
These are the outstanding facts which the Committee I am sure would like to have. In March, 1939, there were 275,000 old age pensioners in receipt of Poor Law relief at a total annual cost of £5,250,000. At the present time supplementary pensions are being paid in about 1,000,000 cases at an annual charge, including winter allowances, of about £24,000,000. As I have already indicated a man and wife living together are treated as one case, and the real number of beneficiaries is appreciably higher than 1,000,000. On the basis of a sample inquiry it may be put at 1,220,000. It will be seen from these figures that the number of old age and widow pensioners receiving an additional weekly payment by way of a supplementary pension is more than four times greater than the number of old age pensioners who were previously in receipt of Poor Law relief, and that the cost of the supplementary pensions is more than four times greater than the cost of the relief previously given. These figures make it plain that, with all the difficulties involved in the application of a central scheme over the whole country in place of hundreds of local schemes, a central scheme is much more popular than a local scheme.
§ Mr. Brown
I was coming to that. It also shows, as all social workers had suspected, that there was a great deal more need which did not express itself because of a dislike of local inquiry and of the application to the Poor Law. My hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) only anticipated what I was about to say. On the average, the weekly payments to the pensioner, whose basic pension is normally at the rate of 10s. a week, works out at about 7s. 5d. This average figure conceals a wide range of payments varying from 1s. to 30s. or more in individual cases. The lowest figure of 1s. may be paid to an applicant living alone who has resources of his own. In view of the numerous statutory disregards and discretionary allowances, a single pensioner—to take an example—may receive a sup- 1372 plementary pension, although in addition to his old age pension, he has a superannuation payment of 16s. a week, bringing his income, apart from supplementation, up to 26s. a week. Indeed, if he has a disability pension, of which the first £1 a week is ignored, he may have considerably more than 26s. a week and still be entitled to a supplementary pension. In household cases the payments of supplementary pensions range from 2s. to 30s. or more. There are a few household cases in which 40s. is being paid. I will give an illustration to make it clear how that arises. Here is a case of an old age pensioner with a young wife and four children between eight and 14. The need for the man and wife is assessed at 31s. and that of the four children at 21s. 6d., making a total of 52s. 6d. Deducting the pension of 10s. a week, the payment made is 42s. 6d.
Perhaps the Committee will find it convenient if I take one or two leading categories and show the proportions in which supplementary pensions of various amounts are paid. An analysis of the range of weekly supplementary pensions shows that in some 30 per cent., of the cases the payment is 10s. or more. In a further 30 per cent, it is between 7s. 7d. and 10s. In the remaining 40 per cent. or so it is less than 7s. 6d., but only in 11 per cent. of those cases is the payment 2s. 6d. a week or less. A good deal has been said about the fact that of the original applications a considerable number could not be allowed. The Minister of Health and I, and the Assistance Board and the Government have taken into consideration in our review all the complaints that have been made as to how the new Act applied, and we took a large sample of these cases. That sample showed that, approximately. 36 per cent. of the applicants had resources of their own to which, even allowing for the numerous disregards and dis[...]retionary allowances, were sufficient to take them outside the range of possible beneficiaries. A further analysis of cases disallowed is in progress and will be made available to the House when future discussions take place.
I should like to say a word about those classes of cases that had to be taken over from the public assistance authorities. Throughout the land the Assistance Board has administered the supplemen- 1373 tary pension scheme in such a way as to ensure that no person suffered any reduction in income through being transferred from the Public Assistance authority to the Board. Out of the 266,000 cases so transferred, 190,000 have had increases as a result of the application of the new Regulations. In about 50,000 cases a special addition has been necessary to bring the amount which would have been payable under the Board scales up to the Public Assistance figure. In the remainder of the transferred cases the supplementary payment is as before. The Committee may like to have some statistical information as to the distribution, according to different factors, of pensioners drawing supplementary pensions. The figures are based on a 5 per cent. sample of 976,000 cases. Take the geographical distribution: 10 per cent. of the pensioners are in Scotland, 7.1 in Wales and 82.9 in England.
And now what about the basic pension? In 46.3 per cent. of cases the basic pension is a contributory old age pension, in 12.7 per cent a widow's pension, and in 33.6 per cent. a non-contributory pension. This leaves a residue of 7.4 per cent for which the information is not available. In terms of cases the Committee will probably wish to know the difference between men and women. Treating the case of a man and wife living together as one case, 23.9 per cent. were male pensioners, 51.6 per cent. female pensioners and 21.5 per cent. married couples both of whom were pensioners. I have a long analysis of the distribution between household and non-household cases. I will not trouble the Committee with it all, but three outstanding cases will be of interest. If necessary, the whole table can be printed in the OFFICIAL REPORT. The analysis shows that 33.3 per cent. are female pensioners living alone; 29.9 per cent. a single pensioner or married couple, both pensioners living in a household containing non-dependent members; and 16.8 per cent. a married couple, both pensioners, living alone. In view of hon. Members' inquiries, they may find these facts interesting.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards (Caerphilly)
I am afraid the Minister did not make clear the details of each category living in households, and I should be glad if he could clear that up.
§ Mr. Tinker
The Minister said he would put the information in the OFFICIAL REPORT, but I understand it cannot appear there unless he includes it in his speech, because it would be something which we had not had a chance to criticise.
§ Mr. Brown
I will give it in terms of categories: 12.7 per cent. are male pensioners living alone; 33.3 per cent. female pensioners living alone; 3.1 per cent. male pensioners with dependants; .8 per cent. female pensioners with dependants; 16.8 per cent. married couples, both pensioners, living alone; .4 per cent. married couples, both pensioners, living with dependants; 29.9 per cent. single pensioners or married couples (both pensioners) living in a household containing non-dependant members; 3 per cent. two or more pensioners other than a married couple so living. Those are the categories, and they show exactly how the households are divided up in ratio. The numbers hon. Members can work out for themselves, or, if they desire to have it in the OFFICIAL REPORT, I will give the information as an answer to a Question.
As to the distribution of cases with resources, that is, resources apart from the pension, and those without such resources, the analysis shows that in 37.7 per cent. there were no resources other than the main pension, that in 29.9 per cent. there were other resources, but by reason of disregards or discretionary allowances no account was taken of such resources in assessing the supplementary pensions; and in 32.4 per cent. resources went to reduce the supplementary pension. I think those facts are of interest, because they measure the problem which the Committee has to face. In view of the limited time I will not detain the Committee by entering into any examination of the operation of the scheme, except to say that I think hon. Members will agree that, over the whole country, the Board's officers have applied the machinery with both flexibility and consideration. The period of 1375 winter allowances is just beginning, and because it is so recent I have no facts to give the Committee on that point. As hon. Members know, it has been the practice of some public assistance authorities, at least in Scotland, to make yearly or half-yearly grants of clothing to old age pensioners in receipt of outdoor relief. In their administration of supplementary pensions it is the intention of the Assistance Board that no pensioner shall be in a worse position than when he was in the charge of the public assistance authorities—
§ Mr. Woodburn) (Stirling and Clackmannan, Eastern
Is it not the case that instead of giving that relief by way of clothing they are now giving it in cash?
§ Mr. Brown
That is an illustration of the flexibility of the procedure, but the basic principle is that old age pensioners should not find themselves worse off. It may suit applicants to have the money instead of the clothes. I have one word to say about appeals. In the four weeks ended 27th September, the last period for which I have the figures, 7,256 appeals were received, and there were some outstanding from an earlier period. In the same period of four weeks the decisions of the officers of the Assistance Board were confirmed in 6,797 cases, and varied in 2,060 cases.
§ Mr. Brown
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health is to reply, and I will see whether we can get the figures. As the Committee know, the figures that I have given only represent a measure of the extent to which, in three months, this scheme must have affected for good the budgets, the social economy and the happiness of thousands of households in the country. Any changes that may flow from the announcement made to-day by the Prime Minister can, of course, only be for the benefit of the pensioners. The nation has a warm regard for the old people, and that feeling is shared in every part of this House.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
In making his statement the Prime Minister said something with which all of us cordially and warmly agree, that it is a fine tribute to this House and the people of this country that in the storm and stress of this great conflict we can turn aside to discuss problems of this kind. But if he were here I would say that this is the kind of war which can only be won if this House devotes its attention to removing every social sore in this country, and that we are not turning away from the war when we are dealing with this matter. We are fortifying the principal and, I think, the decisive thing in this war, the morale of the civilian population. Therefore, we ought to regard ourselves this afternoon as not putting on one side the problems of the war when we are discussing a Measure which will reflect itself in the greater confidence of our people. It is now just over 5½ years since I was privileged to make my maiden speech in this House. It was largely devoted to what I thought then, and still think, is the meanest thing this House of Commons has ever done, the imposition of the household means test, and to me and to many hon. Members on both sides of the House—because there are Members opposite who have joined in protest against the household means test and I am glad to see one at least is present—it was a matter of pleasure to hear the Prime Minister's statement that the Government now propose to substitute something fairer than the household means test.
I do not propose to say more about the Prime Minister's statement until I have read it, but I do hope the Government will make a clean cut and have no more "snags". The Secretary of State for Scotland, who has just moved this Estimate, and given his explanation, for which we are grateful, has some experience in this matter, and knows that what I am going to say is right. The Assistance Board's record in this matter is not a very enviable one. It is now to be asked to produce new Regulations which will come before the House. So far it has not produced a single set of Regulations which has not been turned 1377 down. The first Regulations produced a storm in the country, and the right hon. Gentleman became Minister of Labour as a result of that storm. The Prime Minister's statement this afternoon will become the terms of reference of the Assistance Board in drawing up those new Regulations. They have been asked to look at those principles and translate them in the Regulations. I hope that the Government will give instructions showing that they desire to do the big and generous thing for the aged people of this country and that the Regulations, when they come forward, will be carried out in generous measure in the administration, which will not take advantage of loose wording to make matters more difficult. My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) raised a very important point, which I think the Prime Minister did not fully realise or reply to in his statement. When these Regulations come before the House—
§ Mr. Griffiths
I was only going to ask whether we were to be limited to turning the Regulations down or accepting them, when they come before the House, and to suggest that there might be some other course. I ask the Minister to consider that point.
More than 1,000,000 old age pensioners have had to apply for supplementary grants or allowances to their pensions in order that they might exist. That is a sad commentary upon the social system in this country. These men and women, now aged 60 or 65 years, have had to work hard all their lives. They have given their lives in the service of this country and, at the end, in the evening of their days, because their wages and their standard of living have been so deplorably low, they have inadequate resources to sustain them. The Minister of Labour, in the very detailed analysis which he gave, and for which we are much obliged—we shall study them when they appear in the OFFICIAL REPORT—indicated that 37 per cent. of these aged people were found, upon investigation by officers of the Assistance Board, to have no resources except their pensions. That means that nearly 400,000 aged people, many of whom began work at 11 or 12 years of age, have reared families and 1378 have boys now in the Services, find that, at the age of 60 or 65, they have only their pensions to depend upon. We must solve that social problem. We must not wait until the end of the war to do so but must solve it now, if we are to win the war. There is something that radically needs altering in the industrial and social system of this country, and I hope that we shall not wait, but shall begin altering it now.
Another point of very great importance in the statement was made by the Minister to-day. We are receiving, discussing, and passing, as we shall, this Supplementary Estimate because the original Estimate went wrong. There was a very serious under-estimate by Government officials of the number of persons who would claim pensions. They made the mistake because of something to which we have drawn attention very often from this side of the House; it is that the number of old men and women who will not go to public assistance committees is far larger than any Government Department estimated. It is not larger than we estimated, because we have lived among these people and we know what they feel about it. This fact is in many ways a very great tribute to the elderly people of this country, because it shows that they still have sufficient pride and self-respect to refuse to do something which they regard as receiving parish relief—as they still call it. To them it is something which they ought to avoid. I hope that all these facts will be borne in mind when the new scheme comes forward. If they are, the scheme will be worthy of the talent and the courage of the generation to whom we owe so much.
As the time-table, which has been much shortened by the announcements which have been made, makes it desirable that we should all be brief, I will content myself with raising two or three issues. The first is that even after the new scheme comes into operation there will have to be investigations. I put it to the Minister that it is desirable, nay essential, that the greatest possible care should be taken in the appointment of investigators and in the instructions that are given to them. Their work has been very well done, but I hear that the investigations have not been conducted in some rural areas as they ought to have been. I urge upon the Minister that the appointments and 1379 instructions of investigators be very carefully considered.
It has, I will not say, "come to our knowledge" because perhaps that is not the right way of saying it, but it has been rumoured persistently to us, in connection with the determinations, that, because the first determinations indicated a larger number of pensioners than the Government had estimated and a far larger amount of money than had been budgeted for, some kind of secret instruction went out to the officers of the Assistance Board. When the cases came back to be reviewed, pensioners who, on their first determinations, had been awarded 5s., 6s. or 7s. 6d., found those pensions reduced to 2s. 6d., or 2s., or completely wiped away. In many cases that was due not to changed circumstances but to changed instructions. I certainly suggest that, if this House passes Regulations, it is entitled to ask that they be not whittled down afterwards by secret instructions from the Minister to the people who have to operate them. Where are those secret instructions? Is that being fair to the House of Commons and to the old people? I want an assurance that in future no secret instructions of that kind will be sent out to whittle away what, after all, we have decided shall be given to the old people.
I want to say a word about appeals. Some time ago I put a question to the Minister of Health, and he promised to consider it. I am hoping that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to reply to-day. The right hon. Gentleman gave figures of the appeals, and questions were asked from this side. My question was addressed to the Minister of Health on the same aspect of the problem. There is no right of appeal for the old age pensioner, as there is no right of appeal for the unemployed person, who receives an unemployment allowance. All he is entitled to do is to say, "I am not satisfied with my determination, and I want to have my claim to appeal considered by the chairman." As a matter of fact, the absolute right of determining whether there shall be a hearing of an appeal rests with the chairman of the tribunal. It does not even rest with the tribunal as a tribunal; it rests with the chairman. In passing those Regulations the House of Commons could not have been fully aware of the implications of what they decided. I 1380 want an absolute right of appeal. Why not? We have decided upon certain Regulations which leave a good deal to the discretion of officers. Since so much is left to the discretion of officers, Parliament should lay it down that an officer in the use of his discretion ought not to have the last word, but that there should be a right of appeal by the pensioner or the unemployed man to the tribunal. When the matter is considered again I hope that that right of appeal will be granted. What has happened is that the chairmen of tribunals have acted very arbitrarily. Some chairmen of tribunals have used their power with great discretion and in the majority of cases have allowed an opportunity for the old people to appeal, but there are other chairmen who just wipe them out. I think it is the desire of Members on every side of this Committee that there should be a right of appeal by the old people, and I hope it will be granted.
The Minister has given us a mass of figures, all of which are very valuable and I hope will be valuable to the Assistance Board when they come to consider the new Regulations. I want to make a special plea. Now that we shall have an opportunity of discussing the matter again, I would like us to consider afresh whether that which we have allowed the people is enough. I do not think it is. We give 32s. to an old man and an old lady who live together, subject to adjustments, winter allowances, and such matter. Even when they get the maximum allowance, it still leaves them unable to meet the conditions of life as they exist to-day. The cost of living is continually going up. That will have to be considered. I do not think it has been sufficiently considered by the officers or by the tribunals. The Prime Minister has promised us that before Christmas we shall meet and pass Regulations that will do something like real justice to these aged people who have given their whole life to this nation and who are giving their sons to this nation to-day. They deserve the best that we can do for them.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
The hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) has spoken with the sincerity and eloquence that we usually associate with him, and I for one find myself in considerable agreement with what he has said. In particular, I agree with his 1381 opening remark, that in discussing this matter to-day we are not turning away from our war effort, but that this in fact is part of our war effort. I would go even further and say that, as good sometimes comes out of evil, I very much doubt whether we should have been considering this increase in the old age pensions had it not been for the war, and I doubt whether we should have had from the Prime Minister to-day the statement about the abolition of the household means test but for the war. In common with other hon. Members, I welcome that statement.
I think the Committee will certainly approve the voting of the money that is asked for the purpose of the supplementary old age pensions. In fact, the only thing that some of us would have liked would have been that the sum had been larger, because although the amount of money that has been spent on supplementary old age pensions is very great and the number of people who are benefiting from the supplementary old age pensions is very much larger than was anticipated, I think we all know in our constituencies many cases of individuals who have been refused supplementary old age pensions and who in our opinion should have been granted them. We have been told by the Minister that the number of those who are getting old age pensions is something like four times as great as those who were in receipt of public assistance relief, and that figure, I believe, is something like twice as large as was anticipated during the Debate would be the number of those who would benefit from supplementary old age pensions. That shows how right were those of us who said it was necessary to increase the old age pensions, and how much more right we were than the Government in this respect because we were more alive than they were to the need for this increase. Although they estimated that the figure would he something like 600,000, it has proved to be something like 1,320,000. Therefore, I hope that when social questions are again discussed more attention will be paid to those Members who, day by day, are in touch with their constituents and who know their needs.
Large as has been the number who have benefited, I, in common with other Members of the Committee, have had to write a considerable number of letters to the 1382 Minister of Health and to the Parliamentary Secretary drawing attention to the facts in the administration of these supplementary old age pensions which have caused concern. Some of those hard cases will be met by the statement which has been made by the Prime Minister to-day, but there are others still outstanding which will not be met and which I would like to have considered. I have had two kinds of experience with regard to the administration of the supplementary old age pensions. Old age pensioners have written to me and have been to see me in large numbers. I think I have had more letters and more visits in connection with the administration of the supplementary old age pensions than in connection with any other matter since I have been a Member of the House of Commons. They have come to me and convinced me that they ought to have a supplementary old age pension when one has been refused. I have sent many cases up to the Minister, and he has sent them to the Assistance Board in my area. As a result of that in many instances the pension has been granted. That shows that, so far as my own particular area is concerned, the administration has not in many instances been as considerate as it might have been. I think it is wrong that old age pensioners should get what they are entitled to only as a result of pressure brought to bear by a Member of this House. I hope, therefore, that the administration will be looked into carefully, with a view to its improvement in certain areas. The Minister must know which they are, since he can judge from the correspondence he has had from Members of this House and others.
I have also had another experience, Old age pensioners have approached me recently, at my house or in the street, and have told me that they were originally granted a supplementary old age pension and that it has now been reduced or taken away, though the conditions are exactly the same. I want to submit that that is contrary to an undertaking given in this House, for one of the merits which was urged, when it was put before the House, for the proposal that the administration of supplementary old age pensions should be put in the hands of the Assistance Board, was that, as compared with public assistance committee grants, supplementary old age pensions would not 1383 be subject to constant review, so that the pensioner, his pension once granted, would know that he had reasonable security providing his condition remained the same. Yet we find that after the Assistance Board has granted pensions a great many of them are, after three months, being reduced or withdrawn.
I also wish to draw attention to what I consider to be an alarming piece of administration of supplementary old age pensions by the Assistance Board arising out of war conditions. As a result of the war, a great many old age pensioners have left bombed areas and have gone to safer areas. I have heard about a great many of these people, because I have the good fortune to represent a constituency which is considered to be one of the safer areas. When these people come into the reception areas they find that the supplementary old age pension which they were previously receiving is reduced. Immediately they come away to a safer area the officials of the Assistance Board find out, pounce upon them and reduce their old age pensions, the reason presumably being that as they have gone into the houses of friends or relations they are no longer paying rent. I have had my attention drawn to instances like this and I have sent one to the Parliamentary Secretary. This concerns an old lady who came from a bombed area to stay with her son in my constituency and whose pension was reduced. She said, "I cannot continue to live here; I am not going to expect my son and daughter-in-law to keep me on the reduced pension, and unless this is put right, I shall go back to the bombed area." I sent an S.O.S.—marking the letter "Urgent"—to the Parliamentary Secretary, saying, "Cannot you stop this? It is not right." On the one hand the Minister of Health tells old people that they should leave bombed areas, and then, when they do so, they are penalised by the officials of the Assistance Board and their pensions are reduced. I asked if the Parliamentary Secretary could not intervene and stop this sort of thing. All the reply I received from the Parliamentary Secretary was a formal acknowledgment of my letter. This is some two or three weeks ago. I had a letter the other day to say that the old lady has now gone back to the bombed area, and I have sent another 1384 letter to draw attention to the matter. I have received just a formal acknowledgment.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Miss Horsbrugh)
I think my hon. Friend does not realise that, in respect of all those who leave bombed areas, a billeting allowance of 5s. a week can be and is being paid by the Government to a relation or friend who takes them in. Everyone who leaves an evacuation area and goes to a reception or neutral area receives, if they ask for it, 5s. a week billeting allowance for the people with whom they are living. If they have gone to the area and have not asked for the allowance, they can write to the town clerk of their original area and get a certificate.
§ Mr. Lipson
I think I have an answer to the Parliamentary Secretary's statement. A week ago I met the chairman of our billeting committee. She is a lady who is an alderman of the local council and has been Mayor of Cheltenham. She drew my attention to this matter and said, "We do not give the 5s. billeting allowances to old age pensioners because we find, if we do, that the Assistance Board at once reduces their allowance by that amount."
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I am sorry I did not make it clear. My hon. Friend said that the person of whom he spoke felt that the relation could not be asked to give everything and get nothing in return. If an old age pensioner goes to live in the house of her son, daughter, or of a person who is no relation, the billeting authority, as my hon. Friend knows, does not give the 5s. to the old age pensioner: it is given as an allowance to the householder. It does not matter if the evacuee is an old age pensioner or anything else. There are hundreds and thousands of cases. The 5s. allowance is not given to the individual evacuee; it is in each case an allowance for the receiving householder.
§ Mr. Lipson
If I may be allowed to repeat a little more of the conversation I had with the chairman of the committee, I may provide the Parliamentary Secretary with an answer to the point she has made. The chairman said to me: "I think it is a shame, because when these people come away, suffering from shock and so on, their needs are greater; they need more money." I therefore submit that what we 1385 ought to have is a standstill arrangement during this period of bombing, so far as supplementary old age pensions are concerned, so that the old age pensioners who have to leave bombed areas and go to reception areas should not have their supplementary pensions reduced on that account, but should be allowed to keep the 5s. to help them to meet the additional expenses which they must incur in coming to a new place under strange conditions, probably suffering as a result of their bombing experiences. I would ask if consideration could not be given to that point.
There is one other matter to which I should like to refer, and that is the question of appeals. A large number of old age pensioners have drawn my attention to the fact that their appeal has been disallowed as being out of order because it was made two or three days after the expiry of the stipulated period of 14 days. I submit that these old age pensioners do not always exactly understand problems of this kind, and that 14 days is much Ion short a time to allow them. As a matter of fact, I do not see why there should be a time limit at all. Appeals should be considered on their merits, whether they have been made within 14 days or not. If a person can make out a case for a supplementary old age pension it ought to be heard, but in present circumstances some of these old people just miss the date and their appeal cannot even be heard. I would therefore ask the Parliamentary Secretary if the 14 days' rule could not be abolished.
In conclusion, I think that as a result of the war, and particularly of the bombing, there is much more community feeding among all classes. We realise too how much this country owes to its ordinary men and women. If the morale of our people in the bombed areas had failed within the last few weeks, our situation would have been indeed serious and critical. But they stuck it, and we feel that we owe a very great debt of obligation to them. I am sure that there is not a single hon. Member who is not anxious that that debt should be paid in full. In particular, I hope it will be paid in full to the old age pensioners.
§ Mr. Batey (Spennymoor)
No legislation which this House has passed in the last eight years has given rise to so much satisfaction as the Act dealing with 1386 supplementary pensions. Members are receiving letters from old people nearly every day, however, complaining of the assessment of the supplementary pensions. The statement made by the Prime Minister to-day takes a good deal of the sting out of this Debate, but I am not at all clear about that statement. I understood that the household means test was to be abolished, and a personal means test substituted. I have a copy of the Prime Minister's statement—for greater accuracy—and there are two questions arising from it which I beg the Parliamentary Secretary to deal with when she replies. The statement says that the standard contribution of non-dependent members of the applicant's household towards the rent and other overheads will be taken into account.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Major Milner)
The hon. Member is not entitled to debate that matter; he must wait for the legislation.
§ The Temporary Chairman
I am sorry to have to stop the hon. Member. He will have an opportunity of debating that when the new legislation is introduced. This is not the occasion.
§ Mr. Batey
I am sorry, because I wanted to deal with that question. One does not want to discuss the numerous complaints that one has heard in regard to supplementary pensions. My hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) raised the question of the right of appeal. I agree that every old person ought to have the right of appeal, but I go further. I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us how many appeals have been made since the Act was passed, and how many have been refused. My experience is that it is no use for old people to make appeals, because in 19 cases out of 20 the appeal is decided against them. That is due to the constitution of the appeal courts. There is a legal gentleman, who is appointed to hear the appeal. I say that without intending any offence. I could tell before the appeal came before him what his 1387 decision would be. Under the Act giving old age pensions at 65 and pensions to widows, we had so many appeals decided against the applicants and so few granted that I want the Parliamentary Secretary to ask the Minister now to consider seriously the appointment of a representative of the working classes on each of the appeal courts, so that we might get some guarantee that the appeals will receive some attention, and not be dealt with as they are at present.
I should like to know, too, what is the cost of the appeal courts. How much do these legal gentlemen receive? The expenditure seems to be waste of money with the appeal courts constituted as they are at present. I would like the courts reconstituted so that each has a representative who knows something about the lives of the applicants. I confess that the advice I give to all my own people is not to appeal, because the appeal will go against them; and, once the appeal court has decided, the decision is final, and even the Minister cannot do anything. Another grievance is the difficulty which some people have in getting their pensions. I have in mind the case of a woman who reached the age of 60 in February. She made an application for a pension, and received a postcard saying that she would get the pension in July. Last week she still had not received her pension. I sent that case to the Minister, and I asked that something should be done to speed up the machinery, so that those entitled to pensions may get them.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards (Caerphilly)
Every Member who resides in his constituency finds, I think, that this problem of supplementary pensions and its administration is causing more difficulty and more work than any other problem. It is true that, as a result of the passing of the main legislation, a substantial number of aged people found contentment and satisfaction. Substantial benefits have been conferred by that legislation. But it is equally true that something like 250,000 aged people in this country have been refused supplementary pensions, and that at least another 250,000 have been given supplementary pensions on a scale different from that intended by this House. These problems will not be met by the statement 1388 made by the Prime Minister. I do not want to discuss that statement, except to say that hon. Members would be wise not to build up too many expectations in the minds of aged people on the basis of that statement, or we shall see ourselves going back again, as we did over the treatment of war savings.
I want to deal with points which may appear to be small, but are of importance in the administration of the supplementary pensions. The intention of Parliament is being thwarted by the Assistance Board. Whatever good intentions may be expressed from the Front Bench here, they are very seldom carried into operation by the Assistance Board. It hides away from the House of Commons. I will give one or two examples. Reference has been made this afternoon to the appeal tribunals. The previous Minister of Health repeatedly said here that not only must justice be done, but that it must appear to be done as well. He left us with the general impression that most of the old age pensioners would find an open door at the appeal tribunals. What has been found? In many parts, at least, of South Wales some chairmen of appeal tribunals have been acting like little Hitlers. They have simply turned down applications. Representations have been made by some Members of Parliament for the reconsideration of applications. Even then the chairman of the appeal tribunal regards himself as lord of all he surveys in this connection and merely leaves the pensioner dissatisfied because the pensioner has not been able to have a hearing. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to try to impress upon the minds of chairmen of appeal tribunals that it is highly essential that old age pensioners should get satisfaction, in the sense that they can get a hearing of their grievances before the properly authorised appeal tribunals.
On the administrative side, we have in this conflict between the Assistance Board and Parliament an example of the difficulty in regard to the winter additions. We heard an announcement from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health recently in which she described what these winter additions would be and how they would be applied. Everybody who heard that statement thought that the old people were to get something extra in the winter. What do we find? It will only apply in those cases where not less than half of the amount coming into the 1389 household is derived from the Assistance Board or from pension. I quote the hon. Lady's statement:Officers will pay particular attention to cases wh[...]re the pensioner has only his old age and supplementary pension for the support of himself and dependants, and also where the pensioner is a member of a household with other persons not dependent upon him, and to cases where not less than one-half of the total income of the household is [...]epresented by the amount of the supple[...]ary pension.So that the man who has been penalised once and has got the least out of the Assistance Board is to get the least consideration. The Parliamentary Secretary does not appear to appreciate the point.
§ Mr. Edwards
The pensioner living in a household is given a smaller supplementary pension and it is argued that he is not entitled to the winter addition, That, in my view, is an indication of how the Assistance Board is getting behind the intention of the House of Commons. The House has decided what shall be disregarded. It has agreed, in the main legislation, that certain items of income shall be wholly disregarded for the purpose of the winter addition. Here we get a conflict between what is laid down in the Statute and the instruction to the Assistance Board which has been read out in this House by the Parliamentary Secretary. I would draw the attention of the Committee to that matter. There is another phase of the problem. We were repeatedly told that in the application and administration of supplementary pensions there would be every effort made to keep to the good practice of the local authorities. The previous Minister of Health said:The Board will now draw up new Regulations in order to bring this practice into conformity with the practice of good local authorities.I am afraid that the Assistance Board has not carried out that pledge. The public assistance committees have defined the household. In Glamorgan, for instance, they give 75. 9d. But what has happened now? All cases treated as a separate household by the public assistance committee were given the 9s. 6d., whereas previously they had had 7s. 6d. from the public assistance committee, but under some new instruction, which has invited the area officers to look more closely at the definition of a household, 1390 all the books have been called In and the new supplementary pension of 7s. 9d. has been issued.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
Am I right in assuming that they are now getting the same as they were getting under public assistance?
§ Mr. Edwards
We were told that the practice of good local authorities would continue to be applied. All local authorities defined what a household was and gave public assistance supplementation on the basis of a separate household. In Glamorgan that amount was 7s. 9d. When the supplementary pension came into operation, the Assistance Board accepted the fact of a separate household and, in that case, gave the 9s. 6d., but under some new instruction the books are now being called in and supplementary pensions of 7s. 9d. are being sent out. The figure is the same, but the Minister did not tell us at that table that the figure was to be the same. He did not limit it in that way. He said that the practice of the good authorities would continue to be applied. When these people complain, the Assistance Board says that the practice of the local authority is wrong and that therefore they ought to have only 2s. 6d. It seems that the Assistance Board again has gone behind the Minister and the House of Commons.
Some 60 or 70 per cent. of the defects in connection with supplementary pensions rests upon the question of what is a household and how the household is defined. We shall not get rid of the household means test unless we grapple with this problem and we shall not bring that measure of satisfaction to the old age pensioners that apparently we want to give them. I will quote an example of how, again, the Assistance Board is acting, in my view more partially in the case of supplementary pensioners in connection with the definition of household, than they are in connection with unemployment assistance. I brought a case to the notice of the Minister in which a son-in-law was living in the household. He was on unemployment assistance some two years ago. His case was investigated by this same Assistance Board who held that he was living in a separate household. It based his unemployment assistance upon the fact that he was paying 6s. in rent as a sub-tenant. The house in fact 1391 belonged to his mother-in-law who had been a tenant for many years. The Act dealing with supplementary old-age pensions came into operation and the same Assistance Board made an investigation of the application and came to the conclusion that it was one household only and that the lady, who was regarded as a tenant for many years, was not the tenant or the householder with the result that she obtained only 2S. 6d. instead of 8s. 6d. I submit, with all due respect, that the Assistance Board is endeavouring to spread out the butter as thinly as they can in order to hide the extent to which they have miscalculated the very grave need which exists among our old people.
There is one other point which I have been asked to raise by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Jackson), who, unfortunately, cannot be present on account of ill-health. As the House knows he represents a rural constituency. During the main Debate on the Bill a point was raised on the exercise of rural discrimination, and I must say, from all the reports I get, that this is having an extremely bad effect on the countryside. Food in the country is price-controlled and rationed in the same way as food in the urban areas. Meat is probably dearer and fish is certainly dearer, and whatever grounds may have existed in the past for rural discrimination, they do not exist to-day. There ought to be some mitigation of the rural discrimination clause, and I hope that, as a result of this discussion, we shall get a little more humanity from the Board. The difficulty of Members to-day is that so many cases come to us that we are coming more and more into conflict with officers who are trying to do their job in difficult circumstances. In fact it is becoming almost a personal conflict between Members of Parliament and assistance officers, and I am hoping that as a result of to-day's Debate we shall get some improvement.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir William Allen (Armagh)
The only satisfaction I can derive from the Prime Minister's statement is the fact that the whole matter is to be reconsidered. It is quite evident from the speeches made by some hon. Members to-day that they are very sceptical as to what the eventual decision of the Government may be with regard to 1392 these supplementary pensions. To my mind it ought to be a very simple matter, and I think the Parliamentary Secretary would do well to impress on the powers-that-be that—
§ The Temporary Chairman
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is not entitled to discuss legislation arising out of the Prime Minister's statement. If he proposes to do that, I shall have to call him to Order.
§ Sir W. Allen
It is not my intention to discuss proposed legislation, but I want to say that an old age pensioner who may perhaps get 6s. a week income ought to be entitled to a supplementary pension pro rata to that 6s. and that if an old age pensioner is getting 10s. a week, there ought to be no difficulty about giving him a full supplementary pension. It simply means taking into consideration the personal means of the individual. If that is done, I think the whole thing will be simplified and will do away entirely with the present process.
§ Mr. Barr (Coatbridge)
I am sure that we can accept your Ruling, Major Milner, that we cannot reflect on the content of the statement made by the Prime Minister; but in accordance with what has been allowed to fall from various speakers, I think I may be allowed to congratulate the Prime Minister and the Government on the announcement made to-day. If the statement is followed out in a generous spirit, it will be a landmark in the social progress and change of this country, and will do much to heal what is a serious open sore at the present time. I might have made my tribute even more unqualified had it not been for some of the points that have been remotely hinted at with regard to the statement. So I confine myself to the present administration. It is not that I wish to complain unduly, because the tribunals and officers are working under Regulations which have been laid down, and have not a fully free hand; but I would like to give two instances of the working of the Act, both of which come from my constituency. I have the names here, which I withhold, but they are available. The first concerns a household pensioner who was granted a supplementary pension of 5s. 6d. His daughter, who is married, with her husband in the Army, acts as his housekeeper. She found her resources straitened, and went out to work to keep 1393 out of debt. The result is that the 5s. 6d. is cut off, and in a letter to me this pensioner says:I have one alternative—turn my daughter out, and get 9s. 6d. I will not write to her husband in the Army and tell him that I am compelled by the U.A.B. to turn his wife into the street until I am sure there is no other way.The other case concerns an iron worker, 82 years of age, who resides with his married son and family. He was given 3s. 6d. a week supplementation for the first four weeks. During this time his son worked a few hours overtime for nine days, and the result was the withdrawal of the 3s. 6d. which had been granted. The son heard the call "Go to it," but in doing so he robbed his father of his small supplementation.
I should also like to indicate the feeling in my own constituency among pensioners themselves. Here is a resolution which is similar to those passed all over the country, although I think I may claim that in Scotland Coatbridge has been almost the centre of this movement. The Coatbridge Branch of the Scottish Old Age Pensioners' Association, requesting the Town Council to support an amendment of the 1940 Act, says of the Act:The means test clause of the Act is making the position of the said pensioners very cruel and unfair and, in spite of promises made to the contrary, has worsened the conditions of many of our old folks now that they have no claim to public assistance, and in many instances penalises unfairly any attempt to be thrifty.In his admirable statement, the Secretary of State for Scotland said that the aim was that there should be no worsening. I think the reference in the quotation I have made is largely to the worsening that took place especially at the beginning. The Public Assistance Committees used to give clothing and other perquisites, and then that provision was not available under the new conditions. I gather that an effort is being made to make this up either in cash or by some other means, and I trust that it will be fully augmented, for this is a real cause of complaint. The resolution to which I have referred was sent to the Coatbridge Town Council, and the Town Council were asked to give their support. That support was granted unanimously. I would observe that it is not a Labour Town Council, although there is a considerable number of Labour representa- 1394 tives on it; in Coatbridge what are known as the Moderates are in power. There was not a single word in the Town Council in favour of the Act as it is now being administered—not that they blamed the administration, and not that I wish to do so. The other Town Council in my constituency, that of Airdrie, while not expressing adherence to the resolution—I think they were not asked to do so—were of the same mind, and they have said that they would welcome the bringing in of a personal means test in place of the family means test now applicable.
There have been most enthusiastic meetings on this subject. The feeling that has been created is such that new members are constantly joining the Old Age Pensioners' Associations, and one correspondent has said to me that the interest is now at fever height. I wish to quote to the House from a letter sent to me on 17th September by ex-Provost Irvine who is at the head of this movement, and who has taken up this matter with great earnestness and addressed meetings in many parts of the country. He wrote:So far as I can remember no single piece of legislation has given rise to so much dissatisfaction and indignation as this has done, and it must inevitably lead to a regrettable mistrust of our Parliamentary system at a time when such an institution should have the unqualified support of every right-thinking person as an impatial court for the people as a whole.I know that I may not discuss the merits of a personal means test as far as it requires legislation, but I think I may recall to hon. Members that, in the case of non-contributory old age pensions, our present legislation has been operated on this basis from the beginning. In 1908, there was an income range from £21 to £31 10s., and the pension granted varied accordingly on a sliding scale from 5s. down to is. In the 1919 legislation there was a further advance from a limit of £26 5s. up to £49 17s. 6d., and in the 1924 legislation unearned income to an amount of £39 was disregarded. I will not say more on that matter. That legislation is already in force, and I trust that by the change that may come in that regard we may make an even further advance. I should like to call attention to an Answer that was given by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, on 11th December, 1935, in which he said that if the means limit for non-con- 1395 tributory pensions were placed at £100, for the first year the expenditure on the part of the Treasury would be only from £,5,000,000 to £6,000,000, although there would be a steady increase in after years.
I close my remarks by saying that there is a real need to eradicate the growing discontent in this matter. Even with the good intentions which there may be behind the Act as it is now operated—and I accept all that has been said about the benefits that have come from it—there is this discontent, which is deeply opposed to the stability and strength of the State. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland said that the nation has a warm regard for the old people. I trust we shall show that this regard is active. I am sure that, although we cannot claim the right hon. Gentlemn as a native of Scotland, he is well familiar with much of our Scottish literature. In that literature there is a famous and oft-quoted verse—I need not say from where it comes—To make a happy fire-side clime To weans and wife;That's the true pathos and sublime Of human life.We have had enough of the pathos; let us seek to give them more of the sublime. I am glad that, according to the right hon. Gentleman, not only the weans and wife, but the old people, are to come into the picture, to have a happy fire-side, to have a fire-side that they can call their own, and to have a sense of independence. I trust that in the administration, and if need be in the legislation, to which I may not refer, we shall no longer deal with this question in a cheap and niggardly way, but that we shall deal with it with generosity, dignity, and justice.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke)
Those hon. Members who were in the House when the Ruling with regard to this Debate was given from the Chair will remember that it was to the effect that it would be in Order to comment upon the Prime Minister's statement within reason, but not to debate it. I propose to abide by that Ruling. When the statement was made, I was pleased with it, but since looking at a copy of it which my hon. Friend the Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) has obtained, I have become a bit sceptical about certain portions of it. 1396 Therefore, I shall not to-day make the observations that I had intended to make on it, but shall look forward to the statement being interpreted to the House in a most generous way. Let me say that the only satisfactory interpretation, as far as we on this side are concerned, will be the complete abolition of the household means test. We, on this side, if we are worthy of the people we represent, are smarting under the lash of the administration of the means test since 1931.
Having said that, I want to deal now with the administration of the present Act. I say unhesitatingly, speaking from my own experience—and it is a pretty wide one—that the intentions of Parliament are not being reflected in the administration of the Supplementary Pensions Act. The assurances which were given by the then Minister of Health, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot), have not been fulfilled. During the passage of that Act I, with a small number of my hon. Friends, sat through the whole of the Debate. We were impressed by the magnanimous spirit of the right hon. Gentleman who was piloting the Act through all its stages. I went away night after night, and also spoke at week-ends, hoping that that spirit was going to find expression in the administration of the Act. But here I have a few concrete examples. A man appeals to the chairman of a tribunal. Just imagine him; he is a man of over 65 years of age. Imagine all it means to a miner, or an engineer or a pottery worker, who has worn himself out and has not managed to obtain the livelihood of many hon. Members in this House. Such men have spent 40 or 50 years in the mines, or in engineering works, or in steel works. They have worked themselves out, and they then go before the tribunal. Their energy has been sapped, and they have lost their confidence.
This particular man went before the tribunal, and the chairman asked: "You live with your cousin?"—applicant, "Yes." The Chairman: "She receives a pension?"—the applicant: "No." The Chairman: "But she does, it is on this paper"—the applicant: "She does not draw a pension." Try to put yourself in the place of the applicant who is being contradicted by the chairman of this tribunal 1397 on evidence of this character. The chairman's clerk then butts in and asks: "Who buys in for you?"—the applicant: "I do." The Clerk: "Who cooks for you?"—the applicant: "I do, but I have not much to cook." The clerk: "Who does the washing?"—the applicant: "I do." The Chairman: "What do you pay 5s. a week for?"— the applicant: "My bed." The tribunal awarded that man a supplementary pension of 3s. 6d. a week. Does any hon. Member justify that kind of treatment? I have another case of an applicant of 60 years of age. He has a pension of 7s. a week, but he also has £108 in the bank. The household includes a daughter, aged 42, who had not attended school since she was nine years of age. She has no work, although she has been eager to obtain it in spite of her ill health. Relatives living in the neighbourhood gradually put by a sum for the daughter which eventually accumulated to £382. What does the tribunal say in this case? It says that the capital of the invalid daughter must help to keep the father.
I have other cases, but there are many other of my hon. Friends who wish to speak and I shall not, therefore, quote them all. I sent these two cases to the Minister of Health, but they are only typical of many. Here is another. The applicant is a widow, aged 73, who during the last four years has occupied two unfurnished rooms in a house of which her spinster daughter is a tenant. During that period she has paid her daughter a weekly rent of 5s. The widow has provided the fuel and lighting, and the doctor has ordered her to have energy-bread, glucose and fish. The daughter is an elementary school teacher. This applicant goes before the tribunal and the tribunal turns the case down because the daughter is obtaining a salary from the school. In another case the Preston and District Old Age Pensioners' Association have been in touch with Bolton and Manchester. They have been asking that a friend should be allowed to go along with an applicant to the tribunal. In this district they are refusing to allow old age pensioners to have representatives with them. I have the whole correspondence with me, and I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will glance over it before the Parliamentary Secretary 1398 replies. If he does so he will see that we are not overstating our case.
I now wish to quote to the Committee extracts from speeches made by the right hon Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove, which would show that the Act is not being interpreted or administered in the way that Parliament and the right hon. Gentleman intended. In February, the right hon. Gentleman, then Minister of Health, said:In carrying out their duties the Board have encouraged their officers to take a reasonable and humane view of the applicant's circumstances."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th February, 1940; col. 1210, Vol. 357.]Has that been done in the cases I have quoted? These cases are typical of many others in other parts of the country, and had there been more time, many of my hon. Friends on this side could have given similar concrete instances. However, this Debate has been arranged in such a way, after being delayed on three occasions, that time is inadequate. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that the Regulations would be modified as necessary. Will the Regulations be modified as from to-day, or as soon as possible, in order that we can see that the intentions of Parliament are carried out in the administration of this Measure? In March, the right hon. Gentleman moved an Amendment which stated:(4) The administration of supplementary pensions shail be conducted in such manner as may best promote the welfare of pensioners.I ask my hon. Friends who are in close touch with old age pensioners in industrial parts of the country whether those assurances have found expression in the administration of the Act. Then the right hon. Gentleman went on to say:On the question of administration the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith) made several points which I shall certainly have to take into account in the administration of the Statute in the future.The right hon. Gentleman is very anxious first of all that a long catechism should not be imposed on the old people, and that the questions should be limited in number and should be asked at the largest possible intervals. I certainly agree with him, but I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that the assurance has not been carried out. The then Minister of Health expressed his agreement on other matters, and said: 1399The fundamental point of administration raised by the hon. Member for Stoke was that as people reach three score years and ten it is a matter of general knowledge that their circumstances and, indeed, their bodily constitutions change—and for that reason it is necessary that the administration should take into account these special circumstances. I can give the assurance in the fullest sense that I have in mind that the personal requirements of the members of the families must he taken into account. … They must be dealt with by a special technique and by a special degree of sympathy, and it will be my object to administer the regulations along those lines."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st March, 1940; cols. 2445 to 2475, Vol. 357.]I hope that, as a result of to-day's Debate, a fundamental change is to be made in the administration of the Act. Do not let us forget that there are still thousands of old age pensioners having to live upon 10s. a week. Too many of us are forgetting that fact. In my view, the time has arrived when we should not only consider the abolition of the whole means test, but when the ordinary pension of 10s. should be increased as soon as possible in order that the ordinary old age pensioner can enjoy benefits similar to those that other sections of the community are obtaining. The Minister's assurances have not been fulfilled. Can the Parliamentary Secretary give us a promise that she will look into those assurances and that, if our statements are found to be statements of fact, a circular will be sent out as soon as possible to the Board's officers, and in particular to the Assistance Board, instructing them that these assurances must be fulfilled? There is no doubt that the House expected a generous interpretation of the Regulations. We have not had it, and we therefore have a right to expect that the evidence that we have brought forward will be considered, that the assurances given by the right hon. Member for Kelvingrove will be renewed and that as soon as possible there will be a fundamental change in the administration of the Act.
§ Mr. Leslie (Sedgefield)
I cannot help feeling that the Act has been administered harshly and in such a way as to prevent allowances being granted, and certainly not in the spirit we expected when the Act was passed. Judging from the many letters that I have had from old people, and in conversations with quite a number of them, this household means test is hated even more than the old one. It 1400 was bad enough when the old people had to depend on their sons and daughters, but it is worse when they have to depend on sons-in-law, especially when, as in many cases, they are handicapped by large families. This supplementary pension is deemed by disappointed pensioners a will-o'-the-wisp, something illusory, holding out false hopes. Here is a case of an old man living with a son-in-law, a miner. There are seven in family, the eldest girl of 17 earning 6s. a week, and the pensioner is allowed 3s. 6d. Under public assistance he would receive 6s. 3d. Surely a miner with a large family to support, one girl earning 6s., which is quite insufficient to feed her, has enough to do to provide for his family without his earnings being taken into account in deciding the legal allowance of 3s. 6d. to the father-in-law. Here is a case of an old lady living with a son-in-law who has a boy of 16, an apprentice, and another at school. The pensioner is allowed a paltry half-crown a week. Here is another old man of 80, living with a son-in-law who works in the pit, and no allowance is made to the pensioner. I have a case of a bedridden old lady of 78 living with her son. No allowance is granted despite the increased cost of living and the medical needs of the pensioner. These are sample cases which have been brought to my notice. How could it be wondered at that the old people are bitterly disappointed? In each case I have advised the pensioner to appeal, but I regret to say that in almost every case the appeal was turned down and no allowance was given. I hope that when the promised legislation is brought forward it will not only be generous but will be administered in the spirit and intention of Parliament.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Miss Horsbrugh)
I will do my best in the short time I have to answer as many as possible of the questions that have been put to me. Hon. Members have, quite rightly, quoted cases where there is extreme dissatisfaction. Although I cannot now go into any detail on the subject of the difficulty with the household test which has been referred to as the difficulty of the son-in-law, I am sure, when the matter is being considered in accordance with the Prime Minister's statement, anyone who considers the difficulties of the household will 1401 be met on every second occasion with the son-in-law. Among other points which have been raised but which cannot be discussed at the moment is the subject of the exact amount of the pension. A point that we can discuss at present is the way in which it is working in the case of any particular grievance. The Secretary of State for Scotland gave a survey, and I will think it will he most useful if I confine myself exactly to the questions that have been addressed to me, but I should like to say that we all want the old people to get the pension in exactly the way we meant. There is no difference between us. I will go further. Those in charge of the Assistance Board want the pensioners to get it in exactly the same spirit as we agreed. We can also agree that it is only natural that some mistakes should occur when bringing this enormous number into the machine at one time. Over a million cases were dealt with, and throughout the country large numbers of people were employed to investigate particular cases. The hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) said that some of the investigators had not done their job well and were not the right type of investigators. It will be better for the Board and for us if on every occasion when there is anything definite hon. Members bring cases to our notice. Everyone realises that there must be mistakes and there must be from time to time a person who is not suitable. While I thoroughly agree that there have been mistakes, we know that there have also naturally been misunderstandings on the part of the pensioners. They have not understood why they have not got this or why some one has got something else. We have to take that into consideration too. The best plan is that all the cases which have been quoted by hon. Members and others should be looked into individually.
That brings me to the subject of [...] views. The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) said he had sent many cases which had been increased on review and the hon. Member for Llanelly mentioned cases where the pensions had been reduced. We should realise that, in many of these cases, answers have to be sent by post because personal consultations and investigations cannot take place, and in order that a pensioner should get a pension quickly it was decided to 1402 pay a certain sum for an interim period. That is why in some cases the pension has been for only a month while in other cases it has been for three months. The reason why a longer period was not given is that the full facts were not known and that there would have to be a review. I think it was the best arrangement to give the pension at once before the review on the understanding that it was only for a short time and that the pension might be changed. They have in some cases been changed up, and others have been changed down.
One hon. Gentleman said that not many went up, but the hon. Member for Cheltenham said that when he sends cases they very nearly always go up. His complaint was that as they nearly always went up it showed that more cases should be reviewed. The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) put a case in which there had been a review downwards, and said that by decreasing the pension we were not carrying out that part of the Act in which the pension paid by the Board had to be not less than the old person was receiving from the public assistance authority. That is laid down in the Act, and if there is a mistake it is against the Act. The hon. Gentleman gave the case of a pensioner receiving 7s. 9d. from the public assistance authority. The Board gave 9s. 6d. There were cases in which they gave too much and other cases too little. When the review came it was found that the 9s. 6d. was too much, and when the supplementary pension was reduced to 7s. 9d. it was the same as the public assistance authority had given. Although the hon. Gentleman gave that case to show that we were not following the Act, the amount paid was not less than the amount paid from public assistance.
Several hon. Gentlemen asked about appeal tribunals and the right of appeal. The hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) said that there ought to be a worker on the appeals tribunals, but, in fact, a worker is represented on them. I have lists of the number of appeals, one to the end of August and one to the end of September. The number of appeals decided in August was 6,848. It has been said that there are a great number of cases in which the right of appeal was not given by the chairman, and there is some idea that people are not given a fair 1403 chance of appeal. In August the number who were refused the right to appeal was 881, which was a small percentage of the total appeals decided. When I looked at the figure I was surprised to find it was so small in relation to the number of appeals. In the 6,848 appeals the determination of the Board's officer was confirmed in 5,676 and a new determination was substituted in 1,172 cases. For September the number of appeals was 8,857, and 711 were refused the right to appeal. The Board's officer's determination was confirmed in 6,797 cases and new determinations substituted in 2,060 cases. In view of the remarks of the hon. Member for Caerphilly and the hon. Member for Llanelly, I looked up the figures for Wales. In September the number of appeals was 1,847 and 43 were refused the right to appeal. In August the number of appeals was 1,215 and 189 were refused the right to appeal.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
The smallness of the figure does not affect the principle that the old age pensioner should be allowed the right to appeal.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I agree that there is a principle involved, but the hon. Gentleman asked for the number of appeals and I thought it would be of interest to have a note of the number that had been refused. I am not arguing at the moment whether it is right or wrong. I come to the question of those who have been evacuated to the reception areas and who have had changes in their supplementary pensions. In a great many cases the pension book is given for an extended period, perhaps up to 13 weeks. In other cases the book is given for a shorter period when it appears that the circumstances may change.
I have dealt with a good many of these cases and I have found that in many of them there has been the very unfortunate coincidence that the person had to leave an evacuation area at the time the pension book was running out. That was unfortunate because some people had a pension which had not been reviewed and had only had it for a month. They went to a reception area when the pension was due for review. They arrived at a new house where the Government was paying the householder 5s. for the billet. If a case can be made out to show that the 1404 pensioner is suffering from distress or sickness and is in greater need, extra can be given by the Board, and it is being given, but if a billeting allowance of 5s. is being paid instead of the pensioner having to pay rent, he cannot also get the rent allowance in his supplementary pension. What we are trying to do is to get these particular cases dealt with as sympathetically as possible. It is an extremely difficult problem, because of the way in which people are moving about. Some have gone from evacuation areas only temporarily, some have changed their homes, and there are other difficulties. Fresh instructions have gone out, or are going out to the officers of the Board in the reception areas asking them to give special attention to these particular cases. Some of them come under no form of Regulation and have to be dealt with on their merits. I can assure the Committee that the matter has been taken up, and that every effort is being made to deal with these cases with the greatest possible sympathy.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I think I can tell the hon. Member that these cases have been dealt with in a sympathetic way. Where a billeting allowance of 5s. is given instead of the rent being paid, that must be taken into account, but it may be possible to increase the allowance as well. I should like to have replied to one or two more questions, but time will not permit me to say more than this.
§ Mr. E. Smith
In view of the evidence produced in this House with regard to the administration of the Act, can the hon. Lady give an undertaking that a record of these proceedings will be considered by the Ministry of Health and by the Board and that circulars will be sent out as soon as possible to the officials of the Board directing them to make their procedure accord with the intentions which have been expressed by Parliament?
§ Miss Horsbrugh
The record of this Debate will be considered very closely both in the Ministry of Health and by the officials of the Board, but any circular would not deal with changing 1405 administration but would give directions, if definite faults were found. Like my right hon. Friend, the Board are anxious that this legislation should work as we all mean it to work. There have been cases of which we all know in which there has been misunderstanding, and those cases must be gone into separately, but I can assure hon. Members in closing that it is our intention, with the help of hon. Members who bring to our notice cases in which there is a misunderstanding, to make this legislation a real benefit to the people for whom it is intended.
Question,That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £11,200,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1941, for the payment of Supplementary Pensions to certain persons in receipt of Old Age Pensions or Widows' Pensions, and for certain administrative expenses in connection therewith,put, and agreed to.
§ Ordered, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again.—[Mr. Holdsworth.]
§ Resolution to be reported upon the next Sitting Day.
§ Committee also report Progress; to sit again upon the next Sitting day.