§ 29. Mr. Ness Edwards
asked the Minister of Health whether he is aware that old age pensioners, who are in receipt of supplementary pensions and who do turns of fire-watching, are having the subsistence payment for fire-watching treated as earnings and that their supplementary pensions are accordingly reduced; whether this action is in accord with the policy of the Government; and under what authority are subsistence payments treated as earnings?
§ Mr. E. Brown
I am informed by the Assistance Board that payments received by pensioners for turns of fire-watching within the limits laid down by the compulsory Orders are in pratcice disregarded. Where, however, the pensioner is doing what is virtually a full-time job, the Board feel that payments made to him can only be regarded as wages.
§ Mr. Edwards
Am I to understand that where old age pensioners are doing an ordinary rota of fire-watching the subsistence payments are wholly disregarded, and will the Minister also have regard in this connection to the definition of subsistence payments given by the Home Secretary' recently?
§ Mr. Brown
The facts are that where the pensioner is performing fire-guard duties for no more than the 48 hours in each period of four weeks, which persons to whom the relevant Orders apply may be required to perform, the subsistence allowance will rarely exceed 6s. a week, and it is the Board's practice to disregard payments of this amount without inquiring whether or not they are actually spent on subsistence. Where, in exceptional cases, a larger weekly sum is received, the cases are considered on the facts.
§ Mr. Edwards
Does not the Minister agree that what the Board are really doing is applying the statutory earnings rule to what is a subsistence payment?
Is it not a fact that in notions, a form is provided for this purpose, case are these payments anything other 1227 than subsistence payments, and that by the definition given by the Home Secretary in reply to a Question, these payments are compensation and not income in any sense, and should not be treated as income?