§ 7.37 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of National Insurance (Mr. Steele)
I beg to move,That the Draft Unemployment Assistance (Determination of Need and Assessment of Needs (Amendment) Regulations, 1946, made under Sections 38 and 52 of the Unemployment Assistance Act, 1934, a copy of which Draft Regulations was presented on 21st November, be approved.
§ Mr. Stephen (Glasgow, Camlachie)
On a point of Order. There is a Motion which follows this on the Order Paper:That the Draft Supplementary Pensions (Determination of Need and Assessment of Needs) (Amendment) Regulations, 1946, made under Sections 38 and 52 of the Unemployment Act, 1934, as applied by Part II of the Old Age and Widows' Pensions Act, 1940, a copy of which Draft Regulations was presented on 21st November, be approved.The two Motions really deal with the one general subject. I suggest that there might be only one discussion upon them, to cover them both, as that would probably save time.
§ Mr. Speaker
That was my intention from the start. In fact, the two Orders are complementary, so to speak, and it would be inconvenient to take them separately.
§ Mr. Steele
The House will recollect that my right hon. Friend announced from this Box on 19th November, that the Assistance Board had submitted to him two sets of Draft Regulations to provide for certain increases in the scale of allowances for children. The Board's proposals have been accepted by the Government, and accordingly my right hon. Friend submits to Parliament two sets of Draft Regulations in like terms. They are now before the House. As was suggested by the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen), I propose to deal with them together. The drafts will each require an affirmative Resolution of both Houses before the operative regulations can be made. Two sets of regulations are required, as the Assistance Board administer two schemes of assistance. Under those two schemes, allowances according to need are paid to the following categories of persons. The first scheme relates to unemployment assistance, and covers persons aged 16 or over who are unemployed insured persons, capable of and available for work. The second provides supplementary pensions for old age pensioners, both contributory and non-contributory, and for widow pensioners who are 60 years of age or over or who are receiving allowance? for dependent children.
The needs of applicants to the Board are of course assessed in accordance with the regulations approved by Parliament, and in assessing the need of an applicant provision must be made for any dependants. The regulations describe rates not only for the applicant and, if he is married, for his wife but any other dependants he may have. The current regulations were approved by Parliament in December, 1943. The two sets of amending regulations, one for unemployment assistance and the other for supplementary pensions, will provide improvements which the Board consider are now required in the rates for dependent children under 16 years of age. In other respects, the existing provisions of the current regulations will continue to operate.
I would like to give the rate for children under the present regulations. Between 11 and 15 years inclusive the payment is 9s., between eight and 10 years inclusive 7s. 6d., and for children under eight years, 6s. What is proposed under the new rates 281 is children between 11 and 15 years inclusive, 10s. 6d.; between five and 10 years, 9s.; and children under five years, 7s. 6d. It will thus be seen that the new regulations propose not only increases in each of the three rates, but also a change in the age grouping which will enable the intermediate rate to be paid at an earlier age. The new age grouping is related broadly to the various stages of the educational system. Five is the compulsory school attendance age and 11 is at present the age of transfer from primary to secondary schools.
Put shortly, the effect of the new regulations will be to increase the allowances for children in the following manner: Under five, an increase of 1s. 6d. per week; children of five, six and seven will get an increase of 3s. per week; and children from eight to 15 inclusive an increase of 1s. 6d. per week. So far as the numbers affected are concerned, some 15,000 unemployed insured applicants to the Board have about 38,000 dependent children and some 39,000 widows receiving supplementary pensions have about 74,000 dependent children. Thus in all about 54,000 persons with about 112,000 children will benefit. The number of supplementary old age pensioners with dependent children is of course negligible. So far as the cost to the Exchequer is concerned, this will be in the region of £515,000 in a full year.
I am sure the House would like to have a few examples showing what the new scales of assistance will mean in a few typical cases. Take the case of a widow with two children aged four and 10. Under the present scales the widow gets 20s. for herself, and for her children 6s. and 7s. 6d. respectively, making a total of 33s. 6d. a week, to which is added, within reasonable limits, the amount she pays in rent. If the rent was, for example, 10s., the total would be 43s. 6d. Under the new regulations the scale rates for the children will be 7s. 6d. instead of 6s., and 9s. instead of 7s. 6d., so that the total will be 46s. 6d. a week. This represents the standard to which, in the absence of any special circumstances such as I will mention later, the Assistance Board will make up the income which this widow derives from other sources, such as, for example, her widow's pension and the family allowances. Let us take the case of another widow with a similar rent of 10s., but who has four children aged 282 four, six, 10 and 11. At present the scale is 58s. 6d., but under the new regulations it will be 66s., an increase of 7s. 6d.
Let me now give two examples of unemployed men with families who are drawing unemployment assistance. For convenience I will suppose that their rents are the same as in the two examples I gave about widows, that is, 10s. a week. Let us take the case of an unemployed man with a wife and two children aged four and 10 years. In this case the rate for a man and wife is 31s. and the present scales for the children are 6s. and 7s. 6d. a week, which makes 44s. 6d. a week. Add to this the 10s. for rent, and the total is 54s. 6d. Under the new scales the rates for children will be increased from 6s. to 7s. 6d. and from 7s. 6d. to 9s., making a total of 57s. 6d. a week. This compares with the present unemployment benefit rates for a married couple with two children of 50s. a week. Now let us take the case of another unemployed man, this time with four children aged four, six, 10 and 11, and with a similar rent of 10s. Under the present scale they would receive 69s. 6d. per week. Under the new regulations they will receive 77s. per week. This compares with 60s. which they would receive under the present unemployment scheme.
Unlike insurance benefits, which provide allowances at fixed rates, the schemes administered by the Assistance Board are essentially schemes of assistance according to individual needs. Needs vary widely and are not always met by allowances at the normal scale rate. The main regulations accordingly confer on the Board a discretionary power to allow more than the scale rate where the circumstances of the case so require. Additions are in fact frequently made to meet special needs such as extra nourishment in the case of sickness, extra expense on account of laundering, and, where the circumstances of the family are exceptionally difficult, on clothing and household equipment. If Parliament approves the regulations they will come into force in the week commencing 16th December. This allows less than a fortnight from now in which to put all the increases into payment. Widow pensioners are paid their supplementary pensions at the Post Office at the same time as their widows' pensions, and within the few days allowed it will be necessary in all these cases to recover the current order books 283 and issue new books for the higher amounts The Board have assured my right hon. Friend that their administrative machinery will be able to cope satisfactorily with this additional work in the time available.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Brown (Ince)
I want to address what few remarks I have to make to the second Motion, and I want to ask, with the greatest respect, one or two questions, of the Minister of National Insurance. I would ask first why the promise made last February that in this Session of Parliament there would be introduced a National Assistance Bill dealing with all the anomalies which have grown up since 1939 has not been kept. Perhaps the Minister will answer that question, because we are very much disturbed that the Bill is not to be brought forward this Session
The Parliamentary Secretary has made an admirable case for increasing children's allowances both to the unemployed person and also to the old age pensioner who might have dependent children, but he has said very little which indicates that some regard is being paid to the old age pensioners who have to go to the assistance boards to supplement the pension of which they are now in receipt My complaint on the regulation, and in particular the Explanatory Memorandum which has been supplied with the two regulations, concerns paragraph 5 on page 3, which says:The discretionary powers which form an important part of the present Regulations will not be affected by the proposed Regulations and will continue to be exercised as at present whenever the special circumstances of "the case so require.It leaves the assistance boards in their administrative capacity in the same position in the future as they have been in the past and are at present. I am not complaining about the discretionary powers being given to the assistance boards, but I am finding from experience that assistance boards vary in their ad ministration of the application of their discretionary powers. I find that in some districts they are more generous than in others. In some districts, particularly where the rent allowance is very high consequent upon the conditions prevailing in that district, their discretionary powers are very parsimoniously applied. It is 284 upon that aspect I want to dwell for a moment or two.
I want to ask the Minister it he could consider putting in the regulations a minimum amount below which the relief can not fall. I find in some cases that the assistance boards are so parsimonious in their approach to the supplementation of the old age pensioners' pension, that they are even conceding 6d. and 1s. That can not be considered to be using discretionary powers as understood in the regulations. Why do I make this suggestion that there should be a minimum below which the scale of relief shall not fall? I make it because there are, in my submission, a large number of border-line cases and the assistance boards are very hesitant because of that fact. Therefore, I think it would be as well for the Minister to take into consideration the fixing of the scale which has to be administered by the assistance boards in various parts of the country at a certain figure. It is done in many other walks of life, so why should it not be fixed for the old age pensioner?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)
I do not think the hon. Gentleman is in Order in referring to old age pensioners. As I understand it, this is a question of grants for children
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Yes, but I think I am right in saying—perhaps the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—that this is a question of grants in respect of children —it may be the children of old age pensioners, but it is only in respect of dependent children. I do not think the general question arises.
§ Mr. Brown
With all respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, the Parliamentary Secretary mentioned old age pensioners in put ting forward his case. I made a note of it I was aware that I was skating on very thin ice, but, having regard to the statement made by the Parliamentary Secretary, I thought the way was open now for the discussion of the supplementation of pensions paid to old age pensioners who because of their economic circumstances, have to go to the Assistance Board for some relief. Though you rule otherwise. I respectfully submit that I am within the four corners of these regulations.
§ The Minister of National Insurance (Mr. James Griffiths)
I am not sure whether I can assist in deciding what actually is in Order or is not in Order on these regulations. What I can say is that the new regulations, which I am submitting to the House for their approval, under both schemes provide for increases in the children's rates. The rates for adults remain the same. The Parliamentary Secretary, of course, was bound to refer to the fact that these are scale rates but they do not affect in any way the power which the Board has now to make discretionary payments both to adults and children. As to how wide the Debate is, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that is not within my province to decide, but the regulations cover provisions for increases in children's rates only.
§ Mr. Brown
Arising out of the advice given by the Minister, the regulations will indirectly affect the old age pensioners, and I would respectfully call your attention, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to the preamble to this regulation which refers to the Old Age and Widows' Pensions Act, 1940. I think, with all respect, that I am in Order in raising the matter of supplementary pensions.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I am sorry, but the fact that the heading relates to the Old Age and Widows' Pensions Act, 1940. does not affect the particular matter coming under the regulation which is, I think, limited to the question of grants in respect of dependent children. I am afraid I must ask the hon. Member to keep to that point.
§ Mr. Brown
I accept your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I want to stress the importance of this because, after all, whether the assistance boards deal with the unemployed person, with widows or with old age pensioners, they are entitled, according to the Explanatory Memorandum, to use discretionary powers. I think I have kept well within the four corners of the regulations by applying my remarks to the discretionary powers conceded to the assistance boards. I made the suggestion a moment or two ago that there ought to be a scale fixed by the Minister himself below which the relief cannot fall because, by doing that, the 286 assistance boards would be helped to apply their discretionary powers without fear of the Treasury—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
If the hon. Member will forgive me, the question of discretionary powers is not in any way altered by these regulations. That is a matter which has long been decided, and the question does not, therefore, arise under these regulations.
§ Mr. Brown
I am well aware of that, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I know the Minister, when you called upon him, tried to interpret what is meant by "discretionary powers." In my respectful submission I think I am entitled to put forward a point of view on the interpretation of what is meant by "discretionary powers." If you rule me out of Order, I will resume my seat, but I think I am in Order.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The Explanatory Memorandum says quite clearly:The discretionary powers which form an important part of the present Regulations will not be affected by the proposed Regulations and will be continued to be exercised as at present whenever the circumstances of the case so require.Therefore, the question of discretionary powers does not arise in the matter we are discussing, which is affecting proposed Regulations, not present Regulations.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I am afraid not on the present occasion, because the question of discretionary powers is not altered and does not in any way come into the proposed Regulations. I am sorry, but I am afraid I cannot allow the hon. Member to pursue that question.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen (Glasgow, Camlachie)
I am sorry I cannot begin by congratulating the Minister on the new regulations. The position in regard to these increases has 287 arisen out of the working of the family allowances scheme. Since that scheme has been in operation, there has been a great deal of discontent in various parts of the country about the position in which widows with children have been placed, and also in regard to the children of the unemployed. I think the proper line for the Government to have taken until the third Measure, of which the Minister has spoken, was brought forward, was to arrange the regulations so that to the children of the widows and to the children of the unemployed the amount they were losing under the present scheme of family allowances would be made up to them under a new Act of Parliament. Perhaps the Minister would not be out of Order if he gave us some explanation of why this Measure to correct the anomalies is not being brought forward this Session. He will realise that many thousands of people throughout the country are suffering gravely owing to the anomaly. I hope he will be able to say something tonight that will bring a certain amount of comfort to those people.
The present position is improved somewhat by the regulations. There is to be an increase of 1s. 6d. per child per week in some cases. In the case of children between five and eight years of age there is to be an increase of 3s. a week. But, the only thing that would do justice would be the payment of 5s. a week in each case, so that these children could be put into the same position as all the other children in the country. At present the only children not receiving the benefit of the family allowances scheme are the children whose parents are in the worst position. If a man is working and receiving £1,000 a week and has four children, three of those children receive the 5s. a week. But, if a man is unemployed and has the same number of children, he receives his unemployment benefit and the dependants' allowances under the unemployment insurance scheme, plus assistance from the Assistance Board, but the payment from the family allowances scheme is withheld from him.
§ Mr. Steele indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Stephen
The Parliamentary Secretary shakes his head. I think I am right. The children of the unemployed do not get the 5s. a week from the unemployment insurance scheme. The children of 288 widows under the ordinary contributory pensions scheme also suffer. That is all wrong. I know it is done on the plea that there should not be duplication of payments, but there is duplication of payments in the case of a man who is in employment getting a decent wage, because the State has laid upon a parent a responsibility in regard to his income to make provision for the maintenance of his children. There is duplication there in the same way. I hope the Minister will reconsider the whole position, and put it to the Assistance Board that the present increase is not sufficient, but that in every one of these cases the increase should be 5s. a week.
The Parliamentary Secretary gave us certain cases. I would like the Minister to take up one of those cases, say, the one in which there were four children, and tell us what the income is in that case, and also what the income would be in the case of a similar family of a woman with four children who is the widow of a man killed in the war, and who is in receipt of a war pension. In that case it will be found that the children are receiving us. in respect of the pension allowance, plus the 5s—16s. in all. The father of the children whose widow is receiving payment under this scheme may have served four years in the war. He may have come home and died of some disease such as heart disease, but was not able to prove that it resulted from war service. His widow would not get a pension; and she is put into a far worse position than the widow whose husband was killed in the war. I do not think there is any real reason for the discrimination. The need is the same in each case.
I am surprised that a Labour Minister of National Insurance has not been seized of the need for correcting these anomalies. After all, the cases of the greatest need are those in which the least payments are being made because of the anomalies which have arisen in connection with this scheme, I hope that the Minister will tell us he is going to bring forward a Measure at an early date to correct these anomalies. I would also like him to tell us whether it is not possible for him to have this whole matter reconsidered by the Assistance Board with a view to the full payment of 5s. in respect of each child until the present unsatisfactory statutory position is put right. I appeal to the 289 Minister. I know that there is a tremendous discontent throughout the country about this matter. I know that in Bridge-ton the Labour candidate frankly confessed that he regarded the situation as absolutely unsatisfactory, and I know that members of the Labour Party in that division have expressed themselves in the same way. I hope that the Government will see that full justice is done to the children and that the mistake that was made in the last Parliament will be corrected, so that there will be a real family allowances scheme, which will extend to all the children in the community.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Blyton (Houghton-le-Spring)
Like the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen), many of us are not happy about the present situation, but what we are faced with tonight is whether we accept these regulations and take what is offered, or turn them down and leave the people who are covered by the regulations in the same position, on 16th December, as they are now. To that extent I welcome these regulations, because they will ease the position of a considerable number of people. There has undoubtedly been in the country deep consternation about the application and the operation of family allowances and the basis of the determination of needs under this particular Act. To that extent these regulations will ease the considerable agitation which has sprung up. They will mean that to a widow with three children, aged 12, six and four years respectively, who before the operation of the Act in August, received 41s., will now receive 47s.; that is, exclusive of rent allowance, that family, under these regulations, will be six shillings a week better off. It is not a large amount, but to a working-class widow with three children it is a Godsend in these days of high prices.
There is one anomaly I would like to point out to the Minister in relation to these regulations. When we exclude rent from unemployment assistance, we find that a man with a wife and three children aged 12, six and four years respectively, before the operation of the Act, in August last, received 52s. The statutory benefit of a man receiving unemployment benefit was £2 14s. On these figures a man receiving statutory benefit was getting 2s. more per week than an unemployed assist- 290 ance case, if rent was excluded from the determination of needs. The position now will be that, including everything a man has got, his income and his U.A.B. payment, he will, under these regulations, received 58s., exclusive of rent. The statutory benefit for the same family is £2 15s., so that a man drawing statutory benefit will be 3s. worse off than a man drawing unemployment assistance. My point is to ask the Minister to equalise these figures, bringing the one up to the other, operating the Section of the new Insurance Act, Section 62, so as to bring these figures into a relationship which will leave a man in the case I have quoted in nearly the same position as he was before the operation of this particular scale, which means the man on statutory benefit will get another 4s. 6d. to equalise the benefits.
My last point is in relation to the determination of needs under public assistance. I suggest that the people to whom this applies are the most needy of all in this country. A person who is sick or who is non-insurable is having taken into consideration everything that is coming in. He is worse off than the man who comes under the Unemployment Assistance Board. In pointing out this anomaly and asking the Minister to introduce a provision to rectify it, I wish to ask him to impress on the Minister of Health to try to rectify the same position in relation to the public assistance committees throughout the country. Having made that explanation, I shall support these proposals, because they make people better off than they were before.
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Chetwynd (Stockton-on-Tees)
I agree entirely with everything the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) said about the working of family allowances, but I think that we on this side of the House must congratulate the Minister on the speed with which he has introduced these two regulations. I feel sure that we should accept them on the basis that half a loaf is better than no bread. There are one or two points on this matter which I think need a little clarification. We are told, if I understand aright, that the cost per year of this new increase is something of the order of £515,000. I would like to know if the Minister can tell us what the actual figures would have been each year 291 if the principle of non-duplication of benefits had been abolished. Secondly, I think we should know why the date 16th December has been chosen, and whether it would not be possible to back date the operation of these provisions to the time when family allowances came into operation.
Then again, we all know the great difficulty which has been caused to old age pensioners in respect of their increase by the fact that there has been considerable delay in their getting their new pension books. There is something like a fortnight for these new books to be got out and distributed—about 112,000. I would not like these people to feel that they will not get their books in time. As the Assistance Board officers are heavily overworked in dealing with the old age pension books, could any extra assistance be given to them to get out these new books? The Minister has met, or partially met, two very deserving classes of cases by these extra allowances of unemployment assistance and supplementary pensions. There is still a large class left outside— people drawing compensation.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
This question does not arise in the Regulations. This Debate is like the Third Reading of a Bill. The only matters which can be dealt with are the matters set out in the Regulations.
§ Mr. Chetwynd
I am sorry. I bow, of course, to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. There is one special point not covered by these regulations, the case of children at school after the age of 15. What exactly is their position under these regulations? As I read them, their operation finishes when the children reach the age of 15, but there are many who receive education after that age, and I would like to know exactly what their position is.
§ 8.19 p.m.
§ The Minister of National Insurance (Mr. James Griffiths)
I have been asked a number of questions, and I will do my best to reply to them briefly. May I begin by reiterating what I said when I made the announcement about these regulations in the House some time ago? I said that we were aware then of the difficulties and anomalies. I put it to the House, then as now, that they are due to the fact that we have done something which this House induced us to do—introduced a part only of a great scheme of social insurance in advance of the whole. [HON. MEMBERS: 292 "We cannot hear."] I am sorry. I will try to remember the left as well as the right. I said when I made the announcement—
§ Mr. Griffiths
This is the first time that I have been told that I cannot be heard in this House. However, I said then, and I now repeat, that these are difficulties which arise from the piecemeal introduction of part of a scheme most of which will be wiped out when the new scheme comes fully into operation. In the meantime, the Assistance Board have looked at the scales for children, and have proposed these new rates. I believe everyone who has spoken has welcomed them as a change and an advance and I am sure that all hon. Members will vote for them this evening.
I now come to the questions I was asked about the National Assistance Bill. That Bill is in course of preparation. I was asked when it will be introduced. The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown), who asked that question, knows perfectly well that it is not one which should be addressed to me but to someone else. Let me be perfectly clear. There have been one or two suggestions that the proposal for the Bill has been abandoned. It has not been abandoned, it is in preparation, and the question as to when it comes before the House is a matter for the Government as a whole. The hon. Member for Ince raised a number of other points, but apart from that one they were ruled out of Order.
The hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) raised the question of the position of the children of the Servicemen. The position is that when this Act was passed by the old Parliament full duplication was permitted in the case of the Servicemen, and of the Servicemen's widow and children. That is the position. My hon. Friend said that that is unfair, but there it is. The House decided it and nothing but another Act of Parliament can change it.
§ Mr. Stephen
I wish to make it perfectly clear that I do not want the children of the ex-Serviceman not to get the 5s. I want the whole of the children to get it.
§ Mr. Griffiths
There it is. I only wanted to say that it is in the Act. May I correct one wrong impression which 293 seems to be widespread and that is that we are taking away the family allowance payments? We are not. The family allowance is paid at the rate of 5s. per week from birth to every child except the first in a family and up to the age of 16 years if the child is at school or apprenticed. What happens is that the family allowance replaced the children's allowances formerly attached to other benefits. The family allowance is not being taken away from anyone. It is the other benefit which is taken away, not the family allowance. I would point out—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I am sorry. We cannot have a discussion on the question of family allowances. The hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) sandwiched it in very skilfully and the right hon. Gentleman has had a slight opportunity to reply but I am afraid he cannot take it further.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker The hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) raised the question of benefits. He knows that I have announced in this House that in the near future we propose to bring Section 62 of the Act into operation. Those entitled to standard benefits are entitled to those benefits, and these scales cannot apply to them unless they need assistance over and above these benefits. The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) asked what the actual cost would be if there was complete duplication of benefits and family allowances. I am afraid that without notice it is not possible to give an answer to that question, but I promise that I will send the information to him He asked why the operative date was 16th December and why we cannot make the payments retrospective. The reason is that payment of the new scales under regulations cannot be retrospective. We have, therefore, decided to make the payments from the first possible date after the regulations have been approved by the House tonight. That means, of course, that the Assistance Board have to make all the necessary arrangements in order to make these payments available in a very short time after the House votes. I am assured by the Board that it will be possible for them to keep to the timetable and to make payment of the new scales from the week beginning 294 16th December. There is one final point. The hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring asked about public assistance. The Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland are communicating with the local authorities calling their attention to these new scales and asking them to take them as a guide when fixing their own scales.
That the Draft Unemployment Assistance (Determination of Need and Assessment of Needs) (Amendment) Regulations, 1946, made under Sections 38 and 52 of the Unemployment Assistance Act, 1934, a copy of which Draft Regulations was presented on 21st November, be approved.
That the Draft Supplementary Pensions (Determination of Need and Assessment of Needs) (Amendment) Regulations, 1946, made under Sections 38 and 52 of the Unemployment Act, 1934, as applied by Part II of the Old Age and Widows' Pensions Act, 1940, a copy of which Draft Regulations was presented on 21st November be approved."— [Mr. Steele.]