HC Deb 06 July 1953 vol 517 cc833-6
1. Miss Ward

asked the Minister of National Insurance if he will give an assurance that old-age pensioners in receipt of supplementary allowances will receive additional assistance to cover any additional rent or rate increases imposed by local authorities.

The Minister of National Insurance (Mr. Osbert Peake)

The National Assistance Board inform me that increases in rent or rates are always taken into consideration and that if, as in the great majority of cases, the assistance is providing for the rent in full it will usually be adjusted to provide for any reasonable increase in rent.

Miss Ward

While thanking my right hon. Friend for that very satisfactory piece of information, may I ask whether he can tell us why it was not possible for him to give us some indication about the additional costs when I asked him a Question the other day. When I asked my right hon. Friend how much the additional cost would be to the Assistance Board, his answer was that the information was not available. I just wondered how it comes to be available now.

Mr. Peake

I certainly have not, and I do not suppose that the Assistance Board have at their disposal, full details of the increases that have been made in municipal rates and local rates.

Mr. McLeavy

Can the Assistance Board, under their existing regulations, give the additional amount of financial assistance mentioned in the Question, and is it anticipated that the Board will carry out an early review of their regulations in order to enable them to do it?

Mr. Peake

The Board certainly have the necessary power, and I am told that they can and do give increases in assistance retrospectively, where the applicant has not applied for it until after the event.

9 and 10. Mr. A. Evans

asked the Minister of National Insurance (1) if he will make known to all retirement pensioners that the National Assistance Board will, in special circumstances, make grants for such items as clothing and household equipment;

(2) if he will make known to all retirement pensioners that the National Assistance Board will, when considering applications for the supplementation of pension, disregard savings up to £375 which have been placed in the Post Office Savings Bank and the Trustee Savings Bank, or savings certificates, since 2nd September, 1939.

Mr. Peake

The order book sent to retirement pensioners already tells them how they can apply for supplementary assistance if they need it and directs attention to explanatory leaflets obtainable at the Post Office, which refer to war savings and grants for exceptional needs. I do not consider that further general directions to retirement pensioners are called for.

Mr. Evans

Would the Minister agree that the tentative promise which he gave today in reply to another Question, that he would undertake to prepare a simplified leaflet, to some extent meets the point that I have raised?

Mr. Peake

I promised to consider the suggestion of a new and amalgamated leaflet embodying information about various forms of pension. I assure hon. Members that it is not an easy problem, because we have different classes of pensioner and the whole system of disregards is extremely complicated and elaborate. I hesitate to pretend that I can put all that in such simple language that every citizen will understand it.

Mr. Hamilton

Can the Minister say how wide is the discretionary power of the National Assistance Board officers? Does it vary from region to region or office to office? Is he aware that there is some misapprehension, particularly in Scotland, that the different Assistance Board officers have varied discretionary power?

Mr. Peake

I have not heard that suggestion before. The whole point of National Assistance is that there is this very wide discretion to meet immensely varying individual cases and needs, and I believe that the whole House pays tribute to the way in which National Assistance has been administered.

5. Mr. Hale

asked the Minister for National Insurance the number of persons in receipt of retirement pensions and the number of them also in receipt of National Assistance to the nearest most convenient date.

Mr. Peake

The number of retirement and contributory old age pensioners on 31st March, 1953, was about 4,200,000, of whom some 870,000 were also receiving regular weekly grants of National Assistance. In some cases, however, the grant covers the needs of a household containing more than one pensioner.

Mr. Hale

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that there is still a great deal of misunderstanding, which has been contributed to by recent statements, about the circumstances in which the old age pensioner is entitled to claim National Assistance? Could he arrange for the publication of a modern leaflet setting out the present scales and giving this kind of valuable information, which is so much needed?

Mr. Peake

Only recently I contributed an article to a newspaper called "The Old Age Pensioner," in order to try to correct some of the misapprehensions about this matter which seem to be in circulation. It is a little complicated, and I should hesitate very much to try to express very comprehensively the exact position of all pensioners, because there are contributory and non-contributory pensioners and the standards applicable to them are not the same.

Mr. Ernest Davies

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that many months ago he promised to publish a pamphlet giving all the details of pensions and benefits for the benefit of hon. Members, contributors and others? Has any progress been made in compiling this publication?

Mr. Peake

We have the most detailed leaflets which are available in my offices, and also in post offices, to old age and retirement pensioners. If the hon. Gentleman would like to have a copy of any of these I should be only too pleased to send it to him.

Mr. Gower

Are not these things somewhat involved, and is it not a fact that an applicant would have to obtain a number of leaflets in order to ascertain his or her position? Would not a comprehensive leaflet, as suggested by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) be of great value?

Mr. Peake

I will consider it.