HC Deb 16 November 1953 vol 520 cc1389-92
20. Mr. G. M. Thomson

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will give an estimate of the cost of exempting widows in receipt of pension and working in the school-meals service from having the value of meals provided free by the employing authority, counted as remuneration in assessing deductions from their pension.

Mr. Peake

I regret I have no information on which to make an estimate. In any event, I could not contemplate exempting a particular class of worker from the statutory provisions which govern the assessment of earnings generally.

Mr. Thomson

Is the Minister aware that this regulation discriminates between widows and their fellow workers in the school-meals service and creates an unhappy atmosphere in a very essential service? Will he not reconsider the repeal of this niggling and petty regulation?

Mr. Peake

The Act of 1946, as interpreted by the Commissioner, takes into account earnings in kind as well as earnings in cash for the purpose of assessing the amount of earnings to be taken into account for retirement pension. I think it would be unfair to those who do not enjoy any earnings in kind for such earning to be disregarded.

21. Mr. G. M. Thomson

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what estimate he has made of the respective costs of raising the earnings limit in connection with widows' pensions to 45s. and to 50s., and of removing it altogether.

Mr. Peake

I have no means of estimating the number of widows who would be affected by changes in the earnings rules. I cannot, therefore, attempt an estimate of the cost.

Mr. Thomson

In view of the fact that since the earnings limit was fixed, the general level of wages has risen and the general level of the cost of living has risen still further, will not the Minister agree to look again at this question of the earnings limit in connection with these pensions?

Mr. Peake

There are some later Questions on the Paper on the principle of the earnings rule, but I would remind the hon. Gentleman that the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill) doubled the amount of disregarded earnings, I think in 1951, and that that, of course, did make a substantial difference.

38. Mr. A. Evans

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether he will take action to raise the level of earnings allowances for those receiving retirement and widows' pensions and also permit such earnings to be averaged over a period.

33. Mr. Alport

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether he will take action to increase the level of the present earnings allowances for old age pensioners.

41. Mr. Gower

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will take steps to permit old age pensioners larger earnings allowances and to increase the sums which may be disregarded in cases of pensioners who apply to the National Assistance Board for supplementation.

Mr. Peake

Any further increase in earnings allowances or disregards would, in my opinion, be inconsistent with the purpose for which the various benefits and assistance is provided. As regards averaging earnings, this has always been regarded as impracticable.

Mr. Evans

Has the Minister any evidence that the present limitation upon these earnings discourages people from going to work? Will he agree that people are encouraged to go to National Assistance for supplementation if they find that when they work so much is deducted from their pensions?

Mr. Peake

The main purpose of the scheme of retirement pensions is that people should either remain at work so long as they are fit and able to do so or else take their pension as an alternative to earnings. We have never regarded the pension as a method of supplementing part-time earnings, and I do not think it would be in the public interest to do so.

Mr. Gower

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider this matter? If there is one serious criticism which may be levelled against our whole system of National Insurance, which is a marvellous system in other ways, it is that it seems to present a disincentive to a person who wants to work and a disincentive to the thrifty person, in so far as a person on National Assistance is in a better position than the person who was reasonably thrifty during his working life?

Mr. Peake

My opinion is that in view of the increase in earnings disregards made only two years ago, of a very substantial character, it would be a mistake to do anything that would weaken the incentive to people to remain at the jobs at which they are skilled.

Sir R. Acland

As it has been found possible to average the earnings for the purposes of P.A.Y.E., would it not be possible to average them for this purpose as well?

Mr. Peake

To average earnings would be utterly disastrous. It would result in trying to deprive people of part of their pensions in weeks in which they might have no earnings at all.

Mr. R. Harris

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the vast amount of discontent there is in the country over this question of earnings disregards? Is he not of the opinion that it is time that the Government gave some positive incentives to people who are getting on in years to remain at work as long as possible?

Mr. Peake

I am fully aware that there has been a great deal of misunderstanding of this question. I hope that my hon. Friend will do his best to publicise the fact that people can add very considerably to their pensions by remaining at work after reaching the minimum retirement age.