HC Deb 14 November 1955 vol 546 cc13-7
12. Miss Burton

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether he is aware that the price of coal has risen considerably since the increase in old-age pensions was awarded; and if he is prepared to consider favourably a request from the National Assistance Board that additional allowances should be made in respect of fuel for the coming winter.

18. Dr. King

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether he will help the old-age pensioners drawing National Assistance allowances this winter by providing them with an allowance of coal at concessionary prices.

Mr. Peake

The Board's view for many years has been that provision must be made for fuel in the normal weekly allowance, and this is done. As to these allowances, I would refer to the reply given to the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. J. Howard) on 31st October.

Miss Burton

Is the Minister aware that the House and the country are weary of his callous and miserable replies on this subject? How does he propose that the old people should get through this winter? How does he think they will be able to purchase coal if he is not at present prepared to consider an additional request to the National Assistance Board? Does he not realise that the Board has not the power—I asked it recently—to give old-age pensioners an increased amount for coal because of the rise in its price?

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

On a point of order. Is it in order for an hon. Member to import prejudicial adjectives into a supplementary question?

Mr. Speaker

It is not strictly in order to be argumentative in supplementary questions. A supplementary question should ask for information, not express opinions.

Mr. Peake

As the hon. Lady is aware, the National Assistance Act, 1948, placed the initiative in the matter of National Assistance scales fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the National Assistance Board, which has invariably discharged its obligations to the very general satisfaction of the House and the country.

Dr. King

Is the Minister not aware that a million of the poorest old people have received only 2s. 6d. a week to meet the rise in the cost of living of the last two years; that, after food, their biggest expenditure is on coal, which now costs nearly £8 in the South of England? Will he not take the initiative to persuade the National Assistance Board to do something for those old folk in this way this winter?

Mr. Peake

The hon. Member knows that the scales of Assistance were increased as recently as February last. He also knows, I should think, that the estimated cost of the rise in the price of coal will work out at about 7½d. retail per cwt.

Mr. Marquand

Are not these matters for the National Assistance Board? In quoting such figures, is not the Minister prejudicing consideration by the Board? Is it not well known that the cost of coal forms a much larger proportion of the cost of living of people like these than is the case with people such as ourselves? Should not the Board be considering this now without direction, direct or indirect, from the Minister?

Mr. Peake

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I made no direction to the Board of any kind—it is not my job. I entirely share his view that it is the responsibility of the National Assistance Board, which we can trust it to discharge properly.

15. Captain Pilkington

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether he will now give some additional help in the matter of coal to old-age pensioners living alone.

Mr. Peake

I would remind my hon. and gallant Friend that National Assistance is already available to a pensioner whose resources are insufficient for his needs.

Captain Pilkington

As there is a likelihood of the price of coal going yet higher this winter, and as warmth is a necessity for old folk, will my right hon. Friend make arrangements that are as generous as possible?

Mr. Peake

Yes, but in regard to this question of pensioners living alone—in which he has a special interest—I should like to refer my hon. and gallant Friend to the Report of the National Assistance Board, which was published in July of this year.

Mr. Woodburn

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that some of these poor people living alone buy their coal in small quantities, and the question is how the increase per cwt. affects those who buy in quantities of much less than a cwt.? I hope that he will ask the Assistance Board to keep that in mind. It is not fair to judge this merely in terms of people who can buy tons and cwts.

Mr. Peake

I am sure that the National Assistance Board will take note of what the right hon. Gentleman says.

Mr. Warbey

Is the Minister aware that I can send him particulars of an old-age pensioner living alone and receiving the full supplementary allowances to which she is entitled under the scale, yet for three days a week she has to live on cups of tea, bread and margarine and cheese? Does he think that that state of affairs should be tolerated in this country?

Mr. Peake

I hope that the hon. Member will do as he said he would and send me particulars of that case. I shall certainly see that the person whom he has in mind is visited by an official of the Board immediately.

22. Mr. Blenkinsop

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many special discretionary allowances are in payment to old persons to assist them to meet the cost of coal.

Mr. Peake

The National Assistance Board informs me that information about the numbers of discretionary additions to the assistance allowances of old persons and others who have to incur additional expense on heating because of special circumstances is obtained annually on the basis of a sample examination of cases, but that up-to-date figures are not yet available.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Would not the right hon. Gentleman follow this matter up by inviting the Assistance Board to make a further immediate inquiry, in view of the well-known fact that voluntary bodies, which do a great deal to help old people in establishing clubs and the like, all insist that this question of fuel costs is a matter of very serious concern to every old person in the country this coming winter?

Mr. Peake

The National Assistance Board, in accordance with its usual practice, is at present engaged upon the inquiry for which the hon. Gentleman asks, and no doubt the figures will be available very shortly.

Mr. Gower

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the National Assistance Board has a sufficiently wide discretion in these matters? Will he look into this?

Mr. Peake

Oh yes, the Board has exceedingly wide discretion and is making use of it. This time last year it was giving these discretionary additions in no fewer than 620,000 cases—more than one in three of all the cases which the Board handled.

Mr. Hastings

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise the important physiological fact that, whilst old people can do with less food than strong healthy adults, they do need more heat if they are to be kept alive?

Mr. Peake

Yes, I will take note of that point.

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