HC Deb 21 November 1955 vol 546 cc1033-5
25. Mr. Burden

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance the total weekly benefit, including family allowances, now payable to a married man with three children who is sick or unemployed; what was the corresponding rate at the start of the National Insurance Scheme in July, 1948; and how the increase compares with the increase in the cost of living since that date.

Mr. Peake

The total at the existing benefit rates is 99s. 6d., as against 59s. 6d. in July, 1948, representing an increase of about 67 per cent. Between July, 1948, and October, 1955, the Interim Index of Retail Prices rose by 41 per cent.

Mr. Burden

While this is certainly very satisfactory, in comparison with what was done by the party opposite, may I ask my right hon. Friend if he will make certain that the officials of the National Assistance Board take great care to ensure that, where there are young children in a family, they always have adequate nourishment and clothing?

Mr. Peake

It, of course, depends upon the age of the children, but, broadly speaking, a man on National Assistance would get more than the 99s. 6d. which I have mentioned if he were a householder.

27. Mr. Houghton

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance by what criteria he reaches conclusions regarding the adequacy or otherwise of the present level of National Insurance benefits.

Mr. Peake

As I stated in my Report last December, there is no scientific way of deciding what rate of benefit it would be appropriate to provide under an insurance scheme. In the last resort the selection of rates must be a matter of judgment, and in arriving at them various considerations must be weighed up and balanced against each other. The main considerations were dealt with in my Report.

Mr. Houghton

Cannot the right hon. Gentleman bring something more definite before the House as an explanation of the basis upon which he judges the adequacy of these National Insurance pensions? Surely, it is time that he got away from the Public Assistance mentality of the Beveridge Report and considered the present level of pensions more in relation to the level of wages than to the basic necessities of life? Will not the right hon. Gentleman bring to bear on this problem a progressive Tory view, if he has none other to put before the House?

Mr. Peake

My statutory duty was imposed by the Act of 1946, which was passed by the Government then in power. My Report to Parliament under Section 40 was a fairly lengthy document, and I do not think I could undertake either to repeat it or to explain it at this Box this afternoon.

Mr. Marquand

Would the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that when he defends himself from any criticism he always refers to the cost of living? Is that the sole criterion, or does he take wages into account as well?

Mr. Peake

My duties, as regards the rate of benefit I recommended in that Report, are set out in Section 40 of the 1946 Act, and I had to comply with my statutory obligations under that Act. I can only add that the benefit rates and the pension rates at the basic figures command a higher purchasing power today than at any previous time.

Mr. Hubbard

Would not the Minister agree that he is in no way tied to the terms of the original Act; that there was a review of the National Insurance Act in December; and that it was within his power to put into that new Act anything that he thought fit and proper in the interests of the recipients?

Mr. Peake

I did my best to carry out my statutory duties, but we must recall that there is a relationship in an insurance scheme between the rates of benefits, on the one hand, and the rates of contribution, on the other.

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