HC Deb 18 November 1957 vol 578 cc1-3
1 and 2. Miss Lee

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (1) if he is aware of the hardship caused to men injured in the coal mines who have their sickness benefit stopped on the grounds that they are fit for light work, yet are living in an area where practically no light work is available; and what steps he is taking to relieve this hardship;

(2) if he is aware that injured coal miners are being forced to sign on at employment exchanges for unemployment benefit on the grounds that they have recovered sufficiently to be fit for light work, although no work is available for them; if he is further aware that when they exhaust their insurance rights to unemployment benefit, they are forced on to National Assistance when their income from workmen's compensation or disablement benefit is taken into account, thus causing a reduction in their weekly income; and what steps he is taking to remedy these anomalies.

The Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter)

I have no reason to believe that in general the provisions governing this matter are working other than well, or that they are not sensibly and humanely administered. The hon. Lady will be aware that unemployment benefit is payable for periods ranging up to 19 months. If, however, the hon. Lady has any particular case in mind and will let me know, I will be happy to look into it.

Miss Lee

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if one loses a leg or an arm or an eye, or has serious pneumoconiosis, one suffers from it for the rest of one's life? Would the right hon. Gentleman tell me how he would feel if he had started working in a coal pit at the age of 15 and, at the age of 40, after twenty-five years, found himself disabled for life and unable to work or earn as formerly; and if, after nineteen months at the very most, his unemployment plus disablement pension benefits were cut off and he were certified as fit for light work although no light work was available? How would he feel if he were drawing National Assistance benefit from which the ordinary compensation rates had been subtracted?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Obviously the kind of case to which the hon. Lady refers excites the sympathy of all of us, but it is a little difficult to deal with a somewhat complex issue of this kind on the basis—and I say this in no offensive sense—of a hypothetical example of that kind. The hon. Lady is aware that there is the fall-back on an employability supplement under the Industrial Injuries Act. I hope that later this afternoon the House will be engaged in raising the level of that supplement.

Miss Lee

Because of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I shall raise the question at the earliest possible moment. There is nothing about losing a leg or an arm which makes a man fit for normal work.