§ 3.48 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (Miss Patricia Hornsby-Smith)
I beg to move,That the National Assistance (Determination of Need) Amendment Regulations, 1960, a draft of which was laid before this House on 2nd November, be approved.These Regulations mark a further step in the improvement of standards of those drawing grants from the National Assistance Board. The Board's proposals take into account the Government's proposals for improving National Insurance benefits, and taken in conjunction with the 1959 increases, when no comparable National Insurance increases were made, they represent slightly larger increases than those operative in National Insurance over the same period.
Those basic rates do not, however, take into account the rent allowances for householder applicants, which bring National Assistance benefits substantially above National Insurance, nor do they take account of certain discretionary allowances made by the Board. A schedule of the new basic rates is set out in the Board's Explanatory Memorandum, Command 1198.
When National Assistance and National Insurance rates were last increased together in 1958 the basic pension, sickness and unemployment rate was 50s. single 80s. married, against National Assistance of 45s. single and 76s. double. In the interim between then and now National Assistance recipients received a 5s. single and 9s. married increase in advance of any National Insurance improvement. The National Assistance rates now proposed are 53s. 6d. and 90s. which makes an increase of 8s. 6d. and 14s. since 1958, compared with 7s. 6d. and 12s. 6d. on National Insurance. Over the years since 1948 the rate for the single householder has increased by 123 per cent. and for the married couple by 125 par cent.
These increases will come into force at the same time as those for National Insurance and war pensions benefits. The Board take the view, and I think that The House will agree, that when increases are applicable in both National Insurance and National Assistance it is wholly 597 desirable that they should operate at the same time, to avoid the misunderstandings and disappointments Which are inevitable if either one precedes the other. If National Assistance increases precede National Insurance their rates go up temporarily, only to be withdrawn a few weeks later for those drawing National Insurance. Books which are drawn for varying periods of up to a year would have to be altered twice in a few weeks, with all the frustration and annoyance to recipients involved.
As a result of this combined operation, all recipients of National Insurance benefits and or National Assistance Board grants will receive a net increase. The National Insurance benefit of those drawing National Insurance pensions or benefits and a National Assistance supplement will go up, but their National Assistance benefit will be adjusted. For those drawing National Assistance only their grant from the Board will be increased. In round figures, about 500,000 will draw higher National Assistance benefits and 1,300,000 will have a net increase of income resulting from the combination of higher National Insurance benefits and National Assistance changes.
For the past two years prices have remained relatively steady and thus the proposed increases represent a real rise in standards. Hon. Members opposite frequently complain that the retail price index is not truly applicable to the expenses and purchases of people on National Assistance—but even allowing a margin of disparity for that, the fact remains that whilst the index of retail prices has gone up 58 per cent. since 1948, National Assistance rates have gone up more than 120 per cent. The comparison is so striking that it is abundantly clear that these and the former increases have both been real increases in value. The proposed new rates represent increases of 19 per cent. single, and 18 per cent. married, over the 1958 rates, since when the index of retail prices has risen 3 per cent.
The House may be interested in the classifications of persons drawing National Assistance. In round figures, as at September, 1960, about 1,300,000 were old people; 260,000 were sick people; 130,000 were widows, or other women, mostly separated wives with 598 children; 112,000 were unemployed; and a further 18,000 of varying categories made up the remainder.
As stated in the Board's Explanatory Memorandum, the estimated cost of the proposed increases in assistance rates, considered on their own, is £18½ million, but there will be a contra saving in relation to those also drawing National Insurance benefits. To get the question of cost in proper perspective, one must not overlook the cost of the improvements in assistance made last year. The estimate of expenditure on assistance in the current financial year, £168 million, exceeds the original estimate for 1959–60 of £125 million by £43 million, mainly, though not only, for this reason.
I would like to say a word about the rent allowance, which is all too frequently forgotten when the standard rates, whether of pension or National Assistance are discussed. I have personally found it one of the most cogent arguments in persuading retirement pensioners of their right to go to the National Assistance Board if they have no means other than their pension and are householders. At the end of 1959 the average rent paid by householder recipients of assistance was 19s. 7d. a week, and 99 per cent. of all householders receiving National Assistance had a full rent allowance. This is a very important addition which should be borne in mind when considering National Assistance levels.
A single householder living alone and with a rent of this order, say 20s., will have his income brought up to at least £3 13s. 6d. a week, and a married couple with a similar rent will have theirs brought up to at least £5 10s. a week. I emphasise "at least", because the figures would, of course, be higher if the applicant had a higher rent, or if he had special needs provided for under the Board's discretionary powers, or if he had income of which part was left out of account under the disregards which were increased last year.
It is worth recording an example of how this works. A pensioner couple living alone with a 20s. rent and part-time earnings of 50s. a week would have a total income of at least £7 10s. a week, as a proportion of earnings are disregarded. For families on National Assistance the amounts of total income 599 would, of course, be higher than for single persons and childless couples. The proposed new scale rates for a man and wife with three young children total £7 11s. With a rent of 20s. such a family would normally have a total income of £8 11s. a week—
§ Mr. Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)
My right hon. Friend has mentioned disregards. Will she quote those disregards, as the information would be helpful in that context?
§ Miss Hornsby-Smith
There are disregards of up to £375 in respect of war savings, and up to £125 other savings. There is then a sliding scale of deductions up to a total of £600. The first 30s. of earnings are disregarded, and there is then, again, a sliding scale.
In last week's debate, and again in Questions, there has been considerable comment in the House about the increase in the price of coal. That recently-announced increase in the basic price of coal works out at 6d. a cwt. and is well covered in the new increases. The scale rates are assessed to include all normal requirements, including fuel.
I am sure that the House will agree that it is better to have a standard allowance throughout the year than to weight it in winter, and then have all the disappointments and frustrations when the rate is reduced at other times of the year when fuel may not be required to the same extent. Again, of course, there are discretionary allowances which the Board has power to grant, and these are paid to very many retired pensioners
Now, a word about those who are entitled to a supplementary grant from the N.A.B. but for reasons of pride or prejudice refuse to apply. No householder who is trying to maintain himself exclusively on the basic retirement pension need do so, nor should refrain from applying to the Board. At a time when retirement pensioners represent a complete cross section of the community from the wealthy farmer or the company director to the humblest widow or the lowest paid worker, there are obviously some who need additional help and others who, even retired, are better off than many people still at work.
600 Too many members, on both sides of the House, while throwing in a tribute to the Board, accentuate words like "stigma" and "charity", which in this context can only strengthen those reluctant to apply in their belief that there is something undignified and even wrong in doing so. Many members have tried to propose a third tier of aid to pensioners in the mistaken belief that it would eliminate the test of need. That is moonshine. No responsible Government, of whatever party, could accept a policy whereby the taxpayer's money was handed out regardless of means or need; and however one goes about finding out, however one dresses it up, it is, and will remain, a test of need.
It is a pity that the fine old Christian word "charity" has now become a term of abuse. Charity to those in need is one of the Christian virtues. If an ex-Service man gets a grant from one of the many great Service organisations, he does not scorn it as charity. If a sick person is helped by the Red Cross or St. John, it is welcomed, and not scorned as charity.
When it comes to State provision, millions of people in need of medical treatment draw it, from the National Health Service, but no one calls it charity because the taxpayer finds most of the money. The National Assistance Board is equally a State service financed by the Treasury to provide for those most in need. Its chairman, for many years a distinguished Member of this House, is vigilant in seeing that everything possible is done to make application easy for those eligible for grants. It needs to be repeated that elderly applicants do not have to go to the Board. The Board's officers will call on them. Its staff made 6 million calls in 1959 alone.
Special efforts have been made to bring the right to apply to the Board to the attention of those who may be eligible. There is a prominent note in the retirement pension book. The posters which appear in post offices and other establishments have been more effectively redesigned and reworded. A new booklet "Help for those in Need" has been produced for the information of doctors, clergymen and social workers and the like, and has been widely distributed by the Board's local managers. Every Member of this House has had a copy from the Chairman of 601 the Board. Talks are given to old people's clubs and other local organisations. The words "National Assistance" have been removed from the order books and the new books refer to a "Supplement to pension or other weekly grant". So that everything possible is being done to encourage people and to make it as easy as possible, without any hurt to their pride, for them to apply to the Board.
Hon. Members can do—and, I am sure, they do—much to persuade old people that there is no loss of pride in accepting a service which Parliament and the State has provided for the express purpose of helping those most in need. Often, the application is a hurdle which hon. Members can often jump for the applicant if they merely say, "If I ask the Assistance Board to call, will you see their officer?" I did this myself recently in a constituency case and the old coup le in question received a supplement of over 30s. a week. They subsequently wrote to me:… if only we had known how easy it was, and how nice the Board's people are, we could have spared ourselves a great deal of worry a long time ago.The inquiries made today bear no comparison with the stringent regulations of the old Poor Law system. Those with modest savings, or their own house, may still apply. The disregards were increased by the present Government in 1959. As I have already told my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Marshall), a married couple can have £375 in war savings and, if they have no more than £125 otherwise, can have it disregarded altogether. There is a sliding scale of deductions up to a savings limit of £600.
In commending the Regulations to the House, I am sure that it would be the wish of hon. Members, on both sides, to place on record our appreciation of the great humanitarian work done by the National Assistance Board. Our thanks are due to its Chairman, Sir Geoffrey Hutchinson, the members of the Board and its staff throughout the country for the sympathy and tact with which they deal with an immense number of applications. They bring additional aid and comfort to the old, the sick, the unemployed and the deserted. They have a high sense of the duties imposed upon them by Parliament and honourably and sympathetically discharge them.
602 In the course of their work, they have to deal with all kinds of people. The vast majority are kindly, reasonable and honourable citizens. Occasionally, the Board's officers must cope with the aggressive, the demanding and, alas, sometimes the plainly dishonest. Whatever the case, they uphold the great tradition of high public service imposed upon them by this House and they interpret honestly and with humanity the nation's desire to help those people who are most of all in need. In that spirit, I commend the regulations to the House.
§ 4.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)
The right hon. Lady has moved the Regulations in a businesslike and agreeable way. The House is indebted to her for having given us a broad canvas of the area of social purposes that the Regulations cover. The right hon. Lady is more attractive in stating a case than in replying to one. I do not know how long the debate may continue, or what may happen in the course of it, but I am sure that we are beginning the debate on a very pleasant note.
Last week, the Minister told the Committee on the National Insurance Bill the great advantage of a Bill as compared with Regulations. As we know, regulations are not subject to amendment and the rules of order in discussing them are necessarily limited. The right hon. Gentleman was drawing on those facts to suggest how much better it was to have a Bill; he told us that it could be amended. Last week's Bill, however, was not amended in any respect. We on this side, therefore, really have not noticed the difference between the Bill and the Regulations. In this debate we must, however, beware about restrictions on the scope of our discussion.
It may be permissible for me to suggest that we should consider the Regulations in the background of the Report of the National Assistance Board, because it is from that Report that we see the sum and substance of what the Regulations mean and who will get the benefit of them. I always find a Report of the National Assistance Board a most readable and informative document. I should like to join with the right hon. Lady in paying tribute to the National Assistance Board and, in particular, to its 603 Chairman. The occasion for doing this may not recur at frequent intervals, so that this opportunity should not be lost of paying our tribute to the wise and sympathetic administration of the National Assistance Board under its Chairman, Sir Geoffrey Hutchinson, at one time a well-respected Member of this House.
The National Assistance Board is a triumph of wise and sympathetic administration. It belies the jeers which are frequently thrown at bureaucracy and at that hypothetical, if not mythical, gentleman from Whitehall who is always supposed to know best. It is also a refutation of the Frenchman who said that precedent is to the civil servant as brains are to man. One thing about the National Assistance Board is that its administration is flexible and it uses freely and fully its discretionary powers. Although equally deserving, how envious the Inland Revenue Department must be of the National Assistance Board and its repute for a humanitarian approach to the problems and needs of the people. All those who pay tribute to the National Assistance Board should have a thought for those who collect the money.
The right hon. Lady touched our imagination when she described the range and the composition of the persons receiving the benefits covered by the Regulations. We are discussing Regulations which bring improved conditions to 1¾ million people. What will arouse our compassion is that they are the l¾ million poorest people. They are those who have few, if any, other resources and who have to seek this assistance to enable them to keep going.
I will deal later with the right hon. Lady's comments about going to the National Assistance Board and the persuasion which she used in that connection, which I fully endorse, but which must be looked at, however, in another context. The figures given by the right hon. Lady showed that by far the largest proportion of those who receive National Assistance are retirement pensioners. That is a significant fact. In numbers, over half of those who receive National Assistance are retirement pensioners. In expenditure, retirement pensioners account for one-third of the total.
I hope that I am not striking a discordant note in saying that that reflects 604 the failure of the National Insurance Scheme to live up to the expectations of its founders that the benefits under National Insurance would provide an adequate subsistence without recourse to National Assistance. The fact that nearly 70 per cent. of all National Assistance beneficiaries are in receipt of National Insurance benefits is further proof of what I have just said.
Among them are 58,000 widows for whom National Insurance benefits are not enough. That is, perhaps, more distressing than some of the other facts about the relationship between National Insurance and National Assistance. There is, as the right hon. Lady pointed out, another half a million people who are not receiving National Insurance benefits. The right hon. Lady bracketed them together, but it is of interest to note, in passing, that 77,000 separated wives have to go to the National Assistance Board as well as 24,000 mothers of illegitimate children and some thousands of divorced wives. The total of emotional and human misery in those figures must be very large.
The right hon. Lady did not, however, mention another important section of those who receive National Assistance benefits and about whose level of benefits I will have something to say later. I refer to our 55,000 blind people and the 17,000 sufferers from tuberculosis who are undergoing treatment and who have, throughout, received a preferential rate of benefit, but which, as I hope to demonstrate, is in need of adustment under these Regulations.
The question may be asked whether National Assistance is of growing importance in our system of social security or whether it is losing its primary position in the broad canvas of social provision. I admit that it is scarcely possible that all National Insurance benefits should be fully adequate, but, if they were very much more adequate than they are, the numbers on National Assistance would fall greatly. If all National Insurance beneficiaries were placed beyond the need of National Assistance, the Board's care would extend to fewer than 600,000 people.
I think that we should get straight the problem of people going to the National Assistance Board. The British people 605 are proud and independent, and I am not sure that we want to try to break that down unduly because it is one of the characteristics of our race. One of the fundamental reasons for endeavouring to provide National Insurance benefits as of right and adequate to need was that we realised that the British people do not like going to assistance boards, whether they are public assistance committees, unemployment assistance boards or national assistance boards. That is something we cannot get rid of. If the people of Britain were more ready than they are to avail themselves of this kind of help, we should not be the people we are. That is something of which we should be proud.
Nevertheless, I agree with the right hon. Lady that we do not want people to have false or excessive pride in availing themselves of what Parliament has provided. I do not think that we should use our endeavours to encourage people to go to the National Assistance Board as an excuse for not providing more benefits as of right under the National Insurance Scheme. I hope and believe that I have never said that to go to the National Assistance Board is a stigma. Suggestions made at different times about the numbers who do not go, but who should go and would get benefit if they went, are exaggerated. We all meet in our constituencies people who are very near to National Assistance level and we are able to judge for ourselves whether we know many people of our own experience who strongly resist going to the National Assistance Board when it is clear that by doing so they would benefit.
However, in my experience over a long period, particularly concerning people over 70, the non-contributory pensioner, I have found that, if people are assured unofficially that if they go to the National Assistance Board they will not be rebuffed but will be given help, they go with greater willingness and confidence. That should be borne in mind in dealing with people who come to us and ask, "Do you think that I could get anything from the National Assistance Board?" It may sometimes help to make an unofficial inquiry or to express one's own judgment to pave the way to a consideration of the case of the Board.
There is one small problem I wish to mention, in passing, which will arise from the introduction of the new scales alongside 606 the improved benefits under the National Insurance Scheme. A number of people on National Assistance now may not be on National Assistance after April, when the higher benefits under the National Insurance Scheme may extinguish their National Assistance allowance. Those people will be placed outside the benefit of refund of prescription charges. Can anything be done transitionally to meet that situation? Some people may be literally no better off when they pass out of the range of National Assistance and receive their higher National Insurance benefits and the additional charge for prescription may be unduly heavy. I am sure that it would be very welcome to those concerned if something could be done in this matter.
How many people will go off National Assistance I cannot estimate. The 140,000 National Insurance beneficiaries were receiving allowances of less than 10s. a week, according to the Report of the National Assistance Board for 1959, and 217,000 National Insurance beneficiaries were receiving National Assistance allowances of between 10s. 6d. and 15s. Clearly, there will be a number of persons whose National Assistance will be extinguished because it will be overtaken by the higher National Insurance benefits, but the overall picture of these Regulations is one in which National Assistance continues to play a large part in our system of social security—a larger part than many people expected and a larger part than we on these benches think it should, although it is plain that National Assistance must continue to play an important part until benefits as of right render it unnecessary over a much wider front of National Insurance beneficiaries.
I do not know whether, during the debate, we shall hear, or whether it will be permissible to hear, views from the benches opposite on the important question whether National Assistance or National Insurance should be the primary feature of social security. In the Observer last Sunday it was suggested that, when I posed the question to the House on the Third Reading of the National Insurance Bill, I had got it all wrong from a Conservative point of view and that there was strong feeling from the benches opposite not only that 607 National Assistance should be continued, but that its benefits could be greatly increased if we stopped spreading money unnecessarily over the much broader front of National Insurance benefits. I will leave that point in case I go beyond the rules of order. I sum it up by saying that we shall not escape the rôle of National Assistance in present circumstances.
What do the Regulations do? They propose to increase the scale allowance for married couples by 5s. and for single people by 3s. 6d. a week, in both cases in addition to the rent allowance which applies to the National Assistance scale all the time. One of the well-kept secrets of political affairs and Departmental administration is what goes on between the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance and the Chairman of the National Assistance Board. I do not know who speaks first, or whether they agree on what they should say when the Chairman of tthe Board writes his letter to the Minister.
The right hon. Lady has not said one word about how the Board arrived at the figures of 5s. and 3s. 6d. Reasonably astute hon. Members—they are in large number, I may add—were able to deduce from the figures of National Insurance benefits that the Minister had asked his Department to work out what benefits could be provided if he were to take up the difference between the proposed new flat-rate contributions under the 1959 Act and the existing contributions. No such calculation is possible, however, in this connection and no clue about how the figures have been arrived at is available.
The right hon. Lady referred to the retail price index. I concede at once that that is a very important factor, but it is of less importance today than it was, because we are looking at the maintenance of reasonable standards of living which are not based wholly on the retail price index. The right hon. Lady, taking her cue from the Minister, told the House that the increases in National Assistance exceed those in National Insurance over the same period of two years. That is true. But the increases in National Assistance do not exceed the increases in National Insurance if we take the period of 1958–1961 inclusive 608 over the three increases in National Assistance of 1958, 1959 and 1961 and the two increases in National Insurance of 1958 and those proposed for 1961.
Since 1958, National Insurance benefits will have been increased by next April by 27s. 6d. for a married couple and 17s. 6d. for a single person. Over the same period the increase in National Assistance will be 23s. for a married couple and 13s. 6d. for a single person. There have been three increases in National Assistance over the period 1958–61. During that time there will have been two increases in National Insurance.
National Insurance benefits have gone up more than National Assistance benefits. However, I do not think that that comparison is of any importance. The right hon. Gentleman will agree with me when I say that we on these benches think that National Assistance should stand on its own and that increases in National Assistance should not necessarily coincide with increases in National Insurance and should not necessarily be of the same amount. They could be more.
A year ago there were increases in National Assistance which were not accompanied by increases in National Insurance. I thought about that when the right hon. Lady said that it seemed better to increase the two together, though not necessarily by the same amount. I agree that there are difficulties when the two come close together, but we think that National Assistance scales should be considered by reference to their adequacy in the circumstances of the time and not necessarily in relation to what has taken place in National Insurance.
I think that the House will agree that the test for adequacy of National Assistance benefits must be more exacting than that for National Insurance benefits, for the simple reason that National Assistance applicants have few, if any, resources apart from their social benefits. That means that they are living wholly or in part on National Assistance. There may be a good deal said one way and other about the additional resources which many people getting National Insurance benefits may have; vocational pensions, capital accumulation—whatever it may be. But no such argument 609 can be used against paying National Assistance benefits on a full scale of adequacy for a reasonable standard of life. We have to examine the proposals being made in these Regulations by reference to that test.
The proposal is that the scale for a married couple shall be increased by 5s. to 90s. a week, plus the rent, and for a single person by 3s. 6d. to 53s, 6d. I have no hesitation in saying that those levels of National Assistance are manifestly and absolutely too low. That is quite apart from any comparisons that one may make at this or at any other time between National Assistance and National Insurance benefits. I offer the view that to give a reasonable standard of life to the sick, to the unemployed, to the other people who have to go to the National Assistance Board—the retirement pensioners and others—the scale for National Assistance for a single person should be 60s. plus the rent, giving £4 a week in all and £5 for a married couple, also plus the rent, making £6 a week the minimum in all.
Those, I think, would be reasonable benefits in existing circumstances. In the case of the single person that benefit would be no more than one third of the average wage. For a married couple the benefit would be no more than half the average wage. I do not think by any test that this could be said to be too generous in the present circumstances.
I wish now to say something about the special classes for whom benefits have always been higher than the general scale. I do not know whether the Minister has received representations from the National League of the Blind. Some of us have. But, as I said earlier, there are 55,000 blind persons and 17,000 people suffering from tuberculosis who are undergoing treatment and getting the benefit of a special allowance. The right hon. Lady said that since 1948 the scale for a husband and wife had been increased by 125 per cent. and for a single person by 123 per cent. I am advised that the special scale during the same period has gone up by 96 per cent. only, in the case of husband and wife, and 94 per cent. for a single person.
In the Regulations of 1959 the Minister did widen the gap between the general scale and the scale for special cases. It began, in 1948, by being 15s. 610 apart and it then went up to 20s. apart, and, in 1959, became 22s. 6d, apart. There seems to be scope in the present Regulations for improving that difference between the general scale and the special scale still more.
Another thing that requires reconsideration in this connection is the allowances to children. I recall that in 1959 the Minister increased the allowances for children rather more in proportion to the increase being given to adults, and there may be a fraction of similar benefit in the new scales now proposed. But I wonder whether six grades of child allowance are justified. We see them in the Regulations—under 5; between 5 and 11; 11 and 16; 16 and 18; 18 and 21 and over 21. Is a dependent child between the ages of 16 and 18 years less costly to keep by 17s. 6d. a week than an adult?
That seems to me to raise some question. I think that the child allowance should be a higher proportion of the scale for adult dependants. We should bear in mind that in the upper ages the dependent children are usually a handicap or a considerable expense to their parents. I doubt whether that scale of allowances for children could be related to current experience of family life and domestic expenditure, and surely one of the things which we want to do in our National Assistance arrangements is to ensure that children are properly cared for and the parents of young children are in a position to give them not only the necessities, but some of the good things of life as well.
Finally, I come to the operative date, the beginning of April, which is four months from now. Last time, the Regulations were approved in June and they became operative on 7th September, a period of two-and-a-half months. Last time, the Regulations were introduced in the middle of the warmest and driest summer of this century. They became operative on 7th September, before anyone had to wear winter clothing, or had to burn a very large amount of fuel. Looking back, I note that in 1948 the National Assistance scales were first introduced in July; in 1950, it was June; in 1951, September; in 1952, June; in 1955, February, before the winter had really set in. or at least, before it was substantially over. In 1956, 611 they were brought forward to the month of January. In 1958, it was January and in 1959 it was September.
Now, for the first time in our experience of improved National Assistance benefits, the recipients have to go through the whole of the winter before they get the benefit. I think that is reprehensible and not paying due regard to the need of those waiting for these improvements. There is nothing here comparable with the National Insurance benefits which were linked with contributions and which the Minister said could not be introduced in advance of the change in contributions if the National Insurance fund were to remain solvent. There is no such consideration here.
The total cost, it is about £18½ million in a full year. To bring the operative date forward two months would cost £3 million, or £3½ million at the outside. I acknowledge what the Minister said earlier about the job of changing, and introducing new books in February, and changing again in April. I think that these administrative difficulties, as well as the reactions of many pensioners, would have to be studied carefully were it not for the fact that I believe that to bring this relief quickly is more important than any other factor.
I know the difficulty of giving National Assistance benefits a little time in advance of changes in National Insurance benefits. People are apt to say "You give it to us with one hand, and take it away with the other." But are we to allow misunderstandings and talk of that kind to stand in the way of bringing the relief which they will get from this combined operation? I am very doubtful whether the Minister can justify the reasons given by the right hon. Lady for deferring the introduction of these allowances until the beginning of April.
There are half a million beneficiaries who are not concerned with National Insurance benefit anyway, and they are to be held back because of difficulties relating to the rest. Although it is true that some people who will receive the increase in National Assistance will have it extinguished by improvements in National Insurance benefits, there are many people to whom the increase in 612 National Assistance will represent a net increase in their total resources.
To sum up this rather long discourse, may I say that our criticism of the Regulations is based on two main points—inadequacy of the amounts and the undue delay in the operative date. There are many other considerations in between, some of which I have dwelt upon, but we hope that these new and improved National Assistance scales will become available to all those who are entitled to benefit from them. Nothing should be said which would dissuade people from getting the advantage of these improvements, because, after all, it is their standard of life which is at stake. Pending a radical change and great improvement in our whole system of social security, we want them to have whatever benefits the Minister is able to provide in the meantime. On these benches, quite obviously, we shall support the adoption by the House of these draft Regulations.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Christopher Chataway (Lewisham, North)
The hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), after a busy three days last week urging Amendments to the National Insurance Bill which suggested quite substantial increases in every kind of benefit, has seemed to urge increases today in an almost casual fashion, with none of the vehemence shown by him and his hon. Friends last week. I take this to be a matter of some significance.
I am deeply disappointed by these Regulations. I am extremely sorry to see that an elderly single person is to receive only 3s. 6d. more, and that an elderly married couple are to receive only 5s. more. It seems to me to be nothing short of ironic that there should be a campaign throughout the country on behalf of old-age pensioners, a campaign for higher old-age pensions, which has been argued entirely with reference to the poor, and that the result of that campaign is that those in most need get 3s. 6d. and 5s. respectively, while those in less need get 7s. 6d. and 12s. 6d.
I wonder whether outside, in the country, among elderly people, there would be taken the cynical view that politicians have thought that 4¾ million votes mean more than 1¾ million, which 613 is the number of recipients of National Assistance. I do not believe that this is the explanation of the extraordinary outcome of this pressure for higher old-age pensions. The explanation is, of course, that we stick to the principle of universality. The hon. Member for Sowerby has argued for this principle on a number of occasions, and I have listened with care to what he has had to say on this subject. He believes that we should aim for the day when National Insurance pensions will be so high as to do away with any need for National Assistance. As I understand it, that was the aim of Lord Beveridge.
Two things perhaps should be said about that. Lord Beveridge recommended that the pension fund should be built up over twenty years, and his hope was that at the end of the twenty years, it would be possible to reach a level of pension that would do away with National Assistance. The Labour Government in 1946, just as did the Conservative Government in 1925, did not wait for the pension fund to be built up, but paid the benefits straight away, with the result that the whole contributory basis of the scheme was immediately undermined.
Secondly, on this point, I think that it should be said that the level of subsistence will continually rise, because what is acceptable at one point as a suitable level for National Assistance to be paid is not going to last for many years. The result, and we have seen it for some time, is that National Insurance pensions are chasing along 20s. or so behind the level that is currently accepted as the basic minimum.
I cannot see that situation changing. We shall never be able to provide a universal pension which will do away with the need for National Assistance. Once that is accepted, it seems to me that the whole basis of giving help to the elderly should be thought out again. If it is accepted that we shall not within the near future—
§ Mr. J. J. Mendelson (Penistone)
The hon. Gentleman must not assume, because we have not interrupted his speech, that that principle is accepted on these benches.
§ Mr. Chataway
I realise that, but the hon. Member for Sowerby, in his speech, suggested that National Assistance rates 614 should now be set at £3 per week, plus rent, for a single person, and £5 per week, plus rent, for married persons. With average rents, that, therefore, means £4 per week for a single person and about £6 for the married couple.
At the last election, the hon. Members opposite certainly did not propose an old-age pension of anything like that sum. They may be able to urge that sort or thing in opposition, but it is quite Clear that no Government within the next few years, will ever be able to provide such a pension. There might come a time when a Government could provide a pension of that kind, but when that time has arrived, undoubtedly the level we shall think as right for National Assistance will be a great deal higher.
My right hon. Friend, in her introductory remarks, seemed to refer to a speech that I made and to a plan that has been suggested to her and her right hon. Friend by one or two of my hon. Friends. She seemed to imply that some of us had helped to spread the idea that there was a stigma attached to National Assistance. I hope that I have never done that, and I am sure that that would be the last intention of any of my hon. Friends. In the few cases that I have come across in my constituency of people who do not wish to take National Assistance, I have always tried to persuade them that there was no loss of pride involved. Having been through a university on a form of national assistance, I feel able to argue this case very cogently.
The fact remains, however, that there are a number of people who will not go to National Assistance. Whether one likes it or not, or thinks it irrational, there are a number of people who will not go. Therefore, if the emphasis is to be placed on increasing the supplements for those who need it, a system of giving them the supplements has to be devised which will be all-embracing. The kind of system to which I have alluded on earlier occasions would be something of this sort. Instead of continuing to increase basic rates, a system of graduated supplements would be introduced. This would give to those with small incomes or no other income the right to a higher pension. The important thing would be that these supplements would derive 615 from the Ministry itself and would be indistinguishable from the basic rates.
My right hon. Friend said that, of course, there had to be a test of need and income, however one dressed it up. I accept that, but it seems to me that a simple return of income could be made by pensioners which would involve no more humiliation than the return of income made by a vast section of the population today in their Income Tax affairs. On the basis of that return of income, a graded pension could be awarded as of right.
The right to a pension derives today not from contributions paid but from an Act of Parliament, and I do not believe that that right would be diminished in any way if there were such a system of graded pensions. It may be argued that there would be great administrative difficulties in this and that one could never rely on the return of income that was sent up. Certainly, there would be some elderly people who would not be capable of filling in a form. They would find it tiresome and difficult, but my right hon. Friend mentioned that 6 million visits had been made by National Assistance officials to elderly people this year and I see no reason why those officials should not be able to help these people to fill in this simple return of income.
I urge this sort of scheme on two grounds. First, I do not see how the working population, as they become a diminishing proportion of the total population, will be able to sustain an ever-rising, universal old-age pension. Secondly, and more important, I am certain that more could be done to relieve the suffering of elderly people who are in need. I know that many hon. Members opposite who speak often on this subject believe that there is something inherently wrong and vicious in the proposals that I am putting forward. I suggest that that attitude derives from the memory of a kind of means test that nobody is suggesting should return.
§ Mr. A. V. Hilton (Norfolk, South-West)
The hon. Member is making an interesting point, and there is a lot to be said for it, but is he aware that many of the people who would be entitled to undergo this test have, in the past, undergone the means test and that for that very reason, with their memories of 616 that vicious means test, would be reluctant to give even the co-operative National Assistance officers the assistance that they need? In, fact, these people are very often the people who refuse to apply for National Assistance although they know that they could have it if they applied for it.
§ Mr. Chataway
I appreciate the hon. Member's point. All I say is that by adopting the sort of scheme I am suggesting we should reduce the extent to which the means test impinges on people. Let us not forget that 1¼ million accept a test of need from the National Assistance Board. If a return of income were required from every old-age pensioner, those 1¼ million people would be relieved of the last vestige of any loss of pride that might be involved in the present system.
I therefore urge that fresh consideration be given to a scheme of this sort and that we should not stick to the principle of universality when its result, clearly, is that we are giving less help than we could give to that section of the elderly people who really need it.
§ 4.59 p.m.
§ Mr. A. E. Hunter (Feltham)
The hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Chataway) has made an interesting speech and I am very pleased to support his contention that to offer a single elderly person 3s. 6d. a week increase and a married couple 5s. increase is not sufficient. I am certain that in those remarks the hon. Member is also supported by all my hon. Friends. At today's prices and values 3s. 6d is not very much. I imagine that compared with pre-war its value is about 1s., and that the 5s. for the elderly couple would have been roughly 1s. 6d. before the war.
I am sure that we all agree with the Joint Parliamentary Secretary and my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) in their praise of the work of the National Assistance Board. However much we disagree with these amounts of assistance, the Board is carrying out the Government's instructions as laid down in the Regulations, and I am sure that all hon. Members would praise the administration. In my constituency I have never heard a word of complaint against the Board. Its officials are kindly, discreet and 617 sympathetic, and within the Regulations, when I have drawn attention to people's need for blankets, clothing and shoes, they always pay great attention to the cases I have referred to them; and they have the power to deal with these matters. I know that we are discussing only the Regulations, but we should remember the other services which the National Assistance Board can provide for those in need.
We can thank the Chairman of the Board for issuing this pamphlet "Help for those in need". It is a good pamphlet and sets out in simple and precise language the help which can be given. "Who can be helped by the Board?". "Application is simple and private". "Savings need not be exhausted". "Rent allowances". Those are some of the headings in the pamphlet for the guidance of those who need help. It will prove of great benefit to the needy. I hope that hon. Members will impress upon people, whether they are elderly, unemployed, or sick, the humane methods adopted by the Board for helping people.
The right hon. Gentleman has made it clear that there is no need for people to be nervous about going to the Board. There is no need today for false pride. I therefore feel that we should pay tribute to the work done by the National Assistance Board and urge those in need, whether it be due to sickness, unemployment, or old age, to go to their local office for help. I am certain that they will find the officials sympathetic, and that if help is needed it will be given quickly.
The proposed increases are small when one remembers that bread has recently risen in price, and so has coal. Some of the things which to us might not seem luxuries are luxuries to the old people, and I therefore wish that the increased sums provided for in the Regulations had been very much larger. In reply to a Question on Monday, the right hon. Gentleman told us that 1,048,000 old people were receiving supplementary allowances from the National Assistance Board. One can say that roughly one in five old age pensioners goes to the National Assistance Board for help.
When we debate the needs of these people, we debate the needs of the poorest people in the country. Their 618 savings may not have been exhausted, but they are not very large. These people are dependent on National Insurance, plus the supplementary allowances from the National Assistance Board. I am sure that all hon. Members have great sympathy for these people.
We cannot amend the Regulations today. We have either to accept or reject them. We want the old people and those who are sick or unemployed, or who are on National Assistance, to get these increases and my hon. Friends and I will, therefore, support the Regulations.
Another point to which I want to draw attention, and to which I drew attention during the debate on the National Insurance Bill, is the waiting period. The operative date should have been much earlier. We suggested that it should not be later than 3rd February, but I wish that these increases were to become effective from 1st January. These are the poorest people about whom we are talking, and the winter hits them hard. If we get a cold winter it means that they need more coal, electricity or gas. Also, in the winter months they need hot, nourishing, food, and more warm clothing.
I am sure that if it had been put to the civil servants in the National Assistance Board they would have been prepared to make the adjustments earlier than will now be the case, even if this meant extra work. One of our criticism's is that these people will have to wait 20 weeks for this small sum—and it is a small sum; 3s. 6d. for a single old-age pensioner, and 5s. for a married couple.
That is rather inhuman treatment. They are elderly people and a lot of them are in the evening of their lives. The period for which they will have to wait must be annoying to them. I know that the right hon. Gentleman is not hard-hearted. He has been sympathetic on other points. These people must feel some injustice at having to wait 20 weeks for the increases. I do not know whether it is possible at this late hour to make any further appeal to the Minister to bring forward the effective date, but I am disappointed, as I am sure hon. Members on both sides are, that the poorest section of the community has to wait until April before getting these small increases.
619 We should encourage people to use the National Assistance Board to supplement their insurance benefits. Even in my short period in the House—I came here five and a half years ago—I have seen the retirement pension increased, as have also the sickness and unemployment benefits. I wish that the increase had been more. We are going forward, and I look forward to the day when the National Insurance benefits will fully cover the retired person so that he does not have to go to the National Assistance Board for help. But there will always be some people who, because of difficulties of one kind or another, will need outside benefits, and we shall need the National Assistance Board to do what one might call the Red Cross work of society.
In supporting the Regulations, may I again express my regret at the smallness of the amount of the proposed increases. I wish that they were larger. I join other hon. Members in paying tribute to the work of the National Assistance Board in their administration of this social service.
§ 5.7 p.m.
§ Miss Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter), because I know that he has a great interest in this work. He is right in saying that there will always be a need for the National Assistance Board to do what he called the work of the Red Cross in society. However much our pensions rise, the standard of living goes up, and I cannot see that there will not be some people who will need some help in some way, either because of sickness, or because of the loss of the one who earns the money, and so on. I therefore support the hon. Gentleman in his final remarks.
The hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) referred to the Annual Report of the National Assistance Board. I am glad that he did so, because I had hoped to refer to it without being out of order. I add my congratulations to the Board for the work that it has done. I understand that in 1959 it received over 2¼ million applications, and most of them entail a great deal of work.
I would also like to offer my congratulations to my right hon. Friend, who has 620 been the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance for probably longer than most people. He has brought tremendous benefits both by way of National Insurance and National Assistance benefits to the people of this country. We owe our thanks to my right hon. Friend for the work he has done on very difficult matters during the past years.
I notice that the Annual Report says:… the overwhelming majority of those who seek assistance are in real need of help and are anxious to be absolutely straightforward and truthful in their dealings with the Board.I think that we all recognise that. People do not go for National Assistance unless they really need it, and they are willing to put forward the full details of their incomes and their needs to those who are going to help them.
These increases will help to increase the standards of those who will receive them, and one realises that today we are talking about people who are most in need of help. I have already written to my hon. Friend about this. I hope that, if he makes increases in future he will make them before the winter sets in, because this is the period during which those whom we are discussing today need the help most. I have had one or two deputations on this, and I pointed out the difficulties of bringing it into effect before 1st April. We have had similar difficulties before—one remembers 1955. It was explained to the people that they would be better off when the grants were made, but they said that they would prefer to have the extra money straight away and less in the spring rather than wait through the winter.
My right hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary mentioned the question of fuel. I would like her to tell me whether there is any flexibility about the amount of money provided for people in the smokeless zones, because the fuel that has to be burnt in those zones costs 13s. 3d. or 13s. 5d. a cwt., and one particular fuel 15s. 2d. Can these people be given extra money to cover the cost of these more expensive fuels?
My right hon. Friend also mentioned the question of rents. On 24th June, 1959, my right hon. Friend the Minister spoke about the new treatment of the 621 problem, in column 1251 of the OFFICIAL REPORT, and about the grant of assistance in respect of rent where a recipient of assistance is a householder. Cmnd. 1198 mentions the various scales. I gather that about 1,369,000 householders are in receipt of National Assistance and receive a rent allowance. They either own their own houses, or rent a house, or rent accommodation in someone else's house. It is rather interesting to note that of that number of householders 430,000 live in local authority houses, that 754,000 are other tenants, and that their rent allowances are on the increase.
In 1954, 21 per cent. of those residing in local authority houses who were living on National Assistance received a rent allowance. In 1958, the number increased to 29 per cent. and in 1959 it increased to 31 per cent. The amounts are very substantial. I gather that a rent allowance of between 20s. and 24s. 11d. is given to 238,000 people and that an allowance of 40s. to 49s. 11d. is given to 38,000 and 50s. and over to 18,000 people.
My main reason for bringing this to the attention of my right hon. Friend is because I feel that a person receiving a rent allowance should never be in danger of being evicted. This sometimes happens because at present the rent allowance is given in with the other allowances and no precaution is taken to see that the sum allowed for rent is actually paid in rent.
When a family has been on National Assistance for a considerable time and gets into arrears with its rent, especially if its members are tenants of a local authority, I should have thought it a good idea for the local authority to notify the National Assistance Board and for an arrangement to be made between the authority and the Board with a view to allowing the rent to be paid direct. One thing which such people need is a roof over their heads. It is a great temptation to some of these people, when they see a large sum available for rent, to spend it, for example, on the children. I know of families who have been evicted by the local authority, have got into private accommodation, and, I regret to say, have again been evicted because of non-payment of rent.
622 I understand that there is a system whereby the National Assistance officer requires the person to pay his rent and to take his rent book to the officer, when he is then given the rest of the money. But where money has perhaps been very short, and where there are several children, it is sometimes very difficult for a woman to take this action. Furthermore, there are the bus fares to the National Assistance Board office. I have talked to quite a number of people who were about to be evicted for the nonpayment of rent and I am quite sure that they would be quite willing for a system of this sort to be introduced. I hope that this suggestion may be considered.
I am very keen that a family should not, if it can possibly be prevented, be divided. In any case, the putting of children into care is a very expensive matter and it divides a family. Once a family has been divided in this way it is very difficult to regain the family atmosphere.
The other point in which I was particularly interested was that in regard to the Maintenance Orders Act, 1958, I had hoped when the Bill was introduced that it would result in fewer people having to receive National Assistance. I read in the Report of the National Assistance Board for the year ended 31st December, 1959:It is the Board's general policy to encourage a separated wife (or the mother of an illegitimate child) who needs Assistance to seek her own order under the appropriate legislation, i.e. in England and Wales the Separation and Maintenance Acts, the Guardianship of Infants Acts or the Affiliation Orders Acts.Personally, I think it very difficult for a great many women to do this, and I should have thought that the National Assistance Board could have taken action.
The Report also says:Direct experience of the operation of the attachment of earnings procedure was, therefore, limited to the small minority of cases where it had been considered more appropriate for the Board to take proceedings under the powers contained in the National Assistance Act, 1948, i.e., section 43 in respect of wives and legitimate children and section 44 in respect of illegitimate children. Forty-one Orders under sections 43 and 44 were the subject of enforcement action after the Maintenance Orders Act came into effect. Eleven of these were not suitable for attachment 623 orders, mainly because the men were self-employed or had made good the arrears by the time of the hearing.Assuming that a self-employed man has a banking account it can be garnished or it would be possible, if necessary, to put in the bailiffs.
The Report goes on:Attachment orders were made in the remaining 30 cases and in 17 of these the orders were completely effective in ensuring full and regular payment.I think that 17 is a very small number. One wonders how many more women could have received maintenance orders had it not been left to them to take action. It is very difficult for them to take action and also to trace their husbands, and I think that the Board has better facilities for doing that. I hope that to make the Maintenance Orders Act work more effectively and to ensure that less is received by way of National Assistance, more action will be taken in this matter.
I should also like to know whether the possession of a television set is disregarded when granting National Assistance. I am raising this point because I do not think that a television set can now be regarded as a luxury, especially for the type of people I am discussing. I should like to cite as an illustration the case of a man considerably older than his wife, the wife is illiterate—she cannot read or write. They have five children, one of whom is deaf and dumb. An experiment was made of allowing the family to have a television set. The increase in the standard of intelligence of the family, particularly of the children, owing to the special television programmes for deaf children, has been very marked. I hope that in assessing the needs of a family the possession of a television set is not set against them.
The final point I wish to mention is the question of Christmas funds. We have heard that people on National Assistance do not like to go to the Board for supplementary assistance, but in most cities, and in country towns, there are very odd-established Christmas funds, or the mayor may make an annual appeal. I am concerned about who gets this money, because we are thinking today of those who are in real need and who are on National Assistance.
624 I should like to know whether there is any co-operation between the National Assistance Board and the persons who run these funds to inure that the names of those on National Assistance are put forward. If there is not a fund in that area, or sufficient money to go round, has the Board any power to give an extra payment, a bonus Christmas period? The funds may work out—I should not say in unfair manner, for it is nice for the individuals who get the money—but perhaps we are not getting at the people who need it most.
The other point concerns the amount of money that can be obtained to keep up the standard of the family of a married couple with three children, which is mentioned on the last page of the Explanatory Memorandum. That family can get the sum of £8 11s., which includes money for rent. This is very generous, taking into account the wages that can be earned in some areas. With the figures at this rate, we are giving to people a really good standard of living with which they can play their part with their neighbours and friends who are, in many cases, living on similar amounts.
I am, therefore, pleased that there is to be an increase in the amount given to these people, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to give me answers to one or two of the questions which I have raised. I give him my support for these proposals.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ Mr. J. J. Mendelson (Penistone)
It is always very pleasant to follow the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devon-port (Miss Vickers) in a debate connected with the social services, because it has been my limited but sufficient experience that she never makes a speech on this subject without throwing out practical ideas which are useful not only for the Government, but far anybody interested. She has done so again today. I did not agree with her last point, but I will come to that later.
There is a great deal to be said for providing additional machinery—and this was a point which she raised—for the tracing either of husbands or other fathers responsible for children. In our work we all meet cases which are very tragic. I am not certain, without further consideration, that such a method as she 625 has proposed would be the best one, but I reinforce what she has said—that the Government ought to consider this. These matters are not looked at in isolation. This should be discussed between the Departments which are concerned with matters of this kind.
There is a large number of people for whom the tracing of anybody who is responsible to them in one way or another is extremely difficult. We are sometimes not well enough informed about the helplessness with which a number of people still face problems of this kind. Sometimes these people are not made aware of the machinery available to help them. A great deal has been said in recent years about the National Assistance Board, but not about the sort of case referred to by the hon. Lady. Far less publicity has been given to some of the ways and means by which such tracing can take place. I strongly reinforce what she said about that.
I shall concentrate, at the beginning of my speech, on a number of practical points concerning the work of the National Assistance Board and the proposals before the House, before turning to some of the interesting points made by the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Chataway), which dealt more generally with these matters and showed the emerging new Conservative social philosophy that seems behind many of the speeches that are intended to make the Board into something it was never meant to be.
The right hon. Lady the Joint Parliamentary Secretary referred to the essential need to make people aware of what the Board is there for. I was a little critical of at least the tone in which she chided the unnamed Members of this House for adopting an attitude to the Board at times which seemed to her, at any rate, to have a discouraging effect on members of the public who could and should apply to the Board.
Speaking for myself, I confess that I am always very hesitant and bashful before I eagerly advise an elderly person who comes to me for advice to go to the Board. I always find that I have to take great care before I make the decision to do so, and have to choose my words very carefully. I was not happy about 626 the almost triumphant tone in which the right hon. Lady reported to us that she had persuaded someone to go to the Board and that that person had received a payment of 30s.
Whilst there is general agreement that we do not want to discourage people from going to the Board when they are entitled to a supplementary payment, and when they would live in dire need if they did not apply for it, we must do nothing to make it appear as if going to the Board is part of the normal occurrences of the life of our people. I would not be a party to creating an atmosphere in which it was regarded by a large number of old people as something normal that they should accept for the rest of their lives after reaching retirement.
As I see the conception of the Board's functions, it must always be designed to meet cases which are, by and large, cases of exceptional need. While, for some years to come, we may have to resign ourselves to a position in which, in addition to people who have fallen by the wayside through sickness or some other exceptional circumstance, there will be a considerable number of elderly people who will have to appeal to it, we must never destroy the conception and the intention of doing away with the latter aspect of the Board's work and reducing the Board in the distant future to dealing with cases of exceptional need.
There is one point about the working of the Board which I have mentioned before in a similar debate, but which I would like to repeat. It concerns the working of the appeal boards. The boards of appeal under the National Assistance Board are staffed by people of great understanding. Any hon. Member who has had experience of appearing before a board of appeal on behalf of friends or constituents will testify to that. But these boards are strictly limited in what they can do. Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House a little more about the detailed instructions which he gives to the appeal boards about how they are to decide any cases which one would call marginal or borderline cases?
If the family is well above the income level and if the case is one in which there is very little ground for appeal, then the appeals tribunal will obviously merely confirm, and rather quickly confirm, the original opinion of the officer. 627 But there are cases in which it appears that if the income of the family were only 1s. or 1s. 6d. lower, additional help could be given, but the chairman of the tribunal then says, and he will repeat in private conversation later, that it is impossible to allow the appeal, although his personal opinion is that the decision should have been different.
If the right hon. Lady asks us to tell those people who are in dire need and who can be helped by the Board to go to the Board, does it not follow as a corollary that the Minister should have a liberal attitude, which he should show in consultations with those who preside over the appeals tribunals, so that in cases where people might feel a deep grievance because they are just outside the borderline, they can be considered as special cases?
I know that the regulations have to be applied and that the system would break down if one allowed too many exceptions, but these things are often a matter of judgment. There might be cases in which the head of a family, who should be the main breadwinner, has been ill for many years, perhaps a victim of poliomyelitis, and is unable to work or to do only certain light jobs and whom employers will refuse work after one look at his physical condition. In such a case, it may be the wife who has been the only real wage earner for many years. In some unfortunate circumstances there may be additional people, including children, living under the one roof and yet, when application is made, it will be turned down in the circumstances which I have described.
Even if the Minister cannot promise the House that he will act in the spirit for which I am asking, it would at least illumine the problem if he would let those who are interested in this work know what instructions he gives about the kind of attitude that should be adopted by the appeals tribunals. It may be that he leaves these things very much to the tribunals themselves to operate in the light of the Regulations. The chairmen of appeals tribunals are independent persons, usually local barristers, and I have always found that I have been very fairly treated when I have appeared before them. Although there may be no 628 policy of actually instructing them, we all know that there are many constitutional ways in which a Minister can and does influence the attitude of boards and the attitude of chairmen, and I hope that he will say something about that tonight.
The second practical issue with which I am concerned is the time before the Regulations become effective. The Regulations are contrasted with the increase in the basic pension. I do not completely accept the argument that only people in receipt of National Assistance belong to the very poor. There are many people, to the knowledge of every hon. Member, who are not in receipt of National Assistance but who still belong to the very poor.
It is, therefore, not a good and sufficient reason to say that the timetable for these additional payments must depend on the increase in the basic pension. There are periods between increases in which nothing is done for people who come under this scheme, but there are cases in which changes in circumstances do not show themselves immediately in the cost of living index and in which it is not possible for additional relief to be given.
Many of the people whom we are now considering are already well behind what ought to be the basic minimum. The sum involved in my argument is not very large, and there remains only the problem, which I do not underestimate, of the feeling of pensioners, and particularly old-age pensioners, who receive an increase in National Assistance payments and then find that in some way much of it disappears again when there is an increase in the basic pension. We must admit that any Government facing this sort of problem would have to pay some attention to that consideration. I am not in the least concerned that it is the right hon. Gentleman himself who is in this difficulty, for I would make exactly the same point if one of my right hon. Friends were responsible.
None the less, that is not a sufficient reason for having undue delay in granting these increases, because discussion of the relationship between National Assistance and basic pensions has been going on for many years. Many pensioners are well aware of the relationship 629 between the two and the problems which arise, bat I am sure that if the Minister made a concession on timing, there would be many hon. Members who would make it their business to explain how the change had come about. Obviously, when the basic pension increases came into operation, there would be a change in the total benefits which those people also receiving National Assistance would receive, and the Minister should not harden his mind against our suggestion on that ground alone.
I now turn to one of the more important topics raised by the right hon. Lady. She spoke at some length about percentages. I appreciate that the percentage comparison is time-honoured and that people who are in charge of Departments have to make some reference to percentages, if only for the record; but I always feel that discussions on our social services, and particularly on National Assistance, are a somewhat special category. I am not saying that they are not political. They are highly political. Anything that the Government do is bound to be political and I have never taken the view that these debates can be non-political. But they are in a special category because it is possible to do one's best not to use statistics which might be misleading when considering social services of this kind.
I cannot accept percentage comparisons as a proper basis for these discussions, especially when these are people who did not start from scratch in the first place. These are people who have been poor for many years and it means very little to them to be told that their receipts have gone up by 123 per cent. or 124 per cent. All that is meant is that their dire level of poverty has been somewhat alleviated. Once the percentages have been mentioned for the record, they can be forgotten.
There is no doubt that although these benefits have been increased by amounts which, taken as percentages, look very nice and efficient, these are people who are still left a long way behind. The hon. Member for Lewisham, North made a point with relevance to this issue. He said that what was socially acceptable in one age was not necessarily socially acceptable some years afterwards. Clearly, we are not dealing with that sort of relationship. We are now discussing 630 basic necessities and all we can say is that the circumstances of these people have been made somewhat less bad than they were.
I am not directing this attack particularly at the right hon. Lady, because she is not the only one who uses percentages in matters of this kind, but I think that they have no value at all in this issue. We have to look at the actual circumstances in which so many of our fellow citizens live.
As one visits people on National Assistance, one finds that there are so many problems concerning clothing and anything to do with the interior of the house and how one is to care for children between the ages of 10 and 14 when there is a continuous problem of replacement, which result in those people still living in very difficult circumstances. That is why I had very little sympathy with the closing words of the hon. Lady the Member for Devonport, which were somewhat out of keeping with the earnestness of the first part of her speech.
I now turn to the interesting speech of the hon. Member for Lewisham, North. I regret that he is not now in his place, but I do not complain of his absence because I understand that it is not possible, merely because one has made a speech, to spend the rest of one's time in the Chamber. He said that the proposals he was putting forward, largely in the direction of making pension payments to retired persons after a great deal of investigation of their means and previous earnings, but above all of their means, would be regarded with horror by many hon. Members in the Opposition because of our experience in the 1930s.
The hon. Member said that very calmly and the real attack in that statement was not particularly obvious. He immediately discounted the thought that there was a social philosophy opposed to his own and he did not allow for the possibility that his argument would be opposed on rational grounds, without people becoming over-emotional.
That is not our approach. The Opposition are very worried about the Government working in the direction of the kind of social philosophy which is being advocated in Conservative circles and 631 which the hon. Member for Lewisham, North put forward. It is a policy of revising what was the generally accepted social principle in 1945, that everyone was entitled to pension as a right. What is now suggested is a variety of schemes in which the governing factor would be investigation of the circumstances of the individual and the payment of a pension as the result of that examination. There is a profound difference between the starting point of that and the starting point of our social philosophy.
It is clear that the hon. Member for Lewisham, North has one main reason for his point of view. He told the House this afternoon that we cannot possibly conceive of a future community in which it will be possible to give to every citizen an adequate pension on retirement. We on this side of the House do not share his pessimism. We are mindful of the important progress which has been made, technically and industrially, and of the continuous advance in technical and industrial development. We know that, given proper planning and proper arrangement of our ability to work and to produce, we can increase the welfare of the country considerably in years to come, and it will be quite possible to provide an adequate pension for everyone on retirement.
The main tragedy which can be seen more and more in these years is the terrible drop which people suffer from the last week of being still at work and earning a proper wage to the very poor income they suddenly find they possess in the first week after leaving work. This is of great significance if we are concerned with allowing people who have made their contribution to the industrial life of the country, without which its prosperity would not be possible, to partake in that prosperity. It is very dangerous and would be putting the clock back considerably if this change in circumstances came to be accepted as normal by any of the major parties in the State.
I think that there are reasons to believe that the hon. Member is also mindful, and rather afraid of, the fact that social expectation has changed. He told us that in years to come people will not be prepared to regard as the minimum for existence what Sir William Beveridge regarded as that minimum. Why should 632 they? Obviously, social expectations change and we do not want them to change only for people still at work or earning large incomes. We must also desire and expect, not with feelings of disappointment or reproach, that people in retirement shall have their social expectations changed.
It is important to remember the great new advance which has been made in this field. The firm basis of the new comprehensive plan which my party will put before the country in the not too distant future will be on the principle that there must be some relation between the actual standards of the community as a whole for those who work and the standard of life of those in retirement. The pensioners have participated in making possible the standard of life of those now at work. They must share to an increasing degree in the benefits derived by the community as a whole. I should regard that as a sufficiently logical reason, not merely the reaction to the bad days of the 'thirties, why we are rejecting the social philosophy contained in the contribution made by the hon. Member.
I return to the Minister and make this point concerning actual benefits and increases contained in these Regulations. He has to be mindful of the relationship between an increase in the pension and increased National Assistance payments, but he has also to be mindful of the fact that a considerable number of people will be in receipt of National Assistance payment increases who are in categories different from those of old-age pensioners. I should have thought that might be an additional reason why he might have found it possible to make the increases somewhat larger than they are.
I do not believe that this bogy of disappointment in the minds and hearts of pensioners, when they find they have lost some of their additional supplementary payments because of an increase in the pension and find the gap is too narrow, should be a permanent barrier making the Minister less courageous when looking at the actual figures and actual needs of those who are to receive these increases. I should have thought that courage in that respect would find its own reward.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Percy Browne (Torrington)
I want to make a very short and mild intervention. As my right hon. Friend knows, I am a supporter of the philosophy, if one can call it that, expounded up to a point by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Chataway). The hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) seemed to state a principle that anyone who retired in future should get a fair percentage of the wage he had been earning during his working life from the State. Even if my philosophy is rejected, as it is by most of my hon. Friends, one thing that we as a party can say is that we are enabling people, through a prosperous State, to save more for their old age.
That is what we are encouraging. I think that a responsible attitude towards one's future both during one's working life and retirement is an integral part of our party's philosophy. As such, I suggest to the hon. Member that we hope that, in future, people will be able to put by more for old age and, therefore, rely less on the State. They should enjoy what we all wish them to enjoy, a standard of living in retirement comparable to that which they have had in their working lives. On the other hand, they should be able to save sufficiently themselves to enable them to partly look after themselves.
§ Mr. Mendelson
I hope that the hon. Member will remember that the main principles I stated was that we must relate retirement pensions to the increasing prosperity of the community as a whole.
§ Mr. Browne
I have entirely answered that point. I thought that I was relating my remarks to it. I was trying to do so. I have always felt that when we increase pensions we should increase National Assistance by the same amount. It is wrong to close the gap between those who are in need and those who get a pension as of right. I spoke at some length on this in the Second Reading debate on the National Insurance Bill and will not pursue the matter now.
I was sorry to hear my right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary say that some of her hon. Friends had suggested that extra money should be given and that it was "moonshine" to say 634 that there should be this increase in National Assistance without some form of means test. I think it is recognised, it was certainly recognised by the President of the National Federation of Old-Age Pensions Associations, that to have National Assistance—State money—there should be some test of need. I have never heard my hon. Friends suggest otherwise. She also said that there was a stigma attaching to National Assistance. We have stated as clearly as the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) did that we recognise that the stigma is there and that there is no point in hiding it. What we have to try to do is to bruit abroad the extremely able exposition made by my right hon. Friend the Minister in the Second Reading debate on the National Assistance Bill in June, 1959. The more we can put that across the better.
I want to make two points and to ask my right hon. Friend two questions. The person I find most difficult to persuade to go to the National Assistance Board is the person whom I feel often needs and deserves more of the State than anyone else. He is the person who has denied himself during his working life and saved for his old age but has then seen his income slowly whittled away by the devaluation of money since the war. I should hope that when next my right hon. Friend raises National Assistance rates he will increase the income disregards, which I think are too low at 30s. I hoped that we might see them raised to 40s. this time.
This type of person is also most bitter towards What I call workshy layabouts who get National Assistance. They are very small in number. The number of unemployed who receive National Assistance, according to my right hon. Friend is 112,000. Of those there are many deserving cases, but the fact remains that there are some people—and they get themselves mentioned in the newspapers—Who are living at the State's expense.
§ Mr. Browne
There was a particular case the other day, but this kind of thing has happened over the years, as I think hon. Members opposite will agree. I do not imagine that anything can be 635 done about it, but it causes great resentment, particularly among people who have saved during their working lives and are not going to National Assistance for various reasons, perhaps because they are just above the disregards.
§ Mr. Dempsey
It is a well-known established fact that there is machinery which, if properly applied—it is applied in my part of Scotland—can deal effectively with the workshy. It removes him from the National Assistance Board application list.
§ Mr. Browne
That is not always so, certainly in my part of the country. One of the difficulties is that the sins of the father fall on the heads of the wife and children. I appreciate the difficulty and I mention it because it is frequently brought home to me as I go on my rounds in my constituency. I think that this is the right time and place to state this case.
I said that my speech would be mild and short, and it has been. I welcome these increases. I only wish that they could have been equal in amount to the basic pension.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)
I hope that the hon. Member for Torrington (Mr. P. Browne) will not pursue the question about workshy layabouts too far. It has a very familiar ring when we remember the pre-war days when the remark was attached to great numbers of unemployed who had to prove that they were genuinely seeking work.
§ Mr. P. Browne
To make it absolutely clear, I did say that the number of cases was small and I was talking about 1960, not 1937, 1938 or 1939. I am quite prepared to agree that there is a small number of cases, but it rankles with a great number of old-age pensioners.
§ Mr. Hamilton
It is important that the hon. Member should make clear that the numbers are really minute—
§ Mr. Hamilton
In the Regulations that we are discussing he has to see this question as a broad picture. As my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey) said, there are 636 ways and means of dealing with these people.
I want to refer to the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) and his attitude to the National Assistance Board, because my attitude is much the same. When old people come to me in my constituency and ask if they are entitled to whatever it may be, I have very great hesitation in asking them "Have you tried the National Assistance Board?", because the very suggestion creates offence in the minds of a great many of them. One of the disturbing features of this debate is the attempt to establish in the minds of our people that the National Assistance Board has come to stay and will continue to play an increasing part in our social service set-up.
That, I think, is the very reverse of what was foreseen when the social services were formulated in the years immediately following the war. It was hoped then, and we hope still, that the National Assistance Board would play a decreasing part, not an increasing part, in our social service system. Yet the fact is that the overall numbers on National Assistance in 1959 were an all-time record. However the right hon. Lady the Joint Parliamentary Secretary may clothe the activities of the National Assistance Board with humanitarianism—and I say at once that I agree with those sentiments; I think that it officers are civil, humane and kindly—the system is an intrusion into the private lives of people who have to seek National Assistance. That is the basic objection, however civil and humane these officials might be.
It is interesting to note that while we have this kind of campaign going on among hon. Members opposite there is also a campaign to get rid of the means test on university student grants because different classes of people are involved. We must remember that if the means test is reprehensible for the parents of university students, it is equally reprehensible for the people who have recourse to National Assistance.
We have had humanitarian speeches from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, the hon Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Chataway) and the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers). 637 All have said, in effect, that these are generous scales. Indeed, the hon. Member for Devonport quoted from the Explanatory Memorandum that a married couple will receive £8 11s. a week. She did not say that the married couple had to have three children, and one aged less than five, one between five and 11 and one between 11 and 16, before they get the princely sum of £8 11s. She went on to say that, in view of some of the wages that are being paid, they will be very well off.
This is supposed to be an affluent society. Is it affluent for people to get £7 11s., after paying £1 rent, to keep five people for a week? Is that part of what the Prime Minister calls an affluent society? Are these the people whom the Prime Minister talked about as never having had it so good? These are the people that we are concerned with today. If we take the overall figure, the brutal fact is that 2½ million of our people, with dependants, are living on National Assistance rates.
I want to refer to same of the points made in the admirable speech of my hon Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton). First, on the question of time delay which has been supported by hon. Members opposite. Whatever the argument adduced for delaying the payment of the National Insurances increases until April, it cannot be adduced for delaying the increases in National Assistance until April. The hon. Lady made the point that if they were not paid at the same time there would be misunderstanding, and the old people would be saying, in effect, that we were giving with one hand and taking away with the other.
I should have thought that we would more easily have got rid of that kind of feeling by the greater the length of time between the increase in National Assistance rates and the increase in National Insurance rates. If we pay the new National Assistance rates immediately, we are less likely to have misunderstanding in April than if we pay the two increases simultaneously. Moreover, even if the misunderstanding were equally great, as a result of our paying the increases now, the people concerned would have the advantage of three or four months of additional rates; and that would outweigh any misunderstanding which might arise.
638 I will refer in a little more detail to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby about the difference between the increase in the special scale and the increase in the ordinary scale. We find, when we look at the ordinary scale for a husband and wife, that the increase over 1948 is 150 per cent. When we look at the increase in the special scale for invalids, the blind and people like that, we find that where there is only one invalid involved, the increase for the couple over 1948 is not 150 per cent but rather more than 100 per cent.
The interesting point is—I cannot find any defence for this—that if the couple are both invalids the increase over 1948 is less than 100 per cent. In other words, where a couple are both invalids, the increase which they receive over the 1948 figure is less than where there is only one invalid and very much less than the increase in the ordinary scale for husband and wife.
The same kind of anomaly applies in the child ranges. For a person aged 21 or over, the increase in the ordinary scale over 1948 is 150 per cent. and in the special scale it is less than 100 per cent. In the 16 to 18 age group, the increase over 1948 in the ordinary scale is about 110 per cent. and in the special scale for the same age group it is 88 per cent. For the 18 to 21 age group, the ordinary scale increase over 1948 is 117 per cent. and the special scale increase is just about 90 per cent. I cannot see any reason why the scale increases in the special categories—for the blind and people like that—should be less proportionately than those in the ordinary scale.
I wish to refer to a question raised some time ago with the Minister. I am not sure whether it was ever answered, and, if not, I should like an answer today. It is the delay in giving National Assistance to people who become unemployed. I understand that there is a delay of two to three weeks before the National Assistance Board will pay National Assistance to those who become unemployed. If that is so, it is completely indefensible. I should like the Minister to answer this question in respect of a man who has been unemployed and who subsequently gets work. It may be a week or a fortnight before he gets work. Is the National Assistance 639 Board empowered to give, or does it, in practice, give, that man the full National Assistance rate until such time as he receives wages, or does it give him a loan? It is important for the Minister to say whether the Assistance Board is empowered or entitled to give him the National Assistance rate rather than a loan.
I see no reason why I should be grateful for these proposed increases. There is nothing here of which we need be proud. The fact that we have 2½ million people, in this day and age, having recourse to this kind of assistance is nothing to be proud of. I shall be able to say, "Thank you very much" only when I see the end of the National Assistance Board as it exists today.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Mr. James Dempsey (Coatbridge and Airdrie)
I cannot say that I welcome the proposals in the new Regulations because they are far from adequate. One has only to look at the present scale of allowances and to compare it with the scale which will exist when these Regulations come into force to find that the recipients of National Assistance will not be as well off as we had been led to believe.
It is obvious from the White Paper that many recipients of National Assistance will not receive the full advantage of the new increases. Figures have been quoted to show that nearly 1¾ million sick, unemployed and, above all, retirement pensioners will be affected by these regulations. A married couple will receive an increase of 7s. 6d. a week instead of the 12s. 6d. a week proposed in the pension and sickness benefit increases, and a single person will receive an increase of 3s. 6d. a week instead of an increase of 7s. 6d. a week. How can anyone welcome Regulations which, on the one hand, prepare the public, and especially the pensioners, for pension increases of 12s. 6d. a week when in fact all that a married couple will receive is an increase of 7s. 6d. a week?
There are 1¼ million retirement pensioners who require to have their meagre pensions augmented by National Assistance. They believe that they are about to receive their due reward for the years of activity by their organisations and 640 associations and by Members of Parliament and local councils. But a married couple, instead of receiving an award of 12s. 6d. a week, will receive only 7s. 6d.
As long as we have National Assistance allowances paid above the basic pension, then there should be an understanding that, in order that retirement pensioners, in particular, may receive the full value of pension increases, the assistance scales should be adjusted correspondingly with the pension scales. I have looked back to 1948 when the first increase took place. It is evident that on all but two occasions, from 1948 to 1960 we have had similar increases in both types of benefit at the same time which have eliminated this anomaly. As long as the situation endures in which we have pensions, on the one hand, and National Assistance on the other, the only way of eliminating anomalies is to ensure that National Assistance scales are increased correspondingly with the scales of sickness, unemployment and pension benefit. Unless the Government realise that, we shall continue to have these anomalies.
I have not the slightest doubt that once these new rates are paid, we shall be flooded by petitions, representations and communications from the section of society which in my opinion needs the benefits more than any other section—the retirement pensioners. They will realise in April, 1961, that a married couple will not receive the promised increase of 12s. 6d. but an increase of 7s. 6d. This will mean, for the old folk in particular, less than they are expecting. I have always taken the view that as long as National Assistance is used to augment retirement benefits, there must be a relationship between the two scales. Consequently, I cannot welcome these proposals, which are totally inadequate.
From the White Paper we learn the scales of benefit which the recipients will be entitled to receive. I note that a man and woman, with two young children under five years of age, for example, will receive £6 4s. plus their rent allowance. Even £6 4s., in addition to the rent, is not a very large sum for a young couple to raise a family in days of economic adversity. The total benefit paid to a young married couple with three children under five years of age will be £7 1s. I do not think that the Government can argue that £7 1s. a week 641 is an adequate living allowance for five members of a family. It is far from it, as the scales are quite inadequate.
When we consider these scales we should be guided by the needs of the individuals who are entitled to benefit from them. We should take into consideration what life is like on such an income. These meagre increases are far from adequate to meet the needs of people who are dependent on these benefits for an existence.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary told us that £375 of savings could be disregarded for the purpose of benefits. She should have referred to "war savings", because they do not disregard £375 in Co-operative or Post Office savings. The disregard is only of £375 war savings. If a person has £125 in a bank, 6d. a week, plus 6d. a week for every subsequent £25, is deducted from the weekly entitlement to National Assistance. We thus have the strange situation in which someone with £200 in the bank is having 2s. a week deducted from his National Assistance entitlement although the money which is lying in the bank is not even earning interest to that extent. In spite of the fact that interest is not being earned at such a rate, this deduction is made.
The only reaction of a person with £200 in the bank is to lift it from the bank and to spend it, for he will then receive his full entitlement to National Assistance. The Government's present attitude is unrealistic towards the old lady and the old man who have been frugal throughout their lives, have sacrificed themselves and have done without many of the good things in life in order to have a little nest egg for a rainy day. Their reward is to find that the National Assistance Board treats them in a parsimonious fashion. I should like to see this increase in National Assistance scales at least equal to that of the pension, sickness and unemployment insurance scales, and an entirely new approach to the whole question of disregards, in order to see that the good manager is not penalised in his eventide of life simply because he has a small nest egg in the local co-operative society or the local savings bank which he has saved at considerable sacrifice.
642 I should also like to see a change in the attitude towards applications by old folk for the exceptional needs grant. Here we have the great problem of the stigma of the means test. Here we find it working at its worst. I do not believe that the Minister or hon. Members create the impression in anyone's mind that they are stigmatised by virtue of the fact that they apply for National Assistance. The stigma is not created here. It is created in the process of the application by individuals for benefits and especially for the exceptional needs grant because of the very nature of the National Assistance Regulation. It is when they apply for the exceptional needs grant that we have the very thorough questioning as to their existing means, the state of their bedclothes and their beds and the other necessities of life which they own. I have always hoped that one day, so long as National Assistance is paid—and it seems that it is likely to be paid for some time—we should objectively examine the whole question of applications by old folk, especially in so far as the exceptional needs grant is concerned, in a rather different vein.
Has the Minister considered the advisability of introducing a system whereby retirement pensioners would receive some exceptional needs grant each year without regard to a means test or to the income test, as it is popularly described, although, in fact, it is a means test? Year after year these old folk are wearing out their clothes, their bed linen and their bedsteads. Surely in this age of the affluent society, when we are led to believe that life is more abundant than ever, we should see that the retirement pensioners share in that affluence, and here is a practical way in which we could help them.
The Minister should consider giving these old folk an annual grant. It is not a new principle, for the local authorities operated it year after year before the State took over the welfare of these people and introduced the National Assistance Act. It was done time after time. I was a member of a committee which gave these grants year after year. The only condition was that the recipients were retired pensioners and in receipt wholly or partly of National Assistance in order to augment their meagre means. I ask the Minister, in 643 these days of the affluent society, at least to examine the possibility and to see whether he cannot give our old folk such an annual grant. If the principle were accepted it could be implemented without the need to investigate a person's means or to examine his income or to assess his entitlement.
I am casting no aspersions on the officers of the National Assistance Board. I have worked with the Board's officers for many years and I have found them a very good set of individuals, most understanding, courteous and very co-operative and helpful to all, but they have to administer the Act and this means that they have to inquire; and to inquire means to investigate, and to investigate arouses a suspicion, especially among the independent type of our old folk, who are rather reluctant to state their means to any officer of any Government Department or, indeed, to any officer of a local authority for that matter.
Such a principle as I have suggested would also save the Board's time and might even economise in administration and other costs. For this reason I request the right hon. Gentleman to examine this proposition. I again remind him that he will find that this was the policy of the local authorities which, prior to 1948, administered what were known as the social welfare schemes throughout the length and breadth of this country.
I also complain about the operative date. It is far too late. The Minister must know from what was said last week, that many thousands of these people, particularly the pensioners, will never live to enjoy these increases. My hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) listed the dates, year by year, on which former increases became operative, and this is the first time since 1948 that they have not come into effect during the winter, the most difficult part of the year for the old people.
For the first time since 1948, they will have to wait nearly six months after the announcement of the increases before receiving them. No one can justify such a belated operative date for the receipt of benefits on which 1¾ million people—and particularly the 1¼ million pensioners—depend for their week-to-week existence. I would be remiss in my duty if I did not now protest 644 against the belatedness of the operative date on behalf of those pensioners, etc., who reside in my constituency
Speaking as I do for the old people, the most deserving section of the community, I cannot help but criticise the inadequacy of the proposals, the belatedness of the date, and the fact that the Minister has not helped in another way, as he could, by examining the principle of annual grants to retirement pensioners.
These proposals will be accepted, but I hope that the Minister realises that they are being accepted most reluctantly. A large section of the community is now living on the poverty line in contrast to the standard of living enjoyed by other sections. As long as we have such a wide gap between those who are much better off and the people of whom I speak, who are so poorly off, I and many other hon. Members must continue to protest.
We shall continue to protest until these most needful people, the pensioners, the unemployed and the sick, receive their due deserts and the entitlement, not to an existence allowance but to a living allowance. Until then, like many other hon. Members, I shall plead their cause in the hope that the constant dripping will wear away the stone of resistance and that better benefits and more adequate pensions will be paid to those sections of our community which depend on such allowances for a livelihood.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)
I should not have intervened had it not been for the speech made by the hon. Member for Torrington (Mr. P. Browne), who is not now in his place. I do not intend to attack him, because he said something that has been commonly said by members of the Conservative Party throughout my life, and many years ago I thought that there was a lot of soundness in what they said. Their philosophy was to encourage people to save by their own efforts for their old age.
I practised that myself. I was an artisan in industry. For all that part of my working life I was engaged in the manufacturing of consumer durables, but I never bought them. My wife, my children and I kept a very strict household. We were very abstemious—teetotallers and non-smokers. We made our 645 clothes last for a long time. We had to save compulsorily because we were buying our own house. We saved much of our income.
In about 1937 or 1938 it struck me that if all the working people were as mean—or as thrifty—as I, I would be out of work. I am therefore tired of hearing the manufacturers of refrigerators and all sorts of consumer durables telling those of us who are in the medium-income group that we should save for our old age. If we did, we should be unemployed, and would have to apply for National Assistance.
It is just not good enough to propagate the idea that people in the low-and middle-income groups can save. If we save through the trustee savings banks we get 2½ per cent. on the money. I was born in 1902, and bearing in mind the fall in the value of money since then I would have needed to have saved a great deal of money to give me an income to sustain me in my old age. I do not get any advantage of capital gains through the trustee savings bank; in fact, if I buy Government stock I suffer capital losses. I have never been in the position to get into the stocks and shares market. The margin of income was so small, and one cannot go to the stock market with savings of half a crown a week. With savings like that, one goes to the Post Office.
The idea that the vast bulk of our population can save for their old age is a myth. We never had the opportunity. When wage increases come along everyone puts up the price of all sorts of products that we must buy, and the increase is taken up.
House purchase is a form of saving. I set out with the ambition of becoming a property-owning democrat, but interest rates have been manipulated, property and land values have gone up, and the result is that, instead of retiring at 65 as a property-owning democrat, I shall have to go on until I am about 115 before I escape being a property-owning democrat.
I really wish that hon. Members opposite and their friends would stop this nonsense of trying to convince us that the Government are administering the country in order to assist people to save for the days of their retirement. Some of my old friends saved for their retirement. 646 They cut down on the table, and in all sorts of ways. I used to write to them regularly, but they have passed beyond and I do not write to them any more. They had saved a little too much and had undermined their health. That is stupid.
This is an affluent society—or was just before the election. It has deteriorated considerably since. Prosperity in the Midlands has gone down appreciably since the last election, so our society is not as affluent as it was twelve months ago. Even so, I think that we could progress gradually to the stage when we could eliminate the need for National Assistance for people who retire. Retirement is the end of their industrial function. They are ending their functional life, so they should start their retirement with an income, enjoyed by right of having functioned in society, that is quite independent of any means test or of any any assistance from anywhere else.
It should be a pension bearing some relationship to their earnings in the past and to the general income level of the registered employed workers in society as a whole. We should work towards the goal of maintaining National Assistance only for the sickness, the unemployment, and the exceptional circumstances of those coming within the insurance scheme. The retirement pension should be at such a figure that any idea of National Assistance is eliminated.
I should like to see the elimination of the Board's function of sustaining the retired person. I am surprised that even the present Government, and the party that prates so much about the affluent society, do not see to it that that affluent society devotes more of its energies to providing greater educational facilities for the young and greater security for the old. Elderly persons should never have to submit to the means test.
One great means test is Income Tax. Taxation will fake care of those who have retired at a higher level of income as a result of their own savings and of superannuation schemes. It will not do it entirely, of course, but it will play its part in reducing excessive income. Most of my friends who are in the higher-income group assure me that the present scale of taxation puts a big hole in their earnings, and it would be strange if it 647 did not do the same for those retired people who have high incomes—
§ Mr. Chataway
The hon. Gentleman cannot say that it would cost nothing to give increased old-age pensions to the higher-income people who do not need it. On incomes of up to, I think, £2,000 a year, only one-third of the sum given would be taken back by the State.
§ Mr. Bence
I did not suggest that it would not cost anything. I say that Income Tax would take care of some of it, and this is preferable to the means test. It would be better to pay a higher pension and abolish the means test, and I do not think that the cost would be much greater. I hope that it would be a little greater, because I want to spread more of our prosperity to our retired people. Income Tax would take care of some portion of the cost, and I maintain that it would be better to have a higher retirement pension for all than to retain a system that applies the means test to retired people.
Another thing that these people feel very keenly is having to apply for clothing grants. It is really heartbreaking to go into the homes of old people and see how much they deprive themselves because of their independence and their determination not to have anything to do with what appears to them to be charity. I can quote a case. My wife regularly visits an old lady who has her own bungalow. She will not go out of it. She has reaised her family in it, although they are now away, many of them abroad.
We in Scotland have many old people whose children have had to emigrate because of bad Government policies in the last forty years, with the exception, of course, of the six years years from 1945 to 1951, when there was a considerable movement of industry into Scotland. Taking the century as a whole, however, there has not been sufficient industrial development in Scotland, so that many children have had to move out of the country, leaving their parents there, very often lonely. It is true that they get letters and many of them used to get a little sustenance from their children who went to the Midlands. Now, some of these poor souls have to send sustenance to their children in the Midlands, because of the short-time 648 working in the motor industry. Unfortunately, the support is moving the other way. I have heard tonight of one man who has come back north from the Midlands because he was out of work and could not stay there, so he has gone back home to Scotland.
With the present scales of benefit for old folks, there should be less quibbling about making an annual clothing grant. The National Assistance rates should be paid to old people who are entitled to them under the present system. I know that abolition cannot be achieved all at once—I admit that it must be a gradual process. I work in close co-operation with the National Assistance Board. Many of the people working in it are middle-aged and remember the 'thirties. They have a great compassion for people who are unemployed and people who are retired, some of them, perhaps, having retired earlier than they might have done because of industrial disease and many of them having retired after having an expensive life with the rearing of chilldren and, perhaps, sickness in their homes.
Nevertheless, the principle should be adopted that when a person who is on retirement pension receives National Assistance, there should be an annual grant, reasonably assessed, for clothing or shoes.
§ Mr. Bence
Yes, bedding. A means test, possibly, could be applied, but something should be done. I do not want to give details of cases from my constituency or to detail the things we do in various voluntary organisations. The women's voluntary organisations know, however, that this is a frightful problem with old people notwithstanding National Assistance. People hate appealing for a grant for clothes, but they need it and something should be done about it.
There is something else I wish to mention about National Assistance. The welfare officers go to elderly people to assess need for making, perhaps, a clothing grant or for doing many other things, but very often conditions exist which are never revealed to the welfare officer. I know of many cases when voluntary workers in women's organisations have found shocking conditions 649 and a bad history, including sickness and difficulties which the person concerned will not reveal to the welfare officer, from whom a great deal is hidden, particularly by elderly ladies. I have had some shocking cases of trying to get people even to receive the welfare officer from the National Assistance Board.
The Board's officers all over the country should seek the co-operation of voluntary organisations, so that in applying benefits to which old people are entitled other views will be considered, including those, for example, of ministers of the church or voluntary organisations and local medical officers of health. I know that in the latter case there is consultation, but the experience of the voluntary organisations certainly should be brought to bear on the Board's officers as long as this frightful system continues whereby we have to subsidise the retirement pension to old people.
We belong to a progressive, dynamic society. The boast of our democracy and of our affluence will come better when, eventually, we have eliminated the idea that a means test should be applied for by anybody retiring from industry as a wage or salary earner who has paid into the Exchequer all his life. A lot of the money which goes in taxation goes below the line for financing public investment. A lot of what we could save is taken from us in taxation. This inhibits a good deal of saving. People should not be expected in their retirement to have to apply for a means test to a State which has taken, perhaps, hundreds of thousands of pounds from them by taxation. They have contributed to the National Insurance Fund and towards their pensions, yet when they reach retirement age the monetary payment is too low. This is because of the fall in the value of money. It has been falling since I was a child. It was not the Labour Government which began the fall. It started long before that, in 1914, when I was only 12 years of age. But it started even long before then. I could tell stories about the value of money going back to 1500. It has always been falling.
It is shocking that every now and again retired people must be picked up by the means test and National Assistance to give them a pension which will 650 give them a decent standard in their retirement. The fall in the value of money is not their fault. They did not start it. All sorts of economic and uncontrolled and unplanned forces have destroyed the value of their pension, and we must have the means test and National Assistance to give them back what contemporary society is stealing from them. Uncontrolled economic forces reduce the value of money and lower the standard of living of these people, who cannot organise professionally or go on strike to restore the purchasing power of their pension. Let us hope, therefore, that the day will soon be here when the retirement pension will be of such a nature that there is no need for Public Assistance.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
Last week we had three long but interesting days discussing social insurance and the problem of the prevention of poverty and hardship in old age and seeking, however inadequately, to make a contribution towards the solution of that problem. We on this side felt that the measures taken were quite inadequate for the problem. What we have been doing today is recognising the shortcomings of what we did last week. The hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Chataway), for example, recognised it equally himself, but he offers a different solution from us.
Today, we are dealing with the relief and alleviation of poverty in age, in sickness and in unemployment. In other words, we have passed from the illusion of last week to the realities of today. From prevention to alleviation and, however we disguise it and with whatever gentle terms, to relief of poverty.
The first thing we must do is to recognise that we are dealing with the dangers of poverty and destitution in circumstances that must evoke the sympathy understanding and generosity of the whole House and of the nation. Over 2½ million people are dependent on what we are doing today. Of the allowances paid weekly by the National Assistance Board—1,800,000, to use the latest figures which we have been given today—seven out of every ten of them are in respect of National Assistance benefit supplements. Additionally, seven out of ten of all payments of weekly allowances are 651 in respect of old people. We thus get a picture of the kind of person with whom we are mainly dealing.
It is stated in the Report of the National Assistance Board, and it was repeated by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers) today, that the people who seek the help of the Board are in real need. When we consider their numbers, it mocks our sloganised affluence and the catch phrases about our relative well-being. How is this situation to be dealt with? We have had debate after debate in Committee and in the House and there has seemed to appear from the party opposite a group of new crusaders, the protectors of the very poor, who said that what the country had should be concentrated on the most needy and that we should never take steps that would give help, albeit indirectly, and without intention, to people who were relatively well off and deny it or give less to those who were really in need.
We have heard some of the apostles of concentrated assistance today. I am sorry that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government has left the Chamber, because I was about to quote him, having given him warning of my intention to do so. Here is part of the theory, and I quote from what the hon. Gentleman said in Standing Committee on 5th March last year:… no help at all is given by a broad increase in the retirement pension to those who need it most unless simultaneously the National Assistance Board standard is increased by at least as much."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 5th March, 1959; c. 304.]Having last week increased the pension for a single person by 7s. 6d., we are today increasing the single person's scale from the National Assistance Board by only 3s. 6d This means that whereas the whole body of pensioners will get an increase of 7s. 6d. in the first week of April, those in receipt of National Assistance will get an increase of only 3s. 6d. Equally, whereas last week we gave a pension increase of 12s. 6d. to a married couple, the increase for those married couples who cannot manage on what they have and who have to turn to the National Assistance Board is to be only 5s.
652 How does that fit in with speech after speech made by the hon. Gentleman who, before those speeches, built up a reputation in this House and has gone from the back benches to the Front Bench? The Minister will remember that 'he complimented the hon. Gentleman on making that speech. If the right hon. Gentleman likes, I will quote what he said. The Minister must remember that all through this controversy which we had before the election and since on our proposal for a 10s. increase, when it came to making calculations about what it would cost, the right hon. Gentleman always said to us, "But you must also increase the National Assistance scales by the same amount". I do not think that I am being unfair.
The right hon. Gentleman said something about this during the election. In a speech on 1st October, 1959, he said:It is a very odd way to go about relieving hardship by giving 10s. in full to the peers and the field marshals and less than that to the poorest pensioners.That is exactly what the right hon. Gentleman is doing today. It is only the indisposition of the former pedlar of political pills and potions, the celebrated doctor on the Front Bench, which prevents him coming in and putting up the banns, because he was the man who first introduced the question of the field marshal. The field marshal will get his increase of 7s. 6d., but the poorest person on National Assistance, by definition the most needy, is to get 3s. 6d.
§ Mr. Ross
The right hon. Gentleman must justify this.
The right hon. Lady tried to justify it. I must compliment her. She made a splendid speech, calm and reasonable. Of course, I did not agree with most of it, but I loved her phraseology. It was excellent and tactfully chosen. According to the right hon. Lady, when there are increases in National Insurance scales, they go up, but when there are decreases in National Assistance supplements they are adjusted. Why did she not simply say that they go down? That is what will happen to the supplements. They are to be adjusted downwards.
The right hon. Lady also said, "But you must remember that last year the National Assistance scales were again adjusted." Her phrase was that people 653 on National Assistance had been given an advance of their share of the nation's prosperity—an increase of 5s. for a single person and, I think, 9s. for a couple. If she talks to old-age pensioners or to people on National Assistance, they will give her her answer. They regard it not as an advance of their share of the prosperity of the country but a belated atonement for the sins of 1958, when the pension was raised by 10s. for a single person and the scale by only 5s. Therefore, their net benefit was not 10s. but the 5s. an adjustment which is condemned by Tory speeches about helping the needy. In addition, the tobacco coupon worth 2s. 4d. was withdrawn so that the net gain to the most needy was 2s, 8d. What was done last year barely met the injustice of 1958 and should not and cannot be placed beside this proposal concerning the adequacy of the share of prosperity for those on National Assistance.
I regret that we have not had a realistic facing up to what was said by the hon. Member for Lewisham, North. Subsistence scales do not remain static. They are adjusted according to the standard of living. I defy anyone to defend the meagre increases which are condemned against the increases given to some people who need them less. I think that they can equally be condemned in the light of the standard enjoyed by the working population.
We are here dealing with the old, the sick and the unemployed. The unemployed enter more and more into this question. If a man between the age of 18 and 21 is unemployed, he will be entitled under the new National Insurance benefits after April to £2 17s. 6d. But he will not be entitled to them if, when thrown out of work, he has to resort to the Assistance Board. The scale laid down for a man of 18 to 21 who is a member of a household is 38s. For a man of 21 or over it is 49s. This is one injustice which should be reconsidered.
I do not think the Government are being fair. I should like to know how much money they will save as a result of their proposal. The answer of the right hon. Gentleman given some time ago to my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey) was that for every shilling in disparity 654 between the increases in National Insurance and those in National Assistance there is a saving of £3 million. He should, therefore, know what will be the real cost. What will happen is what happened last week. A greater measure of the support of the old, the sick and those who have hitherto been getting a supplement on National Insurance from the National Assistance Board will be borne by the contributors through the increased pension.
The hon. Member for Lewisham, North and his band of crusaders must be very disappointed. It seemed at one time that they had more or less convinced the Government, that the National Assistance Board would be the new chosen instrument and that we would get a new super-National Assistance Board. Then the Government changed their mind. They had a look at the meagreness of the graduated benefits which will come out of the new scheme and appreciated that even a man of 40 years of age drawing average wages and being in the graduated scheme for the next twenty-five years with his graduated pension would still have to resort to National Assistance.
What the hon. Gentleman is suffering from is an acute case of graduated jitters. He more than anyone else, having examined this scheme which he has supported since he came to the House, at any rate, by implication and probably paraded it with certain joy at the election, realises that it will flop. It will not meet the problem. He therefore says, "We have to face it that the working population cannot sustain a rising pension". That is probably right concerning the working population. But we are not talking about the working population; we are talking about the nation.
Rising standards can only come from rising production and rising national income. Is it not possible to devise a pension scheme as of right in which there can be built up the dynamic to ensure that there will be an increase of the pension in accordance with the rising standards of the nation? The hon. Gentleman should be careful of the meretricious attractions of the scheme which he put forward. The real attraction of it which first dazzled the Government was that it was the cheapest way of dealing with poverty and ignored 655 altogether the possibilty of giving people a decent pension as of right. However, he had better continue his argument with his right hon. Friend. When it comes to trying to convince him of the folly of the graduated scheme, the hon. Gentleman will have some support from us on this side.
I am glad that my hon. Friends the Members for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) and Penistone (Mr. Mendelson), and others, raised the question of the date. Whatever may have been said last week about the impossibility of introducing the new National Insurance benefits at an earlier time, those arguments do not apply to the introduction at a much earlier date of the new National Assistance scales. Half a million, if not more, of the 1,764,000 weekly allowances are paid to people who have nothing to do with the supplement of National Insurance benefits. Denying them and others in need in respect of this mystic coincidence of inspiration which comes from two independent bodies, the National Assistance Board and the Minister, concerning the need and timing of new insurance scales and new assistance rates, should not blind us to the fact that we must introduce these increases as quickly as we have done in the past.
The Minister has caught up with his own record of good administration. He has done it before. Let him do it again. If the hon. Member for Lewisham, North, having run a mile in under four minutes, had doubled his time next time out, he would have been very dissatisfied with himself. But not the Minister. He, having created new records in administration and brought in desirable benefits and increases in scales, cannot expect us, or indeed himself, to be pleased with this business of waiting five months before introducing them. I sincerely hope that he will think about the matter again.
I do not accept the idea which the right hon. Lady put forward that there will be doubts, misunderstandings and confusions. Let me assure her that there will be confusions anyway when people get an increase of 7s. 6d. in one pension and then 4s. is taken off the National Assistance supplement. There will be no misunderstanding. People will merely blame the Government and will see in 656 it once again the perversity of hon. Members opposite who have gone back on everything they said about helping most those in need.
I think we should bear the position about timing well in mind. I should like the people on the assistance scales to get the benefit of what meagre increase they are to get, the full benefit. I have not the slightest doubt that we shall see—all the signs are present—a considerable increase in the cost of living, and probably before next April. We have seen a rise over the past few weeks and I understand that the price of bread is going up again.
In respect of many of these people bread counts more than anything. Take the position of a family with children. People forget, incidentally, that there are over 450,000 children involved in the work of the Assistance Board. The increase in respect of the children will be reduced in relation to the price of bread. The increase for children under the scales are not doing justice to the generous feelings of the Minister. They represent an increase of 1s. for the young child and 2s. for the older child. I think that the right hon. Gentleman could have done better. We think that the blind and those undergoing voluntary treatment for tuberculosis are being asked to give up too much. It is a great temptation for people to refuse treatment and to carry on work at a time when they should be having treatment for their own benefit and for the benefit of their family. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider the plea of my hon. Friend regarding those categories of people.
Altogether, I find it a bit disappointing and I cannot be satisfied that the nation could not have done better than this. My hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby said, rightly, that we do not want to see the National Assistance Board playing the dominant part which it does in the affairs of so many people today. The only way to prevent that is properly to develop the insurance principle and the benefits under our social security scheme.
That does not mean that we belittle the work which the Board is doing. Far from it. I was sorry that we had references to the "workshy" and "idlers". It puts this thing far too much out of proportion. We had a reference to "Idle Jack," and by that we 657 do not mean the Minister, because no one would confuse the right hon. Gentleman with "Idle Jack" after what he has been doing over the last few weeks.
We appreciate the amount of work done by the Board and the tact with which it carries out certain parts of its work, and the strength and courage with which it tackles those people who are work shy and shiftless. We should be paying a tribute to it. If during this past year the Board had received publicity for the good work it is doing on the same scale as the publicity it got over one particular case, we should be getting a far better presentation of what is being done to meet real need. The officers of the Board are doing wonderful work, much of which is the result in the past of the kind of criticism which we have heard here today.
The question of rent was raised by the right hon. Lady and I think more could be done about that. Some questions need to be answered about how the rent is paid. The right hon. Lady was worried because money was given to some applicants and the rent was not paid. I believe it is open to an official of the Board actually to pay the rent direct. I am equally concerned about something else. I hear that it is a practice in some places not to hand over the money to an applicant until he has produced the rent book to show that the rent has been paid. That rent can be paid only out of the weekly allowance, which does not include the rent allowance. In other words, the rent allowance is withheld until the rent has been paid. The difficulties of life in respect of these weekly allowances are such that they are almost driving these people into debt. Often their rent is not paid and they are evicted. Then the loser is not the National Assistance Board but the local authority or the property owner. I ask the Minister to examine this to see whether we can devise a better way of dealing with the matter.
The number of people who defraud the National Assistance Board is relatively few and action is taken. But I should have liked to have seen more publicity given to something which appeared in the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General the other day. I refer to tax fraud and evasion. 658 In 1950–60 there were 13,734 cases and the people concerned were not on National Assistance. The sums amounted to £19,500,000. That is more than the cost of what we are doing today in relation to these increases, without taking into consideration offsets and savings.
The National Assistance Board is doing wonderful work and we are glad of it. But we wish to build up a system of social security which will result in a limitation being put on that kind of work and make the work of the Board more in the nature of welfare work which it should be able to do. We cannot vote against these Regulations, but I think that we have made our position clear. We do not think that they are satisfactory in view of the injustice being done to the neediest in the land. We do not think the position is satisfactory in relation to the rising standards of their neighbours, with which obviously these people must compare themselves. We do not think it satisfactory to withhold even the meagre advances until next April. I wish to pay tribute to what has been done and what the Minister said last year about disregards. But all we have done in relation to that is to blunt the edge of poverty. We have not yet erased it.
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ The Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter)
I wish to thank the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) and one or two of his hon. Friends for the very courteous references they made to the administration by the Chairman, members and staff of the National Assistance Board of their manifold and delicate duties. I think that the House appreciated very fully the somewhat nostalgic way in which the hon. Gentleman said that he wished quite as much good will could also have been directed towards the staff of another great Government Department. He was saying it, I thought, as an indication of the truth of the fact that it is more blessed to give than to receive or, as Edmund Burke very well put it:To tax and to please, no more than to love and to be wise, is not given to men.I should like to take, first, what I might call the individual points which hon. Members have raised during the debate and then, at the end, come back 659 to deal with the main issue or the nub of it. I take, first, the question by the hon. Member for Sowerby about prescription charges levied on people who, now being on National Assistance, receive a refund of those charges, but who, as a result of the combined changes next April, will be taken off National Assistance.
The Assistance Board proposes to remind those who will cease to receive the refund as a result of the combined operation that they can come back to the Board in future if they are in need of help to meet these charges; and, as I have more than once told the House, it is the practice of the Board—if the payment of one of these charges does put a person concerned in need by Assistance standards—to meet, not merely that part of the charge which puts the person in need by those standards, but the whole of the charge. I think that that reminder, and that practice, will meet the point which the hon. Gentleman had in mind.
The hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) asked me to instruct what he called the appeal boards, by which I think he meant the National Assistance appeal tribunals, as to the way they were discharging their duties. In the first place, I have no power so to do, and, secondly, I am sure that I ought not to have any such power. I think, particularly in the atmosphere following the Report of the Franks Committee, that it should be made completely clear that these bodies are independent of the Minister and that it is their duty to apply the statutes and regulations in complete independence. As the hon. Gentleman had made the point, I thought that I ought to mention that.
§ Mr. Mendelson
The Minister will remember that I immediately added that it is quite possible that he does not instruct these appeal tribunals at all, but it is always possible for a Minister to encourage an atmosphere of being liberal with these people.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Where we have wholly independent statutory bodies, I do not think that it is for a Minister to indicate to them, even indirectly, how they should discharge their duties. If the Minister is not happy about the way they are discharging their duties, it is his duty to alter the law and the regulations 660 which they apply, but certainly not to give them hints on what to do, which they not only do not have to, but would be quite wrong to, follow.
My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers) raised a number of points. She asked why the Board very often left it to a deserted wife to take proceedings for maintenance, instead of exercising the power which it has to take those proceedings itself. The main reason why the Board prefers to let the lady do it herself, with due help and advice, is that, in cases where the Board takes the initiative and obtains the order, the order remains valid only while the lady in question is on National Assistance. If she comes off Assistance, she will benefit from the order only if she has applied for it herself or it has been applied for in her name. Quite plainly, in the case of a lady who might get work and come off Assistance, as happens in many of these cases, it is much better that she herself should obtain the order. That does not mean that the Board does not exercise its discretion—it does in many cases—but it explains why, in a number of cases, it is unwilling to do so.
I should like to tell my hon. Friend that possession of a television set is disregarded. It is treated as part of the contents of the home, which, together with the home itself, are not taken into account by the Board in assessing means. My hon. Friend referred to Christmas charities. Those who run these charities, often on a local basis, very sensibly consult the Board about the direction in which the gifts may go, and the Board's officers are only too glad to help them. I will come to my hon. Friend's other major point in a moment.
To my hon. Friend the Member for Torrington (Mr. P. Browne) I would say that we reviewed the disregard system very thoroughly in the legislation and regulations which went through this House in the summer of last year. The general effect, as the House will remember, was an increase in most of the disregards of about 50 per cent. I feel that, though it is obviously one's duty to keep this matter under review, these are changes which, quite clearly, ought not to be made each time it is necessary to change the scale rates themselves. The very considerable action 661 which we took last year, in fact, shows that we are not out of sympathy with a good deal of what my hon. Friend said as a matter of general principle on this point.
The hon. Member for Sowerby asked why the differentials in respect of the blind and the tuberculous special scales were not on this occasion being increased. What, as he mentioned, and for the sake of clarity I will repeat, is being done, is that these scales are being increased by reference to the main scales, and the differential remains, in general, the same—at 22s. 6d. per week for single people. It has not always been the practice to alter these scales when the main rates have been altered. They were increased in 1952, 1955, 1956 and 1959, but not in 1950, 1951 or 1958. I think that there are probably good reasons for not moving them automatically when the main scales are altered.
Perhaps one can divide them into two classes. The special rate for the tuberculous goes back to the years during and after the war, when a special inducement was designed to persuade people suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis to have an incentive to abandon work and obtain treatment. Fortunately, there has been very great progress in that direction, and, although I should be in trouble with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health if I were to say that tuberculosis is not still serious, the way in which the incidence of this disease has altered is a, matter for very great congratulation.
The scales for the blind are much more in actual recognition of the compassion which everybody feels for people who suffer from that terrible disability. On the other hand, and particularly in the case of the blind, and in the case of those suffering from diseases generally, the Board's use of its discretionary powers is such that there is probably not as much additional advantage in singling out these two classes for special treatment as might appear at first sight; the Board pays particular attention to people with serious disabilities or disorders of one kind and another. With these considerations in mind, the Board has not, on this occasion, proposed an increase in the differential, though it proposes an increase in the amount. But that does 662 not exclude consideration of it in the case of future or further increases.
My hon. Friend the Member for Devon-port, in her other main point, also raised the question of the payment of rent direct to the local authority in its capacity as landlord, in order to prevent the person assisted getting into difficulty and perhaps risking eviction. On occasion the Board does make this payment, but it is in general reluctant to do so, unless it is absolutely necessary. It is reluctant to do so because it does not think that it is a good thing, in general, to deprive the recipients of assistance of the responsibility of themselves managing the moneys that are allowed and allotted to them.
It is to be hoped that people will not necessarily think—particularly younger people in whose case this arises—that they are to be on National Assistance for ever, and it is a good thing that people should not lose the right of the management of their own affairs. Therefore, though the Board will do this in the extreme case, and is quite prepared to consider doing it in the extreme case, it does not feel disposed to do it easily, and I am expressing a personal opinion when I say that I feel a very considerable sympathy for its view in this respect.
§ Mrs. E. M. Braddock (Liverpool, Exchange)
Will the Minister look at the whole question of the payment of rents? Is he aware that a person on Assistance does not receive the money which is designed to pay the rent during the week unless she has already paid the rent? It is the ordinary amount, less the rent, and if she then does not pay the rent and take the book to the Assistanct Board to show that she has paid it in time, the rent amount is not then paid and the local authority is placed in the position of accumulating rents against tenants, while the Assistance Board pay rent to nobody, so that it gains, as far as rents are concerned.
There are very many of these cases in Liverpool, on which we have had a lot of discussion with Assistance Board officers, and this position still obtains, although we have at last got a slight adjustment. That is the general method, and I think that it is a wrong method for the Board to pay an amount less the rent to a person, out of which she has 663 to pay the rent to the local authority or the private landlord, and if she does not, she gets nothing at all, and neither does the landlord or the local authority.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I should not like to judge or express an opinion on cases such as the hon. Lady has given without knowing and studying the full facts. If the hon. Lady cares—I think that was the object of her intervention—to let either the Chairman of the Board or myself have the particulars, the point, which I think I have understood quite clearly, can then be looked into.
§ Miss Vickers
I agree that my right hon. Friend may not want to express a view on individual cases, but I am concerned about people who may be evicted. It is these people whom I want to help and save from eviction. I ask that in all these cases consideration should be given to making regulations that would prevent eviction.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
My hon. Friend may recall that my earlier remarks were that we were prepared to do that in that sort of case. I do not want to generalise from a particular case; I know that my hon. Friend is interested in one. There is a dispute about the facts in that case, but I understand that in it the particular difficulty with which we are now dealing does not arise. This is a matter in which, in appropriate cases, the Board is prepared to make payments, though with reluctance.
I come now to the main issue, on which I shall not detain the House for more than a few moments. I should like to stress that for the recipients of National Assistance these proposals are the second instalment of an improvement in real standards which began with the changes effected and approved by the House last year. The House will remember that we discussed those recommendations in June last year. The point was then made clear, and not challenged, that whereas previous increases in the National Assistance scale rates had, with a certain margin, been designed to compensate for increases in prices, the increase of 5s. in the single rate and 9s. in the married rate on that occasion was almost exclusively an increase in standards.
664 This body of proposals in these Regulations is a second instalment of that improvement in standards. It is not fair, therefore, to judge this matter as an issue of policy without recalling that. The point was made with his customary vigour by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), and by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Chataway) with his customary charm and persuasiveness, that what we were doing was to give more to the people not on Assistance and less to those on Assistance, or, in other words, less to those most in need. That argument is only tenable if one takes these proposals in isolation, but it seems to me completely wrong so to do. What we did and I hope that the House will agree that it was right, was to give last year, in advance, to the most needy the larger part of the increase in standards which it is now possible also to provide for the whole body of recipients of the National Insurance retirement pension.
It is right, therefore, to take these Regulations and those which the House approved last year together. If we do that, we see that, as a result of this operation, persons on Assistance will find that, since the last overall operation in January, 1958, their income has increased, in the case of a single person, by 8s. 6d., compared with 7s. 6d. for the recipient of National Insurance benefit, and by 14s. as against 12s. 6d. for married couples. It is, therefore, not fair for the hon. Member for Kilmarnock to say that this is helping peers and field marshals—
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I recognise that it is a better phrase than the hon. Member could have invented. But this is not what we are doing. Taking the operations since the last overall change in 1958, we are giving more to those on assistance.
Then the hon. Member for Kilmarnock fell into considerable error. He said that we must not take into account the September, 1959, changes because they were to compensate for the withdrawal of the tobacco coupon. He is quite wrong. The coupon was withdrawn in January and February, 1958, and the changes made at that time were far 665 more, in respect of National Assistance as well as National Insurance, than was needed to compensate for the withdrawal of the coupon. In face of that fact the hon. Member cannot say that we must disregard the changes in 1959 and leave them out of account. He cannot use the tobacco coupon twice. That, indeed, would be only too simple. It was more than compensated for in 1958.
The important fact remains that, taking this operation as a whole, we are not making more of an improvement for the recipients of insurance. Looking at it in another way, the improvement over 1958 is 15 per cent. single and 16 per cent. married for insurance, and 19 per cent. single and 18 per cent. married for assistance.
The hon. Member for Kilmarnock was very firm about one point. Is it now the case of hon. Members opposite that on every occasion when National Insurance benefits are increased the Assistance scales must be increased to the same full extent? [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear"]. If that is the argument, where does it lead hon. Members opposite? The fact is that Assistance scales are moved more frequently than Insurance scales. That must have been the object of those who built up the Board in 1948, because one can make the changes—as we are seeking to do today—by regulations, which is a speedier method, taking up less parliamentary time. As a matter of history, since 1948 this is the fifth increase in insurance and the eighth increase in National Assistance.
Let us see where we are leading. If we move National Assistance and National Insurance by the same amount, we are in a dilemma; we must never move National Assistance separately at all, otherwise we shall have Assistance scales very far ahead of insurance. [An hon. Member: "Why worry?"] One may say "Why worry?" But that kind of policy does not square with the reiterated attack by hon. Members opposite on the number of recipients of National Insurance retirement pensions who are receiving supplementation, because the more we increase Assistance scales relative to Insurance scales, the more persons on Insurance benefits are, as a matter of pure mathematics, eligible for and will receive supplementation.
666 Even in our debate last week the hon. Member for Sowerby said there were too many cases of supplementation and that the numbers should be reduced, but the hon. Member cannot align that view, which is held in many directions, with the view which now appears for the first time to be that of hon. Members opposite—that we must move Assistance scales every time we move Insurance scales and to the same full extent. If we do that, the proportion supplemented remains identical.
§ Mr. Houghton
I do not know to whom these remarks are being addressed, because if the right hon. Gentleman listened to my speech, as I thought he did, he will recall—and he will certainly see it on the record—that I said that our policy was that National Assistance should stand on its own. I said that there should be a more exacting test of adequacy for National Assistance than for National Insurance, that the frequency of change of assistance might be greater than in the case of National Insurance, and that the increases could very likely be more for National Assistance than for National Insurance. I am sure that there is not a single word of that with which the right hon. Gentleman would disagree, and I apply that test to the increases now proposed.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The hon. Member prefaced his intervention by asking to whom I addressed my remarks. I was addressing them to the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and the hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey), whom I am glad to see retains the view that the increases should be the same.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Sowerby. There is a great deal with which I do not disagree, but, owing to the diversity of testimony, and perhaps the manysidedness of truth on the other side of the House, he must allow me to deal with the argument made by his hon. Friend, even though he does not agree with it.
§ Mr. Ross
I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should address his remarks to, and ask questions of, not anyone on this side, but the Minster whom I 667 quoted. I quoted the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. In case the right hon. Gentleman has forgotten, I will quote it again:… no help at all is given by a broad increase in the retirement pension to those who need it most unless simultaneously the National Assistance Board standard is increased by at least as much."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 5th March, 1959; c. 304]We did not say it; it was said by a member of the Government.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, to our loss, did not take part in this debate. Therefore, I must confine myself to replying to those who did, and to the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
There is nothing in what my hon. Friend then said which is inconsistent with what I have now been saying, which is that one does not necessarily make the same change at the same time, but that one bears in mind, as I hope we shall continue to bear in mind, the fact that what we are doing now, taking into account what we did last year, is to bring the National Assistance increase above the National Insurance increase. If the hon. Gentleman will appreciate what has been done, he will see that that is so.
I will come back, for the purposes of comparison, to what the hon. Member for Sowerby—and I hope he agrees with this—said was the true base, that is, 1948. The result of these changes in April will be this, on the base of 1948. National Insurance will be up 121 per cent. on the single, and 120 per cent. on the married rate. National Assistance will be up 123 per cent. on the single, and 125 per cent. on the married rate. Taking the operation as a whole, which as the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well is the only sensible way to do it, he will see that we have more than maintained the balance. We have in some measure increased it. It is absolute nonsense, and the hon. Gentleman knows it, when thinking of the different purposes of these two social benefits, to think that, when one moves the one, one has to move the other by the same amount at the same time.
668 Even this discussion of scale rate against scale rate is completely misleading. It is not comparing like with like. The hon. Gentleman knows that whereas in the case of the Insurance benefits there is only one addition—for increments which pensioners can earn by additional contributions, and which about one-fifth of the existing pensioners have—on average 7s. 6d. a week—on the Assistance side of the equation there are, first, the discretionary additions averaging at the moment about 7s. 3d., but drawn not by one-fifth, but by two-thirds of the retirement pensioners who are drawing supplements from the Board, and, secondly,—and this has no parallel on the insurance side of the equation—there is provision for rent.
The provision for rent includes, I think in 99 per cent. of the cases where supplementation is paid, an allowance on the basis of the rent and rates actually paid. The latest figure for rent paid or taken into account in assessing assistance is, to all intents and purposes, £1 a week. Therefore, the comparison is not between 57s. 6d. National Insurance and 53s. 6d. National Assistance. It is between 73s. 6d. National Assistance and 57s. 6d. National Insurance. Even that ignores, for the sake of saving time, the discretionary additions. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman's attempt to work up a great grievance because of this comparison between two scales, which in truth and in fact have no relation, was an entertaining dialectical exercise, but it did not take serious thought or thinking about this matter very far.
I agree with the hon. Member for Sowerby that we are concerned with National Assistance scales on their merit. Although one may criticise these rates, they amount, as I have shown, to an improvement of 123 per cent. and 125 per cent. in cash terms above the 1948 level. The retail price index over that period has risen 58 per cent., and, if the House wants to know, in real terms the single rate of assistance on today's prices will be about 15s. above the level it was at the beginning in 1948, and is about 10s. above the level in real terms at which right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite left it in 1951.
I know that the hon. Member for Penistone dislikes percentages, and I sympathise with his feelings, but they are at 669 least a guide to progress. If the percentages showed that the scales have diminished and not increased, I am sure that hon. Gentlemen would overcome their antipathy to them. This is, in fact, a further improvement in the real value of the scales.
The only remaining point of substance seems to be the question of timing.
§ Mr. Houghton
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the question of improvements in real value, I am sure that he will agree that improvements in real value represent a movement only from the basic conditions of the Beveridge Report, and are no more than an attempt to keep the National Assistance beneficiaries abreast of rising standards of living. It is not a bonus or an addition to their standards which place them out of relationship with the rest of the community. In fact, they are still far behind.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The hon. Gentleman is quoting my speech last year when I advocated the last lot of increases on precisely that basis. It is, of course, our policy to give to, by definition the poorest section of our society, a share in the rising standards which sound economic policies are bringing about for the community as a whole.
When one is measuring the extent to which that has been done, one has to start on the base line of what was judged to be the subsistence scale by hon. Gentlemen in 1948, and it is relevant to see that as part of that policy of making improvements for this section of society whether in real terms, or in percentages, whichever the hon. Member for Penistone likes, we are proposing to make this further appreciable improvement.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The hon. Gentleman will see that I answered a Question on this point some weeks ago, and I would rather not add to that considered Answer now.
§ Mr. Dempsey
Will the Minister deal with the point about annual grants for exceptional needs for retirement pensioners? Will he give some indication of his views on such a principle because 670 formerly they were operated by local authorities when they administered social welfare schemes?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I find some difficulty in seeing the relevancy between the hon. Gentleman's idea in this respect and the proposal to increase the scales of National Assistance paid by the National Assistance Board, which is what the House is now considering. I can only say, in reply, that without an examination of what is involved, and the scales proposed, it is extremely difficult to express a view about that, but I am doubtful whether it is relevant. I see that you are about to rise, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. The hon. Gentleman nearly got me into trouble.
On the timing, the proposal is that these changes should take place at the same time as the Insurance changes. We have had experience of what happens when that is not the case. We followed the course, which hon. Members opposite now recommend, in 1955, when the Assistance scales went up in February and the Insurance benefits in April, and some of them in May. There was great confusion and ill-feeling. Assistance scales went up for some weeks and were then reduced when the insurance benefits, in supplemented cases, went up. There was real misunderstanding, misery and frustration and it was the experience of all those then concerned with the operation—I myself was not then in my present office—that where an insurance increase was to be made broadly about the same time as an Assistance increase, there was an overwhelming case for making them coincide.
When to that is added the fact that, as I said in our earlier debates, this is a Measure in substantial degree improving standards, I am sure the right way to do it is to apply this improvement in the standards to the recipient of Assistance at the same time as the Insurance benefits move as one clear cut operation, without putting up Assistance and then reducing it.
That is our view, after studying very carefully and taking the views of those concerned at that time in 1955, and I am convinced that it is the right way. That is the consideration which ought to prevail in this matter and the whole of this considerable operation should 671 take place at the same time, in the first week in April.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the National Assistance (Determination of Need) Amendment Regulations, 1960, a draft of which was laid before this House on 2nd November, be approved.