HC Deb 13 July 1962 vol 662 cc1679-775

11.5 a.m.

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

I beg to move, That the National Assistance (Determination of Need) Amendment Regulations 1962, dated 30th June 1962, a draft of which was laid before this House on 3rd July, be approved. This is the ninth occasion since Parliament enacted the National Assistance Act, 1948, that a Motion of this kind to improve the scale rates of National Assistance has been before the House. It is the seventh occasion since October, 1951, and, purely personally, it is the fifth occasion on which I have been associated with such a Motion.

The proposals which I am asking the House to approve have been initiated in the normal way under Section 6 of the National Assistance Act, 1948, by the National Assistance Board, have been agreed to and approved by the Government, and now come forward for the approval of the House. The main purpose of these Regulations is to restore the value of the scale rates

As the House will remember, in September, 1959, a new high level in the real value of these scales was achieved. The provisions which the House then approved—following, as they did, a period of a very high degree of stability in prices—were, and were announced to be, an advance to a new level in the real value of these benefits. The current scales, which came into effect, in April, 1961, improved, in some measure, that real value. The purpose of these proposals is to hold and secure that advance.

The total cost, as I told the House When I made my statement on 3rd July, would be £20½ million in a full year on the basis of the present number of recipients of National Assistance, but it is the fact that any increase in scale rates has the effect of increasing the number of people eligible far National Assistance. It is impassible, in advance, precisely to forecast how many such people there will be, since the figure turns both on the number of people at the income level concerned and the number of those who, for one reason or another, apply for National Assistance.

It is, therefore, only possible to present the cost of these proposals on the basis of the existing numbers, but it is fair that I should tell the House that the ultimate figure will be somewhat higher to take account of the people additionally brought in.

This is, of course, a substantial sum for my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make available at a time when, as the House knows, Government expenditure is subject to very close scrutiny and, if I may say so, it is evidence of the determination of the Government to take care of the poorest section of the population that these proposals are brought forward now. Whatever argument there may be in the House and elswhere about other social service provisions, these proposals in respect of National Assistance provide money every penny of which goes in a direction in which it is really needed.

About 70 percent. of the regular recipients of National Assistance are old people, either those who draw it by way of a supplement to a National Insurance retirement pension or by way of a supplement to a non-contributory old-age pension or, in some cases, those who have neither of those benefits. About 23 percent. are people who are sick or otherwise unable to work, and the remaining, comparatively small group, covers other cases—the long-term unemployed, and so on. I repeat that this is a social provision—one that is often called the long stop of the social services—paid on the basis of need and, therefore, going, as a matter of definition, to people who require it.

I stress that this is part of a continuing policy; a policy of maintaining, and as occasion offers of improving, the provision made for the poorest section of our community. I quoted when I made my statement on 3rd July some figures which have elicited a certain commentary in The Times this morning from one or two academic worthies associated with hon. Gentlemen opposite. It is, perhaps, fitting that I should make some comment on that.

First, no one—certainly no one in the House—is so naive as to believe that the Index of Retail Prices provides a precise barometer in respect of this section or, indeed, of any other.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

Hear, hear.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I am glad that I carry the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) with me.

On the other hand, it is a very comprehensive index which gives a clear view of the general tendency of prices. It is also naive to believe that specialised indices which one may create for specialised purposes necessarily give any substantially different effect.

If one makes a calculation of events over recent years, it is surprising to find how closely the Index of Retail Prices and the branches of it which relate to particular needs appropriate to the poorer section have kept in line—though it is true that in the earlier years after 1948 there was a wide disparity. However, study of the more recent years no longer shows that disparity.

It is interesting to note on this issue—and this is accepted even by the worthy gentlemen in the letter in The Times whom I have mentioned—that there has been an improvement in the real value of the scales over the years. The argument that lies between us is not whether there has been an improvement or not, but as to its measure, degree and extent. I do not find that the figures quoted in The Times are impressive, either of themselves or on the point to which they attach stress: the comparison between what has been done by way of National Assistance and what has happened to other sections of the community.

The House may be interested in certain figures which have a good deal of bearing on the contention which is made in The Times that those on assistance have been allowed to fall behind. Taking, in purely money terms, the current rates of National Assistance—that is, those in effect today and disregarding what, if Parliament approves, will be effected by these Regulations—they show from July, 1948, an increase of 123 per cent. in cash terms on the single householder rate and 125 per cent. on the married couple rate.

The average weekly earnings of adult males in industry over the same period show almost exactly the same figure, at 125 per cent. If one takes wage rates —and some hon. Gentleman opposite have pressed me that this is the more realistic basis of comparison—the figure is 82 per cent. Or if one takes the total personal income of the community, adjusted for the increase in population, the figure is 114 per cent.

It is legitimate, in the face of those figures, to take the view that, broadly speaking, the policy of the Government has been effective in securing for the people about whom we are concerned today a share in the rising prosperity of the nation.

Mr. R. E. Prentice (East Ham, North)

The Minister has been giving figures on the basis of money levels of National Assistance and the same levels of average wages. The right hon. Gentleman has agreed that if one takes the cost of living index as applying to wages and the special index for those in the poorer group, there was certainly a great difference in the earlier years after 1948. If, however, the right hon. Gentleman makes a different comparison, and tries to assess the level of the standard of living of those on assistance and those earning average wages, he will get a totally different picture.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I thought that I made it plain that the figures I was quoting were money figures.

Mr. Prentice

Yes, money only.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

They were money figures; and, while one could make all sorts of calculations, none of them would be as clear cut and as reliable as the figures in money terms I have given, for they are in the medium of exchange; the more so when the House recollects that for this purpose we need to pay no attention to changes in rent and rates, because they are dealt with separately.

Mr. Ross

I agree that money figures are the ones that matter, but could the Minister now dispose of the percentages and tell us what the gap actually was, in money terms, between the Assistance rates in 1948 and now?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I could certainly work that out, but not "off the cuff". Nor do I think it would be particularly helpful to do so.

What is important if one is dealing with a share in prosperity are the proportions by which the different provisions have risen. I am sorry if hon. Gentlemen opposite take a different view from mine. I must, with due respect, differ from them. If the hon. Gentleman and I are questioning whether we have had a fair share of something or other, then, if the proportions have risen in the same degree for us both, I would have thought that we had had a fair share; but the view of hon. Gentlemen opposite on what might be fair in so personal a context is not necessarily mine.

Mr. Ross

If the Minister applies the basis of need in relation to all these things I think that he will get an entirely different result.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

The definition of what is need is an interesting abstract, philosophical question.[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".] This us an important point. I am not being sarcastic. How one defines need is an interesting philosophical question, and I take the view that need is not an absolute concept but that in a society of rising standards the concept of need is a rising one. Relativities as well as absolutes come into this

The effect of the proposals under discussion, if the House approves them, will be, in cash terms—and I want there to be no misunderstanding about this— to raise the single person's rate to 139.5 per cent. and the marred householder's rate to 139 per cent. above 1948.

The right standard in these matters is, of course, largely a matter of judgment and a matter on which perfectly sincere and honest opinions can and do differ. Various people have undertaken surveys producing rather varying results. We are quite right to pay attention to them, but I think that the House will also feel that we are right to pay a good deal of attention to the biggest and most continuous survey of all, and that is the one which operates year in and year out through the machinery of the National Assistance Board.

The Board's officers pay about 6 million visits a year to the homes of the poorest section of our people. While they would be the last to claim infallibility in these matters, I am sure that the House will think that a survey conducted on such a scale by people experienced in their jobs is enormously important in assessing what is right in this matter. That is why I think that the House was right in 1948 to entrust the initiative in proposing improvements to the body which has at its disposal this vast mass of detailed information on how people are living and on their needs.

I hope that I shall carry hon. Members opposite with me, as well as my hon. Friend's, if I express my admiration for the way in which the present Chairman of the National Assistance Board has guided its affairs for eight and a half years. Many of us knew the noble Lord in this House when he sat for a constituency the name of which he now bears in another place. Though he left us some years ago for this extremely difficult and onerous job we would all wish to say that the high standing of the National Assistance Board and its reputation far humanity and good sense in its extremely difficult job owe a great deal to the wise guidance of the noble Lord.

As for the details of these proposals, the House will note that the biggest proportionate increase is in respect of the single householder. When I made my original statement I said that it is the view of the Board, as it is mine, that it is the single person living alone who, in present conditions, most feels the pinch. When, in addition, as I explained in my original statement, one bore in mind the way the changes of recent years have produced a somewhat larger proportionate increase in the married householder rate, it seemed right on this occasion to make a bigger proportionate increase for the single householder.

I should like to give one practical example. This is not based on the illusion young couples often fall into, that two can live as cheaply as one. They find before very long that that is an optimistic calculation ! It is founded on the fact that married rates have moved more in proportion, and also on one of the things which give rise to anxiety now, namely, the price of fuel, on which the single person has nearly as much expense as the married couple. It costs no more to keep warm a room in which two people live than one in which one person lives.

The price of fuel has been one of the anxieties often expressed in the House and I think that the Board is right on this occasion, therefore, to concentrate rather more on the single householder. This shift of emphasis from the last lot of improvements, which were 3s. 6d. single and 5s. married, to the present 4s. single and 5s. 6d. married, brings the percentage increases of the two rates, married and single, over 1948 to within half of 1 per cent. of one another.

The House will remember that on the occasion of the last increase the special scales paid to blind and tuberculous people were increased only by the same amounts as the ordinary scales. That is, they were increased proportionately less. On this occasion the increases are more than those in the ordinary householder scales and, broadly speaking, are proportionate. For example, for the single blind householder the increase in the scale rate is 6s. and for the married couple, one of whom is blind, the increase is 7s. 6d.

To some extent, as I think the House has felt when we have discussed this matter in the past, these special scales far the blind and tuberculous have lost something of their significance. The great development in the exercise by the Board of its discretionary powers would probably mean, in any event, that the people suffering the grave affliction of blindness would be helped in one way or another.

As for the rates for the tuberculous, the right hon. Member for Lanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) will recall that at that time it was felt highly desirable to give some incentive to tuberculous people to give up work and undergo treatment. Thanks to the development of medical science this has become a very much less significant problem than it was, and it may well be that at some time the special scales may be found to be not all appropriately applied in the right directions. There may be other directions in which special provision may be thought more appropriate, but on this occasion we are following the fairly well-defined pattern of making a broadly proportionate increase in these rates.

Outside the House there is some misunderstanding of what is being done, because consideration is given only to the scale rates for adults. In fact, if one wishes to get a proper view of what the Board is doing, one has to take into account the additional provision made for families, and in respect of rents and rates. In view of another publication appearing this morning, I should say that it is the practice of the Board, in 99 per cent. of cases, to pay the full rent and rates involved. One should also bear in mind the discretionary additions, which are made to the scale rates in about 66 per cent. of the cases where supplementation is paid to retirement pensioners.

To get a proper and accurate picture of what is done one can take an example of a family of a man and wife with three children aged 12 years, 6 years and 4 years. Under our proposals the scale rates for that couple will go to £4 15s. 6d. The provision for the eldest child is £25s 6d., for the 6-year old child 21s., and for the 4-year old 18s. Then there is the rent. The average rent paid, according to the Board's latest Annual Report, by recipients of National Assistance with a family is 28s. a week. If we add this to the figures I have given it produces a total family income of £9 8s a week. I do not think that figure compares too badly with certain other incomes.

Mr. Albert Evans (Islington, South-West)

The right hon. Gentleman has given an average figure over the whole country. He will know that rents vary considerably What has he to say about parts of the country where rents are higher or lower than that?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

It is the average throughout the country for cases where there are dependent children. The hon. Member is quite right. Rents in the London area and the South of England, generally speaking, will be above that average rent, and in Scotland will be substantially below it, but I think that it is fair to take the average figure.

The question on which there has been a certain amount of discussion has been the timing of these increases. Whatever date was suggested, I am sure that some hon. Members would have suggested that it should be a week or so earlier. But the position is this. Today, 13th July, this Motion is before the House. As I understand it, the Special Orders Committee of another place will consider the Regulations on 18th July, and we hope that another place will be prepared to approve them in perhaps the following week.

On the Business Statement on 5th July, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, I think, misunderstood the position—I am sure quite sincerely —when he said that I had rested my refusal to advance the date … entirely on the difficulty of getting them"— that is, the Regulations— through both Houses of Parliament."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th July, 1962; Vol. 662, c. 696.] In fact, if hon. Members will study my statement, they will see that while I referred to the proper conduct of parliamentary procedure, I did say that in my own view 24th September was socially a sensible date That is the view which I commend to the House. In the first place, it is a period between announcement and operation very much in the bracket of previous intervals.

The hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) was good enough to ask me a Question last Monday as to the interval between announcement and operation on five occasions which he had selected. The Answer, which turned out to be a Written Answer through no fault of his or mine, was 10, 8, 12, 12 and 22 weeks. On the present occasion it is almost precisely 12 weeks. That is the same as two out of the hon. Gentleman's five, longer than two and a good deal shorter than another.

It was, no doubt, owing to the well-known feeling of the hon. Member for Sowerby That a sorrow's crown of sorrow is remembering happier things that he did not include in his Question the time taken for the changes in 1951. Had he done so the period would have been 17 weeks. So we are very well within the normal practice.

More important is the fact that I think that the date is the right time of year. It is so much the common experience of Members who are interested in this matter that I shall not waste time in labouring the point. I shall simply state what I think we all accept. It is the onset of the colder weather which sharpens the pinch of need and, therefore, that is a good time when to give this additional provision.

The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) sought to make the point when I made my original statement that one should allow some time to enable the people concerned to buy more cheaply. As what we have been concerned about in particular have been fuel prices, I think the right hon. Gentleman misunderstood the matter. These National Assistance changes will come into operation on 24th September. The higher coal prices, I understand, do not operate until the beginning of November. I do not think that is a very big point because, in fact, one of the big difficulties in connection with fuel is that the people with whom we are concerned very often have nowhere to store it and, therefore, cannot take advantage of the summer prices but, in the case of those who can, I think we have met the right hon. Gentleman's point.

Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)

The right hon. Gentleman has told us that he believes that the new date is socially suitable and that it conforms with tradition and practice. Can he tell us whether it is literally impossible to advance the date?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Nothing, with a good Administration, is impossible, and, of course, we have a good Administration, as the hon. Gentleman knows. But I feel that the matter turns not on whether it is possible or impossible, but on whether it is right. I think that it is the right date, and I must commend that view to the House.

It is, of course, the date embodied in the Regulations, and to alter it at this stage would involve going through the whole procedure of new Regulations. It may be that for parliamentary reasons that would not be possible, but I do not rest my argument upon that—that would not be fair to the House. I rest it on my view that not only is this the normal interval, following as it does on the parliamentary timetable, but that this is socially the right time of year to make this improvement.

I am certainly not going to prophesy about prices. I have found that prophecy is a singularly unremunerative political exercise. If one gets it right, nobody remembers except oneself. If one gets it wrong, one does not lack kind friends to point it out. I am certainly not going to speculate as to whether or not the short-term difficulty over the price of potatoes and, to a lesser extent, of carrots will have an effect on the index figure for June. We shall all know that when it comes out.

However, the House may be interested to know how this presumably short-term factor has affected the position. The shortage of potatoes and, to some extent, of carrots has resulted in that particular category in the index in which they are included increasing by no less than 58 per cent., and I am advised that that very sharp increase in that limited category is responsible for about 2 per cent. of the 6 per cent. increase in the Index of Retail Prices since the current scales came into operation.

We have gone a long way in this process of development of National Assistance since the original scales of 24s. and 40s. came into operation under the Act introduced by the right hon. Member for Llanelly. He will probably have shared the pleasure of many of us in seeing not only the improvement in the scale rates themselves, but the very great development of the discretionary and welfare work of the Board, and in seeing the way in which the officers of the Board, and, in particular, the officers in local offices, have established themselves in public esteem as being both wise and sensible in their handling of their very difficult work.

We still hear, though very much less than we did, of reluctance of people who could get assistance to apply for it. One of the rather surprising results of a recent independent survey has been to demonstrate that while there are such people, certainly the great majority whose circumstances have been brought to light, who could draw assistance and do not, have been people who have not as a result been suffering hardship. They have been, in very large measure, people living with relations of working age, and, therefore, enjoying the higher standards of the working generation of today.

That is not to sayߞand I do not say it—that we should not continue in all proper cases to make it absolutely clear that there is no reason whatever why someone who is entitled to assistance and is in need should not draw it, and that there is absolutely no loss of self-esteem involved in exercising the rights which Parliament has given.

There are people who refer to these rights in a derogatory fashion as charity. That is, in all strictness, nonsense. What Parliament is at this moment engaged in doing is to lay down certain standards below which no one need fall, and if anyone is in need by those standards his application for assistance is not the acceptance of charity, but the exercise of a right. Indeed, it is rather curious that charity, in a way one of the most agreeable words in the language, has in this context become a matter of criticism and abuse. One of the loveliest passages in English literature, I think, is that wonderful thirteenth chapter of St. Paul's Epistle to the Corinthians on the virtues of charity. Indeed, there could be worse mottoes for a social security administration than the concluding words of that chapter: …. the greatest of these is charity.

11.40 a.m.

Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)

I thank the Minister for his careful and clear explanation of the draft Regulations before the House. If approved, these Regulations will bring some small relief to over 2½ million people—a very large number—all of whom benefit directly or indirectly from National Assistance allowances and who are by definition the poorest in the land. Among these 2½ million people must be the least happy members of our community. Many of them are desperately lonely and forsaken. Most of them lead drab, seedy and threadbare lives Let us be frank and admit that in our society today there is this large number of people who are denied a full share in the wider and fuller life which most of us are leading.

The National Assistance order book, discreetly nameless in these days, is embossed on the reverse side of the medal struck by Her Majesty's Government in 1959, not "For valour", not "For merit", "not "For long and faithful service", but For Affluence".

Who are these people? There are 1,800,000 households altogether receiving National Assistance covering, as I said, over 2½ million people, with wives and dependants. Over 300,000 children are in households assisted by the National Assistance Board. There are about 620,000 men, many of whom have dependent wives, and 1,226,000 women excluding dependent wives.

There are twice as many women as men receiving National Assistance in terms of households. Of the women, 842,000 are widows. Nearly 70 per cent. of all women on National Assistance are widows. Forty-five per cent. of all people on National Assistance are widows. The House does not need its imagination to be stirred to know what all that means in terms of bereavement, sorrow, loneliness and near-poverty. There are 84,000 separated wives, about 7,000 more than a year ago, I think. I suppose that this means that there are 84,000 defaulting husbands—matrimonial deserters, I suppose they could be called—from whom neither the courts nor the National Assistance Board, except in a very few cases, are able to recover any help given. There are 24,000 divorced wives, 8,000 of them with legitimate children. There are 26,000 mothers of illegitimate children who cannot be expected to work because they have the tie of a child or children at home.

That is an analysis of the 1¼ million women on National Assistance. No wonder that the National Assistance Act, 1948 stipulated that at least one member of the National Assistance Board should be a woman. Half its membership ought to be women. Then we might get some different proposals from them.

It seems to me that this large number of women, 1,226,000, on National Assistance represents to some extent the price of being in Britain a woman. I say frankly that, in my judgment, we in this country are still only half-civilised in our attitude to women. I shall not dwell on that topic, but the fact remains that the National Assistance Board has heavier responsibilities to women than to anyone else.

There are 56,000 blind persons who, the Minister told us, will benefit slightly more in terms of cash though no more in proportion to other beneficiaries.

How do all these people come to be on National Assistance? Seventy per cent. of them are receiving National Insurance benefits—sickness, unemployment, mostly retirement pensions—and they go to the National Assistance Board because their National Insurance benefits together with what slender resources they have do not meet their reasonable requirements. That is the measure of the inadequacy of National Insurance benefits to meet the needs of a very large number of people.

To a certain extent, it is a matter of age. Seventy-three per cent. of the men and 53 per cent. of the women are over 70. On the other hand, there are many receiving National Assistance who could not be regarded as old but who have gone to the National Assistance Board to supplement their retirement benefits. The other day, 1 said to a rally of old-age pensioners that I thought that it was about time they dropped the title "old-age pensioners". There are only about 100,000 genuine old-age pensioners in Britain today, and they are receiving the pension under the Old Age Pensions Act, 1936. Everyone else is a retirement pensioner after the pensionable age of 60 for women and 65 for men.

If only people would state their claim to reasonable retirement instead of dwelling so much on the problems of old age, they would, I believe, make a stronger and bigger claim on society. The average workman wants to be able to retire like the chemist, the grocer, the civil servant, the town clerk and all the other people who have reasonably adequate vocational pensions when they reach a reasonable retirement age. Retirement for many workers at the age prescribed under the National Insurance Scheme should be a time of new activity and fresh outlook, a time for doing things which people have wanted to do for years, for seeing many of the things they have not seen for years, a time for a different but a thoroughly enjoyable life. Our social security scheme promises this to them. They should have it. If they cannot get it from the National Insurance Scheme, they are entitled to get it from the National Assistance Board. Those who supplement their retirement benefits in this way are only getting what the National Insurance Scheme should do for them.

One-fifth of all retirement pensioners are on National Assistance. This proportion remains fairly steady now. It has continued for a long time, and there is nothing within sight to reduce that proportion materially. There are over 1 million retirement pensioners on National Assistance.

This is the picture. I find it disturbing. When one looks at the lives of the people we are discussing, it is moving. It is a reproach to all of us. There are 2 million people in this country being mocked today by all they see going on around them in our "candy-floss" society. There will be more spent on bingo this weekend than will be given to the National Assistance Board for these additional benefits. I think that the Government have a very grave responsibility for not keeping the mind of the public clearly fixed on the new social objectives which a developing society should be defining anew and on a higher level from time to time.

I come to what the Government propose to do, or I suppose that I should say what the National Assistance Board proposes to do, about these people. The Minister said that these proposals were initiated in the normal way under Section 6 of the 1948 Act by the National Assistance Board. It is true that this is the responsibility of the Board under 1948 Act, but I am very anxious to discover the truth about this. If the initiative rests with the Board, it is very strange that proposals to increase National Assistance scales should come a few months before a General Election, as has happened on several occasions.

Moreover, in 1959, the Minister said: The proposal to increase the scale rates is, unlike that on any previous occasion, not the result of, or necessitated by, changes in the cost of living. On the contrary, it embodies a proposal by the Government to raise the actual standards of Assistance and, therefore, to improve the standards of life of the recipients of Assistance."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th June, 1959; Vol. 607, c. 1216.] Apparently, the Government weigh in at times and say to the Board, "We have proposal to make" But the Board, under the Statute, is the body which makes the proposals to the Government.

Is this just a lot of formality, or is there any reality about this process? Is this thing real or a facade? We cannot question the National Assistance Board in the House. The Minister is frequently relying on the judgment of the Board in making proposals of this kind, but we are never quite sure that they are the proposals made by the Board. Under the Act, it has the right to make proposals to the Minister and the Minister has the right to amend them. He then has to notify the Board of his amendments and to ask for its comments, and the whole lot has to he presented to the House. But that has never happened.

It is not easy to discover what initiative has been taken and in what circumstances proposals to make increases have been made in past years. In 1955, the retail price index increased by 6.1 per cent. and a proposal to increase National Assistance scales by 6.7 per cent. was made. In 1956 there was a 5.1 per cent. increase in the retail price index and a 6.3 per cent. increase in National Assistance. In 1958 there was an 8.1 per cent. increase in the retail price index and a 13.5 per cent. increase in National Assistance. In 1959 there was a 6 per cent. increase in the retail price index and a 12 per cent. increase in National Assistance. In 1961 there was a 4.2 per cent. increase in the retail price index and a 5.8 per cent. increase in National Assistance. Now we have proposals to make an increase which just about tallies with the rise in the retail price index. It is difficult to understand how, in these varying conditions, the initiative came from the National Assistance Board.

I am not criticising the Board at all. I am asking for the truth if the truth can be told. There are three institutions in Britain which it is no longer fashionable to criticise in this House—the Crown, the Church and the National Assistance Board. I join with the Minister in paying tribute to the care and humanity of the administration of the Board. We all agree that it does its job very well. But I am probing the fundamentals of its statutory position, and, if they are not being fulfilled, would it not be better to have a different arrangement so that we knew with whom we were really dealing?

As the Minister explained, the draft Regulations propose to increase the scale rates by 5s. 6d for a married couple, from 90s. to 95s. 6d. exclusive of rent, and by 4s. for a single person, from 53s. 6d. to 57s. 6d. exclusive of rent. The Minister explained why a somewhat higher proportion is being given to single people. All the evidence seems to suggest that that is right. Research has been made by friends of ours who have published books on the subject, such as Mr. Tony Lynes, Mrs. Cole and Mr. Utting, which suggests that the single person has needs, especially with regard to fuel, which come much closer to the expenditure of a married couple. It is true that it is a fallacy to think that two can live as cheaply as one. Neither can one live on half as much as two. The expenditure of the single person who is a householder is, in proportion, higher.

The question is: are these increases enough? I do not know whether the National Assistance Board, the Minister or the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or all three in consultation, have decided that they are. The Minister referred to the large sum which the Chancellor was asked to find at this difficult time, but we do not know whether the Chancellor said, "Enough is enough and £20 million is as far as I am prepared to go." This is an important matter. If the neediest in the land think that they have the protection of the National Assistance Board when they have no such thing, the responsibility which the Board has for their care and welfare is a delusion if political intervention and political decisions are to determine need and how far individual requirements shall be satisfied.

On the question of adequacy, we have to begin a game of hunt the thimble, because, when we ask how a retired couple can live on a retirement pension of 92s. 6d., the reply of the Minister is that no one has to do so. It is said that those without sufficient additional resources can apply for National Assistance. When we ask how a retired couple can live on National Assistance of 90s., now to be 95s. 6d. exclusive of rent, the answer comes like a flash that no one has to do so. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary said in the debate on 13th March this year: The question is often asked whether anyone can be expected to live on the retirement pension of 57s. 6d. or on the National Assistance scale of 53s. 6d. The obvious answer is that no one is expected to, because there are other resources available."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th March, 1962; Vol. 655, c. 1161–2.] Stress is laid, and was laid by the Minister only a few moments ago, on additions made to the scale rates. This is where we get into a maze of uncertainty and complexity in finding out who gets what. When it comes to the discretionary additions for special needs, 51 per cent., more than half of all the beneficiaries, received discretionary additions in 1961 averaging just short of 8s. a week. About £20 million a year goes in bits and bobs—3s. a week here for laundry, 4s. a week there for help in the house, half-a-crown a week somewhere else for special diet.

Half of the people on National Assistance depend on the discretion of the officers of the National Assistance Board for the essentials of their domestic life. A woman may be unable any longer to do the washing. Possibly she has to do it on her knees, as was the case with one woman who wrote to me the other day to say that arthritis was crippling her and she had tried to do her washing but could do it only on her knees. When that person tells the National Assistance Board that she can no longer do her washing and needs something extra because it has to be sent out, the National Assistance Board officer comes and discusses whether she is on her knees and has to put out the washing, because he is entitled to give a discretionary allowance.

It is all very well for the Minister to say that this is not charity but is a right. Some things about National Assistance are rights, because on the satisfaction of the test of need a person is entitled to National Assistance. But are discretionary allowances rights? Who decides? It is the officer of the National Assistance Board, subject, of course, to the right of appeal. It is no good extolling the virtues of charity unless one understands the desperate desire of ordinary folk not to have it.

Members of this House cannot understand the passion of working folk, poor folk, for their independence. We all have it. They do not. Discretionary allowances for half the people on National Assistance take something away from their concept of right, even to National Assistance. We see how the poor are driven to sink their pride and lose their sense of independence. National Insurance is their right, but it is not enough. National Assistance is their right and if they do not have enough, they can get a discretionary allowance. Nearly a million people are getting it. In 10 years, the proportion of discretionary allowances has risen from 31 to 51 per cent.

That feature as well as others makes it difficult for us to know what we are really doing and what we are actually providing for the needs of families in particular circumstances. Will the new scale rates reduce the need for discretionary allowances or will the discretionary allowances be added to the new scale rates? Will the discretionary allowances rise in proportion to the scale rates? They seem to have done so up to now. Will that continue?

In the last ten years or so, the discretionary allowances have risen from an average of 3s. 6d. to an average of 7s. 11d., a percentage which is just about in line with the increase in the national scales themselves. It is very difficult for us to discuss the adequacy of proposed scale rates which apply without additions to only one-half of all those on National Assistance.

Other people get discretionary grants in the shape of capital sums for bedding, clothing and the like. Large sums go in that direction, too. Here, therefore, we have to come to the claim of those on National Assistance to their proper place in a society with rising living standards. It is cynical and cruel to tell people who are just clinging to life as they want to live it that their living standards have been doubled since 1948. It depends where one starts from. It depends upon what doubling does to one's standard of living and whether it is still reasonable in proportion to the standard of living of those around.

Very little makes sense about National Assistance or the new scales except the practical experience of living near the bottom. One can juggle with figures until the cows come home, but they just do not mean a thing to the people on National Assistance. One of the things lacking in all the evidence that we have from the National Assistance Board is a picture of how people on National Assistance actually live.

We are debating the new scales largely in the dark, because we do not have enough information of their full effect with all the embroideries of discretionary allowances and discretionary grants. We are not able to see the true picture of what life on National Assistance is like. One can take the scale rate, add an average discretionary allowance, add the rent, look at the figures and ask whether that is enough. The average discretionary allowance, however, is not a safe guide for looking at the circumstances of any hypothetical family, because we do not know what the discretionary allowance is in certain hypothetical circumstances.

We have a lot of information about averages, but we do not have a picture of how the family lives and what its income is from National Assistance. There are discretionary allowances and disregards where they apply, although they have been improved only once since 1948. All the disregards are too low if we look at the value of money as between 1948 and the present time.

To the devil with a great deal of this statistical information ! This House is entitled to have a fuller picture giving sample families and information which will tell us how these poor folk actually live. What do they have to eat? What about their fires in the winter, their clothing, their outgoings? Are they not entitled to any? What about their entertainment? Surely, they are entitled to some of that, too. This is the test of whether they are being left behind in their proper place in the community. When I say "proper place," we have to judge what is a reasonable standard of life by comparison with the general mass of the people. In our judgment, the amounts are still much too low to achieve this objective.

In 1960, when the Minister was last proposing the increases in National Assistance scales, we said from this side of the House that instead of 53s. a week, for a single person, we thought that the figure should be 60s. a week exclusive of rent and that for a married couple, the figure should be not 90s., but 100s. exclusive of rent. We think now that the figures should be 68s. for a single person exclusive of the rent, increases of 10s. 6d. and 11s. 6d., respectively; over the scales proposed. These scales would give to National Assistance beneficiaries what we believe to be a proportionate share in the rise in the national income.

In considering the question of proportion, we must concede that those at the bottom deserve a higher proportionate increase than those in the middle and at the top. They need to be lifted up and not merely kept in the same relative position as they have been. I know that the Minister improved their position in real terms in 1959, but he admits that what he is doing now is to maintain that advance and not to make any further advance.

I come now to the question of the operative date. The Minister has pointed out that the period of 12 weeks that will be necessary beforehand is just about in line with some, but not all, of the intervals on previous occasions. He could not resist a sneer at 1951, when it took 17 weeks to do the job. Has not organisation and methods improved in the last 11 years? Has not the Minister only just opened a computer at Newcastle without which the graduated pension scheme would have been physically impossible? We had not got that in 1951. We had hoped that modern methods, mechanisation and other devices for speed in operation could have reduced the period as the years went by.

In 1951, many Government Departments, and especially the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance and the National Assistance Board, were trying to keep themselves from falling apart under the great stress and strain of bringing in the greatest social change for so many years. But the Minister pleads, not so much that he cannot get it done more quickly, but that this is the right time. We join issue with him on that. The right time to introduce new National Assistance scales is as quickly as possible, and once the Minister has made up his mind, there should not be a moment's unnecessary delay in putting the new scales into operation.

Probably, it is the staffing of the National Assistance Board that is the difficulty. It cannot cope with these emergencies, and yet this is the ninth it has had, the seventh during this Government and the fifth during the period of office of this Minister. What has he been doing all this time not to prepare the Department to be able to do this job more quickly? The need, in so many cases, is so desperate that any delay increases the hardship of their lot. We ask the Minister, and, indeed, we press him very strongly, to knock a week or two weeks, if he can, off this period. We are not asking for impossibilities; we are not asking the staff to do more than their resources will enable them to do, but surely, this 12 weeks could be reduced to 10, or even to a shorter period still.

Finally, I believe that the introduction of the new Regulations draws the attention of the House once again to the fortuitous, and, probably in some circumstances, the capricious, way in which the needs of this large section of the community are dealt with. We are not certain lust how far the National Assistance Board discharges its statutory duty. We do not know what influences or pressures are brought to bear either way, and I think it is desirable that there should be reassurances about the position of the National Assistance Board and its capacity to discharge its statutory functions. It should not lend itself to any political manoeuvres or electoral strategy, or any other kind of wickedness. It must be pure in heart and steadfast in purpose, and defy the Government if necessary. That is what is meant by the discharge of its statutory duties.

But National Assistance, on the present massive scale, is a long way from the safety net of the Beveridge Plan's conception of the role of National Assistance in a social security scheme. As I have shown, the bulk of the people who are getting National Assistance are those who are National Insurance beneficiaries, and the root cause of the trouble is that the National Insurance benefits are too low. The graduated scheme in the long-distant future will help, but the short-term problem is that of the millions on the flat-rate allowances which need supplementation so extensively to give a reasonable standard of living, and even these are below the standard which we thought they ought to have. We admit that the flat-rate pension will have to be raised by a considerable amount if it is to make a big hole in the numbers now getting National Assistance.

A new approach to the whole concept of a combination of National Insurance and the supplementation of benefits is long overdue. We have in our society this fundamental objection to a means test, but we have nothing like the same Objection to a means test to pay, and perhaps one day it will be possible to devise a means test, so far as one may be needed, to enable some people to pay and some to receive. Certainly, the meticulous administration of National Assistance on the present scale is exposing far too many people to an experience which they dislike.

I am sorry to say that, although we welcome these new Regulations for what they do, we do not think that they go far enough. We do not believe that the Ministry will apply them quickly enough, and we, think that the Government have missed an opportunity of making a new and significant advance in the standards of people who are the neediest and poorest in the land.

12.15 p.m.

Lord Balniel (Hertford)

I do not wish to detain the House more than a few moments, because I realise that many other hon. Members wish to take part in this fairly short debate, but I am glad to have this opportunity of following the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), whose knowledge of this subject is very considerable, and to whose speeches we always listen with great interest.

I must confess that on this occasion I was surprised by the content of the hon. Gentleman's speech. We have an occasion for debating the increase in the National Assistance scales, and the hon. Gentleman has taken this opportunity to make what I can only refer to as a slashing attack on the discretionary allowances, which have always seemed to me to be a most flexible and most humane method of providing additional help to those with precise and specific problems.

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has thought fit to attack this particular element in the National Assistance system, and also that, having given us a whole welter of statistics to begin with in his speech, and then declaring that he wished to throw to the devil the whole statistical picture, he went on to refer to the fact that in saying that the National Assistance scales had doubled the standard of life for the persons affected by them we were being cruel and cynical. How can we possibly discuss the matter unless we refer to what has been achieved in the past statistically, and what has been proposed by my right hon. Friend?

We all accept the fact that when we are discussing members of the poorest section of our community we are discussing something emotional, but every one of us in the House knows that we cannot discuss this purely in terms of emotion, but must do so in terms of statistics as well. Far from tasting what I can only describe as the sour grapes from Sowerby, I can only think that the great mass of the population, and certainly many hon. Members, would like to extend to my right hon. Friend warm congratulations in that, at a time when economic difficulties are making substantial expenditure on the social services difficult, he has obtained for the National Assistance system an additional sum of £20 million.

I, for my part, would like to welcome this as being part of our consistent and coherent policy of assisting those in the greatest need in the community. I welcome this, the seventh, occasion on which in the lifetime of the Conservative Government, because of increased prosperity, we have found it possible to do this.

Whatever yardstick one takes, it seems to me that a substantial improvement in the standard of life of the poorest has been achieved. If, for instance, we take a comparison with the 1948 scales, we see that since then the cost-of-living index, a fairly general reflection of costs in the country, has increased by 70 per cent., and that the proposals of my right hon. Friend have increased the National Assistance scales for a single person by 139½ per cent. and for a married couple by 139 per cent. I do not claim to be a mathematician, but that is doubling the standard of life of the people affected.

Let us take the additional assistance. If we relate it to the April, 1961, figures, we find that since then, the cost of living has increased by 6 per cent.—and by that much the National Assistance scales have been eroded—and that this additional help to these people will mean compensating both the married couple and the single person for the loss through the lower value of those scales.[HON. MEMBERS: "No".] It does. For the married person it increases it slightly—not only maintains but slightly improves the value; for the single person it is a quite substantial improvement.

Mr. A. Evans

Is the noble Lord really saying that on 90s. for a man and wife, and a 6 per cent. increase in the cost of living, the additional 5s. 6d. more than compensates for the increased cost of living? If he is saying that, is it not really only a small fraction?

Lord Balniel

Whether I am dealing with a small fraction or a large fraction, my statement is absolutely correct. If my right hon. Friend wishes to correct me at the end of the debate no doubt he will do so, but I have no intention of withdrawing what I believe to be a perfectly correct statement.

If we take a totally different yardstick, if we see that subsistence is not something which is static but is something which is valuable, something which should reflect the general wealth of the country, then, even by that standard, we see that since 1951 average industrial earnings have increased by 85 per cent. and that National Assistance scales have increased by 90 per cent. This brings me to the first point which I should like to make.

The old concept of poverty, of a bare minimum subsistence scale, somewhat but only slightly above starvation level, is, of course, not acceptable in a community such as ours, where standards are rising, and it is borne out by the fact that National Assistance scales have increased by roughly the same rate as average industrial earnings. It is also borne out by a different set of figures.

It is borne out by the fact that if one looks at National Assistance scales as a percentage of average industrial earnings in this country a quite remarkably consistent picture emerges. I am, I admit, being slightly selective in the figures which I am about to give to the House, but it is surely a remarkable fact that in 1948 National Assistance scale rates formed 17.9 per cent. of average weekly earnings in the country; in June, 1950, they formed 17.8 per cent.; in April, 1952, they formed 17.3 per cent.; in October, 1954, they formed 17.1 per cent.; in January, 1958, they formed 17.9 per cent.; in April, 1960, 17.2 per cent.; and in April, 1961—the last increase—17.8 per cent. One sees here, surely, a picture of remarkable consistency, that National Assistance scales, as a proportion of average industrial earnings, have remained absolutely steady.

Mr. R. H. S. Crossman (Coventry, East)

I accept those figures completely, but could one not put them another way? What this means is that for this long period the very poor have remained precisely as poor, but nothing has been done in all that period to narrow the gap between miserable poverty and the average standard of living. Is that not the fair way to put the statistics and to see what they mean?

Lord Balniel

As the general wealth of the country has gone up, as the general prosperity of industrial workers has gone up, National Assistance scale rates have fully maintained the increased prosperity which has been felt by industry.

Mr. Crossman

The gap remains the same.

Lord Balniel

Of course —ߞ

Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

Why "Of course"?

Lord Balniel

Of course the percentage remains the same.

Mr. Foot

Why should it?

Lord Balniel

The point I wish to make is this. If this is the picture as I have shown it which has emerged during this long period of time since the war, it seems to me logical that at least once again we should reconsider the desirability of locking National Assistance scale rates on to average industrial earnings.

I know that there are some very strong arguments against this. There is, of course, the argument that it tends to be inflationary, to lock subsistence expenditure on to average industrial earnings, or to lock it on to the Index of Retail Prices in an inflationary era of time. It does of itself tend to be inflationary, but I cannot forbear to note that in Germany, where for a long time they have escaped inflation, although they are now, to some extent, suffering as we have done, pensions are locked on to average industrial earnings.

It does mean that we are recognising once and for all that subsistence is not a static level, that subsistence is something related to the general wealth of the country, and as the frontiers of prosperity advance it means that automatically the frontiers of minimum standards in the country are also advanced.

The only other point which I wish to make is that the improving standard of life in the country, the very virtue of the fact that many people are being taken off subsistence levels, means that an ever-decreasing number of people do not see the gaps in our social services. If they no longer feel the shoe pinching they do not easily see where it pinches other people. Many readers, for instance, of the Observer, and its series of articles called "Gaps in the Social Services", many readers whose normal diet is the glossy magazines, not social surveys, must have been very surprised to read of the poverty which still exists in our community.

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Sowerby himself referred to the fact that so many old people were living on the minimum level, and, of course, we all recognise that the greatest degree of hardship exists amongst the older section of our community. I saw recently in an article in the Social Service Quarterly for the summer of this year a point which, I believe, is too frequently forgotten. Naturally, the hon. Gentleman referred to the pension. Of course, when talking to pensioners, to old people, one finds that the pension is foremost in their minds, but I think that this point is important: Pensions may be too low, but better pensions by themselves will not buy the kind of help that old people need, such as nursing at home and help in the house. There are too few nurses and two few home helps. In a totally non-political capacity I have opened a very considerable number of local authority old people's housing schemes, and, of course, the main topic when talking to those people is pensions, but home helps, nursing in the house, and, above all, loneliness are very major topics of conversation, and I wonder whether we could, through the National Assistance Board, take further steps to improve the position in this way. My right hon. Friend's Department has an extremely elaborate and extremely successful system of visiting war widows. This visiting is undertaken with the utmost discretion, and is widely appreciated by the persons concerned.

The Assistance Board, also, has got its own welfare officers, and I should like to see whether money can be made available for a considerable development of welfare visiting by the Board. I should like to see the Board do this not only by itself, but in conjunction with the voluntary organisations. I should like to see the Board's welfare officers intermingling their work with that of the voluntary organisations, and the use, for instance, of the Council of Social Service as a bridge to bring together the statutory authorities and the voluntary organisations.

Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I should like to see an extension of the discretionary allowances. I should like to see a considerable extension of the discretionary allowances for domestic help. Of the million old people who are living on National Assistance I see that only 159,000 get discretionary allowances for domestic help. It would be an economy to the country, it would save old people from going into Part III accommodation, save them from having to go to geriatric units of hospitals, and save the building of new old people's houses, if they could get additional help for domestic help in their own homes. Also, I believe that it would be a humane thing to do, because most old people wish to continue living in their own home.

As a final point, could my right hon. Friend look once again at the system of refunding prescription charges for old people? I know that it is not entirely his responsibility—the major responsibility rests in the hands of the Minister of Health—but I believe that I express a view which is widely felt in the country when I say that, although great efforts have been made to make it administratively convenient, the system is not entirely convenient for the old people themselves. If my right hon. Friend, in conjunction with the Minister of Health, can look yet again at this, I am sure that it would be widely appreciated in the House.

I end as I began, by welcoming the increase, which will do much not only to maintain but to improve the standard of life of the poorest section of our community.

12.30 p.m.

Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)

I venture to intervene in the debate not only because of my general interest in and my experience of the problem that we are discussing, but also because I felt that I should like to remind the House that we are meeting in July, which has been and remains a very important month in the development of our system of social insurance and social services in general.

Yesterday—12th July, 1962—was the 50th anniversary of the coming into operation of the first National Insurance Act. I join the Minister in paying tribute to those who pioneered that first effort and who, with the consent of the House—although there was a good deal of argument—brought into operation our social services upon an insurance basis. That was a formative decade for our social services. It was marked by the publication of the Report of the Royal Commission on the Poor Law and by the important minority Report written by the Webbs. It was one of the most important social documents in the history of our country. The first Act was associated with the name of my compatriot, David Lloyd George.

No doubt when those concerned began this task of building up our system of social services they believed they had found the answer and thought that by the development of the insurance system, with contributions from the workers, the employers and the State, they would be able to provide insurance benefits as of right to cover the needs of all those suffering the major adversities of life. That is, indeed, the spirit which has animated many Acts of Parliament passed by the House since. I wonder what those people would think if they came to our debate today and found that we were approving Regulations—as I am sure we shall do—which will be used to supplement National Insurance benefits.

I turn to another anniversary. It was on 5th July, 1948–15 years ago—that the National Assistance Act came into operation. It did not come into operation on its own as something separate and apart. Not only that Act came into operation in 1948. There were also the National Insurance Act, the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act, and the National Health Service Act. I pay tribute to the memory, which is still green with us, of Aneurin Bevan who brought in the National Health Service Act.

I venture shortly to develop this theme of the debate today. We are not going to divide on the Regulations, and I do not intend to discuss the merits, the time, and so on. I want to set matters out as I remember them. The hopes that we had in 1948 have not been realised and our intentions have not been fulfilled. The National Assistance Act was not regarded as a part of the National Insurance Scheme. It was intended to replace the old Poor Law. The House must remember that. Indeed, it was our hope and intention—however much we have failed—that, building on the principle of subsistence embodied in the Beveridge Report, we should be able to provide out of an insurance fund benefits as of right to cover the major contingencies of life and retirement. What I wish to point out to all of us is that we have failed.

There is on page 9 of the Report of the National Assistance Board a table and a very graphic diagram. There hon. Members will find the break-up of the 70 per cent. of the money we vote today and how it will be used to supplement National. Insurance benefits. All the major benefits provided by our National Insurance schemes—both the National Insurance Act scheme and the National Insurance(Industrial Injuries) Act scheme—will have to be supplemented. Retirement pensions, widows' pensions, sickness benefits, industrial injury benefits, unemployment benefits—every single one of these major weekly benefits provided under the Acts have to be supplemented. That is a measure of our failure. That is not what we intended to do, but that is the position we have now reached.

There is one thing in particular that I wish to mention, and I should like the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary to give me an answer to it. I am disturbed about all these things, and if I mention merely one in particular, I hope that what I have said already will be borne in mind. I understand that some workmen injured and incapacitated in the course of their employment who draw benefit under the National Insurance(Industrial Injuries) Act are receiving supplementation. How many we do not know. We are told that 7.3 per cent. of those in receipt of sickness benefit and industrial injuries benefit—both link up in this Report—are receiving supplement. Can the Minister tell me —it is rather important—what the actual percentage of industrial injury is?

The other day the Minister told the House that the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act was so successful that he proposed to reduce the contribution. I thought it was a very great mistake, and I regretted that he did it. The surplus should have been used to increase the benefits. It was wrong of him to reduce the contributions because there was so much in the Fund and at the same time report to us that there are some people coming under the Act who still have to obtain supplement from National Assistance because the industrial injury benefit is not enough.

As I do not wish to stand in the way of other hon. Members who wish to speak I will not develop the matter further today. There are, however, one or two other things I wish to say.

First, is it now the settled policy of the Government and the House that the National Assistance Act and the allowances made by the National Assistance Board are to be regarded as an essential part of our insurance scheme? This is a very important question. We ought to face the fact that seven-tenths of the work of the Board at present is work that we never intended it to do. There was no intention that 70 per cent. of its work should be concerned with supplementing the National Insurance Act. Is that to continue in the future?

The other day the Minister sent me a very interesting document, entitled "Everybody's Guide to National Insurance in 1961". Greatly daring, I have glanced into the future. I ascertained from this guide what is in store for retirement pensioners under the new combined schemes of National Insurance on the flat rate and the graduated pensions scheme.

I find that a man who, in April, 1961, was 40 years old, with regular earnings of £12 a week, will, under the present scale, get a total pension of £5 4s. on reaching the age of 65 in 1986. I assume that calculation is correct. Yet today, by these Regulations, his total pension, if he were to retire at age 65, would be £6 3s. This means that, unless we do something, National Assistance will still be required in 1986 to supplement the pensions then in existence.

I have discussed this matter with my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) and others, and we are finding this a problem, but I suggest to my right hon. and hon. Friends who are now closer to the usual channels than I am that we should have a debate on this matter in the not-too-distant future. Indeed, it would be appropriate to have such a debate this year if only to pay joint tribute to those who began this insurance system 50 years ago.

I want now to pay tribute to the Chairman and members of the National Assistance Board and to its officers and in what I am saying I am not attacking them. But I believe that it is right to point out that so long as this supplementation is necessary it should be taken out of the hands of the Board and transferred to the Ministry. I have said that before and I shall not develop the point now, but I discussed it with members of my party when, at one time, we were trying to frame new suggestions about the National Insurance structure. I believe that it would be the best answer to the problem—which, quite rightly, still worries the Minister and all of us—that even now, 14 years after the establishment of the Board, we have been unable to take away from it some- thing of what was associated with the old Poor Law.

The Minister made reference to letters in The Times. We in this country have always been and always will be deeply indebted to the men and women of great gifts who give their time to studying these problems, conducting research into them and presenting us their findings. I myself am deeply indebted to Professor Titmuss and his team.

Recently I read an essay in a book with the general title of Conviction. It was written by one of his able young assistants, Peter Townshend. I was startled to read that as a result of his investigations he thought that there were 7 million to 8 million people in this country living precariously close to the margin of poverty. Is this true? When I read the Report of the National Assistance Board, I found in it something which seemed to indicate that perhaps he was not wide of the mark.

There is a very interesting revelation on pages 18 and 19 of the Report. It may cover a narrow sector of the population but I believe that its conclusion applies much more widely. It concerns the resources of those who seek assistance. It says that of the 1,056,000 pensioners receiving assistance, only 108,000–10 per cent—own their own houses. We have heard about the property-owning democracy. This generation to which I belong, and which is now 65 years' old and more, was caught up in 1914. Its middle years were clouded by the 1930s. Then it stood up to another war and for the first time has enjoyed something like full employment since 1945. Yet, at the end of all this, only one in ten is a house-owner.

There are other figures which are even more significant. The Report mentions capital resources. We are told that out of 650,000 cases with capital resources—which means that only half of those applying for assistance have accountable capital resources—more than half, totalling 344,000, had less than £100, including War Savings. Those regarded as having no capital resources which can be taken into account have £75 or less, and it is stated that five out of six of those with capital resources had less than £400.

That is their position at the end of a long life. These are the men and women of my generation and I believe, therefore, that it is essential that, looking back to the beginning 50 years ago, to the other step, with which I was privileged to be associated, 14 years ago, and approving these scales today, we must realise that we have a long way to go still before we conquer poverty in this country.

I join with the Minister in trying to encourage all those who need this assistance to come forward. But we must realise that there are people we miss, people who will not come. We have not yet solved that problem and we are a long way from doing so. We must find some other way than the present system, for I do not believe that we shall ever solve it with the present older generation. It is a generation nurtured in a different atmosphere from that of our present society, and I do not believe that these elderly men and women are any the worse for it. Indeed, I happen to think that they axe better. There was such a thing as pride and that is the last thing that we ought to try to take from them.

Many of them will not go to the National Assistance Board. I do not think that we should simply leave the matter there. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will devote his attention to haw to overcome this problem. Many will not come, but there are others who do not even know about the National Assistance Board. The publicity is not all that it should be.

Lord Balniel

Hear, hear.

Mr. Griffiths

I am glad that the noble Lord agrees. There are people who are missed, people who are unknown, partly because of changes in society, although that is less true in villages than it is in big towns. At one time, the best way of finding out about people and getting to know them was through the churches. But that is not true now. We now rely on the voluntary organisations, which may be doing very good work.

I should like the Minister to consider the whole position very carefully with his local advisory committees, with the voluntary organisations, and with the local government bodies, which under the National Assistance Act have very important tasks to perform. They perform admirable work, although perhaps all of them do so inadequately, but that is because their financial resources do not allow them to do any better. On the whole, the old people's homes are places to be proud of now, especially when it is remembered that only 20 or 30 years ago there was only the workhouse left.

However, there are still the forgotten people, the people we miss. As we approve the Regulations today, let us think of them. We shall vote for these Regulations today. However, I hope that the Minister even now can advance the date. He knows that this could be done in a month. He himself praised his organisation. I am glad to know that it is so good. Let him bring forward the time.

When we have approved these Regulations, I hope that none of us goes home thinking, "That is all right. We have done everything now." There is still a very wide field left to be conquered. I hope that before long we shall have a full opportunity in the House to discuss the full implications of what I have sought to bring before the House, namely, that after 50 years of insurance we have not yet found a way of providing benefits as of right, which I assume is still our policy, just as I assume that it is the Government's policy and just as I assume that it is the policy of the Conservative Party. If it is not so, it should be so. If it is our policy to provide benefits as of right, either by flat rate or by graduated contributions, and if five years or ten years from now with the best graduated scheme we cannot provide benefits to cover all the contingencies, we owe it to these unfortunate people, to ourselves and to the country at large to find a better way.

When this most desirable object is achieved, the Board, with all its experience, ability and sympathetic administration, can be released to tackle the problem which it was designed to deal with, but to which at present it can devote only 20 per cent. of its attentions. I refer to the problem of looking after those who fall clean outside any Insurance Act. Those are the people for whom the Board was intended to cater. I hope that a way will be found to take all this other work off the Board's hands in the not too distant future.

I repeat, because I think that it is vitally important, that after we have approved these Regulations I hope that we shall have an opportunity in the House to discuss very quickly the implications of what I have brought before the House this morning.

12.53 p.m.

Mr. Percy Browne (Torrington)

I recollect that the last time I followed the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) was when I made my maiden speech. Such were my nerves at the time that I wondered whether I should be able to pronounce "Llanelly" correctly. The right hon. Gentleman made an extremely interesting general speech today. I wish to follow his points a little later.

To begin with, I want to take up one point made by the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton). He asked where the initiative comes from for the changes in scale rates for National Assistance. Surely the initiative must come from the Government. It is a political decision. As I understand, the Minister puts before the National Insurance Advisory Council recommendations which the Council considers and on which it advises the Minister. I should have thought that in a straightforward case in relation to scale rate increases the answer will always be in the affirmative.

My right hon. Friend did it recently for me concerning credits for seasonal workers. I should like to take this opportunity of thanking my right hon. Friend for what he did not that occasion. I know that the Order was made first then. It was then put before N.I.A.C., which approved it, and the Order became effective. It is right that this sort of thing should be a political decision, because this is the first time that the Government have voluntarily untied the purse strings since stringencies started. It is right that when they do so the first thing they should do is to enable those who wish to take the opportunity of it to draw an increase from new higher scale rates.

I join the right hon. Member for Llanelly and the Minister in saying that it is the duty of all of us, although we recognise the pride which many people feel and understand their dislike of National Assistance, to stress that these scales are there as of right and that they are a supplementary pension, which is what we now call them.

I want to make some remarks in relation to those in retirement who are drawing Assistance and are, therefore, also eligible for retirement pension. I do not think that we can divorce the two. I think that they are intertwined. I have no time for the Socialist Party's attitude that benefits must be increased irrespective of whether the money is there. I have no time for the Liberal Party's idea that National Insurance benefits should be increased as the cost of living goes up. In fact, the pension would be worth less than it is today if that had been done over the last ten years.

Nevertheless, one can question these increases in the scale rates from the Conservative point of view. I do not think that the Government are being consistent here. We say, on the one hand, "Let everybody save more". We boast, and rightly boast, that people are saving more. However, the inconsistency is that, when we increase scale rates, we do not at the same time increase disregards for unearned income or other forms of pension which are the result of saving. We therefore leave out from the increase in scale rates many people who are equally affected by the increase in the cost of living.

The Minister has said that the increases he is now recommending to the House are to hold and secure the position we had already reached. If this is so, it follows that the small savers of whom I am speaking, who have more than 14s. a week of unearned income, which is the total they can get today, or 30s. for an outside pension, have equally had their income eroded by the increase in the cost of living and are equally entitled to have it made up—to have their position held and secured.

Further, it is just those people who have pride, who have done their best to save for their old age, who are the last people to go for National Assistance. No stigma necessarily attaches to those who have not saved for their old age. As the right hon. Member for Llanelly said, and as I have said before, many of them have looked after relatives. The working lives of many of them were spent in the 1930s, with the very high unemployment figures, and when they could not save.

There is the erosion of income of those who have saved. There is the low figure of disregards for unearned income as a result of savings. There are the low disregards for outside supplementary pensions, which is another way of saving. There is at the same time the stigma which, much as we may regret it, we must recognise attaches to National Assistance and, in particular, attaches to National Assistance in the minds of those who have saved.

This is why I suggested in the debate on 13th March—I accept that this will be laughed at now, as it was then—that it would be a good thing for an outside body of experts, such as the people the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, to look at the whole set-up of our National Insurance and National Assistance, and the way in which we work these two forms of benefit, to see whether a scheme can be devised to ensure that the people of whom I have spoken hold their position and, if possible, receive increased benefits.

I said to my right hon. Friend then that I thought that there should be an independent committee and that he should be in a position to come to the House before the autumn and announce an increase in the basic pension. I accept that that is not now possible. I accept that at a time of financial stringency the best thing that the Government can do at the moment is to steady the cost of living and, if possible, bring it down.

I make these secondary suggestions to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, who is to wind up the debate. The first thing that should be done is to raise the disregards for unearned income for those who have saved. Secondly, in spite of the Answer which my right hon. Friend gave at Question Time last week, I think that the supplementary pensions should be included in the ordinary National Insurance benefit book for the drawing of pensions.

I, like the right hon. Member for Llanelly, live in a village and I am sure that he will agree that it is much harder for people who live in isolated districts to swallow their pride and go to the post office with two books. I believe that if these two things could be done and that if the Parliamentary Secretary, with her good looks and charm, would go on to television and tell everyone, "Here is a supplementary pension. It is yours as of right. We have increased the benefits. We have increased the disregards. You have as much right to it as you have to your basic pension. Please draw it," we might well bring into the net many people who are at the moment outside it.

1.1 p.m.

Mr. R. H. S. Crossman (Coventry, East)

I should like to follow on what has been said by the hon. Member for Torrington (Mr. P. Browne), with whom I found myself on certain points surprisingly in agreement, in trying to think out the new approach. It is very encouraging to observe that this debate is being used to challenge, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) did so movingly, the question of whether or not our present system is achieving, the aim that it set itself. It is striking that proof is coming from both sides of the House that we have to think out this thing anew and ask ourselves about this whole question of subsistence.

I agree with my right hon. Friend that National Assistance was designed as a safety net for a very few people. What happens if we take a safety measure of this kind, a precautionary basic national minimum, and use it for supplementation? I suggest that the inevitable happens and that we get a level which is well below what it ought to be for old-age pensions. We get a level which tends to be somewhat above what we need to provide for the basic national minimum. We drag down the level of the average old-age pensioner because of slightly increasing the level of those we are trying to assist, because they fall outside. Therefore, so long as we use, misuse, or abuse National Assistance in this way, we are bound to get a rate which fails to fulfil its purpose of supplementation while slightly over-fulfilling the requirements of the national minimum below.

This brings me to answer the noble Lord the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) on the question of discretionary allowances. If it is a genuine National Assistance as we designed it for these difficult cases, discretionary allowances are completely justified. This is the type of person we take case by case and say, "We will treat each of these difficult cases on its merits and give it a discretionary allowance". The old people have the right to a certain amount of money each week to spend. It is not for us to go along to each one of them and to say, "You need a blanket", or "You need something else". This is not the way to do it if we are providing a pension for millions of people. Therefore, I do not think that it is at all wise to think in terms of dealing with the major problem of the old-age pensioner, who, through no fault of his own, has an inadequate pension, by providing discretionary allowances and applying the concept of charity or some specialised attention. The pensioner should have this money as of right—a certain standard of living and a certain amount of money which he knows that he will get every week.

I want to put another thought on this question of how we are departing from the original intent. The hon. Member for Torrington said that we all know that it is the Minister who fixes the National Assistance rate. This was certainly not the original intention of the Act. He may find it difficult to believe, but this was thought of as an independent body which would, incidentally, take this problem out of politics. My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly will support me in my view that when he instituted the Act he believed that the Chairman of the National Assistance Board and its members would independently assess the amount required.

Mr. J. Griffiths

My hon. Friend is quite right. What we were doing was not creating out of the blue a new service; we were creating a new machinery to operate what had been the old Poor Law.

Mr. Crossman

But it was the original intention that these two things should not both be determined by the Minister. If that has now become a legend, as clearly it has, and if the Minister fixes both, then this business of fixing the National Assistance scale in one year and leaving the pensions unchanged, and then altering the pension in another year, is quite ridiculous. If this is a single act by the Minister, then for heaven's sake let us drop this pretence.

I remember making a speech earlier on this subject, when we were thinking about the new scheme, and pointing out the great sacrifice involved in the new form of National Assistance—the sacrifice of local responsibility. Whatever one thinks about the old-fashioned public assistance, there was local responsibility. The first body on which I ever served was a public assistance Committee. In such a committee at least one knew that one was responsible for dealing with the poverty in one's city. This local responsibility has been removed. No one is responsible except the officials—and, of course, ourselves; and in a way we are not responsible because we devolve our responsibility on the board, except occasionally when——

Mr. A. E. Hunter (Feltham)

I served on a board of guardians from 1925 to 1930 and I served on a public assistance committee. I say definitely that the National Assistance Board is far better than those authorities.

Mr. Crossman

I do not deny that. I am making a point which I hope my hon. Friend appreciates, which is that we have an improvement in administration but at the cost of a reduction in local responsibility. We transferred responsibility to this House. We are the only elected representatives who are responsible for looking into the administration of the Board.

This brings me to my central point, which is to reinforce the argument that if we are responsible we must be allowed to know. The amount of information given about the actual conditions of the people for whom the Board provides its services is in many ways inadequate. If we are to do our job of seeing that they are looked after, then there is a great deal more information which should be put to the House than is put in the Report. I have a whole list put down by the gentlemen of whom the Minister spoke so scornfully, the academics who are perhaps in the best position to know the information which is required. They have a long list of information which they think is vital to any objective person who wishes to reach an opinian—information which is not here provided. I do not want to go back to the old system, but if we have a centralised system in which we are responsible, then in order to do our job we, the elected representatives, must be provided by the Ministry with the requisite information.

I think that the Minister's remarks about Professor Titmuss and his friends were a little unfortunate. To try to discredit the most distinguished group of people we have in this field, who are known all over the world, is a little unworthy of him. Professor Titmuss is far better known all over the world for what he has done in these matters than is the Minister, although the latter has been a long time at the job. I resented the way in which he talked about Professor Titmuss and his friends.

As a result of this artificial separation we have these two separate timings. Here we have the National Assistance rates dealt with by themselves. I am rather cynical about these timings, for I observe that they always have political significance. I can always tell when an election is coming by the timing of the increases in the National Assistance rates or the pensions increases or both. This time I can predict with some certainty that there will be a pensions and National Assistance rates increase simultaneously and that when it comes we shall know that the election is some months ahead.

I repeat to the Minister something which I have said to him before: it is odious that the decision on how much our old people should have is made in this kind of political way. We on this side of the House have for years tried to persuade the Minister to take this issue out of politics by at least making automatic the increases which are required to prevent the pensioner from being swindled of the standard of living promised him last time. We all know that in the past month or two, on the Minister's own figures, the spending power of the pension has been 3s. below what he offered the pensioner when he last raised the pension, and it will stay below until September.

Mr. Ross

The Minister told me this week that the figure was 6s. 7d.

Mr. Crossman

That is for the married couple, whereas I was talking about the single man. But the fact is—no doubt the figure has increased gradually—that the married couple have for months past had 6s. less than the Minister said they should have when he gave the last increase. He has now extended the period over which they will be denied this money until the end of September. All this happens because we do not work out a formula whereby automatically year by year we give at least the sum which will prevent the standard of the National Assistance rate or the pension rate from being reduced in any way.

In reply to the noble Lord the Member for Hertford, I would say that this is only half the job; this is preventing the standard from being lowered. I want then to go forward and to ensure that the old people get a higher proportion of the national income than they have now. I want them to have what they deserve, but that is the second job. At least let us see that they are not swindled of what they were promised by the Minister when he gave his increase. That can be done by automatically relating the payment either to the cost of living or to the national wages level. All that we insist is that it should be done, and then this kind of debate and political huckstering should he rendered unnecessary, and to that extent we should have taken the pension out of politics.

Finally, I wish to follow up what my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly said so movingly. We have to face it—and we on this side of the House do face it: if we see the choice merely between a flat-rate increase in the old-age pension and an increase in the National Assistance rate, we are not likely to reach a solution. Frankly, we cannot afford as a country to increase the flat-rate old-age pension by a sufficient amount to take out of poverty the old people who are now on National Assistance supplementation without giving vast sums of money to people who do not need it.

This is a growing problem year by year as private superannuation schemes bring more and more people into a position in which they can regard the National Insurance Pension as a supplement to their main pension. As the two nations grow more and more sharply divided, it becomes clearer and clearer that a mere flat-rate increase of the old-age pension is something which no Government can do at a level which would help the people who need without bankrupting the country.

As my right hon. Friend said, on the other hand, the view which the Government take that they can resolve this problem by humanising the present form of National Assistance and seeing that the pension is supplemented through National Assistance simply will not work with the psychology of our people as it is today and as it will remain. Obviously we have to have a form of net underneath which we deal with the difficult cases, but that kind of net is bound to have a stigma attached to it. One cannot help it, however well it is administered. That kind of emergency service is totally unsuitable for dealing with the question of supplementing the pension of people who are not members of private schemes. We must think again in order to find a way of guaranteeing that the income of the old-age pensioner reaches a fairly high level without guaranteeing the money to those who do not need it.

Mr. P. Browne

I have put exactly this point forward in the House several times, as a number of hon. Members present will recall, and always I have been confronted with this point: this will involve a means test. Would the hon. Gentleman comment on that?

Mr. Crossman

I might be tempted to do so, but I know that other hon. Members wish to speak. I want to back up what my right hon. Friend said. We must think this problem out. We must urge that the Government and the Ministry should think it out. It is no good coming to us once again and saying that we can do it through National Assistance, when everybody knows that we cannot.

1.17 p.m.

Mr. Eric Johnson (Manchester, Blackley)

It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Grossman) and also the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths). It was a great pleasure to listen to the right hon. Gentleman's speech. What a pity that there were not more hon. Members on both sides of the House to hear it. We miss hearing his voice as frequently as we used to hear it—and I am sure that every hon. Member on both sides of the House agrees with that comment. He made a most moving speech, backed by the vast amount of knowledge which we all know he has. I enjoyed hearing him, and I am sure that nearly all hon. Members present agreed with nearly all that he said.

I was in full agreement with most of what was said by the hon. Member for Coventry, East, particularly his closing remarks on the question of the flat-rate pension and the need for thinking out a new way far dealing with this problem. My remarks will be very brief and at a more humble level. I do not believe that I have ever before spoken in a debate on pensions, except perhaps on the matter of war pensions and public service pensions on private Members' Motions.

I very much welcome this increase in the National Assistance rates, largely because the amount of money which is available is being given to people who are badly off, and it seems to me very much more importantߞwon the lines of what the hon. Member for Coventry, East saidߞto use that money to meet the needs of those who are worst off than to give a flat-rate increase which is bound to include many people who do not need it at all.

There are a considerable, and growing, number of people who are entitled to a retirement pension who do not need the money, and it seems to me much better to use the money which is available, and which is obviously limited, to help those whose need is greatest than to hand it our indiscriminately to all people when they retire or reach a certain age.

The reason that I venture to address the House, in particular, is to put on record my great appreciation of what I think is the wonderful work being done by the officers of the National Assistance Board, to whom my right hen. Friend and others have referred. I can speak only of my personal experience of their work in Manchester, but I have always had from them the greatest possible cooperation in dealing with the various problems which come to my notice and which I discuss with them. I telephone and speak to them about these problems, and they help me in every possible way. They show very great sympathy, they are most helpful, and I know that they will always do all they can to help those whose cases are brought to their attention.

The officers make the fullest possible use of the discretionary allowances. I know that the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) disagrees with dis- cretionary allowances but, with respect, I think that he is wrong, because it is a question of using the available money to the best possible advantage. It is better to use these allowances where they are really needed.

I think that it was the right hon. Member for Llanelly who said that the Board's publicity was not all that it might be, and that it was not generally understood how much help people could be given. For instance, very few members of the general public realise what can be done by means of these discretionary allowances in the case of invalid diets, laundry, help with housework, and, above all, extra fuel when there is sickness. These allowances ought to be maintained, and I should like to see them increased as far as that is possible.

We have all come across examples of people who are unwilling to ask for or to accept National Assistance. I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend stress the fact that this is not a form of charity, but something to which people are entitled. Whenever someone comes to see me, I always ring up the Board in the first instance—if the person will allow me to—and ask far an officer to come and talk to him. That usually works. People can generally be persuaded that the Board wants to help and is able to help, and the help is accepted.

Others are still too proud, and the only way to convince them that they are mistaken is to point out that they have already paid for what they are receiving, just as they have paid for their retirement pension. If National Assistance is charity, so is the retirement pension, for which nobody pays in full. Everyone pays taxes of one kind and another, and it is from that money that the Board gets its resources. I think that more and more people are beginning to realise that they are entitled to this assistance, and are becoming more ready to accept the help that is readily available to them.

I understand that the scales have been increased six times between 1951 and 1961; and that this, the seventh occasion, will bring the scales to about the same purchasing power as they had when the last increase was made in 1961, or slightly over. Whether or not the new scales are being put into effect speedily enough is a matter for the expert, which I do not profess to be, but if the scales can be brought in earlier, I hope that the necessary steps will be taken to do so. I am very glad that the Government have taken this action, and I have no hesitation in supporting them today.

1.25 p.m.

Mr. A. E. Hunter (Feltham)

The Minister was right in saying that National Assistance is not a charity, but a right. The National Assistance Board is humane in its operations, less publicity comes to those who seek help, and the Board fulfils its functions in a way of which it can be proud, and in which we can take credit.

I remember the old boards of guardians, which dated, I think, from Elizabethan times. Until they were abolished in 1930, their methods had hardly changed at all. Each board had a relief committee, and those needing assistance had to appear before it. In some cases, they were given a few shillings a week, but very often the aid was given in kind—in groceries. That lasted only for one month, and then the people had to appear again before the committee. The members of the Public Assistance committees were semi-elected —they were nominated by local authorities. The administration of the National Assistance Board is a great step forward from those times, and I hope that its operation can be made even more humane.

As the Minister said, these Regulations affect the poorest of our people. The noble Lord the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel)—and I am sorry that he is not here at present—gave a percentage of scales to earnings that bore out that point. He showed that National Assistance is roughly just over 17 per cent. of earnings. The standard of living of a single person who, under the new Regulations, will receive 57s. 6d. per week plus rent, has gone down enormously compared with his earnings when working.

The standard of living of those in receipt of National Assistance has not gone up with the standard of living of the working population. It is true that there have been seven increases since 1951, but in that time the cost of living has gone up by leaps and bounds, so that they are really being kept to the 1951 level.

These new scales will help nearly 2 million people who cannot maintain themselves, either on National Insurance benefits or on private incomes. They provide an increase of 4s. a week in the weekly rate for single householders, making a total of 57s. 6d. a week, and a married couple will get another 5s. 6d. a week, making a total of 95s. 6d. There are also small improvements for children and the person living in a household. I understand that the rent is paid in all cases except the case of a person living in a household, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to assure us that the rent will be paid in all cases where persons pay rent.

The proposed increases, though small, are welcomed by hon. Members. We should remember that the large proportion of people receiving National Assistance are the aged. I am referring mainly to those in permanent receipt of assistance, for, while the unemployed and the sick receive these benefits for some time, they normally find employment and no longer require this aid.

The last National Assistance increase was in April, 1961, and it is significant to remember that the cost of living index has increased by seven points since then. That goes to strengthen the emphasis my hon. Friends have been placing on the need to increase the benefits still more, always bearing in mind the fact that the proposed increases will off-set the increased cost of living for only a while.

In any case, these needy folk will have to wait until next September to receive the additional benefits. Is it not possible to bring the date forward, because by then the cost of living may have risen again, though I hope not? Last winter was a cold and hard one for the elderly. I have received a number of letters from constituents complaining that their pensions and National Assistance benefits were not sufficient to meet their weekly budgets. It is particularly during a long, hard winter that their budgets need supplementing, because they probably spend more per week on heating than do average households.

In a vary cold winter—from December to May—these aged people cannot leave their homes like they can in the summer. That necessitates their having a fire going practically the whole time. This, of course, involves high coal, gas, or electricity bills and it would be interesting to know, though I do not think the National Assistance Board has figures to show, what these people spend each week on heating. I do not consider that the proposed increases are nearly enough. A single householder will receive 57s. 6d. a week, or about 8s. 2d. a day, from which he must provide meals, heat, cleaning materials, clothes, insurances and the other necessities of life. Prices are high and one newspaper a day will cost 3d.

If he has a radio he must pay for the necessary licence and the same applies to his owning or renting a television set. I know of many instances of old people who have been given second-hand television sets and they find it difficult to pay the £4 annual licence. A lump sum of that amount hits them hard. Could the Minister make representations to the Postmaster-General to enable these people to pay their radio and television licences quarterly? It is reasonable to say that many of them are Eying on a financial razor's edge and find difficulty in paying out large amounts.

Married couples will receive 95s. 6d. a week or about 13s. 6d. a day. From this amount, like the single householder, they must buy the necessities of life and replace things like pots and pans and other articles of equipment. It is easy to see that the old and the sick are living on just the bare minimum. While I welcome the increases, they are far too small. The Minister told us that they will cost £20 million a year. That is not a particularly large sum when one considers the total national Budget. Surely we can afford a little more, especially in view of the vast sums spent on armaments.

Not until 24th September, two-and-a-half months hence, will the increases come into force. Why cannot the date be brought forward? If there are administrative difficulties to prevent this being done, I suggest that they could easily be overcome, even if it meant a slight additional expenditure. After all, the football pools, such as Littlewoods of Liverpool, deal with millions of coupons each week and find no difficulty in coping with them. If the Minister insists that the administrative difficulties make it impossible to bring the date forward I suggest that he back-dates the increases and pays out a lump sum on 24th September.

Few of the people about whom we are speaking have any savings, and a lump sum payment of £4 or £5 in back date increases would mean a lot to them and would enable them to replace some of the household necessities about which I have spoken. All these difficulties can be overcome if the Minister has the will to do so. I urge him to note my variation of an old saying, "He who gives generously gives quickly". If we cannot persuade the right hon. Gentleman to increase the benefits still further, let him at least bring the date of payment forward, for many of the old people who are receiving National Assistance are in the evening of their lives.

1.38 p.m.

Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

Some of the contributions to the debate made by hon. Gentlemen opposite must arouse a feeling of nervousness among those who are concerned about the development of our social services. Even the Minister seemed to give the impression that he was perfectly satisfied with the present situation. The right hon. Gentleman is a most able Minister and we all recognise his abilities, although whether these abilities are recognised in the highest quarters we may discover in the next few days. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman does not know whether, after the reshuffle, he will be in the pack.

In dealing with the problems under discussion the right hon. Gentleman shows an intelligent sympathy, but when all those compliments are paid to him it makes all the more damning the outlook which he has to the problem generally. The right hon. Gentleman appears to think that the present situation is entirely satisfactory and he produces statistics to show how well he has done. He seems to think that our social services, particularly in relation to those governed by National Assistance, are developing perfectly well and that there is nothing wrong. The fact that he is not disturbed in the least by what he has been told is a condemnation of the whole approach of the Government towards this matter.

As has been pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), what has occurred is quite different from what people hoped would occur. The intention has not been fulfilled. I have always thought that we would have a National Assistance Board to deal with a few things, but the primary aim of our social service policy today should be to do away with the Board altogether. We might have to have some kind of board left to deal with a small number, but if the rest of our social service system was operating properly we should not need the Board. We want to see the Board wither away, but that has not happened. Indeed, the opposite has happened.

The figure given in the Report of the increase in the number of people who go to National Assistance is staggering, and it has been growing steadily. Leaving out all the temporary allowances, the number receiving weekly allowances in December, 1948, was 1,100,000 and now it is up to 1,800,000 This is an enormous, steady increase. If the Board is regarded as a safety net, that net is having to be made bigger and bigger or—to use the metaphor employed by the Minister that the Board is a form of long-stop—if there is too much pressure on the long-stop it is an indication that there is something wrong with the wicketkeeper.

The breakdown or the failure of our social service system to provide adequately in other fields is imposing further burdens on the Board. Nobody can deny that that is what has happened, and my complaint is that the Minister and the Government and their supporters are satisfied with the situation. They like it that way, and I understand why. It is because it fits in with their idea of what the social services should be. We know that a whole series of other measures have been taken by the Government which have contributed to increasing the work done by the Board. They have taken steps to injure the National Health Service and to put part of the burden on the Board.

In the same way, the Government have had a housing policy which puts up rents for quite a number of people and therefore puts a further burden on the Board. We have, therefore, a series of measures taken by the Government in different fields of social policy, including housing and health, by which they are increasing the burden on National Assistance. As it has happened and they are satisfied with it, I presume that it has been done deliberately.

Mr. E. Johnson

Does the hon. Member disagree with his hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Cross-man), to whom I pointed out that it seemed to me more sensible to use some of the money available for those in greatest need rather than, by increasing the flat rate, give it to those Who are, fortunately, not in a particular need?

Mr. Foot

I think that the hon. Member's interruption misinterprets what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), but I understood clearly what the hon. Member was saying. It is the Tory view of the social services. It was an advance to get the Tories even to take that view, but now that they have got that far they are satisfied with it. It is not my view and I do not think that it is the Socialist view generally. It was not the intention of the Labour Government when they introduced these Measures.

The whole point of the National Health Service was that the same treatment was to apply to everybody. I should be horrified to think that we should carry the means test system even further in pensions. The hon. Member wants to carry it further in the interests of national frugality. He thinks that there should be a separate section of the community made up of people in need, and the more people are dealt with under the National Assistance Board the more that fits in with Government policy.

The Minister should have said why these numbers are going up and why the Board is having to deal with more and more problems. It is partly because his hon. Friends have been pushing these problems on to the Board, and that is partly his fault. He should have protested against it. What has been happening in recent years is the reshaping of our social services away from the intentions and the aims set out when the Labour Government introduced them, and the incorporation in those services of the Tory idea that we require them only as a kind of national minimum need.

Hon. Members opposite have been quite open and brazen about it, including the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. E. Johnson). They do not think that the social services should be all-embracing and comprehensive. They do not think that the same should apply to everyone. They want to see us picking out the people who are most in need, and they produce, as the hon. Member did, what appear to be philanthropic arguments in advocating their point of view.

Mr. E. Johnson

Let me give the hon. Member an example. Next month I shall be qualified for retirement pension. What is the point of giving me a larger pension if it means giving less to somebody who needs it more?

Mr. Foot

The hon. Member is entitled to his pension if he has contributed towards it on the insurance principle. He said earlier that he would like an extension of discretionary benefits. I do not think that he would like it very much if he were receiving discretionary benefits and having someone come along and say to him, "Here is a bit extra to buy blankets". He would say that he would prefer to have the money and make up his own mind about what he would do with it.

In other respects the Tories say that people should be allowed to decide for themselves how they spend their money, but they do not say that to people on National Assistance. They do not want the same rules applied throughout. In other words, they still believe in society being divided into different classes.

We on this side of the House do not believe in that. We want to do away with it. We want to live in one community. Therefore, what we are discussing is not a question of safety nets or long-stops. We are discussing the distribution of the national income and we say that that distribution is wrong. It is, of course, very convenient for the Government to have a separate debate about National Assistance and not relate it to other figures, but, of course, we are discussing the distribution of the national wealth, and part of that wealth has been created by the people who are now on National Assistance. This has nothing to do with charity.

If we look at it as a matter of distributing the national wealth, how can anybody with a civilised sense of fairness think that what we are doing is fair? The total sum is £184 million, or £200 million with the extra under these provisions, to provide for 1,800,000 people plus all the other people who receive temporary benefits. It is not such a great amount of money when we compare it with other items in the Budget.

Moreover, if we take the figure of £20 million, of which the Minister is so proud—what he calls a substantial sum to make available at a time when Government expenditure is subjected to the closest scrutiny—then, although everybody knows that £20 million is a lot of money, it so happens that this £20 million to be distributed in extra benefits to people on National Assistance is almost exactly the same figure as the Chancellor is distributing this year in Surtax relief on unearned income. This year a small number of Surtax payers who are getting part of their income unearned will receive £20 million in cash relief.

Incorporated in the total of £80 million which is to be distributed this year by the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be a certain amount of unearned income. The Government are distributing this year £20 million to cover the 2 million people on National Assistance, and, at the same time, they are giving £20 million to a handful of people—it cannot be more than a few thousand—in respect of their unearned income. How can anybody defend that practice?

I do not expect the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to try to defend it. She will probably say that it is none of her business, that it is the Chancellor's business. But that is what is being done. This is how the Government spend the nation's money. That is why we say that we ought to be discussing the distribution of the nation's wealth. If we approach the subject from that point of view it is apparent that we are doing it in a grossly unfair manner.

Although we are glad to have these few crumbs, we say that the complacency of the Minister adds to the alarm that we feel about the situation. He does not feel that there is anything wrong in the way in which we are treating our old people. He says that the situation is better than it was in 1948. I hope that we shall never hear that argument again. It is a mean approach to the whole problem that a Minister should say, in 1962, that we are just keeping up with what was achieved three years after the greatest war in history, when this country had to shoulder housing and other burdens on a much larger scale than now. The hon. Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) quoted figures in an effort to prove that the pension had been maintained in proportion to the national wage rate.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

My hon. Friend quoted figures for average earnings. That is much more significant than the national wage rate to which the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) referred.

Mr. Foot

I do not think I have misrepresented the situation. The hon. Member for Hertford was quoting the Government's figures and said that the pension has gone up roughly by as much as the average earnings had increased. He said that they had kept pace and he thought that was satisfactory. Indeed, he gloried in it.

The old people have been treated most shamefully for generations. It so happens that they are treated slightly less shamefully now than they used to be, but that is no reason why people should not be aghast at what is happening. It may be even more reason for being aghast at what is happening because this is a large welfare society and we ought to treat our old people differently from the way in which they are treated.

When we see how we are spending other parts of the national income it is utterly indefensible for a Minister to say that he is treating the old people fairly. Moreover, as to the future, the defence that the Government make of their present policy is alarming. During the next two or three years we shall have to reassert the basic principles on which the social services were introduced and extended by the Labour Government after the war, and we shall have to do so against a very sinister attack. Every major scheme which has been introduced by the Labour Government, and, in particular, the National Health Service, has been corroded and attacked.

The attack is not limited merely to the amounts given, but to the essential features of the scheme. The hon. Member for Blackley has proved it. He does not believe in a national scheme. He does not believe in social services which wipe away the sense of class and substitute a proper sense of community, which we believe in.

We protest against these proposals as being quite insufficient. They represent an inadequate distribution of the greatly growing wealth which the Government claim is being achieved and which should be shared in order to relieve the hardships of old age in a far more adequate manner than the Government are attempting.

1.55 p.m.

Mr. R. E. Prentice (East Ham, North)

In a moment I intend to follow the theme of my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) about the amounts of the increases in National Assistance and the basic question of the share to which the poorest people are entitled of the national income.

Before I do that, however, I should like to refer to one or two other aspects of the matter and to begin with something which has not received enough detailed attention in this debate. I refer to the numbers of those who fail to apply for National Assistance and their reasons for not doing so. Not so long ago a survey was carried out in the Borough of Salford. There was another one in the Borough of Bethnal Green, and more recently there has been a survey, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) referred, of the economic circumstances of old people, covering seven areas, and carried out by Dorothy Cole and John Utting. I read that survey with great care because one of the areas covered was East Ham.

All these surveys lead us to the conclusion that for every two old people drawing National Assistance there is at least one who is entitled to National Assistance but does not apply for it. That proportion of two-to one is, if anything, an under-estimate of the number of those who do not apply. Those who carried out the survey found some points of detail which were difficult for them to interpret—for instance, that some people had savings and that sort of thing—but it is a conservative estimate to say that something like 500,000 old people who are entitled to National Assistance do not apply for it, bearing in mind that just over 1 million are obtaining supplements from the National Assistance Board. We ought to regard this as a very serious aspect of the situation.

The first conclusion we should draw is that whatever the merits or demerits of the theory that we should spend money on those who need it most, and that we should increase National Assistance rates rather than National Insurance rates surely that case falls on this point alone, that there is this large number of people who, for one reason or another, do not apply for National Assistance to which they are entitled.

We should not base a policy for the social services on reliance on National Assistance to that extent, when so many people do not apply to the National Assistance Board. I put it to the Minister strongly that whatever he may feel on this fundamental point, he has a duty to find out a great deal more about the reasons why people do not apply for National Assistance, and to do something about it. Most of us would say from our own experience and from the experience of advice bureaux and so on—indeed, it is borne out by the surveys to which I have referred—that the reasons seem to fall into two main categories, one of which is that people are too proud to apply. Here a real attack should be made on this state of mind, using the modern methods of public relations. I agree with the hon. Member who said that these people have paid over and over again for National Assistance drawn by other people and that if they claim National Assistance it is something to which they are entitled. It is not asking for charity.

I wrote in my motes the suggestion that the Minister ought to appear on television and say this. However, I accept the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Torrington (Mr. P. Browne) that the hon. Lady the Joint Parliamentary Secretary should appear on television. I think that would be a more attractive proposition. This method and any other methods of public relations which may be available by television, radio, or advertisements in the Press should be turned on to the problem in order to persuade people that they Should take this step.

All this strengthens the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), a point which many of us have raised from time to time, that the actual administration of the National Assistance Board for paying supplementary benefits is wrong and that the whole process should somehow be merged within the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance. If people who go to a National Insurance office to claim a pension or to inquire about claiming a pension can talk about the supplementary side of it to someone in the same room or, preferably, the same person, the psychological hurdle of having to go somewhere else is removed.

This would, I believe, make a great difference. Even if there were a case for having a separate National Assistance Board to deal with the exceptional cases which are not covered by any sort of National Insurance, that case falls down when we remember that most of the work nowadays is to supplement insurance benefits. This stop and any other steps which careful study may reveal should be taken in order to reduce the psychological barrier against applying for National Assistance.

Also, methods of public relations should be used to explain as simply as possible the rules for National Assistance. Besides those who do not apply through pride, there are those who do not apply simply because they do not understand the rules. We have all had in our advice bureaux people who say that they cannot ask for National Assistance because they have some savings. It is a fairly common idea that, if people have any savings at all, however modest, they cannot ask for National Assistance until they have used them up. People try to eke out the modest savings which they have built up during their working lives, savings which have lost a lot of their value as a result of inflation, and they will not go to the National Assistance Board until their savings have been used up. The true situation should be explained. If, in the meantime, the whole business of disregards could be simplified and brought up to date, that would help in the same process.

I come now Ito the discretionary payments. I share the concern which hon. Members have expressed. I agree that there should in the National Assistance scheme be some form of discretionary payment, on either a permanent or a temporary basis, but it seems to me that the discretionary payments now play such a large part in the scheme that at least part of the cases which they cover should be codified. At the end of last year, 51 per cent. of those receiving National Assistance payments were receiving a discretionary addition. Sixty-six per cent. of retired people were receiving a discretionary payment.

In this House we should have a lot more information about the way these things are done simply in order to do our duty. Now that this is a major part of the scheme, we ought to be able to control it, and we ought to be more satisfied that the methods which are applied by the National Assistance Board in the best or more enlightened areas are brought to the attention of other areas so that we may be satisfied that, between one area and another or between one officer and another, different rules which are unfair in some cases are not followed.

I mentioned earlier the survey carried out by Dorothy Cole. At one point, speaking about the discretionary payments, Miss Cole says: In some places fuel allowances, far instance, appeared to be granted almost automatically, given the age and general state of health of the old person. In others we were told that they could be granted only on production of a doctor's certificate … In some areas, where the Board's officers were less hard pressed, it often appeared that they took the initiative in bringing to the old person's attention the possibility of non-recurrent single payments to replace clothing, worn-out bedding and the like. In others no such initiative was shown. There is a reference elsewhere to the practice in some areas, when people on National Assistance ask for something extra to provide clothing, of putting them first in touch with the W.V.S. and other organisations and seeing whether gifts of other people's secondhand clothing will suit them; and only it that fails is a discretionary payment made.

Mrs. Thatcher

That was quite inaccurate. We do not send people to the W.V.S. first.

Hon. Members: It is done.

Mr. Prentice

Some of my hon. Friends seem to think that that is the practice. I only hope that, if what the hon. Lady says is correct, it will be more widely known and enforced throughout the country, because it is the experience of some hon. Members, borne out by this survey, that what I have described does, in fact, happen. It underlines the great difficulty about these discretionary payments. It ought to be possible to draw up some rules or guidance for National Assistance officers which would be publicly known and which we could discuss in the House so that in all these matters the more enlightened practice could be followed generally.

Now a word about the blind and people with tuberculosis who receive the special allowance. I do not quarrel, and I am sure no one does, with the extra allowance which they receive. However, since this allowance recognises the fact that people in these groups have special needs for which a distinct payment should be made, the same should apply to certain other groups of permanent or long-term sick people. The long-term invalids in this country are, I think, one of the most neglected groups of all. I have heard my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly say on more than one occasion that they have no pressure group to speak for them as the British Legion speaks for the war pensioners, as the unions speak for the industrially disabled and as the old-age pensioners' associations speak for their members. This is a small but very important group of people who have very special problems.

There are many kinds of illness which, in almost every case, mean that there is a need for a special diet or for constant attention by someone brought in to look after the invalid. A great deal of new thinking must be done about this. Perhaps the National Assistance Board is not the best agency to deal with the matter. Perhaps we should consider extending to these people some of the supplementary allowances which are applied at the moment to the industrially disabled and war pensioners. One way of helping them would be to create new categories besides the blind and the people with tuberculosis who have a special allowance from the National Assistance Board. This is something we have referred to many times without, so far as I know, any glimmer of recognition by the Government that action ought to be taken.

I came now to the level of benefits. I feel a bit sick when I keep hearing of comparisons with 1948. I am quite certain that the pensioners and others affected feel sick too. What they are concerned with is their standard of living now and in coming years, what relation that bears to the general standard of living in this country at the time, and the kind of share to which they are entitled. It is a bit smug of those on the Government benches—not only the Minister, but the Prime Minister himself and the Home Secretary deputising for the Prime Minister—to refer constantly to comparisons with 1948.

If the Government want to make a point about comparisons, we can make a few as well. Why take 1948? Why not take 1938? The year 1948 is a very convenient date because, by taking it, one ignores the substantial improvements introduced by the Labour Governments and then, taking the story on from there, the Government try to take credit for the modest improvements which they have made aver the years. In fact, the amount for a couple in 1948, 40s., compares with 31s 1d. in 1938 when that is adjusted to 1948 prices. In other words, here, as in so many of the social services, despite the tremendous difficulties of the post-war period and the effects of the most destructive war in history, the Labour Government made the biggest advance ever in our social services. To keep harking back to periods just after that advance is to play party politics in a quite improper way.

I wish to say this about the figures. Today, the Minister compared the rise in National Assistance rates in purely money terms with the rise in average ways. That, of course, is misleading because we are concerned with the standard of living in real terms, making allowances for prices. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman will say, as he has said before and as he said when he announced these new arrangements in the House, that the cost of living index since 1948 shows a rise in the cost of living of 70 per cent. and that the National Assistance rates have increased almost by twice as much. But it is that index which is so misleading.

We have said over and over again that there should be a separate cost of living index for those on National Assistance and possibly one for retirement pensioners, or, at any rate, one geared more closely to the spending pattern of the people about whom we are talking. I shall inflict on the Minister a few figures on this matter prepared by some of our academic friends for whom he does not seem to have as much respect as he should have. These show the changes which have taken place since 1948 in the cost of living of people on National Assistance. In order to do this, these people have had to make a number of adjustments. They have had to take out the effect of rent, because that is paid separately by the National Assistance Board. They have had to give a much bigger weighting to the cost of food and fuel and less weighting to other items which appear in the ordinary cost of living index on which people receiving National Assistance cannot afford to spend very much.

The picture which emerges from these figures is that since 1948 the cost of living for those on National Assistance —there is a small variation between single and married people and smokers and non-smokers but I shall not give too many details—has increased from 88 per cent. up to 99 per cent. according to the category which we take. That picture is very different from the picture presented by the figures on which the Minister relies over and over again.

I wish to make this comment which is in line with that made by many of my hon. Friends. We cannot take this static view of poverty and this static view of the entitlement of people. The very least that we should demand, and the very least that we do demand, is that people on National Assistance should maintain the same share of the national income which they had in the past. I make one final comparison with 1948 and put this to the Minister. Since 1948, the average income per head has increased by 42 per cent. The income in real terms of those on National Assistance, taking into account the special cost-of-living factors, has increased by between 20 per cont. and 28 per cent. according to the group which we take. In other words, people on National Assistance have had little more than half of the rise in prosperity which has occurred since 1948.

Assuming that these people are entitled to the share of the national income which they had in the past, we should be proposing rates of 65s. for a single householder and 107s. for a couple, which is 10s. 6d. and 11s. 6d. respectively more than the Minister is proposing. That is the bare minimum. We should go further and say that in this scientific and technological age in which we are able to increase production faster than ever before in history—although this country has failed to increase production by as much as other countries because of mismanagement by the Government, nevertheless it has seen its standard of living increase—we should progressively take better care of the elderly, sick. widows and others who are unable to earn a living in the normal way.

We should recognise that these are groups of people who have great problems to face, such as the problems of bereavement, of sickness, and of adjustment to old age, and that it is immoral for society to impose in addition a burden of unnecessary poverty which becomes more and more unnecessary as time goes on. The figures that we are discussing today fall far short of what a civilised country should do for people such as those whom we are discussing. We are bound to accept them and to approve them because they represent a modest increase, but we do so with a great feeling of dissatisfaction and in the belief that we need in this country a Government which will deal more generously and more humanely with these people.

2.15 p.m.

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)

I take up immediately the final point of my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice), namely, the division of the national wealth which we assume is just. I think that the Government are having second thoughts about this. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) said, we are discussing quite simply how we should share out the national wealth. All that I can say about the proposals before the House is that they will go a very short way towards relieving the enormous suffering which is being endured by a substantial minority of our people, particularly the old.

The Minister said that the total cost of these proposals will be about £201 million, with a probable increase when the number of recipients increases. I cannot forbear from enlarging on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale, that the Minister made great play of this beneficence of the Government, but they were far more beneficent to a much smaller and much wealthier minority, the Surtax payers, who number 300,000 as against the more than 2 million on National Assistance.

This year, the 300,000 wealthy Surtax payers are getting £83 million and the 2 million people on National Assistance are getting £201 million, which, in proportion, means that we are giving twenty-eight times more to the wealthier minority of the community than we are giving to the impoverished minority. That is the context in which we should examine these proposals.

The basis of both these concessions is need. I recall the Chancellor of the Exchequer saying, when the £83 million Surtax concession was given, that the man on £5,000 a year today could not make ends meet and that, therefore, he had to be given the relief. The Minister spoke this morning about the definition of need as being a very interesting philosophical conception. Of course it is. However, our conception is very different from that of the Government, and that is what this debate is about— priorities and the relative needs of different sections of the community.

Moreover, the Minister, contrary to what his noble Friend the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) said, went out of his way to say that this increase will do no more than restore the value of the rates which previously operated; and it is almost exactly that to a penny. The people on National Assistance will be no better off after the increases come into operation than they were before the last increase was granted. In other words, inflation has robbed them of an element of purchasing power of which they can ill afford to be robbed.

The Minister— I do not blame him for this—hesitated to make any prophesy about the cost of living. I proposed to ask him his estimate about the prospective increase in the cost of living between now and the date when these rates become operative. My guess is that, by the time that they are operative, there will have been considerable erosion of them. I go further and make a point which is repeatedly made from this side of the House, that the Index of Retail Prices is a wholly inadequate and unfair yardstick with which to measure the relative hardship or relative generosity of the scales and the benefit derived from them by the people who must exist on them.

Let me give one example to underline this, that of vegetables. They are given a weighting in the index of 32 points out of 1,000. That is to say, about 3 per cent of the average income is assumed to be spent on vegetables. If we look art the index to find what change has occurred in the vegetable price index between April, 1961, and April, 1962, we find that it has gone up from 106 to 143. If we couple those figures with the example given in the Explanatory Memorandum of a married couple with two children, aged between 5 and 10, paying rent and rates of 28s. a week, that couple and their two children will get £8 5s. 6d. a week.

Three per cent. of that figure, which is the proportion they are reckoned to spend on vegetables, is less than 5s. a week. The price of potatoes alone is about 1s. per 1b. Therefore, if we are asked to believe the price index, we are assuming that the married couple and their two children will spend 5s. a week on all their vegetables—and at the present time 5s. buys 5 or 6 1b. Of potatoes. Everybody in the House must know that the smaller the income, the greater proportion of the income that must be spent on basic foods like potatoes and bread. Moreover, there is no indication that the price of potatoes will fall perceptibly over the next few months. Even if it comes down, it is likely soon afterwards to go back to its present level.

Another factor which has not yet been mentioned is that many millions of workers in key industries receive less in wages than the rates of National Assistance. I have taken the trouble to find the figure for the general worker in the farming industry in Scotland. His weekly earnings, as given in the 1961 Report on Scottish Agriculture, are £9 11s. 3d. That includes overtime and perquisites.

If we make a comparison with a married couple who have three children, one aged between 5 and 11, another between 11 and 16 and another in the 16 to 18 age range, and assume that they spend £1 a week on rent, this family on National Assistance will get £9 16s. Therefore, the general farm worker in Scotland, even taking account of his overtime and his "perks", gets less working on a Scottish farm than a man and his wife and their three children will get under the National Assistance rates.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary is herself on record, and was quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) in his admirable speech at the beginning of the debate, as saying that the family on National Assistance does not have to exist solely on National Assistance. Therefore, the family whom I have quoted as receiving £9 16s. would probably get some of the additional discretionary payments, so that the gap between that family and the agricultural worker would be even greater than the figures I have given.

I do not say that that shows the generosity of the National Assistance Board's scales. The obvious point is that the wages are far too inadequate. When the Government say that they are entering the Common Market but will protect agriculture, what are they protecting workers of that kind against?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir William Anstruther-Gray)

I am reluctant to interrupt the hon. Member, but I hope that he will bear in mind what we are discussing.

Mr. Hamilton

I am bearing it very much in mind, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I wish to underline the argument which I am endeavouring to adduce. The old people of today who are now in receipt of these National Assistance rates were the farmworkers, among others, in the 1920s and 1930s. If the wages of these workers—and I could quote other workers, too—are not increased, we will be building up among the workers the future generations of National Assistance recipients, because it is impossible for those workers to save.

An earlier speaker has referred to the desirability of saving. I agreed with the hon. Member for Torrington (Mr. P. Browne), I think it was, when he said that we ought to take into account the ability of people to save and should encourage them to do so by boosting the disregards. This would not help the people whom I have in mind, who are completely unable to save. Therefore, in ten, twenty or thirty years' time, they, in turn, will be the subject of debate in the House of Commons. The hon. Lady the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will then probably be in a much less fit state to appear on television than she is now, but, presumably, she will still be debating these matters in the House.

Mrs. Thatcher

I shall probably be one of the recipients of National Assistance.

Mr. Hamilton

Oh, no. The hon. Lady and her party will try their best to avoid that. I sometimes wish that the hon. Lady and her hon. Friends could live on National Assistance rates for a month. I should like to see every Member of the House do so. That is the test. There would be several by-elections shortly afterwards. However much the Minister may boast about the rates, the fact is that nobody can live on £4 or £5 a week. People can exist, they can struggle, or they can strive on that figure, but they will suffer.

When we pretend that we are an affluent society and then a Minister of the Crown boasts about these rates, he ought to be ashamed of himself. I do not welcome them at all except to say that they will give a modicum of comfort to the most impoverished section of our community. The sooner that we get down to some solid and constructive thinking about this and educate the rest of the community—I say it frankly—into paying more for this small section of the community, the better it will be for us.

2.30 p.m.

Mr. F. M. Bennett (Torquay)

Tempted though I am to follow the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. W. Hamilton) and to dispute a number of his remarks, that would be altogether wrong in view of the fact that an opportunity to speak is awaited by other hon. Members who have sat throughout the debate in a manner which, I hope they will realise, circumstances outside the House made impossible for me. For this reason, I do not intend to detain the House for more than a few minutes.

There are only two very brief points that I wish to make, following upon a question which I addressed to the Minister when the new rates were first announced. I queried specifically whether anything was to be done in the field of the disregards, a point which the hon. Member opposite has just mentioned, although in another sense to that in which I now intend it. In my constituency, I have a number of people who come to see me, and who are in quite a poor way, but are prevented from claiming National Assistance because the level of the disregards is not sufficiently high.

Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)

In Torquay?

Mr. Bennett

Yes, in Torquay. I do not wish to be interrupted, because I wish to be quite short, but I shall be very pleased later to tell the right hon. Gentleman the details, if he wishes.

A number of my constituents who come to see me are prevented from claiming National Assistance because the level of their savings is too high. There may well be a case to be made that this is sometimes perfectly right, because in some cases there is a substantial income from these savings, but, unfortunately, there is also an arbitrary, and often unreasonable, limit to the amount of capital which they may have. This capital takes different forms. Sometimes it is house property and sometimes it is held in shares, which have a value but which do not carry dividends, which preclude people in poor circumstances from claiming National Assistance. I was told by my right hon. Friend when I put that question that there was no intention to review the disregards again at this stage. I hope that there may be second thoughts in the not too distant future, because otherwise great hardships will continue. Members of Parliament are sometimes placed in the unenviable position of having to advise their constituents how to avoid the consequences of the present limitation by changing one form of security into another or alternatively by a movement of the property within the family. This is not a very dignified way in which to enable people to qualify for something to which all members of the community including themselves have contributed.

My final remarks are concerned with something I have said before on a number of occasions, but which is none the less true today. Whether we like it or not, the words "National Assistance" still carry a stigma, however illogical and foolish it may be, which prevents people from making claims, because they regard it as a form of charity, to which their pride prevents them having recourse. I wonder whether I might make a plea, as I have done so often in the past, to my right hon. Friend that a new form of words, such as, for example, "supplementary grants", which is the term I frequently use when advising people to take advantage of this could be substituted for National Assistance.

Should we not consider whether the time has not come for a review of the words? It is, anyhow, the case that, nowadays, the retirement pension is not an insurance pension in the sense that the whole of it comes from an insurance payment. A large amount comes from the ordinary revenue in precisely the same way as National Assistance does, and those who, in the past, have contributed to the revenues of the central Exchequer have contributed just as much to the National Assistance Fund as they have to their retirement pensions.

Therefore, at this late stage, I hope that the Government, or any future Government, will one day have second thoughts on this matter to see whether there is not an opportunity to vary the psychological approach so that people realise that this is not a form of charity, but something to which they are entitled, by the taxes which they have paid, as much as any other social benefit.

2.33 p.m.

Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)

I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) has spoken in today's debate. He was the architect of the twin pillars of National Insurance and National Assistance on which all that has happened since, including the measures we are debating today, has been built up. With characteristic modesty, my right hon. Friend failed to refer to it himself in his speech, though he referred to that other great Welshman, David Lloyd George, who, in the 1911 Liberal Government, began the great work of National Insurance.

When we debate the Budget, we at once impose a host of new taxes simply by passing a number of Resolutions on that first day, and we formally legislate about them for months afterwards. I have never understood why we cannot do that about increases, such as we are discussing today, about which the House is unanimous, and which, in my opinion, could have been dealt with, just as we deal with the Budget Resolutions, by the Minister when he made his statement in the House on 5th July.

As for the administrative difficulties of raising the National Assistance grants, surely some method could be arrived at by which we could at once pay the new rates which it had been decided to pay pending the preparation of the new books. There is no difficulty when a new tax is imposed. We impose it within a few minutes. When the Treasury is imposing taxes, all technical difficulties disappear. I see no reason at all why Parliament should not be able, when the Government have made up their mind to make increases in National Assistance, to pay those increases very quickly indeed. The Minister today did not shelter behind technical difficulties. He argued that, it is socially suitable to make the payment of the new increases come into force on 28th September. The only socially suitable time for giving money to people in distress is the earliest possible moment, and I plead with the right hon. Gentleman even now to see if he cannot do this more quickly.

There are one or two things which should go out unanimously from this debate to the country. I am worried about a remark of my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Cross-man) and of the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. F. M. Bennett). Both hon. Members talked about a stigma attaching to National Assistance. I hope they are wrong, and shall speak of that later. The first thing on which there is unanimity is a tribute to the staff of the National Assistance Board. Theirs is not an easy job, and they have to deal with hardship in all the complex forms that flesh is heir to. I think that the country owes much to their industry, ability and their essential human kindness. I think that they lean over backwards to interpret the Regulations as generously as they can.

I am alarmed when I read, in a work to which one of my hon. Friends referred —Dorothy Cole's The Economic Circumstances of Old People—that she estimates that half a million people who are entitled to National Assistance do not receive it. I hope that that figure is exaggerated. I have found in my own weekly surgery over the past years only a handful of people who did not know until we helped them that National Assistance was available to them. On the other hand, the person who is too proud to go to National Assistance is probably, for the same reason, too proud to go to his Member of Parliament's "surgery". If there are great numbers, as Miss Cole claims, then I think we are all to blame.

I said just now that I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East was wrong when he said that there will always be a stigma attached to National Assistance. Such help as is given from National Assistance is not charity, in the bad sense of that word. I was interested in the Minister's reference to a golden passage in the New Testament. If the word "charity" has lost the splendour of its meaning, then it is because of the way in which it was used in the days of ruthless, uncontrolled capitalism in the nineteenth century, and the disdainful handing out at that time to the poor of crumbs from the rich man's table. No Socialist believes that as we set up the Welfare State we abolish the wells of human kindness. There will always be opportunities for true charity, for loving kindness, inside any State in the world.

In regard to National Assistance it is the lawful right of the citizen to be helped in bed times, just as he himself has helped, in the taxes he has paid, other citizens in their bad times. Somehow we have failed to get that over to some of our poorest people. I would say to the Minister, though I admire the work which he has done for ex-Service men in asking them, "Are you sure you are getting all the pension you are entitled to?" that, even in spite of that, the work of B.L.E.S.M.A. shows that we are still uncovering cases where men are not getting all they are entitled to. Somehow we have got to get these people who are either unaware of what help is available, as they are in some cases, or too proud, to take the help we are glad, as a country, to give them. I hope the Minister will look into the facts—if they are facts—as revealed by Miss Dorothy Cole. It is terrible to think that some people are living even below National Assistance Board standards.

Last year there were some 2½ million National Assistance cases. Many of those were helped to tide over short-lived periods of hardship. About 1,800,000, however, received regular weekly allowances. It is worthy of note that in this vast figure of 2½ million there were only a thousand prosecutions for attempted fraud, one-twenty-fifth of 1 per cent. There were only 1,300 casuals wandering up and down the country. There were only 180 men in the whole country prosecuted for dodging work and intending to live on National Assistance.

I doubt whether the business world could claim such a fine record of public integrity as the 2½ million people we are talking about this afternoon. When we remember that when the first old-age pensions were introduced one noble Lord said that they would sap the moral fibre of the British nation, and when we remember that some of us were told in the grim years of unemployment between the wars that most of the unemployed were workshy, and when we remember that there is an underlying current of criticism now of the Welfare State that it is sapping the moral fibre of the British people, figures like those I have just mentioned show the sterling integrity of the British people, and that it is at its best in the poorest section of the community. Unemployment is a nightmare to a man. He wants to work, and the idea that National Assistance tempts people not to want to work is an insult to our fellow citizens. National Assistance caters for people who face hardship almost always through no fault of their own.

More than 1 million of the 1.8 million who get weekly allowances are old people, and the fact that there is 1 million of them is a comment on the inadequacy of the basic pension. Of those who were not old 58,000 were widows. There are 800,000 widows, but of those not old, 58,000 were widows, and that, again, in my opinion, indicates the inadequacy of the provision which we make for widowhood. I wish that the Minister would take note of the serious representations which some of us have made for some 10 years now on the need for the State to recognise more adequately the economic disaster of widowhood. I say that after again paying tribute, as I have many times. to him for the work he has done in this field, especially for the widowed mother.

Of the people we helped 84,000 were wives whose husbands had left them with no provision or with only inadequate provision. This is something we ought to tackle by legislation, and so far we have failed to tackle it. The State is bearing a burden—and rightly beating the burden, if the burden has to be borne—which ought to be borne by the recalcitrant husbands. As my hon. Friend pointed out, 26,000 were unmarried mothers and their children, and most of the rest were the bereaved, the very sick, and the chronically or permanently disabled, like the blind, and the unemployed. These are the 2½ million British citizens this debate is about.

The work of the National Assistance Board extends beyond mere financial help. I would commend to the House its Annual Report for 1961—and, indeed, previous years—which gives examples of the work of rehabilitation of people whom misery has brought very low. Let me give to the House a picture from the Report for 1961: A couple in their 80s with a mentally subnormal daughter were reported to be neglected, in arrears with their rent and threatened with eviction. At his first visit, the Board's officer found the people huddled over a miserable fire in appalling conditions. Rubbish, old food and ashes were strewn about, the windows were so dirty that they let in no light, and the place was so foul that the officer was convinced that it and the old people were verminous. Although a number of their married children lived nearby, none of them ever called. As a result of the visits of the welfare officer all these problems, including, incidentally, the threatened eviction, were dealt with, and, best of all, the children who neglected their old parents now visit them regularly.

I believe that this is a great public service of which the country can be proud—proud of the paid staff, proud of the voluntary workers who serve on the advisory committees up and down the country. I notice, incidentally, that some of these advisory committees appoint to their number representatives of the old-age pensioners. I suggest to the Minister that he makes that compulsory. Nobody knows better the needs of old folk than the old folk themselves.

The Government's case for making the first claimants for any money they have available the poorest citizens is a very plausible and a very reasonable one. It seems to me to be on the formula of the greatest help to those in greatest need, and that makes to me very good sense. I only wish I could apply it to the rest of the acts of the Government. It certainly does not apply to Surtax relief, for example.

But there are grave dangers in such a formula as applied to old-age pensioners and the unemployed. Even if National Assistance were large enough—and I do not think this increase is large enough —what we are saying is that when we increase National Assistance, and when we give it to someone who has only the basic retirement pension, that basic retirement pension is not enough for a person to exist on. For National Assistance is not given to people to live luxuriously. It is a subsistence payment. We are saying, too, that the unemployment benefit, as at present given, is not enough to live on and that it must be supplemented for a man who has no other means.

I believe that an inadequate basic pension is a disincentive to thrift. When we set up National Assistance we set it up as a net to catch those it was impossible for the National Insurance system or for any national insurance system, however perfect, to deal with, and especially for the old folk who were too old to qualify for all of the National Insurance benefits in 1948. Incidentally, surely it is about time that we brought the non-contributory pensioners, a group of very old people dwindling every year, into the ordinary scheme, and gave them a basic pension as we give a basic pension to all other retired citizens.

National Assistance was intended not to be for ever a supplement to an inadequate insurance scheme, and yet that is what it is becoming more and more, and that is why the old-age pensioner is pressing all the time for a proper basic pension. He says that, in a community where millions of other citizens are drawing retirement superannuation on which they can live comfortably and honourably, he sees no reason why he should not draw a pension of the same kind, and I believe that he is right in that demand.

So, although I welcome this addition to National Assistance benefits, I believe that it would have been better though it would have cost more, to have raised the basic pension by the same amount. I do not want to deal in detail with the case for raising to a higher amount the amount the Minister proposes. My hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) has dealt with that very fully indeed. My only comment is that the increased sums we are discussing today are almost offset by the fabulous increase in the price of potatoes. If the housewives grumble, as they do, about food prices—I am certain that the Minister's wife grumbles as much as any housewife in the country—how much more onerous is this rise in food prices for all those living in abject poverty—those we are talking about this afternoon, and those just above the poverty line just above National Assistance?

The trouble with poverty is poverty. Ministers can juggle with statistics as much as they like, but the poorest in Britain are not getting their fair share in this affluent society, and the very affluence of that society makes their poverty harder to endure. After all, "poverty" is a comparative term.

The Minister has a record of service in his Ministry in length of time and work well done which is unequalled by any other right hon. Gentleman on the Government Front Bench. We have been lucky in the quality and character of the Ministers of Pensions that we have had since the war. Today, the right hon. Gentleman has added another feather to a cap which already has quite a number in it. I believe that the feather is too small and the relief he is giving inadequate. I think that I have said that about almost every benefit that he has conceded during his period as Minister of Pensions, and I believe it to be true. But when one compares what the Minister is doing here with the hundreds of millions of pounds which the Government have put into the hands of speculators, property owners and land racketeers, then this Measure, if I may return to my favourite Shakespeare, is like … a good deed in a naughty world. and by "naughty" Shakespeare meant "wicked". I believe that the Government ventures are a very naughty world indeed and that today's deed is by no means as good as we would have wished it to be.

2.51 p.m.

Mr. Albert Evans (Islington, South-West)

At this late stage of the debate I find it almost impossible to add anything useful to our consideration. However, the Minister has had put before him some very profound arguments. I am sure that he listened with care to my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) and my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman). I did not notice in the Minister's speech any such fundamental thought as was given to the House by my right hon. and hon. Friends. Certainly, what was said by my hon. and right hon. Friends and also by the hon. Member for Torrington (Mr. P. Browne) will deserve the attention of the Minister, or whoever succeeds him in that office.

I leave aside the very profound and interesting proposals made by my right hon. Friend. I wish to put two practical points to the Minister. We are considering a group of people in very special circumstances, about 2½ million of them. Half of them are old people, a considerable number being over 80 and many others over 70. A great many are blind. Others suffer from tuberculosis and there are others who are unemployed. We are dealing with groups in exceptional circumstances, circumstances in which they must find it difficult to get along in life. One would have thought that, in looking at the groups making up the 2½ million who have to turn to National Assistance, we should decide at once that they are not groups who can be dealt with on the basis of a percentage comparison with other groups.

It is irrelevant for the Minister to argue that by giving this increase we have adjusted the position so that these unfortunate submerged people in our society will have their income brought up by a decimal point to where it was in 1961. That is irrelevant in dealing with these special categories of unfortunates. It seems to me that if we proceed, Parliament after Parliament, on the basis of the Index of Retail Prices going up three points for 2s. 6d., 5s. or whatever it may be—a small adjustment for National Assistance recipients according to the cost of living—we shall make little headway with the basic problem. We cannot apply such a rigid mathematical approach to these special categories of unfortunates.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) made it clear that when the Labour Party comes to power it will not be content with the figures which the Minister has given us. We shall certainly step them up considerably. My hon. Friend gave some figures. The next Labour Government will, of necessity, have a different approach to the question of how much these unfortunate groups of people need to be kept from sheer poverty, and we shall not be able to proceed by way of a careful calculation of 6 per cent. on the cost of living and, therefore, an increase of 5½ per cent. in the amount given to these people. We shall have to make a departure from that. We shall have to begin to raise these people absolutely in comparison with other groups. Until we do that, their dire poverty and difficulties will be a matter of humiliation to all of us who do not have to suffer.

I want also to deal with the Minister's responsibility for the amount paid to National Assistance recipients. We have heard discussion from both sides about who is responsible for proposing these amounts—whether it is a political decision or a decision by the National Assistance Board. Let us be honest and let it be known that the figures are Government figures. The Government have decided that because the value of payments to National Assistance recipients has declined by 6 per cent. the amounts must be raised to make the real value equal to what it was in 1961. Let hon. Members opposite face that. Under the Acts the Minister is the arbiter of the payments to be made to these people; he decides.

The relevant Section of the Act lays it down that if the National Assistance Board presents the Minister with a set of figures, it is his duty to examine them and reject them if in his political judgment the figures are insufficient. I understand that that has never been done. It certainly seems to me that it should have been done on this occasion. However that may be, let us be perfectly clear that the amounts received by National Assistance recipients are decided by the Government of the day. Any attempt to hide behind the Assistance Board is an evasion.

If we acknowledge that and let it be known that the amounts paid to these people are decided by the Government, we shall get the matter clearer. Until these amounts, by Government decision, are raised above a level based on a mere cost-of-living standard and brought up to a new standard so that there shall be, at any rate, the beginnings of a measure of equality between these lowest groups and the rest of us, the position will be disgraceful to the Minister and to the House.

2.59 p.m.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

I do not think that anyone with a real interest in this very important subject can have cause for dissatisfaction with the quality of the speeches in this debate. They have been of a very high level. Seldom have we heard, on a Friday, such splendid contributions. But speeches are not enough. I liked the ending of the Minister's speech. He said: … the greatest of these is charity. I hope that he remembers the opening of that wonderful passage: Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that charity in relation to that passage from the New Testament did not mean charity in the sense to which he was referring in reply to my hon. Friend the Member far Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), but charity by embracing the quality of Christian life. If we embraced exactly that concept of charity, we should talk less in terms of persuasive percentages, as the right hon. Gentleman did in opening his speech, and more in terms of people and the reality of their present circumstances.

I thought it a bit unfair, particularly in view of the timing of the debate in the jubilee year of the institution of National Insurance in this country, that the Minister should have been so scathing, and rather defensively scathing, about intellectuals attached to this side of the House. He will remember that it was the same kind of intellectuals, over 50 years ago, and also attached to this side of the House —certainly not to the Tory Party—who brought forward the start of what has become an institution of which we can be proud—the development of social insurance over the years.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

The hon. Gentleman will recall that one of those intellectuals—who is, I am glad to say, still with us—the noble Lord, Lord Salter, subsequently became a member of the Government of my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill).

Mr. Ross

That may well be so but it does not detract from the relevance of what I was saying. When the right hon. Gentleman referred, with a certain measure of pride, to what he and the Government had done, I could not help thinking of a certain sentence. I could not remember at first where the words came from, until my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) made his wonderful speech and reminded us of the timeliness of the debate today. I recalled then that I had seen the words during my perusal of a little exhibition we have at present in the Library in a glass case. The words were: We are prone to be bemused by the contemplation of our past. Those words were used by the Minister himself when he read his commemorative message in relation to National Insurance.

One thing that has emerged from many of the speeches today is that it is time we stopped contemplating our past and appreciated that there is a challenge before us and that the facts and figures have presented us with the need for new thinking and new decisions. The new thinking has been done; it is the new decisions which are overdue.

The original conception of National Assistance was that it should be the long stop, the safety net. As my right hon. Friend said, we hoped, with the new development of comprehensive National Insurance as from 1948, that we would take all those within the scheme's ambit completely outside the whole conception of Poor Law assistance.

We certainly cannot contemplate with satisfaction the figures at the moment. Here, within the safety net that was supposed to catch the exceptions, we have in receipt of weekly allowances more than 1,844,000 people, for the figures have, I believe, increased since December last year. If we add their dependants, the total is over 2,600,000. In addition, during the year 1,011,000 applicants received a single payment. They were in such desperation that they applied and received a single payment to help them in their need. They may well have had dependants. Within these two categories alone there may well be over 4 million people, almost one in ten of our population. What kind of safety net is this? What kind of society is it in which one in ten of the population are exceptions who must be supported in this way?

There are two effects of the strain of this weight upon the safety net. First, it affects the safety net in that the meshes are very much wider. People slip through. The assistance we give to them is less than it might be. It has its implications upon those who should not be there at all or who are supposed to he safe, the retirement pensioners. We are in the position today that we cannot make an increase in the retirement pension, if it is to come from insurance, because of the effect it would have on the ability of those at the lower end of the scale to pay. Neither can we do it in that way without giving help to people who do not need it. Therefore, the pensions are lower than they should be. We still have assistance scales which are inadequate for the purpose. The inadequacy for the purpose is proved by the supplements within the National Assistance scheme.

There are so many discretionary payments—over 868,000 of them, or 51 per cent. In these circumstances there is something wrong with the scales. We should appreciate what the discretionary grants are paid in respect of. They are paid in respect of diets and special foods. The price of special foods has risen. They are paid in respect of laundry. Have laundry prices increased? They are paid in respect of home helps. The price of labour has risen. Yet the amazing thing is that taking 1961 with 1960 there is practically no difference in the average payments of discretionary grant.

There are many retirement pensioners who cannot exist on their pensions and have to get a supplement from National Assistance. Further than that, many of the pensioners who are getting their supplement according to. the scale that we lay down cannot exist on that and must get an additional supplement. This is true of 66 per cent. of them. The whole thing becomes ludicrous.

The adequacy of the scale is what really matters. It cannot be justified by relating percentages to 1948 or any other year. I liked the speech of the noble Lord the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel), but this was the weakest part of his speech. It certainly did not agree with the passage from St. Paul that I quoted. If there is a man with £5,000 a year and another man with £200 a year and we have something available to give them—£260, say—do we give 5 per cent., £10, to the man with £200 a year and £250 to the man with £5,000 a year? This is what the noble Lord and the Minister were prepared to justify. To my mind, this is wrong. If this is the essential basis of the division of the increasing prosperity of the country, it is little wonder indeed that the party opposite is losing support all over the country.

Lord Balniel

I quite see this point. I accept that there is much truth in it, but does the hon. Gentleman think that the National Assistance scales should form a higher percentage of the average industrial wages than they do at the moment? That could well be argued, but if he does, I remind him that when his Government were in office there was a substantial reduction in the percentage which National Assistance scales formed of average industrial wages. What the hon. Gentleman is proposing is a reversal of policies pursued by the Labour Government.

Mr. Ross

Will the hon. Member waken up to political realities? We were the Government—I am very glad that my right hon. Friend mentioned this—who introduced the very considerable social revolution. In July, 1948, we not only had the new Insurance Act coming into force, but also the National Assistance Act and National Health Service Act. We had barely time to get the whole thing established and going before the Conservative Government came into office, and they have been there for 11 years. When one starts a policy, one does not stop there, stagnate, and decide that no change should be made in the light of circumstances and on how things turn out. The distortion of the original scheme and intentions have come through the years under the guidance of the right hon. Gentleman, and now we have the ridiculous position that the safety net is no longer a safety net. What kind of safety net is it that takes at least 12 weeks to adjust? It would be very handy in a circus ring !

The reason that it takes 12 weeks to adjust is because we have so many people now to be contained within it. The right hon. Gentleman knows quite well that if we were dealing only with discretionary grants—this was one of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman)—we could institute these changes right away. If we were dealing with individual cases and the local officer had this power we could increase the discretionary grants. We have seen in the last year the discretionary grants increased on an average by only 4d. It is the distortion of the growth of the administrative machine which has put it into this position where, when help is needed, changes must be made, but they cannot be made for a long time. That is one of the outstanding weaknesses of this matter.

When we come to the question of adequacy compared with what was done a year ago—it was interesting to hear the right hon. Gentleman bring September, 1959, into this, lumping the two increases together—we have to remember that it was during the General Election of 1959, after this had been enacted, that the party opposite declared to the country that pensioners and those on National Assistance would share in the increased prosperity of the country. By definition the people on National Assistance are the poorest in the land. Let no one think that because the scales are to be 95s. for a couple, all people on National Assistance will get 95s. There ire about 330,000 getting 10s. or less. When we increased the pension by 12s. 6d we did not increase the National Assistance scale by as much as that. By definition, the poorest received 3s. 6d. for a single person and 5s. for a couple.

Since then we have seen galloping inflation and a steadily rising cost of living. I do not accept that there has been a rise of only six points in the cost of living. It should be borne in mind that no one will be paid these scales until 24th September. The last announcement was made, and the discussion followed it even as this discussion is following another announcement, in November, 1960. When the announcement was made, the cost-of-living index stood at 110. Today it stands at 120 and on Tuesday of next week I am sure that it will be 121. I am sure that the hon. Lady has the figure.

Mrs. Thatcher indicated dissent.

Mr. Ross

She ought to have the figure and to have given a preview of it, because it will be published on Tuesday. It is always published on the Tuesday nearest the 15th of the month. This is dirty Friday the 13th. I wonder how the Minister fools. My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) referred to the fact that we are led to believe that coming events are casting dark shadows across present Ministerial faces. I wonder Whether it will be black Friday for anybody sitting on the Government Front Bench. I am sure that if it had wanted to do so, the Department could have obtained this figure. If it had been a good Department it would have obtained it.

In any event, it means an increase of 10 points in the cost of living since the the Government last thought it desirable to make an increase. The pension rate for a couple, according to an Answer given last week, has lost 6s. 9d. of its promised value. These new rates do not even compensate for the rise in the cost of living according to the index which the right hon. Gentleman quoted, and that index itself bears no relation to the pattern of spending of the poorest of the land.

The first speech which I ever made at this Box, and probably the best I have ever made at this Box, was on the removal of the bread subsidy. I am surprised that anyone has ever placed any reliance on the cost-of-living index since I made that speech. I thought that I had destroyed the myth of the index proving anything about any person or any group. It does not. It is a general trend.

The old index in force after the war was related to working-class spending, whereas the present index, whatever it is related to, is not related to that. The steep increases in the price of food lately are such that the Minister's statistics have been completely destroyed in relation even to the 1948 standard of living, if that has any meaning. Most of the people on National Assistance were not on National Assistance 17 years ago.

Let us relate our standards on the adequacy of life on National Assistance scales to our present thinking about adequacy. These standards change and will be very much higher as this country is prepared to support standards which are very much higher than we could support in 1948. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to give a proper share of the rising national income to the pensioners, he should do far more than he is doing in these scales.

On the figure quoted by Professor Titmuss and his colleagues in The Times today, we should need at least another 10s. for the single householder, exclusive of rent, and I do not think that any of my hon. Friends would be satisfied that even that was enough. Today we are solemnly judging that for two people in Britain—after the rent is paid —£4 15s. 6d., as it will be on the new scale, will be adequate to support life—their food, their clothing, the incidental expenses of life, transport, fuel, lighting and the rest.

The hon. Lady must appreciate that though she said that they did not need to live on that amount that is what we are judging today they must live on, unless they have additional and exceptional means, and 44 per cent. of more than 1 million old-age pensioners are dependent only on their supplement, which will be very small, for rent. The increases of 4s. and 5s. do not match up, neither do the increases for the blind—7s. 6d. and 8s. 6d. respectively. It is more than a month since I asked the loss in the value of this pension due to the fall in the value in the £ since the last increase was made, and it was over 7s. at that time.

We have no reason at all to be proud of what we are doing, and we have every reason to use this occasion to meet the challenge that was thrown out by my right hon. Friend. We cannot go on—and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate this—deceiving ourselves that we—or he, because he has been in the position longer than anyone else has ever been—have reached satisfaction in relation to National Insurance and National Assistance scales. As my right hon. Friend and others have said, a person paying at the top rate for the new graduated pension—which is supposed to solve all our problems in this respect—will probably earn, after 20 years, an addition to the pension of about 20s. Last year, the average payment to retirement pensioners to bring them to subsistence levels was 19s. 5d. How on earth can we be satisfied with a position like that?

It is not just a question of recasting our National Assistance; we must start by recasting our National Insurance, and making those pensions adequate for life and reasonable comfort. The safety net will be very much smaller, very much stronger, and very much more comfortable for those who have to be caught in it, and we will then be able to avoid the ridiculous position that the safety net that will save people from danger cannot be adjusted quickly, and in time. Here, we are giving far too little and, because of the very nature of the problem that the right hon. Gentleman himself has created for himself, we are giving it far too slowly.

I am pleased that several hon. Members have spoken about prescription Charges. We have already adjudged the present National Assistance scales as being inadequate and have been told that the proposed new scales will bring probably another 40,000 to 50,000 people within the ambit of National Assistance. Is there anything to prevent the Ministry from applying the new scales immediately when any retirement pensioner comes forward with a case for prescription charge repayment? I recall, in this connection, that when the National Health Service Bill was going through the House it was pointed out that it would help a great deal if the new scales could be paid immediately. After all, illness will not wait until 24th September.

I feel annoyed and angry when it is suggested that a man who is sick or unemployed can cope all right without help as long as he has been in employment for a certain time. I have in mind a case in my constituency. Because I was angry about what had happened to a constituent I wrote to the Ministry and, by coincidence, an allowance was made to the man concerned after I had written the letter. However, in the letter of explanation I received from the Minister there was the usual assumption that if a man has had a spell of work he is able to keep his family for a week or two on his unemployment or sickness benefit without recourse to National Assistance. This sort of thinking does not face up to the facts of life.

As I say, payment was eventually made to my constituent, but I am afraid there is one less person on National Assistance today because the man was taken into hospital and died. It is this sort of thing which makes people shy away from National Assistance. There are certain types—perhaps I might call them the "hangers-on" and those who believe that they know everything—who have little or no trouble, especially mentally, in seeking National Assistance. They merely badger the local officers, present their cases, and receive help.

The other type, however, often needs to be persuaded to go to the National Assistance Board. When such a person goes he might easily be turned down, thereby suffering a terrible indignity which has an effect throughout the scheme. We must face these things. People have and want to maintain their dignity and independence and we seem not to have completely broken away from the link with the public assistance schemes of days gone by. I regret it. I try to plead with people who are in need to go to the National Assistance Board. I tell them that the Board has been provided to assist them. Do not let us keep saying that the Board is there for them to visit as of right, for they must prove that they are in desperate need, and that is a great stumbling block.

There are many old ladies—and some who are not so old—who do not like parading their poverty to others. Let us bear all these things in mind and, when we do make changes, let us face the challenge and be adventurous. It is no use talking about charity and Britain being a Christian country if this affluent Britain is not prepared to share the burden of the poor and the pensioner.

I hope that the Minister will make the administrative changes hon. Members are seeking. I hope that he will give great publicity to the National Assistance Board. Its officers have done excellent work and we should be a lot poorer without them. They work in an humanitarian way and I should not like anything I have said to be construed as being criticism of these excellent people.

Let not anyone think that because we criticise the discretionary allowances we want them discontinued within the present form. We do not. What we want is much more fairness in the granting of them because they vary so much from one area to another. It was one of the weaknesses of the old parish system that Glasgow was generous and some other place not so generous. This is one of the great weaknesses of the discretionary authority. I sincerely hope that whilst we require these allowances to he used they will be adjudged in fairness.

The Minister opened with that fine passage from St. Paul. I shall finish on a fine passage from St. Paul. I have already referred to the opening section of it. The right hon. Gentleman concluded with the last few words of it.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

The hon. Member will find the quotation in the second verse of the 13th Chapter of the Corinthians.

Mr. Ross

The right hon. Gentleman finished by saying … hut the greatest of these is charity. I refer to: … faith, hope, charity … We must have faith in ourselves but, as far as this Parliament is concerned, faith in the ability of the party opposite to handle the affairs of the country has been dissipated. Hope still remains with the people who depend on our proper legislation here, but their hopes are not fixed on that side of the House. Their hopes are fixed on this side.

3.32 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

I came to the House expecting to reply to a debate on National Assistance Regulations. I think that I am expected to answer not only for the National Assistance Board, but also for the Treasury, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and one or two more. My right hon. Friends in charge of those Departments must find this prospect as alarming as I do.

There have been various comments in the debate about the use of statistics. Some hon. Members have condemned them all outright and some have used them. What usually happens is that we use those statistics which support our particular argument and we condemn all the rest. Some hon. Members have condemned us for looking back on the past and have said that we should only look forward to the future. Some have dealt with the whole matrix in which the National Assistance Board is embedded and some with the detail of the scheme. As far as my voice continues, which is an even more important factor at the moment than the time between now and four o'clock, I will try to answer as many points as I can.

I should like to deal, first, with the Government's general approach to social security. This takes up the point made by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) who, whatever else he is, is always a master of the twist. This is a feat which he demonstrates regularly in the House. Government expenditure on the social services has gone up not only in absolute terms, but in far more significant terms. It has gone up as a proportion of the gross national product, which is a much better yardstick of judgment than the absolute terms.

We define the social services altogether as education, child care, school meals, welfare food, the National Health Service, National Insurance, war pensions, National Assistance, family allowances and housing. Taking all these things together, which are all part of the social services and part of the Welfare State, I have to go back, I regret to say, to the year 1946, but for the very good reason that statistics before that year were taken on a different basis. That is the only significance of the starting point.

In 1946, the expenditure on these services amounted to 12 per cent. of the gross national product. In 1951, it amounted to 15.9 per cent. and in 1961 to 17.6 per cent. of the gross national product. I trust, therefore, that we shall have no more of the argument that we are trying to reduce the social services even as a proportion of the gross national product.

Mr. J. Griffiths

I am intrigued to understand why the hon. Lady thinks that she should begin in 1946 and has omitted, curiously enough, what she generally does not omit, 1948. Why take 1946, which was before any action or legislation had been put into effect?

Mrs. Thatcher

For the very simple reason that for the moment I have not got the figures for 1948 with me. I would assume— I should have thought it was a good arithmetical assumption—that the figure for 1948—between 1946 and 1951—was somewhere between 12 per cent. and 15.9 per cent. I would not need to be an academic genius to make that reasonable deduction.

Government expenditure as a whole over the last three years has been taking an increasing proportion of the gross national product. Hon. Members on this side of the House will not take too happily to that. We have not even been reducing Government expenditure since 1957 as a proportion of the gross national product. It is not as if we were trying to take more away from the sections of the community who need it or from those social services which we have been discussing today.

We have gone on from the general social security background to a discussion of National Insurance and the functions of National Assistance. National Insurance is a contributory scheme, as the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) is very well aware, and National Assistance depends on a test of means. They are quite different systems and they are operated on quite different bases.

When discussing any new legislation people must always think how best to draft legislation. There are two broad methods. One is to draft it carefully and minutely, trying to account far every sort of circumstance in the actual legislation itself. Where we are dealing with a matter like National Insurance this is the course usually taken. One tries to legislate either by legislation in this House or by regulation for many minutely different circumstances, and then one finds as a question of fact whether individual cases fit those particular circumstances.

This method is not really suited at all to the work of National Assistance because it is far too rigid. Where we come to deal with National Assistance it would seem to me that it is very appropriate that we should have a very wide measure of discretion in order that we may fit in the actual grants with the needs in widely different circumstances. I find it most discouraging when we have Questions on National Insurance and Members ask my right hon. Friend to exercise a discretion which he has not got, and than, when we have a wide measure of discretion, as in National Assistance, people do not like that either.

We have had various strictures about the level of benefit of the National Insurance scheme and various suggestions that it would have been better to have put up the standard rate considerably. This, again, must be considered against the background of the general economic situation and competing claims of other Government Departments. When hon. Members suggest that particular Departmental expenditure should go up, then, with the exception of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, they rarely suggest that other Departments should take a cut in their expenditure. If we were to put up the National Insurance benefit rates we should have to consider increasing all the other rates. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that we cannot just move National Insurance rates in isolation; we have to move industrial injuries and war pensions proportionately as well.

If we were to put up pensions to £4 a week for a single person and £6 8s. 6d. for a married couple the total cost would be an extra £490 million, of which National Insurance would take £425 million, industrial injuries £25 million, and war pensions nearly £40 million. The cost to the Exchequer out of that sum would be £130 million. That is equivalent to an increase of 4d. in the standard rate of Income Tax. The cost in contributions, taking it over all those who are members of the National Insurance Scheme, would be an extra 7s. a week on the stamp for a man and an extra 6s. a week on the stamp for a woman.

Having given those figures I trust that the House will agree with the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Cross-man) that it would be quite impossible at the moment to increase the pensions and National Insurance rates by that amount. Even if we did, many people who have no title at all to National Insurance benefits would receive no help from any such increase. People say quite glibly that 70 per cent. of the payments made by the National Assistance Board go to supplementing National Insurance benefits——

Mr. Ross

Why "glibly"? That is what is said in the Report—71 per cent.

Mrs. Thatcher

May I finish the sentence? Perhaps "glibly" is not the word to use. People say that——

Mr. Ross

It is said that——

Mrs. Thatcher

It is true that 70 per cent. of the grants made by the Assistance Board go to supplementing National Insurance benefits. The point I was making is that that leaves 30 per cent. of the people—in fact, the accurate figure is 29 per cent., quite a large number—without any basic provision upon which to fall back. Any increase in the National Insurance benefits coupled with an increase in the others would not touch these people at all.

Who are these other people? There are at the moment about 530,000 on National Assistance with no title to National Insurance benefits. Of these some are old. A large number of them, both men and women, are under retirement pension age. There are over 90,000 non-contributory old age pensioners. There are 122,000 people over retirement age receiving neither retirement pension nor an old age pension. Of women under 60 and men under 65, there are 131,000 sick and disabled not eligible for National Insurance benefit. There are 79,000 women with children to care for. In this group are the deserted wives to whom the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) referred, the sufferers from the way in which modern men treat their women. An uncivilised way, I think the hon. Gentleman said, and I entirely agree.

There are 13,000 who cannot go out to work because they are needed at home to care for sick or old relatives. There are 3,000 not classified, and there are 92,000 registered at employment exchanges because they are considered fit for work but who, nevertheless, in many cases are handicapped in one way or another. It is to these people that the work of the Assistance Board—and this increase—is mainly directed. In any event, improvements in the pension scales at the moment would have no effect whatever upon those who are on National Assistance and receiving fairly high grants because the one would merely offset the other.

Hon. Members have raised a Large number of points about the detail of the Board's work, and I Shall try to answer as many as I can. It was a great pleasure to have the right hon. Member for Llanelly taking part in this debate; he has not taken part in any debate on these matters since I have been in my present office. I know that the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) is trying to push me out of my office by suggesting that I should "leak" about the Index of Retail Prices, but I shall do my best to confound his efforts. The right hon. Gentleman asked me a question of fact about industrial injuries benefits. He will find a footnote on page 9 of the Board's Report for 1961 pointing out that supplements to those in receipt of industrial injury benefit form only a small part of the supplements given—rather less than 2,000 in each year.

Mr. J. Griffiths

Perhaps I did not make myself clear. I saw that footnote. To have 2,000 people on industrial injury benefit is a very serious matter. Do I gather that these people are in receipt of industrial injury benefit and not disablement benefit?

Mrs. Thatcher

A number of them will be receiving disablement benefit. I am sure that my right hon. Friend has taken to heart, or, at any rate, to head, the right hon. Gentleman's remarks.[HON. MEMBERS: "Head?"] Both are necessary, and I suggest that the head is, at any rate, as important as the other part of the anatomy.

The hon. Member for Sowerby asked about discretionary grants. There is a note in the Explanatory Memorandum to the White Paper, paragraph 4, saying that The other provisions of the present Regulations are left unchanged. The discretionary powers which form an important part of the Regulations will continue to be exercised in any case where special circumstances so require. My hon. Friends the Members for Torrington (Mr. P. Browne) and Torquay (Mr. F. M. Bennett) spoke about disregards. It is true that we are not altering the legislation on disregards this time. It would not assist those in the very worst positions merely to increase the disregards. The last time that we dealt with disregards was in 1959. We accept that this time we are having a holding operation to make good the erosion which has occurred since the date of the last increase.

The hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. W. Hamilton) made a most interesting point, and I was grateful to him for making it. He pointed out indirectly how unwise it can be to make comparisons with average earnings. Quite a number of us have been making that comparison today. When making a comparison with average earnings, it is easy to forget that one is comparing a net amount received from the National Assistance Board—a net income—with a gross income, which must have deducted from it payments made for tax and for National Insurance contributions and payments such as fares to and from work, trade union dues, and the like. Basically, therefore, the comparison is not a good one.

Some people in the hon. Member's constituency appear to be at that part of the scale of National Assistance which compares quite well with the earnings that some of them receive. In the work of the Board, we have to apply the wage stop clause in a number of cases when otherwise we would pay more than the average amount that a person would receive if he were at work.

The hon. Member for Sowerby, who is figuring a great deal in my comments today, suggested that we should raise the National Assistance scale rates to 68s. for a single person and to 107s. for a married couple. This would cost an extra £50 million over and above the extra £20½ million for which we are attempting to provide today. This would be a very large figure indeed.

The hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) asked for an assurance concerning rent. He will find it on page 18 of the Annual Report, which states that rent is paid in full in 99 per cent. of cases. That leaves 1 per cent. The hon. Member will, however, appreciate that rent cannot be paid irrespective of how high it may be or of whether the accommodation is suitable or alternative accommodation could be obtained for those in need.

The hon. Member for Coventry, East suggested—I admit, in the context in which he spoke—that we should have done everything together, that is to say, National Assistance rates and pension rates moving together. There is an obvious reason why this should not be done which will not have escaped the hon. Member, but may have escaped others. National Assistance is going to those in need and we must try to make good any erosion at rather more frequent intervals than in the case of the National Insurance benefits. The hon. Member will be familiar with the quotation from the Phillips Report, which is not very fashionable in the House these days, when it pointed out, in paragraph 215, that On the whole, the conclusion we have reached is that there cannot be any stereotyped formula for fixing the level of benefit and changes should not be made except at infrequent intervals and unless there are compelling reasons …

Mr. Crossman

The Phillips Report is not my favourite document, nor do I always have to agree with it. I am not clear why the hon. Lady has read that passage and suggested that erosion—which means denying to people what they have been promised—should be made good only in respect of National Assistance.

If I am an old-age pensioner and the State has promised me a certain standard of living, it seems to me that the State has an obligation to maintain that standard of living to an old-age pensioner, whether on National Assistance or not. Therefore, I should like to know why it is felt that the erosion should be made good at more frequent intervals in the case of National Assistance than in the case of the old-age pension.

Mrs. Thatcher

The hon. Member knows full well that, taking our overall record, we have more than made good the erosion in the standard of living. The point I was making is that a change in National Insurance is a massive administrative operation and one which does not usually occur more often than at two- or three-yearly intervals.

Mr. Crossman

That is what I was complaining of.

Mrs. Thatcher

The trouble is that the hon. Member and I have different favourite documents and doctrines and there is no good in arguing the toss about them. I might just as well go on. If we were to take the advice of eminent economists, coupled with the advice of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, we should have a riot and we would have no Army to quell it; and by the time we had finished we should have to call in the Army of British Guiana.

The hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) referred to the reluctance of people to apply for assistance. As the hon. Member knows, we do our very best to overcome this reluctance, which is due to two quite different reasons. It may be due to ignorance or to pride. We do not think that a great deal of it is due to ignorance; most people are aware of the existence of the Board.

The other reason, which is much more difficult to tackle, is the innate pride which people feel and their unwillingness, quite naturally, to admit that they have come to the last resort. That is, of necessity, something which they must admit if they come to ask for an extra grant based on need. There will always be people in need who have suffered misfortune or who have been deserted and there will always, therefore, need to be machinery to try to deal with these people.

We do everything that is possible. We make it clear on our posters that people do not even have to go to the office. If we could get that across to people, if they would read what is there to be read, it would be a great help. They have in their mind's eye the idea that they have to go before the old type of Board, which they do not have to do in any way whatever.

Before I finish, may I make a point which the Board consider to be very important? We do not only assess people's needs and give them allowances. The Board does far more constructive and more positive work than that. It tries to visit the people once every six months, if they have extra needs it tries to cater for them and sometimes suggests special allowances to meet them.

I am delighted to be able to tell my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) that it makes a point of putting these people into contact with those who supply other social services, such as those responsible for meals on wheels and the wide variety of other social services which are available to them. The Board also undertakes the positive job of trying to give them back their pride and independence, and to get back into jobs, and even to become taxpayers, those people who are under pension age and who have fallen by the wayside. We have re-establishment centres run by those who deal with the long-term unemployed and who can look after them and find jobs for them.

I trust that the House will not think that the work of the Board lies merely in trying to assess need and paying out allowances. The Board's officers are genuine friends and helpers to those who are in need, and genuinely try to give back their pride and independence to those who have temporarily lost them and try to secure jobs for them. I should like, on behalf of the Board, to thank those hon. Members who have been complimentary about its work, and to ignore the comments of those who have not been so complimentary.

I commend the Regulations to the House happy in the knowledge that every penny will go to those who really need this extra money and that it will be of some help to them in the coming months.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the National Assistance (Determination of Need) Amendment Regulations 1962, dated 30th June 1962, a draft of which was laid before this House on 3rd July, be approved.

Back to