HC Deb 22 June 1964 vol 697 cc23-5
26 and 27. Mr. McBride

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (1) whether he is aware that handicapped persons may be unable to take employment, or to satisfy contribution conditions for National Insurance and may remain dependent on relatives throughout their lives; whether he will re-submit to the National Insurance Advisory Committee the question of payment of a death grant in such cases irrespective of the age of the dependant; and what steps he proposes to take to remedy the hardships at present caused by its refusal;

(2) what decision he has reached on the payment of a death grant in respect of people who through disability have never been able to work.

36. Mr. Small

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what steps he intends to take with regard to the payment by the National Assistance Board of a death grant in respect of those people who because of physical or mental illness have never paid National Insurance contributions.

Mrs. Thatcher

In cases of need, the National Assistance Board can provide grants during the lifetime of handicapped persons so that they need not remain completely dependent on relatives. The provision of death grant for all such persons raises difficult and wider issues which my right hon. Friend is at present studying.

Mr. McBride

Is the hon. Member aware that many people will be disappointed with that Answer? Could she not submit this afresh to the National Insurance Advisory Committee? Is she further aware that the financial cost to the nation of providing the death grant for mentally handicapped children irrespective of age would be small indeed? I ask her again to look at this matter in human terms and to alleviate a real hardship caused to parents on the death of handicapped children over 18 years of age—an alleviation of hardship which would be a blessing indeed.

Mrs. Thatcher

I agree that the cost of giving the death grant to this small group of people would not be very great. Our difficulty in the National Insurance Scheme would be to confine the grant, in the absence of contributions, to this small group of people. If we gave it to this group of people there would be a number of others who would have similar claims. Despite the absence of contributions, or a low record of contributions, they would also want death grants. But we are considering this point.

Mr. L. M. Lever

On a point of order. I thought that you were going to call me, Mr. Speaker, on Question No. 25. I want to support the hon. Member for Withington (Sir R. Cary) in that matter. I have had more connection with this question than any other hon. Member who has spoken about it. I should like to support the hon. Member for Withington in thanking the Minister for his reply to Question No. 25.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not understand what the hon. Member is trying to do. If he reflected about points of order in general he would see that we should clearly be in a difficulty if hon. Members were to talk about something of that kind, and in particular to talk about another Question, on a point of order.

Mr. Small

The hon. Lady will recognise that people are covered up to the age of 16 and then enjoy National Assistance as a right. Could not she introduce some measure of equity here, without closely applying economic principles throughout? Since National Assistance is afforded up to the age of 16, an additional ex gratia payment on death would not break the back of the nation, would it?

Mrs. Thatcher

If I understand the hon. Gentleman aright, he is asking whether the National Assistance Board could make a death grant in such cases. This was mentioned the last time we had Questions on this topic. Studies on the point have so far been a little disappointing. As the law now stands, the Board tells me that it has no power to make payments in respect of deceased persons and no responsibility for burials under the 1948 Act. The Board does, however, use its discretionary powers to help with funeral expenses in exceptional circumstances where a person who has incurred a debt in arranging a funeral is himself in receipt of assistance or living at about the assistance level and when, because help cannot be obtained from other sources, real hardship would arise if nothing were done.

Mr. Mitchison

Is not this a matter which ought to go to the Advisory Committee again? When it was considered, together with a number of other matters, as long ago as 1955, it was turned down only on the ground that there were very few cases. Is not that an insufficient ground, and ought not the question to be referred to the Advisory Committee again to see whether it can limit the task properly?

Mrs. Thatcher

If I recall aright, the National Insurance Advisory Committee turned the proposal down on account of the difficulty which I mentioned in answer to an earlier question, namely, that of providing a grant given in return for contributions in a case where there is an absence of contributions. This is the fundamental insurance difficulty. Of course, the Advisory Committee would have no status in relation to National Assistance.

Mrs. Braddock

Who is responsible for the disposal of the body if there is no income and no cash of any kind in the family? Will she tell us about that, because it seems to be a ridiculous situation?

Mrs. Thatcher

I am not responsible for that particular matter. The Board tells me that it has no responsibility for burial under the National Assistance Act. I think that responsibility is laid on the local authority in the absence of other arrangements.