HC Deb 29 June 1964 vol 697 cc927-9
26. Dr. Bray

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what general instructions he has given to local officers of his Department regarding the payment of benefits where the regulations are imprecise and refusal to pay a benefit would result in an act of inhumanity, such as when a mother cannot pay for the burial of a child.

ment which is being put up, that all these increases have been given to people, bears no relation at all to the circumstances in which people are living, and that the hon. Lady herself says that the Tory Government do not intend to abolish prescription charges, which bring in £200 million a year, and that that is an added burden for the old-age pensioners and other people to whom these Questions relate? Do the Government intend to make an announcement before the election, or are they once more making frothy promises to the electorate?

Mr. Wood

The answer to the hon. Lady is that the Government have made a series of announcements since 1951, not only improving the benefits at frequent intervals, but improving benefits over a very wide range indeed. There is no question at all of a death-bed repentance. This has been a continuous operation since 1951.

Following are the figures:

Mr. Wood

Awards of National Insurance benefits are made by independent statutory authorities, in the light of the available evidence. I am sure that the law is humanely applied. Now that the hon. Member has sent me details of the case which he has in mind, I will make inquiries and write to him about it.

Dr. Bray

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that inquiries have been on foot in his Department for three weeks about this extremely distressing case of a mother who was refused payment of death benefit on the ground that she had only the death certificate and not the burial certificate? Does he not feel that the fact that such an appalling incident should happen in his Department shows a lack of supervision and general awareness of the terms under which the public need to be served? Will he make a very thorough-going inquiry of the assumptions and attitudes of local officers, most of whom are certainly extremely conscientious about the purposes of their duty, but who in some instances seem to have got the wrong impression from above, from the Minister, of the objective of their services?

Mr. Wood

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be perfectly fair. For reasons of which I am well aware, I received his letter about this matter this morning. In his letter he has made various charges which I shall certainly investigate, and I shall write to him as quickly as possible.