HC Deb 04 May 1964 vol 694 cc891-2
24. Mrs. Castle

asked the Minister of Health whether he is aware that Mr. and Mrs. Garrett, of Blackburn, have been refused a refund of their prescription charges because they are both drawing an old age pension in their own right; and whether, in view of this situation, he will amend the arrangements for the refund of these charges.

Mr. Barber

I am aware that the National Assistance Board was unable to help in this case, but I do not think it follows that the arrangements for refund of charges need to be altered.

Mrs. Castle

Is the Minister aware that Mr. Garrett is totally disabled following a seizure, that Mrs. Garrett has had to undergo hospital treatment for her nerves and that their prescription costs frequently amount to 8s. a week? Has the right hon. Gentleman any idea of what it is like to have a sum of this size deducted from an income of £6 15s. a week? Will he not, therefore, in view of this grossly inhumane provision, abolish these outrageous charges immediately?

Mr. Barber

In this case, the determining consideration was not, as the hon. Lady seems to suggest in her Question, the fact that Mr. and Mrs. Garrett each received a retirement pension, but the size of their combined income which exceeds their needs by National Assistance standards. With regard to the second part of the hon. Lady's question, I know that it is the policy of the Opposition to do as she has just suggested and to abolish all health charges—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—at a cost of £50 million. The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) declared on 20th April that a Labour Government would do this without making cuts anywhere in the National Health Service. [HON. MEMBERS: "Come off it."] I only say that it follows that a Labour Government would increase taxation by that amount.

Mr. K. Robinson

Since the Minister, his predecessor and the Prime Minister have asked repeatedly for evidence of hardship in connection with prescription charges, will they start by having a look at the case of my hon. Friend's constituent?

Mr. Barber

I have had a look at the case but, obviously, as long as the the system of National Assistance remains in being, there must be a limit beyond which assistance is not given. In view of what the hon. Member has said, it is a fact to be borne in mind that National Assistance rates have been increased eight times by this Government, an increase of 109 per cent. for a married couple, and that during the same period the Index of Retail Prices has increased by 47 per cent.

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