§ 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 892 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.