HC Deb 21 November 1966 vol 736 cc935-7
45. Mr. Braine

asked the Minister of Social Security what action she proposes to take in view of the fact that increases of 5s. for a single householder and 7s. 6d. for a married couple in the scales of supplementary benefit under the Ministry of Social Security Act of this year will not make good the fall in purchasing power since the scale rates were last increased in March, 1965.

Miss Herbison

None, Sir. The basic increases referred to broadly make good the fall in purchasing power since March, 1965, even for the minority who do not benefit from the long-term addition; and, of course, the rates of supplementary benefit have a considerably higher purchasing power than any in force prior to March, 1965.

Mr. Braine

Surely the Minister is aware that her own figures show that the retirement pension is worth 5s. 3d. less for a single person and 8s. 6d. less for a married couple than in March, 1965, and that roughly the same decline must be effective for supplementary benefits? Is not this a very serious decline in purchasing power, and is it not regrettable that the first victims of inflation are pensioners? Will she not do something about it?

Miss Herbison

There are a number of matters that one has to take into account when looking at the supplementary pensions and benefits. There is rent, for example. Whenever there is a rise, that is taken care of right away. But if the hon. Gentleman is really concerned about these old people, I am sure that he will be glad to know that the new rates of supplementary benefits that will come into effect on 28th November will for householders be about 27 per cent. higher than the National Assistance scales in October, 1964, as against an 8.8 per cent. increase in the cost of living as measured by the Retail Prices Index.

48. Mr. Holland

asked the Minister of Social Security how many pensioners currently receiving National Assistance will be granted additional benefit above the standard supplementary rate under the new arrangements to ensure that they will not be worse off after 28th November, 1966.

Miss Herbison

This figure will not be known until statistics have been collected after the new supplementary benefit scheme starts on 28th November.

Mr. Holland

Does the right hon. Lady agree with Professor Townsend's assessment that there will be many people who will be worse off under the new scheme, particularly the long-term unemployed, and will she take active steps to ensure that this is not so? Will she give an assurance that the new scheme will be at least as flexible as the National Assistance Board was in meeting need?

Miss Herbison

I am very grateful for that question, because I am able to say that there will not be a single person who will be worse off after 28th November. Schedule 7 takes care of that. I am also very glad to be able to tell the House that 450,000 new applications have been made for the new supplementary benefits. That shows that there certainly will be flexibility.

49. Mr. Dean

asked the Minister of Social Security how the new scales of supplementary benefit for retirement pensioners compare in purchasing power with the scale rates introduced in March, 1965, for retirement pensioners who were also getting the average rate of discretionary additions at that date.

Miss Herbison

The March, 1965, scale rate were equivalent to £4 0s. 9d. for a single person and £6 13s. 4d. for a married couple at current prices, compared with basic supplementary pension rates of £4 1s. and £6 13s. In addition, all supplementary pensioners will receive a long-term addition of 9s. a week, with further additions in exceptional cases, compared with average discretionary additions of 8s. 3d. in March, 1965.

Mr. Dean

Would the right hon. Lady agree that in the case of the vast majority of pensioners who are now getting a discretionary addition the new scheme will mean that in relation to the purchasing power of March, 1965, they will be getting less than they are at the present moment? Does she not feel in view of this that her fairy godmother image is wearing a bit thin?

Miss Herbison

I could not disagree more with the conclusions that the hon. Gentleman has reached. At least two-thirds of the existing supplementary pensioners will benefit from our new scheme, and not a single person among the others will be worse off.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

But is it not a fact that about three-quarters of the pensioners were receiving extra before the new 9s. allowance? Does not this mean that at least the pensioners are not sharing in any increase in the standard of living, which was one of the right hon. Lady's most emphatic election pledges?

Miss Herbison

No, Sir. The answer that I have just given is that at least two-thirds will be much better off. I have been speaking to many old people, and they are delighted about the standard allowance that does away with the niggling inquiries into small expenses which they felt took away their dignity and self-respect.