HC Deb 04 December 1967 vol 755 cc933-5
20 and 24. Mr. Higgins

asked the Minister of Social Security (1) how many people over retirement age, who are not in receipt of a National Insurance retirement or widows pension, are in receipt of supplementary benefit; and by how much she estimates the cost of supplementary benefit would be reduced on their receiving a National Insurance pension as of right;

(2) what she estimates to be the cost to the National Insurance Fund of paying a National Insurance pension as of all old people excluded from National Insurance in 1948 at current rates; how many old people there are who were excluded from National Insurance in 1948; and what their average age is at present.

Mrs. Hart

It is estimated that by next March the number of old people who were excluded in 1948 will be of the order of 150,000. Their average age is thought to be about 85. The immediate annual cost to the National Insurance Fund of paying them pensions at the present standard rates would be £35 million; though, to be equitable to other classes of old people, an additional annual cost of £75 million would be involved. Out of 400,000; people over pension age without National Insurance pensions, about 184,000 are receiving supplementary benefit; the cost of this benefit would be reduced by £42 million a year if they were all given standard insurance pensions.

Mr. Higgins

Has the Minister made any calculation of how the cost would change over the next 10 years?

Mrs. Hart

The way in which the cost would change over the next 10 years would be affected in part by the group of old people whom I know the hon. Member has very much in mind—but only in part, because the other group to whom such an extension of insurance would have to apply would not be so much affected.

Mr. Worsley

Will the right hon. Lady accept that the groups mentioned by my hon. Friend will be particularly hard hit by devaluation? Has she noticed that he has a Bill on the stocks about this matter? Will she persuade her right hon. Friends to support it?

Mrs. Hart

I have noted that the hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) has a Bill on this matter. I am very well aware of the problem. Hon. Members opposite are also aware of the other side of the problem, and they know that it is a difficult matter. I am looking at it very hard. We shall have to see exactly what emerges at the time of the hon. Member's Bill.

21. Mr. Neave

asked the Minister of Social Security how many old people excluded from the National Insurance Scheme and receiving no retirement pension die on average each week.

Mrs. Hart

I regret that there are no statistics available to give this information.

Mr. Neave

Would not the right hon. Lady consider a suggestion which I have made several times in the House—the registration of these old people? In what is very clearly an unhappy problem, could not her Department do something in that way?

Mrs. Hart

The great difficulty about getting an accurate figure is that there are many of these old people who might well be eligible for supplementary benefit if they applied, but since they do not apply, we have no knowledge of who they are, or how many of them there are. That is the essential nature of the difficulty in compiling statistics.

22. Mr. Neave

asked the Minister of Social Security upon the deaths of how many people above pension age in the United Kingdom the National Insurance death grant will not be payable.

Mr. Pentland

About one million assuming that the hon. Member's Question relates to those people who, when the National Insurance Scheme began on 5th July, 1948, were too old to become insured for death grant.

Mr. Neave

The Parliamentary Secretary must have known that I was referring to pensionless old people. Does he not realise that this is one of the most cruel aspects of the problem which we are discussing and that the public are most concerned about it?

Mr. Pentland

The hon. Member well knows that the scheme is based on the contributory principle, with the result that when the contributions conditions are not satisfied, benefit cannot be awarded. That is the law as it stands and as it has stood since 1946.

Mr. Manuel

Is my hon. Friend aware that there was a much greater number of these old people during the 13 years that the previous Government were in office and that they did nothing about it? Why are they asking us to take up the cudgels for them?

Mr. Pentland

My hon. Friend should recognise that the Tory conscience is very much stirred these days.

Lord Balniel

The hon. Member should appreciate that on both sides of the House there is general agreement that there is a greater concentration of poverty among this section of the community than ever. As the numbers are much smaller than they used to be, would he not agree that we all accept this as an anomaly and consider whether it is possible for us to reach some agreement to help solve the problem of this very limited section of the community which is suffering great distress?

Mr. Pentland

The noble Lord knows full well that supplementary benefits are available for many thousands of these people, but his hon. Friend's Question refers to the death grant, which, under the Act as it stands, cannot be paid in these circumstances.