HC Deb 08 April 1968 vol 762 cc861-2
7. Mr. Eadie

asked the Minister of Social Security what her inquiry into fuel costs relating to retirement pensioners has shown.

45. Mr. Victor Yates

asked the Minister of Social Security if she will make a statement on the results of her inquiry into the effect of fuel costs on the standard o living of pensioners.

Mrs. Hart

By arrangement with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power, an inquiry is being made into the comparative costs of different methods of space heating for elderly people. I shall study the results when I have them.

Mr. Eadie

Has my right hon. Friend's Department given any consideration to the question of surplus coal stocks? Should not some consideration be given, as a matter of social policy, to reducing those stocks to benefit some old-age pensioners?

Mrs. Hart

I answered a Question about this some weeks ago. This problem is really a matter for the Minister of Power but, in relation to Scotland, the problem often is that the surplus fuels are not those which are suitable for domestic use.

Mr. Yates

In view of the fact that a number of old-age pensioners in Birmingham have been under the mistaken impression that they could send their fuel bills to the Ministry for payment, when my right hon. Friend completes her inquiry will she see that they are in no doubt about their rights, since this burdensome misconception is unfortunate?

Mrs. Hart

A number of cases in various parts of the country have been reported to my Ministry and appropriate action has been taken. As a result of discussions within my Ministry, I am concerned to ask this open-ended question and to see what the inquiry shows. This is a matter of asking the right questions and not prejudging what the answers will be. I know that my hon. Friend will be the first to agree with that approach.

Mr. Worsley

Will the right hon. Lady ensure that, among the right questions, the whole matter of regional differentiation will be kept in mind, particularly the difference in costs of fuel in different areas and the different need for fuel according to climate?

Mrs. Hart

Some of these are particularly matters for the Minister of Power. I am concerned to discover and establish scientifically the effect of living in different environments and of the different kinds of freedom or restriction of choice of fuel upon the costs faced by old people.

Mr. Dempsey

Is my right hon. Friend aware that one of the main reasons for this problem is that the general element of 5s. allowed in supplementary benefits is far too low? Would she consider stepping this up to a more realistic level, which would help the old folks considerably in winter?

Mrs. Hart

The whole question of what is a realistic level is bound to depend on the kind of choice available to old people and particularly to the kind of limitation of choice which they face when they are, perhaps, rehoused by a local authority, and the kind of house which uses a particular kind of fuel. These are the sorts of questions which led me to initiate the inquiry.