HC Deb 10 November 1970 vol 806 cc174-8
2. Mr. Marten

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a variation in the scale rates of supplementary benefits to enable a reduction to be made in the cost of television licences for certain retirement pensioners.

The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mr. Paul Dean)

No, Sir. The cost of television licences is included in the index of retail prices which is taken into account in determining the scale rates for supplementary benefit; and the rates themselves allow a margin for amenities which people can choose to spend on things like television licences. The rates were increased on 2nd November.

Mr. Marten

That is the whole point. Would it not be better to turn it the other way round, adjust the cash benefits to exclude the element of the television licence, and then reduce the television licence fee for old-age pensioners who are living alone, which is what they want?

Mr. Dean

I appreciate the point which my hon. Friend makes, but we think it better to provide the cash so that people may spend it as they choose.

4. Mr. Gorst

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether he will now increase the pensions for retirement pensioners to enable them to meet the increased fuel bills before the onset of the colder winter months.

The Secretary of State for Social Services (Sir Keith Joseph)

No, Sir. The increase in supplementary benefits which came into effect last week will help over two million of the poorest retirement pensioners this winter.

Mr. Gorst

While appreciating the difficulties facing the Government in the present economic situation, may I urge the Secretary of State to bear in mind the dire and distressing difficulties which old-age pensioners are facing, with rising costs and so on? Will he give a firm forecast of when something tangible can be done to relieve the difficulties of this age group, particularly those over 70 and, indeed, over 80?

Sir K. Joseph

We are pledged to review pensions every two years. It is the elderly who suffer most from inflation.

Mr. Sillars

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that just before the General Election the Conservative Party spokesmen denounced the supplementary benefit increases as totally inadequate because of the rate of inflation? Will he deny that the rate of inflation has accelerated? Will he tell the old people what he will do for them this winter?

Sir K. Joseph

The fires of inflation which were lit by the previous Government are flaming, as we warned they would, and it is the elderly who are suffering.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

But the right hon. Gentleman must be aware that his own colleague, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and President of the Board of Trade, has made it clear that the Government are not prepared to intervene on higher fuel prices. I must press him to see whether he cannot do what he himself urged the Labour Government to do—that is, to make a fuel supplement available this winter.

Sir K. Joseph

That is a different question. The supplementary benefit went up last week, and in real terms the pension is still better than the pension it replaced from 1968.

Mr. Ridsdale

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is very real despair amongst the pensioners? Much as we welcome the increase in supplementary benefits, will my right hon. Friend make a statement soon about the position of pensioners, particularly as a single pensioner is 5s. 6d. a week worse off than in November, 1969, and a married pensioner is 8s. 10d. a week worse off?

Sir K. Joseph

I cannot accept my hon. Friend's figures, though I accept entirely his sincerity. I can give the House no hope of any acceleration of the pledge to review pensions every two years.

6. Mr. Blaker

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what study he has made of the effects of inflation on the standards of living of retirement pensioners.

Sir K. Joseph

Movements of prices are closely watched and, as my hon. Friend knows, we are pledged to review pensions every two years to ensure that they at least keep pace with the cost of living.

Mr. Blaker

Is my right hon. Friend aware that some trade union leaders have recently stated that they propose a campaign for the raising of the standards of living of retirement pensioners? Would not the best way for them to do this be to moderate the excessive wage claims which have accounted so much for rising prices?

Sir K. Joseph

It certainly would.

Mr. Wellbeloved

Will the Secretary of State meet the representatives of the National Federation of Old Age Pensioners who are lobbying the House this afternoon and explain the mean, niggardly attitude of his Government towards an increase of pensions?

Sir K. Joseph

I hesitate only because I have met one representative body of pensioners and I am due to meet another. I am not sure whether the body to which the hon. Gentleman refers is the one I have met or the one I am about to meet.

32. Mr. William Price

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will now announce an increase in retirement pensions.

47. Mr. Spearing

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement on the basic retirement pension, in view of the cost of living.

Sir K. Joseph

We are pledged to review pension rates every two years.

Mr. Price

Would the right hon. Gentleman not agree that whoever is responsible for inflation and whatever its causes, many old people will be suffering grievous hardship this winter? Could he tell us what is sacred about a two-yearly review?

Sir K. Joseph

The hon. Gentleman would agree that a rise in pensions is necessarily accompanied by a rise either in contributions or taxation and that that is a factor to be considered. The supplementary benefit scales for the poorest and the elderly were increased last week.

Mr. Spearing

The right hon. Gentleman has made several references to a two-yearly review. Is he prepared to put this into statutory form rather than leaving it as a manifesto pledge?

Sir K. Joseph

The hon. Gentleman must wait to see our proposals on National Insurance.

44. Mr. Farr

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will introduce a scheme to make it possible for retirement pensioners to have their pensions paid monthly or quarterly, on request, direct into a bank account.

Mr. Dean

Arrangements already exist under which, on request, retirement pensions can be paid quarterly in arrear by crossed payable orders negotiable through banks. We hope to be able to offer the alternative of payment at four-weekly intervals by this method in the course of the next year or so.

Retirement pensions are subject to certain continuing conditions and before each payment is made pensioners have to sign a receipt confirming that these conditions are satisfied. This precludes payment of the pension direct into their bank accounts.