HC Deb 03 April 1973 vol 854 cc208-10
7. Mrs. Castle

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what progress he has made in his discussions with local authorities and voluntary bodies about the need to insulate the homes of retirement pensioners to prevent heating loss.

Sir K. Joseph

A joint circular was issued to local authorities and a number of voluntary bodies in August last year by my Department and the Department of the Environment suggesting steps which could be taken to improve living conditions of elderly people, including draught exclusion and better insulation.

Mrs. Castle

What is the good of a circular? When will the Government take action and publish a detailed report showing what action has been taken? Is it not clear that the right hon. Gentleman's reference to the importance of insulation was a gimmick to avoid paying an adequate heating allowance? Is he not aware that, unless the wind is whistling through the walls, the maximum an old-age pensioner can get in heating allowance is 90p a week? Will he confirm or deny that the number of pensioners currently receiving this allowance is between 2,000 and 3,000 out of 2 million-odd pensioners on supplementary benefit?

Sir K. Joseph

My reference to insulation was not a gimmick, nor was it meant to distract attention from the additional money which the Government are now proposing to make available from 1st October by way of heating additions because we are removing the offset of the long-term addition. Insulation remains a matter of crucial importance and the Government hope that local authorities and voluntary bodies will more and more—although this cannot happen overnight—improve the insulation of some dwellings of the elderly which desperately need it.

Mr. Crouch

Since my right hon. Friend has underlined the importance of insulation, would it not be of great assistance if the Secretary of State for the Environment did all he could to raise building standards and thus to improve insulation for these pensioners?

Sir K. Joseph

The real task lies in the improvement of existing buildings rather than of new buildings. It is the existing buildings that need insulation and the process is often relatively cheap —the sort of insulation which a man about the house can supply but which elderly spinsters or widows cannot supply for themselves. This is why the churches and voluntary bodies, working in the neighbourhood and in co-operation with local authorities, can do a power of good.

Mr. John Silkin

The Secretary of State has forgotten the last part of the supplementary question put to him by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle). Will he please confirm or deny that the number of elderly pensioners who receive the maximum heating allowance of 90p a week is between 2,000 and 3,000?

Sir K. Joseph

I have not precise figures because—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I suspect that the figure may be of that order. The right hon. Lady did not table that precise question. There is a heating component in the supplementary benefit allowance and the extra is an addition. That extra will be paid without offset in terms of the long-term addition from 1st October and from that date about 400,000 supplementary pensioners will get benefit by way of an additional allowance.