HC Deb 06 March 1973 vol 852 cc215-6
9. Mr. Loughlin

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he has completed his study of the extent to which retirement pensioners are dying from hypothermia in consequence of insufficient food and inadequate heating; and if he will make a statement.

62. Mr. Parry

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement on research into aged people dying from hypothermia directly due to lack of food and insufficient heating.

Mr. Alison

I cannot at present add to my right hon. Friend's replies to the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Tope) on 6th February.—[Vol. 850. c. 57–8. 61.]

Mr. Loughlin

The hon. Gentleman is virtually saying that no progress has been made. Is it not true to say that literally thousands of aged people die from hypothermia each winter in consequence of a lack of food and heat? [HON. MEMBERS: "And lack of gas."] The gas strike has been on for only two or three days. [An HON. MEMBER: "Where have you been?"] I am talking about the situation that applies winter after winter. Will the hon. Gentleman speed up these investigations? May I put a suggestion to him? [HON. MEMBERS: "No. Ask a question."] This is a question. If the Under-Secretary finds difficulty in persuading his Treasury colleagues to give more money to retirement pensioners, will he ask them to consider the production of heat coupons in the same way as we had tobacco coupons?

Mr. Alison

The hon. Gentleman refers to the consideration by the Supplementary Benefits Commission of the so-called Fox Report. It is still giving urgent consideration to whether the administration of its discretionary power to increase benefit when there are exceptional needs, including extra needs for heating, requires any alteration.

Mrs. Knight

Would my hon. Friend consider making available a supply of paper handkerchiefs to catch all the crocodile tears shed by Opposition Members, especially when we bear in mind that people in the West Midlands area are now in far greater danger from hypothermia because of the gas strike than from anything else?

Mr. Alison

The implications of the continuation of the gas strike must give ground for concern in this context.

Mr. John Silkin

Does the hon. Gentleman recall the British Medical Journal survey of 27th January last on body temperature in the elderly?

Sir K. Joseph

indicated assent.

Mr. Silkin

Does he recall that one of the recommendations of that survey was that the development and use of low-wattage electric blankets for people on supplementary benefit should be considered? Have any steps been taken to implement this recommendation?

Mr. Alison

We are considering every aspect of Dr. Fox's report and we are asking him to come to the Department so that we may talk to him directly and personally. Serious potential safety hazards are involved in the use of even low-wattage electric blankets.