§ Dr. Edmund Marshall (Goole)
I beg to move Amendment No. 2, in page 1, line 6, leave out'the end of the relevant week'and insert:'25th December 1973'.
§ The Deputy Chairman
With this Amendment we are to take the following amendments:
No. 3, in page 1, line 10, leave out 'that' and insert 'the relevant'.
No. 4, in page 1, line 12, leave out 'a day in that week' and insert:
'any day between 26th November 1973, and 25th December 1973, inclusive'.
§ Dr. Marshall
The payments of £10 to pensioners and their spouses as authorised in the Bill are popularly known as "Christmas bonuses". Indeed, when similar payments were made last year the recipients, many of whom 566 expressed gratitude, were under the impression that they were getting Christmas presents from the Government. When the Prime Minister in his Lancaster House statement two weeks ago said that the Government would be making the payments again this year, he referred to Christmas as being the suitable time for such payments.
Yet the astonishing thing is that in the Bill there is no mention of Christmas or of Christmas Day. If the Bill goes through unamended many people who will be of pensionable age by or on Christmas Day will not receive the so-called bonus. That is what happened to many such pensioners last year. I know of one man in my constituency who reached the age of 65 on 15th December 1972, but, because of the wording of the Act which was passed by this House at the end of that year, he was unable to claim the £10 bonus.
Last year it turned out that all who reached pensionable age after 10th December, even though they reached pensionable age before Christmas Day, did not receive the bonus. For all such people this was a bitter disappointment. It was a Christmas bonus which they were suddenly denied.
That will happen again this year unless the Bill is amended. The intention of the amendment is that all pensioners who reach pensionable age up to and including Christmas Day this year should receive the bonus. If the Bill is unamended, no pensioner who reaches pensionable age from 1st December onwards will receive the bonus. That means that the period in which disappointment will arise this year will be extended by a week compared with last year. Therefore, there will be many more people bitterly disappointed.
It may be said that we must draw the line somewhere. However, if we are to call this allowance a Christmas bonus I suggest that the line should be drawn at Christmas Day. That is precisely what the amendments seek to achieve.
The Government may plead that administrative difficulties are involved. I accept that greater care will be needed to exercise this provision if it is incorporated in the Bill. However, I see no reason why new pensioners who come 567 on to pension between 1st and 25th December should not receive the bonus at the same time as they make their first pension drawing.
This is a simple amendment. I hope that the Government will sec it as an attempt to avoid the bitter disappointment suffered by many pensioners last year who found that, although they were pensioners before Christmas, they were nevertheless denied the so-called Christmas bonus.
§ Mr. Alec Jones (Rhondda, West)
I do not want to spend a lot of time on the first amendment because it seems a most worthy suggestion which should commend itself even to this Government.
Last year large numbers of people felt a genuine sense of grievance that they were excluded from this allowance because of the type of benefit they were drawing on their age. I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) and beg the Government to remove this minor anomaly and to include in the provision of this Christmas bonus the small number of people who become pensioners before 25th December. By accepting the amendment the Government will show that they are at least prepared to pay some tribute to the time of the year which is traditionally called the period of goodwill.
§ Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)
I support what has been said by my hon. Friends the Members for Goole (Dr. Marshall) and Rhondda, West (Mr. Alec Jones).
Last year many hon. Members were approached by pensioners who could not understand the Press notices. Included in my mail were copies of certain news-powers in which the Department had placed advertisements relating to the £10 Christmas bonus. The notice was ambiguous. I found that pensioners' complaints were quite justified. It was a mistake to publish the notice as it was worded.
I had the task of taking up with the Department the problems of people who were excluded from receiving the £10 bonus merely because they reached pensionable age a day or two after the line had been drawn. My hon. Friend the Member for Goole has made it a simple 568 matter for the Government to make Christmas Day the deadline for receiving the £10 bonus. It would simplify the issue for all pensioners. There would be no mistakes on this occasion if the Government were to accept the amendment. I make a special appeal to the Under-Secretary, whom I know has Teat sympathy for the pensioners, to accept the amendment. If he does, I assure him that his Department will not have one-tenth of the trouble that it had last year.
§ Mr. Joseph Harper (Pontefract)
We are indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) for tabling the amendment. It seeks to put right an anomaly which appeared last time when a number of old-age pensioners did not get the Christmas bonus because, although they were 65 before 25th December—the relevant date was operative before that—they did not qualify.
Over the years some of us have said that pensioners should not need bonuses at Christmas or any other time, because the pension should be adequate for their needs. Indeed, we believe that the pension should now be £10 for a single person and £16 for a married couple.
During the past year or two my opinion has changed. I think that the bonus has come to stay. I believe that, whichever party is in power, when Christmas comes the bonus will be there, whatever the amount It has come to stay. If so—I have a feeling that it is—we should be fair in our dealings with retirement pensioners. Anybody who in the relevant year attains the age of 65 before and including 25th December should be allowed to draw the bonus.
Lastly, if the Minister has the figures, or if his Department can get them out, I should like to know what would be the extra cost this year of bringing in those retirement pensioners who reach pensionable age between the relevant date and the date suggested in the amendment.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mr. Paul Dean)
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall), as I am sure is the Committee, for the spirit in which he moved the amendment. I am grateful to him, too, for conceding that a line has to be drawn somewhere, and therefore the argument is whore it should be drawn.
569 Perhaps I may first answer one or two of the detailed points that have been raised before dealing with the main principles of the issue here.
My reply to the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Harper) is that I do not have a calculation of the extra cost that would be involved. But it would be very small, because the number of pensioners who come to pension age or become eligible for a pension for one reason or another between the relevant week and 25th December is small, and therefore cost is not a consideration which comes into the argument.
The hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs) said that there was ambiguity in the notices issued last year, particularly those in the Press. I am glad to tell him that we have learned from experience. We recognise that there was ambiguity. The Bill now before the Committee is drafted differently from last year's measure in order to try to avoid those ambiguities, and we shall try to ensure in the various notices which go out that the matter is clear cut.
There is no need for any pensioner to make a special application. The vast bulk of the operation will be done automatically. In most cases it will be done through the Post Office, with the pensioner presenting his book at the counter. Where the pension is paid by a different method, different arrangements will operate, but there will be no need for any pensioner to take the initiative himself unless he finds, by about the middle of December, that he has not received a payment when he thinks that he is entitled to one. If that position does arise, I hope that the pensioner concerned will go to the social security office so that the matter can be followed up.
I now come to the main points made by the hon. Member for Gole. It may be that if one is paying what is popularly regarded as a Christmas bonus those eligible up to Christmas Day should come into the arrangements, but perhaps I can explain to the Committee why the Government have not proposed that and also the difficulties which would follow were we to do so.
The hon. Member for Goole linked his proposition to the statement of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. In introducing this proposal, my right hon.
570 Friend said that it was an essential part of stage 3. He said that pensioners represented one of the groups to which the Government wished to give special consideration under stage 3. That was the first group he mentioned, and we are therefore anxious that the payment should be made to pensioners as near as possible to the beginning of stage 3.
Although this arrangement is being carried out for the second year running, it is still a massive operation to pay to about 8 million pensioners the bonus of £10 for a single person and £20 for a married couple where both are over pension age. To ensure that the Post Office. which will do the bulk of the work for us, is able to do the job as quickly as possible after the start of stage 3, there must be clear-cut conditions in which the arrangement can be applied.
The most straight forward situation is when a pension order book is presented at the Post Office, and that is why we have laid down these clear-cut arrangements. We have taken one week, in this case some time before Christmas, so that, we hope, all the payments can he completed well before Christmas, which is what happened last year. These arrangements will ensure that the payments are paid in the early part of stage 3 and, in all cases we hope, well before Christmas.
Were one to do as the hon. Gentleman suggests and pay the bonus to all who reach pensionable age before Christmas, a separate operation would be required because, as the Committee will understand, people who do not have a birthday until Christmas Day will not have a pension order book until then, and in a number of cases they will not receive their books until after Christmas. I think that the hon. Gentleman accepts that. Christmas Day is an artificial and inappropriate time to take because it would mean that the payment in the cases to which I have just referred would not be made until after Christmas. Indeed, it could not be made until the new year.
§ 11.45 a.m.
§ Mr. Spriggs
The hon. Gentleman is right when he says that pensioners who reach retirement age on Christmas Day will not have a pension book until then, but would it not be just as appropriate if birth certificates were shown at a post 571 office counter to prove that the person concerned would reach retirement age on a certain date? That would make the £10 bonus possible and provide a real Christmas bonus for all pensioners.
§ Mr. Dean
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because he is giving me my point. The difficulty is that many old people do not have their birth certificates. We know from our experience in getting people on to the pension roll that many of them do not have them. They have lost their certificates. They are no longer in the old bible on the mantlepiece or by the bedside. In many cases, when we begin the process of finding out the eligibility of old people for pension we find—and this is why we start the process four months before the pension date—that we have to go to Somerset House to verify the records. The hon. Gentleman has pinpointed the difficulties which would arise from accepting the amendment. Old people who were lucky enough and had their birth certificates would be able to get the bonus, but what about the others who did not have theirs?
That reinforces the point that I am putting to the Committee. This is a major operation, involving 8 million pensioners being paid a total of £80 million, and it is therefore necessary to select one week and to have clear-cut conditions in order to ensure that the payments are made, as was my right hon. Friend's intention, in the early part of stage 3. If we are to ensure that the payments are made well before Christmas, it is essential to have the arrange-set out in the Bill.
I understand the point that has been made by those who have spoken in the debate hut, with regret, I submit that the proposal in the Bill is the only acceptable way in which the bonus can be paid.
§ Mr. John Silkin (Deptford)
I am grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for the reasonable and moderate way in which he has, unfortunately, turned down the reasonable and moderate request of my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall). I am glad that the Minister made nothing of the difference in cost, because neither side of the Committee can calculate it exactly, but we are, 572 nevertheless, talking about a small amount.
What we are talking about is a fund of good will, as my hon. Friend said, and I thought that the Under-Secretary of State had great sympathy with the point. If I understand the Minister aright, he is saying that if it could be done easily he would be glad to do it, that it would not cost a lot of money, but that it would cause difficulties, and he told us what they were.
The Committee will readily appreciate that this is, as it were, my maiden speech on a Pensions Bill, although I have been shadowing this Department for nearly a year. Naturally, as one always does, I looked at the precedents. I found that last year my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), who is now entering the Chamber, persuaded the Government to do a splendid U-turn on the question of the earnings rule. I saw that the date was 20th December. Nearer than that to Christmas Parliament does not get—or very seldom. Therefore, I am fortified by the thought that we may, perhaps, persuade the Under-Secretary to change his mind again, especially if we put on enough pressure. It is not a question of cost. It is simply a question of mechanics.
In his arguments the Under-Secretary says—I understand this and sympathise with him—that he wants the payments to be made as early as possible in phase 3. That is understood. We are all agreed. There is no reason why that should not be done. As the Under-Secretary said, it will be an automatic procedure. No one, up to now, would have to claim. The result of the amendment would be, for this machinery to operate, to go ahead with those who are entitled at a relevant week, to put in that relevant week, but to bring in an amending Bill—as the Government did last year—when my right hon. Friend twisted the Government's tail so successfully—a little later and nearer the date, which would enable pensioners who reach pensionable age by 25th December this year to make a claim.
This would not mean that those pensioners who could get their £10 earlier would be deprived of that early £10. It would merely mean that a number of other pensioners, but not a great number, would have a right to claim. When their 573 pension book was given to them, which would be possibly early in the New Year, I cannot believe that they would then say, "We are the subject of a great injustice. We have been given £10 that we did not expect to receive." It would be a simple, mechanical gesture.
I should like the Under-Secretary to have another look at the matter on the basis that it would not stop the automatic early payment now but that there would be an additional payment for those who reach pensionable age before Christmas Day this year.
§ Mr. Dean
I had forgotten that the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin) was making his maiden speech on this subject from the Opposition side of the House. I congratulate him on that. He seems to have been shadowing this subject for so long that I had forgotten.
I understand the right hon. Gentleman's point but, with respect, he is attaching too much importance in this operation to Christmas Day as such. He conceded the point which I made earlier, that this operation is attached to stage 3. It is the intention that pensioners should receive, as it were, their part of stage 3 as early as possible after the beginning of stage 3. So that is the date which is of most significance.
The right hon. Gentleman will accept that the further one goes away from stage 3, the more one gets an artificial line. If it is to be Christmas Day, why not New Year's Day? Why not next Easter? Once one departs from the beginning of stage 3, one can easily get into an artificial position which would be difficult to sustain. For those reasons, therefore, I cannot concede the point.
The right hon. Gentleman said that he had looked up the precedents and that we did move on those who, but for the operation of the earnings rule, last year would have been qualified, and we moved on that after representations had been made. But here again, we moved on a group of people who would have been eligible in that week. We did not move the period of time. We brought in people whose eligibility would have existed that week had they actually been receiving a pension. So in that respect the second operation which we under- 574 took last year was different from the present operation.
Therefore, I must say with regret to the right hon. Gentleman that the situation was different last year and that there are very good reasons for tying this operation to the early part of stage 3. As the right hon. Gentleman has conceded, it is the main start point of the whole operation.
§ Dr. Marshall
I should like to comment on some of the Under-Secretary's remarks. First, he has emphasised the nature of the operation involved in making these bonus payments. I do not doubt that a lot of extra work is entailed, for civil servants and for sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses. The Under-Secretary has emphasised that if the amendments were accepted this would entail a second operation. Again, I accept that. But the Under-Secretary also said that the amount of extra money involved would not be very great. The number of extra pensioners involved, likewise, cannot be all that great. This means that the second operation cannot be all that great.
Considering the trouble which could ensue for sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses if the amendments are not carried and disappointed pensioners go to their post offices and become involved in arguments in post offices about the fact that they have been denied the so-called Christmas bonus, the sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses would probably welcome the opportunity of doing the small amount of work involved in the second operation rather than being put in a completely indefensible position of denying what the pensioner thinks is his right—the Christmas bonus.
There is nothing more annoying in politics than for discrimination to be caused between people who appear to be in the same category but some of whom are denied the rights enjoyed by the others. The present Government have caused a number of difficulties in this respect, difficulties which they have refused to do anything about. If the Government persist in opposing the amendments and refusing to consider the situation further between now and Christmas, they will again be creating a sense of injustice among a large number of people.
575 The Under-Secretary has also said that it is desirable that these bonus payments should be made as close to the beginning of stage 3 as is possible. I agree with that. The effect of these amendments would not delay any payments to anyone. I am not suggesting that those who would receive their bonus during the relevant week should receive it later. I accept that. I am simply suggesting that other people should be entitled to the bonus as they reach pensionable age during December. There is no question of delaying payments away from the beginning of stage 3. In any case, stage 3 goes on for a year, not lust a few days after 7th November. This means that any relevance that this has to stage 3 should cover people who reach pensionable age throughout the year of stage 3.
The other disturbing feature about the Under-Secretary's remarks has been the way in which he has admitted that this operation is geared more to the introduction of stage 3 on 7th November than it is to the incidence of Christmas. If that is so, and if the Government will not allow pensioners whose birthdays fall up to and including Christmas Day to have this bonus, let us have no more talk about the "Christmas" nature of the bonus. Let us forget it has any relevance to Christmas. If the Government persist in this line let them be regarded more as Scrooge than as Father Christmas.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
§ 12 noon
§ Mr. John Silkin
May I take this opportunity of thanking the Under-Secretary for his kindly words, during discussion of the earlier amendment, about my new position regarding this Bill. I said that I had been engaged, inevitably, in looking up precedents and seeing what happened previously. This is a reasonable thing to do, and the most extraordinary thing I find is that there is a precedent. A year ago the Under-Secretary was busy telling us that this was a once-and-for-all gesture, and that the 10 bonus would never recur. Perhaps there was then a larger number of his hon. Friends present than there are 576 today, but most of them were saying that this bonus must not occur again.
I take the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Harper) that, whatever hon. Gentlemen on the Government side may say, it looks as though this bonus will become part of our national life, but a year ago it was said by the Under-Secretary that it would not be repeated. Why, therefore, was this payment—which a year ago was a once-and-for-all which, we were told, was never going to be repeated—being proposed again? It is a fair question. It has received a fair answer, as I well recall, because in the Second Reading debate a year ago the Secretary of State said, in relation to the £10 bonus, that no one had suffered more from inflation than pensioners.
He said that it was for that reason that the Government had decided to make a once-and-for-all payment. Therefore, we know that it was because of inflation—and it must have been galloping inflation—that a £10 bonus was to be made at that time to retirement pensioners.
The Committee will recall that we were told there would be no repetition of inflation. Thus, from the Government's view, the repetition now of the £10 bonus is an admission by them that they have failed, despite the measures of phases 1 and 2, to keep inflation under control. The Government accept, as the Secretary of State said a year ago, that inflation must hit pensioners. The £10 bonus is meant to assist pensioners in some way to deal with the damaging effects of the Government's inflation. If this is the reason—and it can be the only reason—why is the bonus this year only £10, because that figure has inflated considerably during the last 12 months? I am astonished that the Government are so unrealistic about this. If they really think that £10 today has the value of £10 a year ago they should go and see some old-age pensioners who may be able to tell them what has happened.
Pensioners' living standards are now going down and down in comparison with the rest of the community. This even-handed policy—if I may so describe it—is meant to keep pensioners and the low-paid in the first rank of those who are to be assisted in the present economic situation. I pointed out in a debate 577 earlier this year that when Lloyd George introduced the first retirement pension it was 5s. a week, and the average manual wage was 25s., so the pension was 20 per cent. of the average manual wage. In November 1969—the last year of the Labour Government—the pension, as a percentage of the average manual wage, had slipped from 20 to 19.7. Looking back I think it should have been much more. In October last year, under the present Government, the percentage had slipped to 18.6, where it remains today. Therefore, in relation to the rest of the community, the retirement pensioner is becoming worse off each year, and worse off under this Government.
I have heard many speeches from hon. Members on the Government side in which the apparently magical figure of a 55 per cent. increase in retirement pensions since the Government came into office has been used. Analysing this reinforces my thorough dislike of percentages, for 55 per cent. represents an average increase, since November 1969, of 69p a week. That is what this great achievement represents.
Anyone who claims that the cost of living for the average pensioner has not risen by more than 69p a week should speak to pensioners, for he will find that it has. Retirement pensioners are worse off now than when the Government came into office. If this is so, bearing in mind that the £10 bonus last year was said to be a once-and-for-all payment, why are we having it again this year?
When people feel that they have cheated the rest of the community they occasionally send what is known as conscience money to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In my view we have here a very good example of the Government's conscience money to the retirement pensioners. The real answer to this is a proper pension on which people can live.
It is very pleasant to get £10, or whatever the proper figure should be, to represent the increase between last year and this year, as a Christmas present, or as a Christmas donation, as the Foreign Secretary would say. But the real problem is to have a pension on which people can live.
The Opposition have, I believe, just about got this right. We propose that in 578 the future there should be a pension of £10 for a single person as a first stage and £16 for a married couple. Such a pension would obviate the need of a repetition of the once-and-for-all £10 bonus. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract that the Government are trying to get some support from retirement pensioners on the grounds that they are doing something—and they are trying to get this support at the lowest possible rate, if they can.
But compassion does not come on the cheap. What we ought to be doing at this moment is considering a viable pension for the old people. While, inevitably, we must accept the Clause so that they get the £10—for otherwise they would get nothing—the truth is that we are not serving the old people in the way they should be served.
§ Mrs. Castle
I want to refer back to the point of order we put earlier, Captain Elliot, not in any way to criticise the decision of the Chair, but certainly to criticise the manoeuvring of the Government. My right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin) has just said—and I agree—that this £10 bonus is no susbtitute for an adequate pension for all and that it is a gesture of conscience money by the Government to some of the poorest people in our community. But I think the Government's uneasy conscience has been operating through the money resolution.
One can readily visualise the Under-Secretary of State, remembering our debates last year, saying, "We must not let them have the opportunity of pointing to the inadequacy of our Christmas bonus scheme this time, so we will draft the money resolution in such a way that they cannot press to the vote the case of other people who are not even going to get the £10 bonus." That has been the deliberate intention of the Government because they know how much anger was aroused in this House and in the country by the selectivity in their Christmas generosity.
I admit that in this Bill the Government have not repeated two mistakes of last year—one of them over the earnings rule. They have learnt their lesson there. They have also rectified the position with regard to pensioners in the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and 579 Gibraltar, on which I sent dozens of letters to the Secretary of State. I am glad they have had an effect. They came pouring in.
But the major exclusion of the Bill still remains—the exclusion of all those who, whether they be on pension or other benefits, are under the retirement ages of 60 and 65. I warn the hon. Gentleman that despite his maneouvrings over the money resolution letters of anger and protest will come pouring in.
§ Mrs. Castle
Yes, they have. Last year, when we debated this matter, I received over 400 letters from excluded categories. For example, one was from a man who was himself retired. He got the £10 but then discovered that he was not allowed £10 for his wife because she was under 60. The letters came in from bewildered pensioners. They said, in effect, "If I have retired, we have both retired; we are both dependent on a retired person's income. Why, then, does not my wife get the £10 as other retired women pensioners do?" I tell them that one of the reasons is that the Government have always encouraged the attitude that women should be classed as dependants for insurance purposes and that this was just one of the kickbacks of that attitude. But on the actual financial situation of such families the Government were deliberately impoverishing a retirement pensioner with a dependant wife who happened to be under 60.
There were other equally unreasonable cases—among them the chronically sick on low incomes and the invalidity pensioners who have not reached retirement age. I had one case brought to my attention last year when a disabled man wrote to me—I raised it in the House at the time—explaining that he was an invalidity pensioner of 64 but that his wife was over 65. He asked why he could not get the £10 bonus. Letters said, "Poverty is not less hard to bear because you are under retirement age. If you are crippled or incapacitated or unemployed or the wife of a retirement pensioner you still need to eat and keep warm." 580 The elderly widows in their late fifties wrote to us—and let us remember that half of them are so poor that they have to rely on supplementary benefit. They are one of the poorest categories in the community. But they are deliberately denied by the Government a little flicker of happiness at Christmas time, just that little margin to get a Christmas dinner which will not be a pound of sausages or a small tin of stewed steak. Then there are the unemployed—we can think of all these categories.
The fact is that this Christmas bonus, welcome as it is bound to be to those on low incomes who receive it, is designed to deal not only with the scandal of the pensioner on the cheap but the scandal of our national poverty on the cheap and to separate the poor sheep from the poor goats.
When we raised this matter last year, on 20th November, it was very much a question of last thoughts by the Government—that in the intolerable inflation from which the poor were suffering they could not face leaving them unhelped at Christmas time. This at the time, was made the excuse by the Government for not widening the categories. When we pressed him the hon. Gentleman said:… I ask the House to recognise that this operation is being carried out in record time … This is to some extent, of course, rough and ready. That is the price we have to pay … to get this payment into operation before Christmas."—[OFFICAL REPORT, 20th November 1972; Vol. 846, c. 1028.]That excuse is not valid this year. Not only is this not 20th November but 19th October; the letters have already come pouring in from excluded categories. They began weeks ago, when the rumour went round that the cost of living was in such a runaway situation again that the Government would be forced to do something. The letters have come from people who lost out last year and they say, "Please see that we do not lose out this time." The Government have had representations made to them and today we have the quite callously deliberate decision by the Government to leave these people out.
Of course, the bonus is not the really appropriate answer. Of course, as my right hon. Friend said, what we need to do is to get pensions and other benefits—this is the Opposition's policy and it is an inclusive one—lifted immediately 581 to the more tolerable level of £10 for a single person and £16 for a couple, and then to link them to increases in national average earnings, so that all pensioners, widows on widows' pensions, the chronically sick and the invalidity pensioners, those on attendance allowances and the unemployed, shall be kept automatically in a proper relationship with the rising wages and salaries paid to the other sections of the community. Of course, that is the answer, and of course this £10 will not rectify the basic problems of keeping fed and warm, which these people on pensions and benefits face.
I want to ask the Under-Secretary of State whether he can tell us, for example, the exact number of heating allowances that are in payment at the present time. That is a point which we made to him in last year's debate. We said that the £10 was no substitute for the payment of a proper heating allowance all through the winter months to cold and hungry pensioners. I have tried to get the latest figures from his Department via the research section of the Library, and I have been told that the latest figures it could get were for November 1972, when 193,000 heating allowances were in payment, the overwhelming majority of them being only 30p a week. The Government boast that they have increased the heating allowance for certain categories to 90p. How many are getting 90p to pay for their fuel, gas and electricity? The answer is 6,000, out of our millions of pensioners and others on poverty benefits. So we say that this is another Government gimmick. It should not be allowed to salve their consciences, and it will not satisfy the legitimate demands of the poor of this country.
§ Mr. Alec Jones
Clause 1 deliberately omits from coverage large categories of people in considerable need of receiving the benefit of this £10 bonus. But not only does the Clause deny these people this benefit; the very way in which the Bill has been drafted denies this House the opportunity of pressing for each individual category, so that we can at least focus attention on the need of the disabled, the widows and many other groups of people. What it clearly shows to back benchers on this side is that we should never allow a Bill of this nature to go through its Second Reading with- 582 out any major debate. By limiting the benefit of the £10 to those of pensionable age, the Clause by definition, excludes millions of people who are in equal need or, in some cases, in greater need than many of our old-age pensioners. My right hon. Friend has referred to the widows but there are also the disabled people, the long-term sick and even the long-term unemployed, all of whom have been described by Members on both sides in recent months. We have all paid lip service to the needs of these groups, and this was an opportunity for the Government to do something about that need.
The Tory Party used to say that they were seeking to concentrate help on those in greatest need. This Bill has not sought to identify those in greatest need, and the Clause specifically excludes people who are in considerable need. The Under-Secretary of State himself told us last year that we were trying to pay out the £10 very quickly on that occasion, and that it was necessary to concentrate on those who most needed payment and on those categories which could be easily recognised. As Members on this side have already said, we have at least an extra month of parliamentary time on this occasion and the Government have had a whole 12 months to think about the matter and to assess the genuine needs of the different groups in this country, in order to bring about some amelioration of the conditions of disablement, long-term sickness and long-term unemployment.
The long-term unemployed are again excluded. They are people who have been unemployed for more than 312 days, who are now no longer entitled to receive unemployment benefit and who are forced to exist on some means-tested supplementary benefit. Many of these people exist in the older industrial areas, and many of them are ex-miners who have given years of service to the community. Similarly, many of the long-term sick who are denied the benefit of this £10 are greatly in need and, often enough, their sickness has been caused by years of work in unpleasant and unhealthy surroundings. Are these people not in need? Of course they are. The Government suggest that by this Bill they are attempting to deal with need, but in fact they are shying away from the real problems of need in this country.
583 We have many times been told by the Government that they are greatly concerned with the problems of disability, and the Under-Secretary knows the many long discussions on this matter that we have had in Committee and on the Floor of the House. I am sure that the vast majority of disabled people in this country whose need is desperate must be absolutely ashamed to think that they live in a society which is now denying them this £10 bonus which they so urgently need at Christmas time.
The omission of the disabled, the widows, the long-term sick and others who are in need shows how phoney this £10 is. As the Under-Secretary himself indicated this morning, this £10 is really a bribe to the community to make it easier for the Government to sell the unwanted, unjust and unworkable stage 3 of their prices and incomes policy. This is just a sop to the Government's conscience, as one realises when one recalls the poverty which still exists not only among the old people but among the sick, the injured, the unemployed and the disabled. Each one on this side of the Committee will say that we shall support the £10 because it is better than nothing, but that is a pretty miserable reason for having to accept this type of limitation on the categories of people who will receive it.
I dislike intensely the thinking behind this type of bonus. We ought not to be talking of throwing an odd £10 like a bone to a dog. What we ought to be talking about is providing old-age pensioners with pensions adequate to live on in comfort and in dignity. Of course no one denies that the £10 will add a little comfort, but it will do nothing towards adding to the dignity which is essential if we are to call ourselves a civilised society. Neither the present provisions nor the provisions in the new Social Security Act are ever likely to provide the old-age pensioners of this country with adequate resources to live on in comfort and in dignity, and this Government will have to make frequent use of these occasional payments. They are quite right in moving away from the idea that this is a Christmas bonus, and if they continue with their present policies they will find an urgent need for making these payments quite frequently in future. 584 Therefore it would have been wise and prudent for the Government to have included in this Bill provision for a series of payments whenever circumstances require them.
The Secretary of State told us last year that that was to be a special once-for-all payment. It was to be once-for-all for a number of reasons one of which, given in the debate on the 20th November 1972, was that it would not be needed in the future because the pension review which took place in the spring of this year, as a result of which there was an increase,… would enable pensioners to share in the increased prosperity in the country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th November 1972; Vol. 846, c. 971.]If the pensioners are genuinely sharing in any increased prosperity in the country, why is it necessary to introduce this £10 bonus at this time?
We are back in exactly the same position that we were in last year. No wonder the benches opposite have been almost completely bare throughout this debate. Last year hon. Members opposite rose. one after another, and used words like:I hope that this Bill will not become a precedent",as the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Worsley) said. The hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Boscawen) said:The payment this year is a special case and it is an emergency measure but I would greatly mistrust it if it were repeated year after year." —[OFFICIAL REPORT. 20th November 1972; Vol. 846, cc. 983 and 1003.]Our complaint about this £10 is that it is inadequate to provide for the degree of poverty which exists among old people and the disabled. If the present Government continue their present policies and fail to take a firmer grip on the retail prices which old-age pensioners and other groups in need have to pay, this £10 will have to be paid at regular intervals. The pensioners know, even if the Prime Minister does not know, that they and other groups who are excluded from the provisions of the Bill cannot depend upon their weekly benefits to provide them with a moderately comfortable life.
§ 12.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Cox (Wandsworth, Central)
Like every hon. Member, I welcome the £10 bonus that is going to be paid, but it is certainly crumbs of comfort which are being offered by the 585 Government. What deeply concerns me, as I am sure it concerns others, is the lack of interest in this debate on the part not only of Government supporters but, indeed, those "people of concern namely the Liberal Party, who are not even here today. Adequate notice has been given of this debate, and I only hope that the people who are turning to that party will note their lack of concern when they have an opportunity of stating their points of view in this House and cannot even be bothered to come here
In discussing this £10 bonus, in view of all the publications which have recently been available to hon. Members especially from organisations such as that for which I have a great admiration, namely Age Concern—it seems that this bonus will bring very little help to pensioners. All one has to do is to speak to pensioners in one's own constituency to discover that this £10 will be spent on paying off their electricity, gas or television bills, or perhaps paying for their television licences. On the key issue with which many pensioners are now concerned, namely, the lack of an adequate and nourishing diet, this money will not be of any great help to them.
I represent a constituency which has a large percentage of retired people. Pensioners have a perfect right to expect, whatever Government may be in power, to be able to afford to spend money not necessarily on luxuries but on the kind of things which bring them some degree of pleasure. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) will agree when I say that irrespective of the age of a woman, she likes to have a pound or two in her purse so that she can buy a hat or a coat or go to the hairdresser, or have money to give to her grandchildren when they visit her. Why should not a man, when he has retired, have the right to go to a pub and have a drink or spend a few shillings a week on the football pools if that brings him some pleasure? The existing pension does not give them an opportunity to do these things.
The Minister and, indeed, his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in Blackpool last week, referred to the 55 per cent. increase in pensions, but this is regarded with utter contempt by pensioners. I am sure the Under-Secretary has many pensioners in his constituency. I 586 should like to know what their comments would be to him if he had the audacity to say to them "We have given you a 55 per cent. increase in pensions." In the House yesterday we were told by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food that food prices during the period that the present Government have been in office have increased by 37.3 per cent.
§ Mr. O'Malley
My hon. Friend will perhaps have seen that the Pensioners Voice, the official newspaper of the National Federation of Old Age Pensioners' Associations, has dealt more than adequately with the Government's claim about a 55 per cent. increase in benefits. Indeed, the Under-Secretary specifically referred in one speech to the fact that the national federation had complained how badly they had been treated by the present Government.
§ Mr. Cox
One only has to take into account the number of pensioners who come to lobby Members, irrespective of their party, to appreciate the relevance of what my hon. Friend says. Consider the answer given yesterday, in which we were told of a 33.7 per cent. increase in food prices. The value of the pound has fallen by 25p during that time. This strengthens the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin) who asked "What is £10 really worth this year?". If the Government had any concern to see that the bonus retained its value, I believe that the sum available to pensioners this year would be £12. Indeed if it is to be meaningful, it should be £15.
The view of my party is that pensions should be increased to £10 for single persons and £16 for married couples, as a matter of priority. I question whether even that is sufficient. Many of my right hon and hon. Friends, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn and my hon. Friend the Member for Southall (Mr. Bidwell), have repeatedly argued that until we have in this country a system whereby pensions are tied to the average national weekly income, there will be no lasting benefit for pensioners. I only hope the Government will give their attention to this matter.
During the last few weeks we have heard each of the three political parties claiming their great concern for the pensioners. I have no doubt of my party's 587 concern, and I am sure that the Minister of Pensions in the next Labour Government will be fully aware that if pensions are not made a priority there will be absolute uproar from back bench Members of my party. This is a commitment to which we are pledged and on which I have made promises to my constituents, and I shall see that it is indeed a priority.
What concerns me is the lack of willingness by the present Government to get to grips with the situation and ensure that pensioners have enough to live on, especially as all parties have agreed on this. It is time that the Government made their position perfectly clear to the country. At Blackpool last week the Chancellor referred to the "wicked" Labour proposals for taxation. I do not deny the rightness of increasing taxation in this country if it means that pensioners and others, including the permanently sick and disabled groups, not forgetting those who look after dependent relatives receive adequate benefits.
If ever there were a group of people who should be included among the recipients of this £10 it is those who look after dependent relatives. I believe that about 300,000 fathers and/or mothers are looked after by their sons or daughters. Almost invariably, it is the daughter who looks after the dependent relative. If these people were not prepared to do that, even if there were hospital beds available it would cost about £40 a week to keep one of those dependent relatives in hospital. Yet here we are arguing about a once-and-for-all payment of £10 to these people. Many of them will not receive the bonus because they are below pensionable age, and that is an absolute scandal, just as it is utterly scandalous that the disabled will not receive it.
I do not attempt to suggest that only Labour Members are concerned about the disabled. To their credit, the same can be said for many Conservatives, who are most active in trying to make life for the disabled more pleasant. I wish they were here today, attempting to get the Minister to change his mind.
We are always told that the Government would like to help but that the money was not available. That is utter rubbish. In the next few days we shall be discussing the Channel tunnel, which, if the scheme is approved, will cost 588 hundreds of millions of pounds. It might be argued that it is for the economic good of the country to have the tunnel. I shall not argue about that now, but if we can afford to spend hundreds of millions of pounds on the Channel tunnel and on Maplin—whenever it gets off the ground and construction starts—surely we can give a £10 bonus to the people who have been excluded.
The Government will be giving the retirement pensioners only £80 million by way of the bonus. I do not have the figures. but if we were to include all the other groups that Members have been campaigning for this morning I doubt if it would add more than another £20 million to £25 million. Are we really telling the disabled, the permanently sick and the other categories that we cannot afford to give them the bonus, but that in a few days' time we shall be approving the expenditure of hundreds of millions of pounds? It is when we discuss projects such as these that the electorate feel such contempt for politicians and demand that we get our priorities right.
I only hope that the Minister will say, even at this late hour, that the Government have made a mistake, that there are those in even greater need than the pensioners and that they will be included. Even if these other categories do not get the money in time for Christmas, even if it takes a few weeks longer, I shall still welcome his decision. I hope he has the courage to say that is what he is prepared to do.
§ Mr. Harper
Most if not all of us agree with the Christmas bonus and we appreciate that lines of demarcation have to be drawn. We know there will always be anomalies in any bonus however it is arranged. My right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin), speaking to an earlier amendment, said that when Lloyd George introduced the pension it amounted to five shillings a week compared to the standard income of the country of about 25 shillings. In other words, it was then 20 per cent. of the average wage and he explained that that percentage has now fallen.
I remember when I first went to work in the late 1920s the pension was 10 shillings. I remember the spectacle of people in every industry having to drag themselves to work beyond the age of 70 589 in order to eke out a living because 10 shillings was not sufficient to keep a man and his wife. We all know, and none better than the Minister, that most of our old-age pensioners have to rely on supplementary benefits now. When the Minister replied to the amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall), he referred to the arrangements under phase 3 and at that point I thought his argument distinctly weak. Surely the Department can do better than that.
If he had stopped speaking when he reached the point about old-age pensioners having difficulties because they do not have an order book and about the anomalies of the birth certificate and how these can get lost by old people, he would have made more sense. The Minister referred to what the old-age pensioners will get out of phase 3. I can assure him they will not get very much. As my hon. Friend the Member for Goole pointed out, some of them will be harshly treated. My hon. Friend described how people, although not having an order book or a birth certificate, could nevertheless get the bonus after Christmas. We all agree with the Christmas bonus and it will be an annual feature under all future Governments. There are old-age pensioners in the higher income bracket who do not need the bonus but who will get it. For them it will simply go into the coffers.
While we think of the old-age pensioners, however, we must remember that there are a lot of other categories, some of whom are the subject of a later amendment, who are as badly off as the old-age pensioners. The book in my house which is well thumbed and most read is not, I have to admit, the Bible. It is the book which is sent out about every two years by the Department of Health and Social Security. My right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) said earlier that letters were already pouring in and that constituents were coming to the surgeries, some of them angry, but most of them bewildered not knowing what this it all about.
Perhaps I can best explain by citing the case which has come to my notice concerning a gentleman on invalidity pension. I live in an industrial area. Like most industrial areas it has its share 590 of people drawing the invalidity pension as early as 55 or before and who draw it for the rest of their lives. The man to whom I refer is about 62. He draws the same rates as an old-age pensioner with supplementary benefit which covers his rent and a little bit extra. He asks, "What about me? I get nothing." My right hon. Friend mentioned the case of widows in certain circumstances not being able to draw the £10 bonus. These anomalies could be ironed out with a little good will by the Government. The bonus could be paid to these people in the way suggested or in some other way devised by the Department.
In view of everything that has been said, the bonus, acceptable and welcome as it is, could be given to other categories who are as deserving as the pensioners. I hope that the Minister will consider what I have said and give us something we can take back to our constituents.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
Any alleviation of the old-age pensioners' position is most welcome, but there are some matters which I must put to the Minister. First, will he tell us when the relevant week will be? Will he give us a firm date? There is a feeling among many old-age pensioners that those who come into the entitlement of an old-age pension before Christmas should be considered under the Bill.
I have a pathetic letter from one of my constituents. He states that he will become of pensionable age on 21st December. He has been informed that he will not come under the entitlement. He says that his wife and himself are living in a house which is under a demolition order. His house is cold and damp and he says that the bonus would have been useful in that he could have bought extra coal for Christmas.
The House should be cognisant of such matters. I agree with the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Harper) that there are other categories which could now be considered—for example, widow's pensions, especially the pensions of war widows. It is to be regretted that they are not to be considered. While I welcome any alleviation of the old-age pensioners' lot, I should have liked to see a more substantial sum coming to those needy people.
§ Mr. O'Malley
As a result of the procedural trickery which the Government have employed in putting the Bill before the House, we have been denied the right to put forward amendments which, if carried, would have resulted in the £10 bonus being available to 1 million poor people who are completely forgotten in the Bill.
Let me make it plain that the Labour Party believes, in the current background of grossly inadequate social security benefits and of unprecedented levels of inflation fostered by the policies of the Government, that the £10 bonus should be paid not only to our citizens who are over pensionable age—that is women over 60 years and men over 65 years—but to the long-term sick, disabled and unemployed and widows and widowed mothers who are dependent on social security payments, and who are excluded. Such groups are amongst the poorest sections of the community. They form part of the forgotten million. There is nothing for them in the Bill or in phase 3 of the Government's counter-inflation policy. The categories which I have mentioned are the worst hit casualties of phase 3, the basic principle of which is to give most to those who need less.
Let us consider how a widowed mother dependent on supplementary benefit and an invalidity pensioner is entitled to regard the current proposals. We have the chairman of a meat company which has doubled its profits at a time when people on national insurance benefit find it increasingly difficult to buy meat because of soaring meat prices. The chairman of that company can receive under the Government's counter-inflation policy an increase of over £16,000 a year. We are told that that is because there has been an increase in productivity in the group concerned. We must consider how to advise trade union members to obtain that kind of increase. The chairman I have mentioned is at the top of the pyramid. He is a good example—but a disgraceful example—of the top of the pyramid.
Next, we must consider those who are in employment and who are earning over £5,000 a year. Over the last three years there have been tax handouts to that section of the community amounting to over £400 million. In phase 3, based on the total national resources avail- 592 able or likely to be available for individuals within the community, that group is entitled to an extra £220 million a year. That is an entitlement of £7 a week for those earning over £5,000 a year.
As the pyramid broadens, the amount decreases. The lower paid in British industry are entitled, if they can get it—which means if there is a trade union organisation which can fight for them—to a £2.25 a week increase in their income during phase 3.
Retirement pensioners are almost at the bottom of the huge pyramid. The eight million retirement pensioners are to receive £80 million as opposed to £220 million, plus all the tax handouts, which half a million people with £5,000 a year can receive. Their benefit is 20p a week.
For the chairman of the meat company there is £16,000 a year. For those earning £5,000 a year there is £7 a week. For the lower paid, if they can get it, there is £2.25 a week. For retirement pensioners there is, in the form of a Christmas bonus, 20p a week. For the forgotten million, including widows, widowed mothers and the long-term sick, disabled and unemployed, there is nothing in phase 3.
The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security said last year that the reasons for those sections being excluded were two-fold. The first reason was that the Government wanted to do a speedy emergency job last year. That does not apply this year. We are considering the matter much earlier this year. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman said that the scheme should be limited to readily definable groups.
If administrative convenience is to be balanced against equity and morality, such convenience should always be thrown out of the window. However, by an amendment, the Opposition were giving the hon. Gentleman additional and readily definable groups within the national insurance and the social security system.
Last year the hon. Gentleman suggested that it would be wrong to make the £10 bonus available to those who had been dependent on social security payments for only a brief period. The Opposition have met his point. We have made readily definable all the long-term recipients who are heavily and generally 593 exclusively dependent on social security benefit—namely, pensioners and disabled men or women, including those so badly disabled that they are receiving attendance allowance. If those people are under 60, and although they shop in the same market and although they need the same housing, heating and food as those over 60, their incomes are similar to those of retirement pensioners. It is a matter of deliberate Government policy that they are to be excluded from receiving this year's Christmas bonus.
The Under-Secretary of State has long experience in these matters. He knows that if we are to attempt to identify specific areas of poverty there are no greater concentrations of poverty than amongst, widows, widowed mothers, the long-term sick, the long-term disabled and the long-term unemployed. Yet there is nothing for them in the Bill. What is more, we are even denied the right to move an amendment in an attempt to make these payments.
I hope that the Under-Secretary will have a better reply to make on the subject than he had last year. His only case then was based on the need to put the payments into operation as soon as possible. Let me remind the hon. Gentleman of the document recently published by Age Concern entitled "Shopping for Food". It is based on a survey which was conducted in July of this year. It shows that pensioners are eating less food than they were a year ago, and that they have great difficulty in replacing household goods, in buying meat and in shopping if they happen to be disabled. All those factors apply to the other categories which I have been discussing—the million forgotten poor.
I hope that the Under-Secretary will not attempt to give us an administrative answer. I hope that he will meet squarely the clear needs of the categories of people who are excluded in order to see to it that they, too, receive the same £10 Christmas bonus as those over the ages of 60 and 65. On all the evidence their need is just as great, and they should have the money put into their hands this Christmas.
§ Mr. Dean
I am grateful to the Committee for the support that has been given to the Bill, especially to the £10 payment. 594 I do not complain that the Opposition urge the Government to do more. All Oppositions do that, and it is right that they should. I complain about the fact that in the criticisms which have been made there has been virtually no recognition of the substantial improvement in pensions and other benefits which came into operation only three weeks ago. I also complain about the fact that in suggesting improvements here and there the Opposition have made no attempt to cost them or to say who is to pay.
§ Mr. O'Malley
If the hon. Gentleman wishes me to cost them I will do that here and now. I am talking about a million forgotten people. It means an extra £10 million. That is a drop in the ocean compared with the hand-outs to surtax payers and others at the top of the pyramid which I described who are getting everything from this Government.
§ Mr. Dean
A number of groups—the disabled and the younger widows, for example—got no special help when he was responsible. It was this Government who introduced that help, and we are now improving the new benefits that they are getting on an annual basis.
Against that background I deal with the specific question put to me about the arrangements, those who will benefit, and the time when the payments are due to come into operation.
As I said in an earlier debate, this Bill stems from the announcement made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that as part of stage 3 special consideration would be given to certain groups of people, one of which was the pensioners. As a result, about 8 million pensioners will benefit, to the tune of a total of £80 million. The £10 will be non-taxable and non-means tested. Therefore all will benefit to the full amount. It covers not only people living in their own homes but also those living in old people's homes and hospitals provided that they 595 have an entitlement to a qualifying benefit.
The vast majority will get the payment at the Post Office when they cash their pensions for the week beginning 26th November. That answers the point put to me by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). He will notice that the conditions for eligibility appear in Clause 1. Broadly speaking, they are that people shall have reached the relevant age—65 for men and 60 for women—that they are ordinarily resident in the country, and that they are entitled to a payment of a qualifying benefit on one day in the week concerned. The hon. Gentleman will also notice that the relevant week is defined in page 3, line 10 of the Bill as the week beginning 26th November 1973. The vast majority will get the payment during that week. Others—those who are paid on a monthly basis and possibly some who are paid by Giro cheque—will receive their payment usually by post and, we hope, well before Christmas. Those are the essential qualifying conditions.
The Bill must be seen as a sequel to the substantial increase in the benefits which came into operation only three weeks ago at the beginning of October. The increase of £1.60 for a married couple and £1 for a single person is the biggest increase ever in any period of one year. It amounts to an increase of nearly 15 per cent., whereas, according to the latest figures, which are for August, the cost of living has increased by only 6.8 per cent. In other words, the increase in pensions which has just come into operation not only fulfils the Government's firm commitment to ensure each year that the purchasing power of the pension is maintained but has increased the real value of the pension. That is well illustrated by the figures which I have just given. As a result of this month's improvement there is now an extra £570 million being paid in a full year to people on pensions and other social security benefits. That is the essential background to the Bill, and it is only right that I should emphasise it.
Many speeches today have made pleas to include in the £10 payment other groups of people who are excluded. Perhaps I might make two points. The first is that a payment of this kind is a major 596 operation and one has to find a dividing line which will be equitable and practicable. In our judgment, as this is geared to pensioners, the normal pension age with a qualifying benefit is the most acceptable and the most equitable line to draw. It is for that reason that the line has been drawn at the normal pension age.
§ Mr. Thomas Cox
In view of what the hon. Gentleman is saying. how can he justify the exclusion of people who are now in receipt of the constant attendance allowance? Surely this will present no great problems.
§ Mr. Dean
I quite understand the pleas being made on behalf of other groups of people who are below the retirement age. But here again the Bill, which is intended specifically for those over retirement age, must not be looked at in isolation. One has also to look at what the Government have been doing for those groups who are excluded from the Bill. I should like to remind the Committee of what has been done for the various groups that have been mentioned.
First, I will deal with widows. In most cases they are entitled to the long-term increase in benefit. They were given an increase in benefit higher than that for the short-term beneficiaries—and there are special preferential arrangements, quite rightly, within the National Insurance scheme for widows, particularly those with dependent children. These preferences have been maintained. Further, widows between the ages of 40 and 50, who were hitherto excluded from benefit, were included within the scheme a few years ago by this Government. So there has been direct action to improve the lot of and to give more help to widows than was available hitherto.
§ Mr. O'Malley
I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman. I have here the National Insurance and Supplementary Benefit Act, as it now is, which we discussed a little while ago. The widowed mother's allowance is £7.75, which is identical to the widow's pension of £7.75. Even worse, when unemployed people have once been out of earnings-related benefit their increase has been not more, but less, than the pensioners receive. They get £7.35, which is a 60p increase 597 rather than £1. Will the hon. Gentleman fit that into the context of his remarks.
§ Mr. O'Malley
I am not trying to be difficult. The hon. Gentleman is proving a case which does not need proving. I think we are really agreed on this matter. For example, a widow receiving either the widowed mother's allowance or the widow's pension gets £7.75. She is getting the same as a retirement pensioner. Therefore, she needs the £10 Christmas bonus in the same way.
§ Mr. Dean
Looking at what has been done to help widows, one finds that not only are those on the long-term rate of benefit put in a preferential position over and above those on short-term benefit, which applied to the increase in benefit which came into operation at the beginning of October, but new benefits have been introduced to help widows who hitherto had no benefit at all. Therefore, it is not fair for hon. Gentlemen to look at the Bill in isolation, completely ignoring what has been done for widows in previous Bills introduced by this Government.
The chronic sick have been mentioned. Of course, we all recognise the difficulties that they face. But, again, the Government have responded. There is the new invalidity allowance and the invalidity pension within the National Insurance Scheme. The Committee will know that from the beginning of this month the chronic sick who were entitled to the invalidity allowance have had that allowance increased by no less than 40 per cent. This was a deliberate response by the Government to the needs of the chronic sick because we recognised that additional help was required for them.
The disabled have also been mentioned. Again, it is only fair that the Committee should recognise the substantial advance that has been made in recent times through the attendance allow- 598 ance. About 112,000 people are now getting the attendance allowance. One has only to look back to December 1971, when no help was available for them. We estimate that over £30 million a year is now being paid out for the attendance allowance. We hope it will not be long before it amounts to £70 million a year. Here is a situation that has been transformed—not before time—in a comparatively short period since December 1971, from no money being paid out for the attendance allowance to a figure that before long will approach £70 million a year.
When these criticisms are made, the Committee should recognise the substantial advances that have been made in recent years in improving the lot of those groups of people who have been mentioned in the debate.
The Opposition, in making their criticisms, said that the level of pension should be £10 for a single person and £16 for a married couple. I make no complaint about being urged to do more for pensioners, but I do complain that not one word has been said about the costs involved. Therefore, I must remind the Committee of what the cost of those proposals would be.
An extra £1,400 million would be required, which would mean an extra 51p on the contributions made by people earning £36 a week and an extra 85p on the contributions made by those earning £54 a week. The Opposition would gain more credit if, when they talked about these increases in benefits, they would in the same breath and sentence say how much more would be added to the contributions that working people have to make.
§ 1.15 p.m.
§ Mr. O'Malley
The hon. Gentleman might get away with that outside the House, but certainly not inside it. He knows that on a succession of Bills, from the major Social Security Acts down to every up-rating Bill we have had, when we have discussed the £10 and £16 pensions we have openly and with full publicity outlined the costs of such levels of pensions. We have also explained how the money would be found for the increases. The hon. Gentleman knows that there are a number of different ways of financing pensions at that, or, indeed, any other level. One way, about which I have 599 spoken in the House on more than one occasion, is to increase the Treasury contribution. Surely, in periods when the Treasury has been able to make massive hands-outs of hundreds of millions of pounds to the wealthier sections of the community there could instead have been that transference of resources towards the retirement pensioners. We have put forward our proposals. costed them and argued the methods of financing them not on one but on every Bill that has come before the House in the last 18 months.
§ Mr. Dean
When the hon. Gentleman came forward with the proposal for a substantial increase in the pension this morning, he did not mention the increased cost, or how it should be met. It is grossly irresponsible and misleading to dangle these carrots before the pensioners without in the same breath saying what the cost would be or how it would be met by the working taxpaying population.
The right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) asked about the heating allowance. The heating allowance is available, over and above the various benefits within the Supplementary Benefits Scheme, to those who have special needs for extra heating on medical grounds or the inadequacy of the houses in which they live. Here again, an improvement was made in the arrangements which came into operation at the beginning of this month.
There has been an increase in the number of people qualifying for the heating allowances. The figure for November 1972—the latest available—was 232,000 allowances, compared with 194,000 in November 1971. As a result of the new arrangements which came into operation this month, we expect about an extra 400,000 beneficiaries.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Why must my hon. Friend stick rigidly to the date of 26th November? Why cannot it be brought up to 25th December? He should bear in mind that there are hardship cases in the country. His use of the expression concerning carrots was very unfortunate. The people concerned are very needy, as my hon. Friend appreciates. It is not a dangling of carrots to try to get them something that will help them through the cold of this winter.
§ Mr. Dean
My hon. Friend cannot have been here during the earlier debate when we discussed why the week beginning 26th November was selected. I should bore the Committee if I went over the argument again, but the hon. Gentleman may wish to read the report of the debate in HANSARD.
The intention of the clause is to carry out the commitment announced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to give special consideration under stage 3 to the pensioners. Hence the £10 for a single person and £20 for a married couple where both are over pension age. It will benefit about 8 million pensioners at a cost of £80 million. That is over and above the substantial improvements in the pensions and the other benefits which came into operation only three weeks ago as a result of the annual review of benefits which now takes place.
Of course the Government are not satisfied; of course we want to do more: of course we recognise that there are still areas of need which must be met. But I am entitled to tell the Committee that the clause is another concrete example of the progress which has been made and which we are determined to continue.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.