HC Deb 30 January 1979 vol 961 cc1221-3
4. Mr. Dempsey

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what has been the increase in sickness benefit, unemployment benefit and the death grant, at constant and at current prices, since each of the following years, 1948, 1958, 1968 and 1978.

Mr. Orme

The standard weekly rate of sickness and unemployment benefit was £1.30 in 1948 and £15.75 in 1978. At current prices these rates would be £8.44 and £15.88. The death grant was £20 when it was first paid in 1949 and £30 in 1978. Current price equivalents would be £125.86 and £30.25.

With permission, I will circulate the figures in the Official Report.

Mr. Dempsey

Is my right hon. Friend aware that those figures show that the death grant has remained unchanged since it was fixed in 1967 at £30? Does he realise that the average cost of a funeral at that time, consisting of a hearse, coffin, three taxis and opening a burial ground, was £47? Does he agree that since then the cost of the average funeral has increased to £180, which is a 391 per cent. increase, which was confirmed yesterday by Scottish undertakers? Will he bear in mind that the death grant in 1967 represented 63 per cent. of the cost of a funeral, whereas today it represents only 16 per cent.? Is there not an overwhelming need for an immediate substantial increase in the death grant in view of the prodigious increase in burial and commission expenses—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey). However, if I did not, it would be the end of Question Time. This is an extremely long question.

Mr. Dempsey

Will the Minister take action, in view of the prodigious cost of burial and cremation expenses?

Mr. Orme

I concede that my hon. Friend has made a first-class case on this problem. I remind the House that the Government are aware of the gap to which my hon. Friend has drawn attention, but this is a matter of resources. We have made a priority of tackling poverty and helping in the struggle against inflation, both with pensions and with child benefit. We have to take account of the needs of the disabled and the blind, and we must bear in mind the recipients of maternity benefits and the long-term unemployed. We have to weigh up all these priorities.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Has the right hon. Gentleman calculated how much it would cost to bring the death grant up to the level advocated by the hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey)? Do the Government plan to bring this matter into the list of priorities, since it clearly has not been there for the last 10 years?

Mr. Orme

It is in the list of priorities. We considered this matter very seriously. It would cost £96 million a year to bring the benefit up to the level requested by my hon. Friend. That considerable amount of public expenditure must be set against other priorities.

Mr. Ovenden

Will my right hon. Friend accept that a number of social security benefits have declined in real value over the years? In this International Year of the Child, will he pay particular attention to uprating the maternity benefits, which have fallen way behind other benefits? Does he accept that that would make a major contribution to the quality of infant care in this country?

Mr. Orme

There is another question on the Order Paper dealing with this matter. My hon. Friend has drawn attention to another priority. As a result of the amendments made to the Social Security Bill, the Government are committed to looking at these benefits each year.

Mr. Newton

In view of the Minister's remarks about the Social Security Bill, and since the Government did not seek to remove the clause requiring this matter to be reviewed in the present tax year, may we take it not only that the review is being carried out, but that its conclusions will be published?

Mr. Orme

The review is being carried out. I shall consider the hon. Member's latter point.

Following is the information:

1948 1.30 (8.44)
1958 2.50 (10.48)
1968 4.50 (13.91)
1978 15.75 (15.88)
1949 20 (125.86)
1958 25 (104.78)
1968 30 (92.73)
1978 30 (30.25)


Current price equivalents are given in brackets.

Death grant was introduced in 1949.