HC Deb 29 July 1980 vol 989 cc1265-6
2. Mr. Ioan Evans

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he is now in a position to make a statement about his conclusions on the death grant.

The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mrs. Lynda Chalker)

Ministers are still actively considering this question. We are aware of the great concern felt about it by hon. Members as well as by outside bodies, and we shall make a statement as soon as we are in a position to do so.

Mr. Evans

Since the grant has not been increased since 1967, the 20 per cent. inflation this year is affecting funeral costs and the cost would now have to be more than £160 if it were to reflect its 1949 value, does the hon. Lady realise that a time of death for elderly people causes great anxiety, which could be removed if funeral expenses were met by an increased death grant? Will she deal with this matter urgently?

Mrs. Chalker

We are seeking to deal with this matter as thoroughly and urgently as possible. I am well aware of the serious concern felt by so many people, particularly the elderly. To increase the value of the death grant to more than £160—in fact, £164—would cost an additional £75 million. That money is simply not available.

Mr. Sims

When considering this matter, will my hon. Friend take into account the special problem of parents faced with the sudden and unexpected death of a child, a contingency against which it is not possible to insure?

Mrs. Chalker

We are very well aware of the serious concern among parents with young children who lose those children and where there is no entitlement at present. That is one consideration with which we are dealing at present.

Mr. Dempsey

Cannot the Minister do something especially to ease the plight of pensioners, who depend on benefits paid by the weekly penny insurance contributions of years gone by? As those pensioners are now too old to insure themselves, could not some special provision be made to assist by increasing the death grant, particularly for the elderly in our community who are in such unfortunate circumstances?

Mrs. Chalker

We are aware that some elderly people do not qualify at all for the death grant and that there are others who qualify only for a half grant. We have that consideration very much in mind, along with all the other plans that have been put to us by various groups. I shall consider what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. McCrindle

Is any progress being made by my hon. Friend with regard to the study of how practicable it would be to relate the level of the death grant to need, thereby permitting a substantially increased amount to be paid, perhaps to people on supplementary benefit, while allowing the £30 to be discontinued to many people to whom it is irrelevant?

Mrs. Chalker

My hon. Friend is quite right when he says that some people do not have difficulty in finding the money with which to pay the burial costs of their relatives. The proposal to which he has alluded is one of a large number which remain under consideration. I repeat that we shall make an announcement as soon as we can.

Forward to