HC Deb 18 January 1983 vol 35 cc158-9
7. Mr. Strang

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will now make a statement of the future of the death grant.

The Minister for Social Security (Mr. Hugh Rossi)

We have not yet completed our consideration of the future of the death grant following public response to the consultative document. I shall make a statement as soon as this is complete.

Mr. Strang

Is it not already clear that all the proposals in the Government's consultative document are unacceptable to pensioners' organisations? Will the Government press ahead and provide a decent increase in the death grant so that old people need no longer live in fear of being unable to afford a decent burial?

Mr. Rossi

It is also perfectly clear that the resources do not exist to pay a substantially increased death grant to rich and poor alike. If I had that kind of money available, I should use it for other priorities.

Mr. Durant

Will my hon. Friend look at the problem of funeral expenses facing widows whose husbands are on long-term sickness benefit for a considerable time and then die? It causes great difficulty and hardship, and the policy in this regard seems to be confused.

Mr. Rossi

It had been our intention, as a result of the consultative document, to redirect resources to the area of greatest need. Unfortunately, we did not receive sufficient public support for that approach. Therefore, we have to reconsider the matter.

Mr. Foster

Does the Minister recall saying on 31 March that he looked forward to a quick and favourable response to … the consultative document".—[Official Report, 30 March 1982; Vol. 21, c. 175.] Was not the response predominantly unfavourable? Does not the fact that we have not yet had any proposals suggest that the Government have decided to drop the means-testing of the death grant this side of the general election?

Mr. Rossi

Fifty five per cent. of those who replied were not in favour of any of the proposals in the consultative document. All the same, a number of people replied in favour of one or other of the options. It is regrettable that we do not have public support to put resources where they are really needed and, because we do not have that support, we are having to consider the matter de novo.

Mr. McCrindle

Is not my hon. Friend confusing public support with the expression of opinion from a sizeable number of people who could have been expected in the first place to take the line that they did? Has not the time come for the Government to grasp the nettle and pay a sizeably increased death grant to those who need it? Is it not clear that this is a case where selective use of the public social services is highly desirable?

Mr. Rossi

It can equally be said that because only 630 responses were received to the consultative document there is not a great deal of public interest in the matter anyway. That is perfectly arguable, when one considers the millions of people who are affected by this matter. Of course the Government have to come to a conclusion, and I hope that it will be possible to make an announcement in the not-too-distant future.

Mr. John

How many of the 630 responses were from representative bodies that represent many more than one individual response?

Mr. Rossi

Some were from representative bodies on both sides. For example, the ex-service organisations very much supported the proposals. I do not want to give the hon. Gentleman an accurate figure, but I shall certainly give it to him in writing, if that is what he wishes.