HL Deb 02 February 1977 vol 379 cc881-949

4.17 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, after that very important and vital interruption in the proceedings of our debate on the problems of retirement, we now return to this intimate and extremely personal subject. It is rather interesting that the noble Baroness, whom I thank for raising the issue of this debate, referred to the fact that statistically women live longer than men, have a greater life expectancy. When I told my wife that I was going to speak in a debate on the problems of retirement she reminded me, not too forcefully, that housewives do not retire; they keep on. The only retirement problem they have is their husbands. I think there is some substance for thought in this, because in point of fact activity in retirement does add to life expectancy and ensures greater health.

The basic problem of retirement is, of course, financial. The most fortunate of us are those with State pension plus a degree of superannuation. But for many at the moment it is the State pension plus in some cases supplementary help. With all respect, it is all very well to say that people should help themselves by providing, through assurance or other means, for retirement. But low wages, long spells or short spells of unemployment, and other economic adversities do mean extreme difficulty in saving. This, unfortunately, is the general pattern of the lower income groups in this country. It does not mean that they are shiftless or lazy. The fact is that they have to deal immediately with the situation affecting their children and the family, and the future has to take care of itself. Let us face that fact. Of course, we all agree that eventually all should be on an adequate scheme of superannuation, but that is in the future, and in this debate we are dealing with the present and the near future.

I agree with the noble Baroness on the subject of housing. Many times when I was a Member of Parliament elderly people came to me saying that they were either living alone or living with their husbands in very large houses, in many cases large council houses. They said that they simply could not cope and sought my help in getting a transfer to a smaller house, maisonette or flat. It is true that some progressive local authorities—I am afraid not very many—do a great deal of good work in this respect, even assisting in the purchase of older, large houses, moving elderly people into flats and giving them some financial compensation. However, this is a problem that needs greater, closer and more sympathetic attention.

Retirement without leisure activity can mean, quite bluntly, the armchair and absolute boredom. For single persons, widows or widowers it could mean loneliness—the curse of old age. Many thousands of retired people, especially those living in flats, need a piece of land on which to cultivate vegetables and flowers. However, many local authorities are still lagging behind in the provision of this important and vital amenity. Social clubs and luncheon clubs—many operated or subsidised by local authorities—exist, but many more are needed.

Regrettably, some councils have cut these services as economy measures. To restrict retired people to one luncheon club meal a week, as one local authority has done, is a cruel and thoughtless act. Clubs such as those provide companionship and mitigate loneliness. To combat loneliness I advocate that closer attention be given to the excellent voluntary scheme now being operated in many areas known as the "Fish Scheme". A large card with the picture of a fish is placed in the house and those in the house are told that in any case of emergency they should place the card in the window and someone will tell the volunteers to call to see what help can be given. It is an excellent scheme and I should welcome its extension.

My Lords, perhaps I may be forgiven for a slight "commercial" but I have already helped one person who was about to retire in this way. For those with some technical knowledge or some ability to study, amateur radio provides a fascinating form of retirement activity. Anyone listening on the 80 metre band in the morning will be fascinated at the chatter that takes pace between old friends all over Britain and overseas. I listened to a couple this morning. One had taken the decision to retire at the age of 50 and the other retired at the age of 70. They were chattering about the advantages of retirement. For those without technical ability a suitable communications receiver and a length of wire can provide a gateway to the world and a bond of friendship through the exchange of QSL cards. Local radio societies or the Radio Society of Great Britain will gladly help all those who are interested.

A revolutionary step in mobility in retirement is that provided by the Greater London Council in its issue of free bus passes to the elderly. This has proved a singular boon to thousands in these days of high fares. The passes provide a ready opportunity to visit children and grandchildren, old friends and old haunts. That is a tremendous social advance. If any of your Lordships travel on buses (not having another form of transport, I do) in the off-peak hours your Lordships will see these people going on little outings together—nothing very spectacular—and thoroughly enjoying themselves. They are mobile and that is the important point.

In the rest of the country the pattern is of mixed concessions. Even with a partial reduction, fares are too high for some retired people and mobility is restricted. The question of mobility is important and we need a national system of bus passes along the lines operated by the Greater London Council. Voluntary service is a valuable means of retirement activity but, as with other means of activity, publicity is too often lacking. What is needed is a greater provision of courses on preparation for retirement and, through social service units of local authorities, bureaux listing facilities that are available, so that those searching for some means of retirement activity can secure comprehensive details of the facilities available in local areas.

The problems of retirement are personal to the individual but there is no reason whatever why help, advice and guidance should not be freely available on the lines I have suggested this afternoon.

4.26 p.m.


My Lords, in a debate with 20 speakers my excuse for intervening again from this Bench is limited to the suggestion that we might hark back to the debate we had in this House in June last year on the needs of the elderly. We then said that we were talking about 9 million people over the age of 65, or one in six of the population. Before too long it may be that the ratio of retired people to non-retired will be something like one in four members of the population—perhaps over 10 million people. That point was made by my noble friend Lady Young, who introduced the debate so ably. Our theme then was that the proper place to care for the elderly was in the family. I hope that we shall continue to say during this debate that the proper place for retired people is within the community. It is much the same message.

Before I deal with the specific matters I wish to raise, I should like to mention one example of the kind of self-help which I believe points the way for the future. I refer in particular to the Retirement Advisory Bureau, which is run by the Institute of Directors with which at one time I had the honour to be associated. This comprises a small cross-section of the community, and the number of people for whom the Bureau is able to find work is, admittedly, small in relation to the numbers that we are talking about. It is interesting that when the Bureau was first set up most of the posts found for people were voluntary posts. However, I am told that the pattern has now changed noticeably and that those anticipating retirement are now seeking part-time posts which give them an opportunity to supplement their pensions, which have increasingly been eroded.

This illustrates the rather interesting point that it is not only at the lower level that the problems of retirement are being felt. It is interesting that something is being done about those problems by a body such as this. The Bureau's experience indicates that the value and contribution that some retired people can continue to make, right up to the age of 70 or more in many cases, is particularly applicable to the small firm, which, as some of your Lordships are aware, is a particular interest of mine. I happen to believe that this is the area to which this country might look for its industrial salvation.

I also call the attention of the House to the work being done in the United States by the Service Corps of Retired Executives. This is a well-tried scheme which has been running for some years. The elderly or senior executive gives the benefit of his experience to the small firm which otherwise might not have access to the kind of expertise which he can make available. I will say no more on this, because I am glad to see on the list of speakers that we have the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, and the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, from the Pre-Retirement Association, who are no doubt much more experienced and expert in this matter than I am. Therefore, perhaps I can revert to my original theme.

People in retirement are, by definition, liable to be elderly, and this is the excuse for linking these two debates together. They are going to spend less of their time at their places of work where the heating is somebody else's responsibility. They are perhaps not as active as they used to be, and again by definition this is why they are retiring. So they are going to encounter an increasing problem about heating just at a time when their income is dropping and when their savings have been eroded by inflation, and when the prices of all kinds of fuel appear to be rocketing, and there is no sign of any relenting in that remorseless process.

On top of this we have the problem which is referred to, I am happy to see, in the Department of the Environment's discussion paper yesterday, and to which my noble friend referred, that many of these retired people find themselves, I might almost say incarcerated, in rather unsuitable accommodation fitted with unsuitable means of heating. It is encouraging indeed to find that there is now some fresh thinking which will make it easier for people either to move into more appropriate accommodation, or to share the accommodation they have without some of the difficulties and constraints which successive legislation has imposed upon the mobility of people who are facing retirement.

During the debate we had last summer various suggestions were put forward which we hoped were constructive in every sense of the word, and we asked a number of questions. What I particularly want to do this afternoon is to continue to urge that we do our utmost to reduce the energy requirement of the elderly and those in retirement by helping them to improve their houses, or in extreme cases at least one room, rather than have them simply continuing to subsidise wasteful expenditure which they are ill-equipped to meet. The point is that if we spend money in this way there is a chance, in the long run, that we shall reduce the ever-increasing financial demand which is going to be made upon the pension resources of this country. Heating subsidies, suspension of disconnection, and all these devices are only palliatives which, at best, are alleviating the immediate need. Furthermore, the situation that these people are getting themselves into strikes at the very root of the desire for independence and self-reliance which so many people have spent their entire lives working for.

We mentioned in that last debate the matter of heating allowances. There is no doubt that they should go up if they are to meet the need. In spite of our commitment to reducing public expenditure I hope that they will go up. But my main reason for hoping that they will go up is that, if only we can face the reality of the level that heating allowances need to reach to meet the point, I feel sure that this will serve to underline and reinforce the validity of the alternative strategy of investing in insulation which, in the long run, will reduce the need for this continuing expenditure. Perhaps when the noble Lord replies he could tell us what is currently being spent on heating allowances. Could he also give us any estimate of the proportion of those entitled to the heating allowances who are drawing them. I shall be returning to the question of publicity in a moment or two.

May I ask the Government whether they would agree with a recent submission in a brief from Age Concern, talking about disconnections for non-payment of bills, where they say: Some people switch to paraffin heaters. Sometimes for the elderly a lethal way of obtaining heat. This reminded me that we spent a long time in this House not so long ago, when dealing with the Energy Bill, justifying the need for price control on the grounds that the Government wished to be able to control the price of paraffin. Do they think that it is sensible to deploy the whole effort of price control on a fuel which those who know about it claim is a dangerous fuel for people who are most likely to use it? I am not attempting here to do anything more than call attention to a point that has been made. I do not regard this as a political issue, I regard it as a purely practical one.

Another question arises out of something that my noble friend said earlier: the proposal that there should be a 25 per cent rebate on fuel bills. Could the noble Lord tell us who is funding that? Is it being funded through the social services, or are those 25 per cent. rebates being thrown back on to the suppliers of this energy? I hope he will see that it is not an artificial distinction because I believe, and have said before, that it is not the job of the fuel industries to be turned into welfare organisations. If you rebate these bills by 25 per cent. and throw it back on to them, you are clearly turning them into a welfare organisation. If that is so, let us know about it.

Then I turn to the matter of home renovation grants. I understand that in a recent survey, I think at the end of 1975, it was estimated that there were eight million uninsulated accessible roofs of houses. This would appear to be a simple job for voluntary labour, and indeed for the more active of the recently retired. It would also appear that the insulation of such lofts would be a job which would be eminently suitable for job creation schemes. Yet we hear that the grants procedure for local authorities to assist this kind of activity is extremely cumbersome.

In our debate in June the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, promised a circular on this matter almost immediately. I gather that "almost immediately" turned out to be in December. I do not know whether we would regard that as a semantic argument or not. Be that as it may, I should like to ask the noble Lord whether he has had any reaction from local authorities as a result of the issuing of this circular, and how much money has been spent on promoting this kind of activity. Would he give some thought to whether these home improvement grants should not also be extended to wall insulation.

A really important and difficult question is whether it is a fact that if you undertake such improvements to help yourself you are then descended upon by the rating authorities who say, "You have improved your house. We will raise the rates"—thus, in effect, taxing those who try to help themselves. Is this really a sensible way for us to proceed? Could we not guarantee some sort of moratorium? This is not a new suggestion but one which many, including myself, have put forward before. It would be interesting to know whether any steps are being taken to stop the positive discouragement of those who try to do something to improve their circumstances.

Then there is the question of information dissemination. The Friends of the Earth who in my experience are a suprisingly authoritative body and very careful and sensible in much of the research work they do—even if some of their utterances are at times a little extreme—have issued what they call a home insulation project pack. Have the Government made any attempt to call the attention of councils to this work? Is this information being made available in libraries and are people being told that it is being made available? Pursuing that theme a stage further—and I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, for throwing all these detailed matters at him; luckily we have a good deal of time before he is due to reply to the debate—what about the Health Education Council's booklet issued in November called Keeping Warm in Winter? Is this being circulated to those concerned, individuals, authorities and bodies?

I have apologised to the noble Lord for quizzing him in this rather detailed manner. My purpose is straightforward. On a number of occasions the Government have said they believe that steps should be taken in the area about which I have been talking. I am asking them to demonstrate that they really are prepared to act rather than simply pay lip-service. I hope they will be able to indicate to us that they are genuinely interested in preventive measures rather than simply treating the symptoms.

4.43 p.m.


My Lords, I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I raise a matter which, while of the utmost importance to the country, does not follow the general lines of the debate, though it falls within the strict construction of the Motion. I intend to keep my intervention as brief as possible and what I wish to say follows on the first part of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal. The problem I wish to bring before the House is that of the retirement age of civil servants which, at 60, has become totally anomalous, just as the retirement age of the Colonial Service had become anomalous when independence came and the Civil Service of the colonies was naturalised, so to speak.

When I first served in Jamaica, as economic adviser to the late Norman Manley, higher civil servants could retire at 45 and although they were almost all Jamaican they could claim the right to home leave for six months in this country. I do not say that our situation has changed to the degree of those ex-Colonies and that therefore the relationship between the Civil Service and the country has changed. Nevertheless, one can say that at present our life expectancy—let us hope noble Lords will excel in this—is higher than the 65 or 67 when this rule was instituted.

There is no question but that those who retire at 60 are not really ready for retirement, and of course if one looks round the City and elsewhere one finds ex-civil servants busier than ever they were when they were in their own offices. It would be a shame if their ability, knowledge and experience were not used for the benefit of the State. There seems to me to be an anomaly, a drawback, here, for if this custom became general—if there were the expectation in the highest circles of the Civil Service that well rewarded jobs were there for the asking—the absolute trust which we habitually place in their selfless independence might be impaired. This is an important and grave problem.

I do not believe that this problem has been ventilated either by the Fulton Committee or by the Committee which is now sitting in another place. The use of such civil servants as counsellors or in non-profit-making institutions and corporations, for example, might be the answer, but this is a very complex matter and in a short speech one cannot aim to give remedies. I have raised the matter simply to point out that the appointment of an expert committee to go into this issue is of the utmost urgency and is long overdue.

4.46 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of WORCESTER

My Lords, it perhaps goes without saying that a great weight of the caring and personal work of all the Churches and voluntary societies is in the field of the retired people and the needs of the aged. We are often accused, perhaps rightly, of trying to direct our attentions to the young, and this we do; but I am glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has initiated this debate because it brings into the right proportion the enormous element of our community which we now have within the category about which we are talking.

As has been said, retirement heralds the start of the last period of a man's or woman's life which terminates in death, and one aspect of the ministry of the Church to those in retirement is of course to help those people come to terms with this last and significant period of their lives, and all that has been said this afternoon about the enlarging and lengthening of this period is tremendously important. Nevertheless, we accept the suggestion of the noble Baroness that the Church has a tremendous role to play in the moral care and in the moral and ethical education of the community for this whole group of people, and we accept that as a prime duty of this generation.

Having said that, a few matters would appear to us as paramount. It is difficult to make generalisations because in this whole field we are controlled by situations that control individuals, but the preservation of personal values in this period of the lives of these people seems to be the number one priority. All too often collective decisions are as wounding for the old people as they may be helpful for the young. It is difficult to keep the individual in view when omnibus terms about the aged—OAPs, senior citizens, geriatric clubs—in fact increase their anxieties rather than lessen them, and therefore the whole question of saying "Let's be normal in being retired" must be a more common feature of our thinking.

As we come to grips with this increasing body of retired people it is important to get away, first, from the impression that they are victims of a modern industrial society—a very common impression. All too often, age, it is said, has made them unproductive and consequently undervalued. Changes in family life and increased mobility have isolated them and made them lonely. All these are the most common factors that one reads about the particular community we are caring about today. Old people are all too often conscious of being, to use an industrial phrase, "put on the scrap heap". It is that attitude that we must get away from.

However, it must be said at the same time that the concept of disengagement from the world in retirement is not necessarily an unsatisfactory one. It could be a very satisfactory one. A degree of disenagement from some of the pressures of the world is a component of successful ageing. Furthermore, the experience of isolation and loneliness is very uneven. I saw in a report the other day that 65 per cent. of the old people in the West Midlands area were fairly active in their social network, but the statutory and voluntary agencies which work in this field are aware of an increasing sense of isolation at this time of economic stringency.

In the face of being regarded as unproductive or under-valued, the attitude of society in fixing pensions has been mentioned at length this afternoon and I would not go further but would just say that, in our thinking and in our publications and statements, we should continue to educate society not just to understand people for what they were but to understand them for what they are. That is not easy. Every judgment of the pensioner or the retired person tends to be in terms of what he or she was. Now we need to get to a point of realising their potential.

Consequent upon this, I shall venture to make two or three suggestions in what is inevitably, for me, a lay or amateur field. First, may I endorse the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, when she called for the expansion of the provision for a flexible retirement age? While conditions of unemployment may encourage early or prompt retirement, we squander the resources of our workforce in a good many areas and at many levels. We do this by not providing for the employment of older people on a basis of reduced hours of work. The personal benefit derived from this policy is that the process of retirement becomes a gradual one and that the period of laying down responsibility is phased over the years. Professor Michael Fogarty suggests that a half pension should be paid from a given age—say, 60—while people are employed on part-time work. At the same time, adequate provision should be made for early retirement for health reasons so that undue financial loss is not suffered.

The effect of the suggestions that I have outlined would be that the stereotype of the senior citizen to which I have referred before would be mitigated. If retirement is seen as a gradual rather than an abrupt passage from work to leisure the sense of loss of status and reciprocity in relationships can be reduced. An example of this has very recently been produced by the Manpower Services Commission, and I have no doubt that your Lordships will have seen the important proposal which is commonly known as the "Job Swap Scheme". Under this, a man reaching his retirement or near pensionable age can obtain a phased retirement provided this leads to a job being created for an unemployed young person. Such a scheme would generate help at both ends of our community and would create much greater social cohesion.

The second matter of importance is one which, again, has already been mentioned. It is the question of housing. The redevelopment of many inner city areas has meant the break-up of families. I would again endorse the words that have been said, but I would ask that a plea should be made for a better mix of houses in new housing areas. It is a known fact that families are inclined, as I know is the case in the new housing estates around Birmingham which are in my own diocese, to return from the new towns and newly developed areas because, to put it bluntly, they find that they cannot do without Granny and no provision has been made there for Granny. She may be wanted only as a baby sitter or to help with the washing, but, deep down, it is the family cohesion that is being broken up. The provision in new housing areas for two generations rather than one is therefore very worth while. This means, of course, that old people's bungalows must be among the council houses and not in groups on their own.

There is an urgent need to say a word for those who are peremptorily or unexpectedly declared redundant in the situation in which we are now—a situation which is clearly likely to continue for some years. I refer to the 58, 60, 62 year-old who is suddenly obliged to enter this period of life. The experience of many clergy in this field of caring has led to some useful analyses of the personal tragedies created by precipitate redundancy. A common sequence has been found which indicates the phases of reaction among the community of the early retired. The first phase is a sense of shock. This leads to apathy, inertia and even physical pain, and there is the temptation, more often than not, not to tell the family what has happened. We must try to alleviate the shock of sudden redundancy in order to comply with the industrial and economic situation that faces us.

After shock comes depression, and depression leads to bitterness, resentfulness, a sense of hopelessness. Again, our social agencies and many of the voluntary agencies working with them find this all too frequently. The third phase is the acknowledgement of the situation, the realising that it is real and possibly not insuperable. The morale of the early retired at the moment is, I would say, sadly low.

The fourth phase is one of adaptation, and one hopes that those who are con- fronted with this severe problem will reach this phase of adaptation, of self-assessment and of self-education, of making the best of the opportunities provided by many a college of further education both for their own enlightenment and for their own knowledge of family and matrimonial affairs. It is extraordinary how frequently early retirement upsets matrimonial relationships. I am glad to think that there are a good many very intelligent colleges of further education and other institutions of higher education that are enabling this community to come to terms with itself.

In conclusion, perhaps I may say at this stage that I regret that I may have to leave this House before the close of the debate. In supporting the concern expressed in the Motion, those of us who speak for the Churches—and that is far from being only clerics and prelates—and the voluntary agencies would hope for a fresh examination as to how the State may give aid to preserving personal values right the way through; how it can promote a flexibility in retirement and how we can encourage housing projects to think in terms of whole rather than disintegrated families. Particularly, I should like there to be a study of the redundancy which is becoming a greater aspect of retirement than ever, and of methods of enabling people to meet the shock of their new situation.

5 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for introducing this debate so excellently, and I am anxious to make a contribution, if I can, based particularly on my experience in local government. I believe that there has been a complete change in the attitude of many people to the aged and the retired. My experience on a county council during a period of nearly 30 years gave me that impression. I remember very well that when we first started to work for old people the attitude was that we must do everything we can to look after them, but today our main concern is to help old people to look after themselves. I am sure that this is the right attitude for old people themselves.

In the past it was thought that when people were retired or old they had to be provided with some kind of institution to which they could go—known as an old people's home—and that was the best that one could do. I remember with what horror I was greeted when I insisted upon the selling of a house that had been earmarked for an old people's home and insisted that there was built instead sheltered housing in the town where the old people's home was to have been. There was an absolute riot; I was thought to have been the most reactionary person imaginable because I wanted to do something like that. But once the houses or flats were built everyone was delighted. In some cases it was flats, but in most cases sheltered housing, and this was obviously what old people liked best.

I well remember urging that no ratepayers' money should go into providing institutions, but that it should go into the type of housing that I had in mind, and I am glad to say that that attitude has now been adopted, as we all know, in a great many areas. Instead of building high-rise flats and similar type of housing—not that the area in which I worked was given to that because it was more or less rural—we built self-contained flats for old people, with one house or a larger flat in the block which was for the warden. There again people were deeply appreciative and we have been oversubscribed in regard to that type of accommodation over and over again.

The organisation Help the Aged, which does such a magnificent job in keeping the needs of old people before the public, is encouraging old people who perhaps live alone in very large houses to turn them into flats, and this I am sure is another way of utilising housing which is unsuitable for a single person or an old person. Such houses can be turned into groups of flats. I very much hope that this is one of the points which will be taken up when people are considering the needs of old people and of retirement.

To keep people in their own homes is another vital point, and on that I should like to say that I think that the WRVS has done a magnificent job in many different ways. For instance, the Meals-on-Wheels service has now been adopted throughout the whole of local government, so far as I know, and it gives the opportunity for visits to old people and provides care and interest for old people.

While it is administered in many different ways—in some cases by local authorities, in others by voluntary organisations—the net result is the same. I received some figures from the WRVS about the Meals-on-Wheels service. Up to 1975 the WRVS had delivered 130 million meals. In 1975 alone it delivered 14¾ million Meals-on-Wheels and 3¼ million meals were provided in luncheon clubs. This represents an increase of over 110 per cent. in 10 years. What a service to be able to give to people and what a remarkable success!

Of course this is only one of the many services that the WRVS gives. It now has a service called Books-on-Wheels in which books are delivered to housebound people, and there is a good companion scheme whereby there are friendly visits between old people who have no family, such as a daughter or a sister, to visit them, and who might go and see them and do the shopping for them. These services have the great advantage of personal visits and personal contacts. I am sure that they serve many purposes, not only in the actual service but also in terms of contact, because when one reads of old people dying in complete loneliness one thinks of the terrifying experience of being alone. It can make all the difference to people to know that they can expect a visit from one of these services.

In many areas, certainly in the area in which I worked, one of our more successful services for old people was the provision of day centres. These proved enormously successful because while people were able to continue to live in their own homes they came into the day centres in the middle of the day, or for as long as they wished. Not only did that ensure that they got meals, but also that they got company. Incidentally, other amenities developed, quite surprisingly—or at any rate, surprisingly to me—when I was organising these services. There was, for instance, hairdressing, chiropody, even dressmaking, all provided at the day centre. People responded to these amenities which provided not only an interest as well as a service, but also a method of making friends.

We also had a day centre for the handicapped which also proved to be of value for the old people. Many retired men and women, too, who had been in factories or in other work, were glad to come back and do some work in the centre during the daytime, even though they were not in fact handicapped in such a way as those people for whom the centre was originally intended. But it all made a community. I think that the right reverend Prelate is so right when he speaks of the importance of not segregating aged people, but rather bringing them into the community so that they feel that they are still part of a living community and are not in an isolated area.

Another matter which I believe is most important is that in this type of service to the community so much help can be had from volunteers. The social work committee over which I presided used to have groups of volunteers in all the areas where these services were required. That was tremendously helpful, and it was also economic in the sense that the local authority did not have to pay the volunteers. If they used their motor cars they were supplied with the petrol and helped in similar ways, but all the service was done voluntarily. I am sure that that can be of great service to the local authority and to the old people themselves.

The most successful "retireds" are those who prepare, and like others I shall be interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, is to tell us about his organisation. Being prepared for retirement means that you are not taken by surprise and do not suddenly find yourself in a condition in which you had never expected to find yourself. The other day somebody gave me two American phrases which I like very much. They are phrases used by Americans in connection with retired or elderly people, and they are: To stop giving is to stop living", and, To stop doing is to start dying". I think those are phrases which we can certainly apply to our experience with old people.

In 1976 the Lord Mayor of London of that year tried to raise a fund to establish improved research facilities to inquire into ways and means of appreciating the frailties of old age, and how a greater knowledge and understanding could be gathered to improve the quality of life for old people. Not enough money was raised, so I was told by the WRVS; but it poses the problem and suggests that if we had some area in which there was close study made and some consistent research carried out into the problems of retirement and of old age, we might discover ways and means which would help organisations and local authorities to provide better services at more economic costs. Not only does prevention save costs, but, as in many other cases, research could get to the root of many matters so far unexplored.

To sum up, I think every effort should be made to enable old people to live independently and yet to keep old people in the community as part of the community. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester said, quite rightly, that people cannot do without granny. I am sure that is absolutely true. After all, no community is satisfactory if it is separated into age groups, and a community which reaches from the very old to the very young is a very much happier and a more complete community than a separated community. I hope very much that, as a result of our debate and of all the great work being done by these voluntary organisations with the local authorities, this principle, anyway, is one which will guide planners in the future, as it certainly, in many cases, has not guided them in the past.

5.13 p.m.


My Lords, when I saw that the title of this debate was to be "The problems of retirement", I thought the problems really fell into three categories one was poverty, one was loneliness and one was boredom. The first one, poverty, has been dealt with very clearly and lucidly by my noble friend Lord Byers, so I think that absolves me from talking about pensions and poverty. It really comes down to loneliness and boredom, and those, I think, are probably both the same thing. Certainly what I am going to say stems from those two things. When people retire they lose their job, and to a very great extent they lose their friends; but I am pleased to know that at the present time a certain amount of good instruction is given by the Pre-retirement Association, which I think has the support of all Parties and certainly of the Trades Union Congress and the CBI.

To cope with boredom voluntary work is always possible, so one is told; but the question that may be asked is: Where do you find the voluntary work? It does not just come as you sit there waiting for it; you have got to go and look for it. Therefore, I think you must be in touch with a lot of people, and that is why I think housing comes in in quite a big way. I have been associated for a very long time with the noble Viscountess, Lady Davidson, who I see here, and with the Association of Almshouses. This now comprises about 16,000 groups of almshouses, which take care of about 25,000 people. For quite a long time after the war they were not very well off because that was the time when charity was rather thought to be a bad thing and that provision should be made by the State or the local authority. But I am pleased to say that the situation has now changed and that almshouses are welcomed again; and, in the way that things seem to have to change their name, what is now called sheltered housing is really very much on the principle of the old almshouses. I am quite sure that that is work to be encouraged as much as one possibly can encourage it because the old-fashioned type of accommodation—what was called Part III accommodation—which was large and rather cumbersome, is not so popular as it used to be and people are looking for something smaller.

One of the things that needs bearing in mind, if you are building these houses for elderly people, is, as I think the right reverend Prelate has already said, that old people do not want to be all put together. They should be mixed up with the younger generations. As I think Nye Bevan said, the old do not want to keep on looking at funerals of their friends; they want to see a few christenings going on at the same time. I remember one large estate which was built for elderly people in one of the Midland towns. I forget which one it was now, but it was rather too big in the sense that there were too many old people together. The second mistake was that it was built upon a podium, which meant their climbing up ten or so steps. It meant that a large number of the elderly people were permanently confined on top of the podium because they could walk neither down the stairs nor up the stairs. So one has to be very careful in that respect when building houses.

At the same time, a great deal of work has been done upon the provision of modern conveniences, such as proper kinds of baths and WCs, proper kinds of kitchens, with racks and handrails where they are required. The other day I saw a very good film on that subject made by one of the disabled societies, and it seemed to me that if it is possible to build such a kitchen for the disabled housewife or the elderly housewife, it ought to be possible to build it for the non-disabled housewife. They are far easier to run and they do not cost more to run. No one thinks of that kind of thing.

Then one comes to early retirement. I think one has to be very careful. I personally sympathise with the miners who think they should not work at the coal face for more than a certain amount of time, but I do not think that means that they should not work permanently, because there are a number of firms who do contrive work for their elderly workers. I think that somewhere near Birmingham or Worcester there is a firm called Rubery Owen. They used to have a very good scheme whereby elderly employees who wished to go on working could do so; but they did not have to arrive until a quarter of an hour after their colleagues, and they could leave a quarter of an hour before their colleagues, so that they were not caught up within great crowds when they came away.

Then there is a body called the Employment Fellowship in which I have been involved for quite a long time. They arrange workshops where elderly retired people do rather simple, repetitive jobs, but they are doing jobs and work which needs to be done. They feel they have some work to do. They do not get paid very much, but the fact that they get paid £1 or 50p a week or whatever it is now, means something to an old retired person. They feel they are doing some work for which they are being paid, and that the work is necessary.

These are things which I should like to see encouraged. It is one of the curious things that one sees large numbers of elderly people at work who seem to be very fit; but one is not sure that they are working because they are fit and therefore like to work or because working makes them fit and keeps them well. I am not quite sure what it is. I think that in some ways it is a mixture of the two, but I am sure that it is a good thing for people to have some kind of work to do and I agree that retirement should be a gradual thing rather than a sudden chop.

I should like to refer to the medical care of the elderly because I think that if you get a really good geriatric service spread over the whole country—and indeed quite a lot is being taught at that end now, and some is extremely good and some is not very good—elderly folk, particularly those who have had some kind of degenerative illness, can be restored to a life in which they can work again, and live a normal life in their own house, which is what most of them want to do and is one thing that I am sure all of us would like to see happen.

There is one encouraging fact which I discovered only today. I had been taught that for a long time that the suicide rate among elderly people had gradually been getting bigger, but, being in touch with several bodies who should know, I was pleased to find that the suicide rate and the "open verdict" rate of elderly people found dead has been dropping steadily for the last ten years. I think that that shows that some good is being done for the elderly and that they are not filled with quite the gloom, depression and suicidal tendencies that they were.

My Lords, my last point is to say this. We are told that there are quite a large number of elderly people who will not apply for the various benefits to which they are entitled. We are told that this is because they are too proud to ask for charity from the State. That may be true in a certain number of cases, but, personally, I think that the majority of them do not do it because they cannot be bothered to go through all the rigmarole that they must go through in order to get benefit. This is where I agree with my noble friend Lord Byers who, in his concluding remarks, said that we should make it as simple as we can to get what we are entitled to. We shall then get more people applying for it, being made happy, and benefiting from it.

5.23 p.m.


My Lords, in thanking the noble Baroness for introducing this topic, I could almost have wished that I could speak as an old-age pensioner or as one who has been retired. I think that had it not been for a quirk of ecclesiastical circumstance, when the Methodists and Anglicans did not come together, I might even have presumed to have "donned the lawn", in which case I should have been retired for the last four years. But I can speak out of some acquaintance with and contacts among people who are retired. It seems to me that already in this debate the four large categories where the kind of difficulties are most likely to arise have been discursively treated and, indeed, some very wise, as I would think, suggestions have already been made. I will not add to them except to corroborate out of my own experience some of the things which have been suggested.

I am sure that there is a financial aspect that causes great concern to many pensioners who are condemned to a lower standard of living to that to which they have become accustomed and have found it very difficult to accommodate themselves to that change. Particularly I am concerned—and we are concerned—about those who are on the edge of supplementary benefits provision, having just too much to be receptive of the particular gifts that the Welfare State can bestow on them; and I hope very much that there will be an increase in the ability of old-age pensioners and people who have retired to acquire more of the necessities of life without the payment of cash. I am sure this is a move in the right direction.

The question of loneliness is a peremptory one. I never felt more rebuked than when I was told by an old-age pensioner that after she retired she had not known what followship was until she found bingo. It is a comment upon the failure of the voluntary organisations, let alone the statutory ones, to provide the kind of incentives which will give aging people a sense of being wanted and will relieve that loneliness which, according to Doctor Inge's pronouncement, is the most difficult of all sorrows to endure.

I am sure that the previous speaker, as others have already emphasised, was right in saying that the problem of work is also an urgent one. I would make one observation about it. Although a great many people now have forgotten the name of the Church that they stay away from, there is still a residuum in the question of the non-conformist conscience by which a great number of people seem to think that if they are at work then they must be Godly and that if they are not at work there is something wrong morally with them. This may be a vestigial remainder from another age, but it is very real in my experience and perhaps in that of many of your Lordships. It reflects on the wisdom of our Hebrew ancestors who made sure that those who were engaged in the loftier pursuits of life also acquired certain skills with their hands. Saint Paul was not only a missionary but a tent-maker; and tradition has it that when he was forced into retirement and into house arrest for many years in Rome he eked out his time making many tents, as well as by praying and talking to such as would listen. I am sure that an alternative or secondary opportunity of working, even without financial reward and even not compulsorily, is a very great incentive to those who, when they give up the kind of work to which they have been accustomed, find themselves lacking that sense of moral urgency, that sense of belonging to the community.

Of course, my Lords, there is the question of housing. I am much impressed by the argument that Help the Aged has put forward, that a great many old people living now alone since the family has gone and living in unsuitably large premises would be encouraged if they could find a way in which, suitably and economically, they could make provision for a number of flats, one of which they would occupy, in the Victorian house which is too big for their occupancy or their suitable occupancy. It is still true, I believe, that 49 per cent. of all accommodation in London is occupied by only two people. I have no reference book to justify that but I have never found it contradicted. The inadequacy of housing, partly because of the uniformity in certain areas of one type of house, leads me to support the suggestion that to produce the kind of area which can recover something of the sense of community in housing is not an impossible task. With a great deal more imagination, there could be an intermingling of the kinds of property and occupancy which would give a sense that so that those who were aged and, indeed, retired, although they could not participate in the way in which they were accustomed, would be able to find themselves within a community and not just in a conurbation.

The noble Baroness was kind enough to suggest that we who claim some kind of spiritual authority might like to say something about the moral question. I will presume to try to do so. What we need is a recovery of the moral philosphy about death. It is an interesting fact that we are in the first age in which death is almost a forbidden subject. Few people are prepared to discuss it and many people can avoid the kind of contacts which their forbears had to endure. The late Bertrand Russell in his book on the philosophy of the Western World, upon which there are varied opinions, has one pregnant phrase which I remember and which I commend to your Lordships. He said that up to about the 18th century in the West all thinking was about death. Obviously, not all casual thinking, but all deep thinking. Is that not so? Death was at the elbow of people almost all of the time. Most people died young. We who live in this so-called emancipated age find it difficult to imagine what it would be like to live in the constancy of the remembrances of death. This concentration upon death was not only, if you like, an existential effect, it was cultivated very largely within the framework of religious teaching. It is on record that John Wesley's only observation about your Lordships' House was that it was a bunch of sinners born to die. If it is of any comfort to your Lordships, he entertained exactly the same opinion about the other place.

This was no mistake on his part. It is still well within the memory of many of your Lordships that it was considered more important to make a good death than to lead a good life. All that has been changed by the elongation of the process, and there is this large vacuum about what people are going to think about a world which is going to be postponed, a world in which fewer people are persuaded to flee from the wrath to come lest it should overtake them. I find it difficult to persuade them to break into a trot.

Apart from that, there is the added proposition that a great many people who are entertaining the view that they will go to eternal bliss take the most careful precautions to postpone the experience. This is part of the whole story of the way in which concentration upon the idea of death has now passed out of currency and people have not put anything else in its place. Until they do so, I believe that the problems of retirement will increase. There will be a haunting fear of something which is certain to arrive sooner or later but upon which they have no collected or finished judgment.

There are various ways in which that can be obtained. Bertrand Russell affirmed that he could look with complete equanimity upon the prospect of total oblivion. That would not suit me, but it is at least a way of coming to terms with something which is inevitable, and so guiding your residual days as not to be afraid of that eventuality. I professionally would much prefer that people entertained a deeper concept of the continuity of life beyond the grave and the prospects that lie therein. I am sure a great many people waste the declining years of their lives—and sometimes not just the declining ones—because they feel that retirement is a penalty for living so long rather than an achievement of the fullness of life in the fullness of time. If that sounds like a sermon, my Lords, you will excuse it.

I believe, apart from the various remedies which have been advocated today—with which I firmly agree and which I would seek, in voluntary service in particular, to increase—that you cannot avoid a deep contemplation of the prospect of death. Only when you have come to terms with that have you a reasonable chance of making the best of life.

5.33 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lady Young on having secured a whole day for this debate on a very important subject. It is much more satisfactory than the rather truncated half-day we had recently to debate the Finer Committee's Report on the One-Parent Family. In preparation for this debate I was reading an article in the British Journal of Hospital Medicine, and it was stated that five-sixths of the physically disabled are also elderly. It went on to say that 25 per cent. of the over 65s have some kind of disability, 30 per cent. of those over 75 years of age are now living alone, and by 1981 we expect to have three million people over the age of 75.

These figures might be thought alarming, but in contrast to them I should like to try and set out the ideal that we should be aiming for in regard to the housing of the elderly. I make no apology for coming back to housing. It has been I mentioned by a number of previous speakers. I should like to draw this together. The ideal may sound obvious but I think it needs stating: we should be aiming to allow the retired or the elderly to be independent; to have with them their own furniture and their own be- I longings; to live, as has already been said, in the general community rather than in a specialised old persons home or, worst of all, in a ward of a hospital.

Ninety-five per cent, of the retired people succeed in living in the community, but the location where you live is extremely important. It is clear that the elderly need to have good access to shops, post offices, libraries, churches, doctors and so on. Transport has been mentioned in this connection, and is vital in some cases. In addition, the elderly need warmth and good insulation, my noble friend Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal went into this in some detail.

In contrast with this ideal, let us look at the reality of things. We find that old people are to a great extent concentrated in houses built before 1919. These are the very houses that are most likely to be unfit and to lack the basic amenities. Many of them are in clearance or housing action areas. We need an immediate drive to increase the use of improvement grants, especially improvement grants for insulation and repairs. If this can be done it will enable old people to continue living in their existing houses more comfortably and more cheaply. I should like to ask Her Majesty's Government what they and the local authorities are doing to make it possible for more of these limited improvement grants to be taken up.

We find that houses built since 1919 and occupied by old people are very often under-occupied. Several noble Lords have mentioned this. It is most desirable that the old people should be able to move from these larger houses in order to release them for younger families and larger families. The general reality is that the sizes of existing houses and present households simply do not correspond. In 1962 the average household was only just over three persons. Now it is said that more than half the total households consist of only one or two persons. This bears out Lord Soper's point about London. We have far too many three-bedroomed houses and not nearly enough small units.

Faced with this situation, what should be our policy concerning bricks and mortar? I suggest that we need to focus our minds very much on the two-bedroomed bungalow or flat. We should do so because this size of unit is so flexible. It is suitable for an elderly couple or for two single, old aged pensioners, but it can also be used by a young couple with not more than one or two children, and also by a wide variety of households numbering two and three persons. We need to concentrate our attention on purpose-built housing for old people, and particularly—as has already been said—on sheltered housing with a warden service and varying degrees of communal facilities.

I should like to pay tribute to a number of national housing associations who are providing sheltered accommodation. Among those that spring to mind are the Hanover, Anchor, Royal British Legion, James Butcher, and a number of other associations of large and medium size. They are providing what we need so much, which is flexibility and making it possible for old people to move from one part of the country to another, very often to live nearer their grown up children or friends. By the provision that these associations are making, they are almost automatically reducing the amount of under-occupation.

I feel it is quite insufficient to have a policy expressed only in terms of bricks and mortar. We must have one that functions in human terms. We need to keep retired people not only independent but also active within their homes. We need to give them choice, especially at the point of retirement, since it is easier at that time to move than it is to leave it until much later, when the problems become disproportionately large—I mean at the personal level—in organising a move and so on. At present, far too few have the degree of choice in housing which it is reasonable to expect.

How should we go about putting this kind of policy into practice? The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Coslany, has already mentioned transfer within a local authority from a larger to a smaller dwelling. That is clearly most important. But I should also like to ask local authorities to relax their rules on residential qualifications, so as to enable, for example, old people to move nearer to their children and families. I may say that I made the same point during the Finer debate, involving cases of widows or separated wives moving nearer to their relatives for support. I think that that point is valid here. It may be said that relaxing the rules in that way would place an extra burden on housing authorities, but there would be compensation because it would relieve the burden, which is now very considerable, on the social services. This is no new or sudden thought. One can trace it back as far as 1969, when the Cullingworth Committee made the same point in paragraphs 296 and 297 of their report.

So much, then, for housing administration and housing practice. I am very glad to discover that it is the Government's intention very considerably to increase the domiciliary services which enable old people to remain in their houses—here I am thinking of home nursing, chiropody, home helps and meals-on-wheels. Of almost equal importance is day care. Clubs and day care centres have already been mentioned, and I should like to touch now on the rather new idea of the day hospital. If I may, I will quote a description of one that recently opened. Those responsible stat: A day hospital is really a service station for people. It treats minor ailments before they become so marked as to need in-patient treatment. It gives the elderly specialist attention, to help them to regain their mobility, confidence and ability to cope with life's daily chores: dressing, washing, going shopping, cooking, handling cutlery, sewing and doing housework. It does all this by offering concentrated help in friendly surroundings without requiring people to give up their familiar lives at home. Considerable mention has already been made of sheltered accommodation. What is becoming apparent in this respect, with experience, is the need for extra care for some tenants. It seems to be acknowledged that it is reasonable to expect the warden of a sheltered scheme to provide extra care for perhaps three tenants out of some 30 or 40 in a particular scheme; but experience shows that as many as 20 per cent, of the tenants are in need of extra care. I think it will be far cheaper to provide that, even if it has to be paid for, rather than to transfer tenants to Part 3 accommodation or hospital care. Unfortunately, within the scope of housing budgets there are no funds to provide this extra care and so it seems it will have to come from either health or social services budgets.

Turning now to the question of Part 3 residential homes for the elderly, it is known that there are some 120,000 local authority places and a fairly considerable quantity of voluntary ones, but that is only a drop in the ocean compared with the 3 million people who are now, or shortly will be, over 75. Part 3 homes are already much used for emergencies. I should like to see them more used for holidays. I should also like to see experiments being made in the use of Part 3 homes for temporary residential rehabilitation so that persons can come in for the shortest possible period, receive the attention and treatment they need, and then return home. Mobile health workers and therapists of all kinds would be needed and they would have to come in and go out from those homes.

Finally, as regards making it possible for people to remain active and effective longer in their own homes, I believe individual assessment is very much the key. That would disclose people's preferences and capacities and would also disclose their potential for rehabilitation and full living. It would make it possible to distinguish, on the one hand, between social factors and, on the other hand, the clinical ones. At present we often do not know which are the factors affecting an old person. Money spent on assessment will produce huge savings elsewhere. The recent Consultation Document from the Department of Health and Social Security, Priorities for Health and Personal Social Services, states quite frankly: Residential and hospital facilities are not put to the best use". That appears on page 40. I believe that the assessment, together with housing advice and information, tailored to the needs of old people and those retiring, could do a great deal to put this situation right.

I should like to welcome both the consultation document already mentioned and a parallel Paper from the Department of the Environment entitled Housing for Old People. The latter lays considerable emphasis on housing and domiciliary services. But I think it is very strange, in this age of statistics, that we do not know how much sheltered housing and special housing for the elderly is in existence. In view of that, one wonders how the DHSS can say so precisely that we need each year an extra 2,000 places in old persons' homes and 1,150 geriatric beds. I should like, if I may, to ask Her Majesty's Government when the promise made in the Department of the Environment circular on old people's housing will be implemented. I understand that the intention of the circular is to try to remedy that particular lack of information which I was trying to highlight.

May I also ask what the Government are doing to promote collaboration, not only between health and social service authorities, but also between both of them and housing authorities? Will I he Government ensure that housing is always represented on health care planning teams for the elderly? Mention has already been made by several noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, and my noble friend Lady Elliot, of the voluntary contributions to the welfare and care of the elderly. I should like to ask that this voluntary contribution will always be built into future plans for the elderly.

Only last week I was present at the opening of a new geriatric day hospital at St. Mary Abbots. This had cost £250,000, and every single pound had been raised by voluntary contribution. The very next day I returned home and read my local paper, and there I found that a day centre was being added on to what used to be called a cottage hospital. That was going to cost £30,000, to be provided £10,000 by the health authority and £20,000 by the League of Friends. However, the voluntary contribution cannot simply be measured in terms of cash. There are the voluntary organisations and there are the volunteers, and I hope that all three components will be taken into account in future plans. If we can do this, we have a great chance of giving independence and choice to the elderly, and of making it possible, in the words once used by the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, for age to be opportunity.

5.52 p.m.


My Lords, I can follow the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, in only one respect and that is in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Young, on performing a most valuable service in initiating this discussion on this very important matter. She made a very wide-ranging speech, in spite of its shortness. I, too, should have liked to range widely, but that would take much too long so I shall confine myself to one aspect, which is pre-retirement education.

The last time the House debated retirement was on my Motion some eight years ago, and I am proud to say that on the strength of what I said in that debate the Pre-Retirement Association asked me to be its President, in succession to my noble friend Lord Crook who had been President since its inception in 1964. The Association itself grew out of the Older Workers Advisory Council, and its origins are therefore very much "blue-collar", that being one of the reasons why, as I shall touch upon in a moment, the problems of retirement have up till recently been so relatively little recognised. But it is now becoming a topical subject, and that is mainly due to economic pressures, though not a little, I like to think, to the tireless proselytising of our Association.

Ten million people retired by 1980—that is a big factor to feed into any economic equation, and it is causing a lot of contemplation of the problem. It makes me rather sad to think that it had to be the economics of it which would make people think, and not the social side of the effects of retirement on individuals themselves. Nevertheless, that is the way of the world; and perhaps it is not, indeed, a very obvious problem. After all, these are normal, healthy people—not like people who are deserving of this week's good cause and the collecting box.

I am reminded, when I think of these normal, healthy people of an unkind story which Ezra Pound used to tell of Sidney and Beatrice Webb. The Webbs had been propounding to him all the services which would be provided in the coming Welfare State. There would be the free Health Service, enlightened treatment of prisoners, special treatment and education for the handicapped, special facilities for nursing mothers, higher education for all and so on, down a long catalogue. At the end of this, so the story goes, there was a long pause and then she is alleged to have said "Sidney, what shall we do about the able-bodied men?" It is a good question. When we consider the problem of retirement, we are considering what to do about the able-bodied men—and, of course, women now. I think that they have escaped notice up till now precisely because they are normal and, up to the time of their retirement, usually healthy.

It is not just the economic question posed by having 10 million retired people which has drawn the problem to our notice. There is another reason which is to a certain extent economic, but less direct. One of the difficulties that one has had in getting over to managements the necessity for providing pre-retirement education is that, hitherto, managements have tended not to understand why it is necessary. This, I think, has something to do with a subject which my noble friend Lord Balogh raised, about top civil servants being busier when they retired than they were before. For people of wide interests, wide contacts and ample pensions or savings, or both, the difference in activity between employment and retirement may not be all that great, and the difference in income may be tolerable. But a combination of early retirement—that is, concealed redundancy—and the inflationary squeeze on savings and pensions has made a lot more people in management wonder what they are going to do with the rest of their lives, and what they might do to get some more income. It is a worry, which is beginnng to be expressed very articulately.

On the other hand, the trade unions, who support pre-retirement education, though not nearly as forcefully as I think they should, are concerned about the retired job seekers, because what a trade union wants to maintain is the rate for the job, and the retired person who is looking for a little job, perhaps part-time, is not always very fussy about getting the full rate. Sometimes they just want something to do. I remember a magnificent county councillor who lost his licence, after a small accident involving another car, at the age of 93. He was turning up as usual to all the meetings and somebody asked him how he was still getting about. "Oh" he said "my son is driving me—a splendid young fellow". "Oh, good" was the reply "what does he do?", to which the answer was "He has retired".

I can assure your Lordships that there are a lot of retired people looking for a little job like that, just something to occupy themselves. I may say to the right reverend Prelate that it is not only the early retirements, or the sudden redundancies, which cause problems. I will not delay the House with any more stories, but I could tell quite a number about the difficulties which husbands and wives get into when the husband has retired in the normal way.

That brings me to why pre-retirement education is so important. From the time when we are born we are brought up with the idea that when we are grown up we will go into a job of some kind. All our education is principally directed to fitting us to the kind of society to which we will belong when school days are over, which means earning, or at any rate making, a living. One of the recent criticisms of modern educational practice has been that schools have not been applying themselves well enough to training people to be useful in the real industrial world that we live in, and hope to remain prosperous in. So we get a situation where life, income, social status and so on are all bound up with work, or one might call it occupation. We are brought up to it and conditioned to it, to such an extent that perhaps it is only with an effort that we realise how much our lives are bound up with it.

For millions of people, also, work takes over as the principal interest in their lives. I think it is accurate to say that so much do their lives revolve around the work they do that they have become, as it were, institutionalised by it. An engine driver, a machine operator who has been doing the same thing for perhaps 50 years, from 15 to 65, hardly knows anything else during the daytime, anyway. That for him is life. Take him away from his engine or his lathe and he is liable not to know what to do with himself. Occupation becomes the main interest in life; often it becomes a hobby as well as a means of income. And, very important, it becomes a source of friendship. The friendships which one makes at work are unlike any other friendships. The relationship with a workmate can supply a valuable kind of companionship, unobtainable in the ordinary social way. Perhaps I could even venture to say that most friendships are made at work, or through contacts of one kind or another which one has made at work.

Therefore, we have income, status, friendship, interest in life all supplied I by what nowadays the sociologist would call, I suppose, "the work situation". For the vast majority of people, that is life. Take it away and you have got immediately loss of income, loss of status, loss of friendship, loss of interest. That is a very big change for anyone, and to make it take place suddenly at the age of 60 or 65—that is, at a time of life when most people are finding it very difficult to adjust to change—means, it is no exaggeration to say, that this change is liable to be very traumatic.

Phased retirement as proposed by the right reverend Prelate has, I am sure, a place and can mitigate the effects of this shock, but it is not the entire answer, of course. Some people, no doubt, are very pleased to retire. Retirement can give them the chance to do something which they have always wanted to do but have never before been able to do. But we are concerned with the ones who either do not want to retire, or perhaps vaguely want to but do not have much idea about what they are going to do with themselves. It is very common that, once retired, people go into a decline. They get aches and pains and haunt doctors' surgeries. Perhaps it is something to fill in the time. They drift around, getting under the wife's feet. They hanker after the days when they were busy around the factory or the office. I have no need to elaborate on that. What they lack is orientation to their new form of existence.

What we in the Association try to do and try to impress upon employers as being absolutely necessary is to get in contact with employees before they retire: not the week before, because that is nearly useless, but several years before—two or five years before—and explain to them why they are being contacted. That is important, because resistance has often been shown to pre-retirement education since many people do not want to think or talk about retirement. Sometimes they think that it is just the boss trying to get rid of them in some way. Then we get them aware of and interested in the kind of problems which will face them when they have retired and try to give them new interests and a new outlook on life, which will be so very different from the kind of life they have been conditioned to leading all these years. It is an obvious want and it is common sense, but it has been sorely neglected.

I believe that if we make ourselves aware that pre-retirement education is a necessity, and then get ourselves thinking about the ramifications which this necessity implies in our consideration of how society works, of how we live and of how retirement fits into this, then we shall have gone a very long way towards solving some of the problems brought about by retirement which have been, and no doubt will be, raised during the course of this debate.

Life goes on, but age limits are arbitrary. We bring people up to fit in with certain requirements of the productive process and then, at a certain age, we say, "Sorry, you are not wanted". Then, apparently, we are surprised that we have created a problem. It is not their fault that they are at that age. It is not society's fault that unfortunately it has to impose certain age limits in certain occupations, otherwise production suffers—I am, of course, using the word "production" in a very wide sense here. Retirement is not just their problem. It belongs to all of us.

The noble Baroness mentioned at the beginning of her speech that she thought that the retired should be helped to help themselves. I agree wholeheartedly. The best way that we can help them to help themselves is to provide each person, even if he may think at the time that he does not need it, with a good pre-retirement education, begun in plenty of time. That will give them the best start possible on what, as the noble Baroness has pointed out, may be quite a long voyage. I notice that my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell is answering this evening on behalf of the Department of Health and Social Security. I believe, as my Association believes, that a good pre-retirement education is the best way of reducing the liability of retired people to avail themselves of the services of that Department. The sooner that this is recognised, the better it will be for every retiring person. My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for bringing the subject so comprehensively to our attention, because it has given me the opportunity to place the importance of pre-retirement education—at least I hope so—at the very centre of this debate.

6.7 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to associate myself with other speakers who have expressed their thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for introducing this debate by a speech that was powerful in its presentation and brief in its expression. I must at once declare a vested interest in the debate, an interest which certain other noble Lords also have. It is that I can speak with the authority of somebody who is old. Certain other noble Lords can also speak with that authority, while others are younger.

I can assure your Lordships that the years of retirement should not be one long, descending path to inevitable death, with an ever-increasing feeling of use-lessness. Old age can be a happy and useful time which offers great opportunities. In my case old age is here now, and my advice is this. If in your working years outside working hours you had any hobbies or interests, intensify these in old age; or if you have no hobbies, take up new interests. In a sentence I would say to those who are old outside this House, if I may be so presumptuous: Never give up anything if you are not forced to do so by ill health or for some other reason which you cannot withstand.

As has been said in the debate this afternoon, we old ones do not wish to be herded together, organised together, and brought to a point where the old become a segregated section of society outside normal social existence. Of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, has said, local authorities can do much to help. In my own borough of Kensington I see the voluntary workers' bureau for elderly people befriending them, decorating, shopping, gardening, serving meals-on-wheels and working in clubs. That is excellent, fine work, but final happiness must depend on the outlook and physical health of each of us. That must govern the extent of our activities.

I believe that there is one direction in which the State might consider a measure of help to those who are old, the purpose of which should be to check the oncoming of some weakening disability which is attendant upon advanced years. How often have all of us heard someone of age say to us "I went to see my doctor and he said to me 'Oh, if only you had come to me earlier'." It is a tragic sentence which not one of us here today has not heard.

My good fortune is to be able to go for an annual check-up to my own doctor, who reassures one or helps one by warning "Don't do that. Don't over-smoke. Don't run up the hill"—or whatever it may be. That is a tremendous help. The National Health Service is overworked, overburdened and short of money and its job is to look after the really sick. There cannot be time for everyone over 65 or so, seemingly in good health at the time, to have a yearly check-up. The resources are not available. Yet here is a social step that I should like to see and which I believe would do a tremendous amount to prevent the oncoming of more serious illness in later years. A system of voluntary annual overhauls for the elderly might do a lot of useful health-giving work. If every pensioner could be given a voucher which would allow him or her one annual examination, reporting at a prearranged time, I believe it would be a good thing.

A person who is seemingly in good health is going to take up the doctor's time, but in my view it would be a wise investment. Something like that might aid the even, smooth running down of the machine—which will come to all of us in due course, until one day one's doctor is going to say "You are like an old motor car that has run too many miles: you are worn out". That will come to all of us: the path of life will then have been travelled and one's hope is that one will die in peace and dignity; and anything that we in this House can do, or that the Government can do, towards that end I believe would be a worthwhile effort.

6.12 p.m.

The Countess of LOUDOUN

My Lords, what is old and who are the elderly among us? Such a question has no simple answer and the 9 million Britons over retirement age possess needs, personalities and abilities which vary as greatly as those of the rest of the population. The vast majority of these people are fit and energetic, no longer middle-aged but not acknowledging themselves to be old; but there are among them certain high risk groups such as the isolated, the mentally frail, the blind, the deaf and those with other handicaps, who are particularly vulnerable to the process of ageing.

Our society's attitude towards old age is often negative. We assess individual work in terms of productivity and earning capacity, which automatically excludes the elderly. With the closing of so many small businesses, usually run by families, in which the older members are active participants, much useful experience is thrown away; and, apart from loss of income suffered by these members, there is also the loss of the feeling of satisfaction engendered by fulfilling a useful role in society.

There are many ways in which retired people can make use of their experience without taking away the jobs of younger people. They are especially needed to supplement the social services and the charitable organisations. Our society is still basically family orientated, although more women go out to work and young adults leave home at an early age, which all tends to leave far less time for the care of elderly relatives; but the majority of elderly people are still living either in their own homes or in the homes of their families, and only about 5 per cent, of those of pensionable age live in an institutional setting.

Most elderly people would rather remain in their own homes, surrounded by their treasures and memories. But to enable them to do that they must have the support of their family, the social services and the voluntary services. In some areas social workers are so overloaded with cases that of necessity much of the care of the elderly has to be left to volunteers. This applies particularly in areas where there is a disproportionate number of over 65s, which is the case in many seaside towns, such as Hastings, where I live.

I think it is important, too, that when any change has to be made it should be done gradually, allowing time for people to adjust slowly. With this in mind I should like to remind the Government of the plight of those who have the mobility allowance withdrawn at 65. I do not intend to dwell on this now as I realise that nothing can be done about it at the moment, but I should like an assurance that when our economic position improves, as I am sure it will, these people will be some of the first to benefit.

As I said at the beginning, personalities vary enormously, and these are not changed by old age. Although the provision of day centres may provide the means of social contact for some, there are others who do not enjoy communal living. The concept of inevitable decline of intellect and function, once thought to be the "norm" of old age, is now proved not to be the case. Memory loss, also, can often be overstressed. People can be forgetful at any age of life but it becomes more inconvenient and obvious in old age.

Some campaigning on behalf of the elderly presents their needs only in financial terms. But are not their personal and emotional needs just as important? I have no magic wand to wave, no quick solutions to these problems. Let the elderly keep their independence, leading an active life for as long as they can. Let them adjust slowly to change when it comes, and let us endeavour to give them the support necessary to live out their lives in peace.

6.18 p.m.


My Lords, we have always known that there is a problem in retirement, but after this debate, so ably moved by my noble friend from the Front Bench, we all realise that of late the problem has become a great deal more complicated. In days gone by it was fairly simple: you cleared your desk or your work bench, you took your gold watch, you went home and listened to your wife complaining that she had married you for better or for worse but not for lunch. Now we are told that there will be 10 million retired people by 1980 at a cost of £4,000 million, and the complexity of those attendant problems is well borne in on all of us today.

The reasons for that are two-fold. One has been emphasised—the reason why people are living much longer than they used to: better food, better housing, better medicine; but I believe another cause of the problem is that young people and the middle-aged today are not prepared to see their way to the top blocked by elderly people so that they cannot get to command in their regiment, their trade union, their office or whatever it may be, in time to have a good spell of exercising their judgment and their ability to make a success of their lives. That is one of the problems we have to bear in mind. There is no cut and dried solution. We obviously cannot find work for 10 million people; equally we cannot tolerate the idea of 10 million cabbages—a tremendous waste of potential which could be used elsewhere.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young, emphasised the need for flexibility, and so did Lord Maybray-King. I support them both strongly. My Lords, if a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of a little mind, a foolish inflexibility in a problem like this would be even worse. Of course, the rules for the butcher and the baker are different from those for the candlestick-maker. We cannot lay down hard and fast rules; we shall run into real trouble if we do. The noble Countess emphasised this point when she asked "what is old age?" Pitt was Chancellor of the Exchequer at 22; Verdi wrote Falstaff and Titian painted his wonderful picture The Battle of Lepanto when they were well into their middle 80s. There stands the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, who can laugh at both Verdi and Titian; he addresses us frequently, without a note, fluently and with grammar and syntax which puts us all to shame. On the other hand, we all of us know of people of 40 who should have been put down years ago—not, I may add, Members of your Lordships' House.

The difficulty of the hard and fast rule was brought out by the noble Lord, Lord Balogh, when he talked about the age of 60 becoming the normal retiring age, because it avoids embarrassment, of course, in selecting between Tom, Dick and Harry. It produces this anxiety to which he drew attention. It has now become the normal retiring age in the Civil Service, and at 61 most senior civil servants are a great deal busier than they were at 60. The Armed Forces have a totally different problem at the other end of the scale. When I was at the Ministry of Defence as second-in-command to Mr. Duncan Sandys, as he then was, some 20 years ago, Sir Frederick Hooper, then chairman of Schweppes, was put in charge of a committee to investigate the whole problem of retirement in the Armed Services, the problems facing men of great experience and ability having to try to find a totally new career at about 52 or 53. We came to some conclusions, not wholly satisfactory.

At the other end of the scale we see sitting on the Cross-Benches distinguished judges, who now, I think, have to retire at 72, but many before them have gone on to greater years than that in full possession of all their faculties. There is something about judicial life which produces a splendid longevity, rivalled only, if I may say so, by that of orchestral conductors. Our policemen, like our bishops, are daily getting younger. Company directors, if they wish to go on after 70, have to apply for a special resolution under Section 185 of the Act of 1948, and it is very surprising what a very large number do. Now Bullock produces another problem. If miners retire at 55 they are going to be sitting on their boards a very long time.

There is another side to this coin. Redundancy pay is now so high that many would welcome the chance of getting rid of people who are past their usefulness before the age of retirement, but it is too expensive to do so. So the point I am coming to is this. There are horses for courses. To be too inflexible in fixing a rigid retiring rule or rigid retiring principles would be a great mistake.

Pensions have been in the able hands of my noble friend Lord Byers, and he knows as well as I do the change that has come about since he and I were undergraduates together. In those days when a young man asked for a job he wanted to know what the prospects were. Now he asks what the pension rules are. This can lead in the end to great injustice. We have pension schemes geared to inflation, most pensions of civil servants—and lucky old civil servants. But people like soldiers and sailors and airmen and teachers, who have retired ungeared, unindexed to inflation, are now suffering very considerably straitened circumstances. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has told us that there is hope of relaxation of taxation in his next Budget. I hope that class of person will be one that he will particularly bear in mind, the retired person whose pension is not geared to inflation.

Some people have no pension at all—the self-employed, those who have not been able to save enough; they are suffering very real hardship. In regard to the more humble type of worker I would make this particular point. For some five or six years I have had the honour to serve on the Council on Tribunals, under the chairmanship, first, of Lady Burton, and, secondly, of my noble friend Lord Tweedsmuir, two admirable chair people indeed. One point has been strongly borne in on me in the course of my work, which I enjoy very much. It is that those people who are deserving of supplementary benefits and all the other numerous privileges, which are theirs of right, are, apart from being old, unsophisticated, nervous, and, as somebody said this evening, proud. They need help in un-ravelling the complexity of the documents and the procedure with which they are faced.

I think I am pushing at an open door here, but I would ask the Government, who have done some work in this respect, to do some more. Will they please look at their procedures, look at their documentation, and see if they can make it simpler for old people who have not perhaps got: a friendly postmaster to help them wade through the documentation.

I speak from personal experience of this, apart from the Council on Tribunals. I have recently been trying to help a neighbour who has got into a personal muddle through no fault of her own, and I am glad to say we have had some success. She is the widow of a soldier who was in my regiment. The reply by the Government was quick, sympathetic and wholly helpful. I thanked the official in charge and asked whether he did not think that the wording of the papers with which my friend had to deal could not be made a little more simple. He wrote back and said he frankly had to agree that there was considerable complexity of documentation. I went to the old lady and asked her, "Do you know what 'complexity of documentation' means?" She said "No", and I said "Well, your husband would have done, and he would have translated it into language which I could not possibly repeat in the House of Lords." When I tell your Lordships that he was a Battery Sergeant Major in the Royal Horse Artillery, you will understand.

We cannot help all 10 million, but I think we can do more. We have heard this afternoon about the various admirable bodies, the Pre-retirement Association, Help the Aged, with which I have been slightly connected myself, the Institute of Directors, and others. We cannot ask the Government to do all this. The Government have their responsibilities but we volunteers have ours as well. One point that has come out frequently this evening is this. There are a large number of organisations which could offer work to retired people, social, political, charitable, religious organisations. There are a large number of people who would like to give their work to those organisations, either free or for a little pin money if needs be. But somehow never the twain shall meet. I would ask the Government if they can look again at their role, and see if they can do more to get the organisation of the two sides of voluntary work more in touch with each other, as has frequently been asked this afternoon.

I listened to Lord Balfour with great interest. I am not quite of his generation, but I suppose I have a potential interest to declare, although at 62 I am not quite thinking of retiring. If I understood the noble Baroness, Lady Young, correctly, I am actuarially entitled to 22 more years. I hope I shall enjoy those 22 years, and at the end of that period I hope I shall still be able to attend your Lordships' House, if your Lordships' House is still here to be, attended.

6.28 p.m.


My Lords, I had expected to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, but apparently she is not able to be with us this evening; I had thought of a few suitable remarks to address to a lady Peer in your Lordships' House. I find it quite impossible to follow Lord Mancroft. However, I will try. I am, like other noble Lords, deeply indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for initiating this debate. It shows once again that she is constantly in touch with and constantly mindful of the problems of people within our society today.

My Lords, unless we die young, retirement affects us all, every single Member of your Lordships' House, every person in this country. I have two spokes to my short address this evening, the first being a financial spoke on behalf of widows. I expect that most noble Lords in this House realise that the pension given to a widow these days is, to say the very least, meagre. Some widows are left fairly well off; some are able to claim a pension because of their late husband's job, others are not. Some widows are left without a roof over their heads, and some are left with no money except a State pension. Their problems, together with the loneliness, the high rate of inflation and the various other problems with which they have to contend, which go with widowhood, make their state a very difficult one indeed. They are not all of retirement age. In this context I am speaking only about those who are aged 60 or over. However, I expect all Members of this House will know of widows who have great financial problems, primarily because of the rate of inflation in today's society.

I take a slightly different attitude about the actual retirement of those who have worked hard all their lives. Every one should plan and be seen to plan for their retirement. If we work for two-thirds of our life, surely we can plan for the other third. It is not all that difficult. As various Members of your Lordships' House have said today, a great deal is done to help people prepare for retirement. However, in the end it is oneself who prepares oneself for retirement. I should like to make a plea to the older people in our society, principally those who have children or grandchildren. I believe that what I call the third tier of the family—that is the grandparents—is not used to its full capacity. In many families, unfortunately, the grandparents are made to feel unwanted. They retire somewhere miles away from the family and have very little to do with the bringing up of their grand-children. I am not necessarily saying that wisdom is the prerogative of older people, but I submit that those who are older in our society have not only wisdom but experience. Perhaps I might venture to say that they have slightly higher moral standards than some of the younger people today—standards from which I, personally, believe the family would benefit if they were reintroduced by the older people.

Teenagers in so many families have no one to turn to because the parents are busy—they are watching television, both working, keeping up with the rate of inflation and keeping up with each other. Perhaps 20 years ago young people were able to turn to the retired people, to their grandparents. Now, very few grandparents seem to be around for the young to turn to. As I am greatly involved with young people, I realise that very much, and I should like to issue almost a challenge to the older people to make themselves more aware of the problems of the young and more available to the young, not simply just as shoulders to cry on but as a wealth of experience and as people to whom the young can talk.

The retired grandparents are fortunate but, as other noble Lords have said, there is a wealth of jobs that older people can volunteer to do. My noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye listed a number of things that are done for old people. I submit that it would do the old people a great deal of good to go out and do the Meals-on-Wheels themselves. Unless they are absolutely bedridden or completely incapable of visiting, why do we not encourage them to visit children in hospital, to be grandmothers to subnormal children, to take an interest in a child who is desperately in need of a loving kiss, a loving pat on the head or a loving shoulder to cry on? The older retired person has an enormous amount to give to the young. I am sorry to say that in my experience—and perhaps it is only mine—the middle tier of the family is not perhaps fulfilling what many of us believe to be the correct parental role in our society. In my humble opinion it is up to the retired people, the older people, to fill the second and third tiers of society.

My Lords, tonight I also appeal to the Churches. The Churches can give not only an enormous help and lead to the older people to help them prepare for retirement, but can also encourage them to enjoy retirement. In my view, there is no reason for people who have retired to dig their gardens, potter down to the tobacconist or potter once a day to buy a newspaper. We must get them out, make them feel needed, that they are part of the Church and part of the society in which we all live and belong. That will not only keep many of them out of hospital but will also make them happier people.

This all comes down to planning one's retirement. If, quite suddenly, one wakes up one morning and says, "I am not going to work; it is a wonderful day", that would be the shortest way ever known to the grave. Those people will also be miseries to their spouses and perhaps to each other. If they plan their retirement they need not dread it. They will not be lonely. Despite the present difficulties, they need not experience economic stringency and, above all, they need not be bored. However, if they do not plan they might have a really difficult time. If they plan, they can lead useful lives, be kept busy, help others and, above all, they will feel needed, not only by their families but by everyone with whom they come into contact. I believe that the last third of one's life could be almost the most enriching and rewarding.

6.38 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, must begin by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for giving us such an interesting, informative and important debate. I also thank her for opening the debate with such a balanced and comprehensive view of the subject which has helped us all greatly to develop our individual points. It would seem that this subject of retirement and the elderly has introduced a fine ecumenical spirit of harmony into your Lordships' House, which is perhaps hardly surprising as so many of us have a vested interest in the subject.

At this late hour I would not wish to disrupt or disturb that spirit of harmony, and have no intention of doing so, though perhaps here I might issue a word of warning. It has always been my experience in politics that one never has any success with a campaign if no one is against it. Once everyone is agreed on a campaign somehow it never seems to achieve any real momentum. In order to get the right kind of spirit going and things done, a campaign needs to be opposed occasionally. I say this merely because there is a danger, when we all agree, as we all appear to agree on this subject—I think many also agree in another place—that nothing will really happen. We all go away shaking our heads harmoniously and thinking that somehow something has happened. It does not always happen.

In addition to an ecumenical spirit of harmony, for a time this debate appeared to be producing a somewhat sepulchral element as if we must talk about age in hushed terms. I, like other noble Lords, I am sure, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, for perhaps setting us to rights in pointing out that old age is not all infirmity, decrepitude, and isolation; it is very often activity. How right he was to point to the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, who has converted Shakespeare's Seven Ages of Man into three simple ages; youth, middle age, and you never looked younger, my Lord!

It is a fact that many people in our society never get old at all in the sense that they become infirm and mentally or physically dependent on others. More than 95 per cent. of our population spend their lives and end their lives within the circle of their family, in a state of activity and usefulness commensurate with their actual age. That is, 95 per cent. or even more, in fact the majority, pass from youth to middle age, and then to the end of their lives without getting truly old in the sense that so many of us mean.

Of course there are the other 5 per cent, of whom something like one-fifth spend their lives in hospitals, or the end of their lives in hospitals, institutions, and so on, needing the support of social services and of the charities which have been talked about, and of individuals, and so on. But how right the noble Lord was to remind us—and I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, referred to this too—that many old people are not old! The word "old" conjures up the wrong vision. To automatically apply the word "old" to people merely because they are over statutory retirement age is misleading.

At this late hour I am going to make only three simple points. I will endeavour to drop three pebbles in the pond—if I may, without offence, refer to your Lordships' House as a pond—in the hope that they might produce one or two ripples. May I come to the first, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, referred when she spoke of the possibility of the old providing or taking round the Meals-on Wheels. How right she is to point in that direction because that is precisely what will have to happen.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young, at the beginning of this debate, and many other speakers, referred to probable trends. It is a fact that the average age of our community is rising, and that the number of elderly people, or old people in the sense that they have occupied this planet for many years, is increasing. In point of fact in the next 20 years the number of truly old in the sense that they have become dependent on others, physically or mentally, will increase by about one-third. But it is also felt—and this is rather a melancholy point—that that section of the community which at present carries out the main role of caring for the old and the under-privileged, which is middle-aged women, will decline in the next 20 years by about one-sixth. There we have the situation: the workload increasing and the volume of resources at present coping with that workload reducing. How, if in any way, can that gap be bridged?

I think that the noble Baroness pointed in part to the way. There are very many elderly people in terms of years who have lost their roles as parents, or as workers, and are seeking a new identity. They are people whose need is activity and usefulness. I think that the time has to come, and come soon, when these people—they have been referred to by a very distinguished consultant geriatrician from Glasgow, Dr. Bernard Isaacs, as the silver aged rather than the old—are brought into the caring role with regard to the elderly. They are people who have understanding and experience. They understand the needs of their fellows and of the less fortunate, and they perhaps can feel for them in a way in which no other generation can. I think that if we use these people properly we shall give a new sense of purpose to their lives and give new meaning to their lives, and at the same time will provide the kind of help which others are going to need. I put that as my first point. It is something we have to think about in the future.

Let me go to another point which has been referred to by many speakers in this debate. I speak here from my own practical experience, and not merely as a general practitioner dealing with elderly people in their homes and in practice. I present, as some noble Lords will know, a television programme on citizens' rights called "This is Your Right", in the North West for Granada television, which is aimed primarily at the elderly. I do not say that it is aimed at the elderly, but we in fact know that, although we have a large viewing audience, a very large number of them are elderly people. Of the letters we get, which can be anything up to a thousand a week—and they all get answers, I hope and believe—the vast majority come from elderly people who are puzzled, confused about their rights, and about the sources of help which are available to them.

The noble Baroness referred to this when she spoke about the possible take-up level with regard to the new 25 per cent, rebate on electricity bills for this one quarter, the winter quarter. She asked how many people actually knew about this. In point of fact, the programme which I recorded for today, and which has gone out today, was not about that subject but about the new code of practice which has now been introduced for the cutting off of electricity or gas supply to people. I was able to explain that under the new rules gas or electricity supplies for those who have not paid their bills, or who are in arrears, will not be cut off under any circumstances for households consisting entirely of retired people, between the months of October and March. But I had to say in this programme, which has now been transmitted, that from 1st April "You are on your own". So who is going to tell them what is available in the meantime, and how many of them will seek the kind of support they need, and go for help with heating costs and for their supplementary benefits and the kind of assistance which they can get; or will make use of the new benefit to which the noble Baroness, Lady Young, referred?

The noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, referred to a tragic death today from hypothermia, I believe he said, in Devon. Indeed, as he said, this should not occur. It would not occur if enough of the people concerned knew of the sources of help available. We hear a great deal nowadays about abuses of the Welfare State and about fraudulent claims on our social services. Be that as it may—those charges may or may not be justified—one thing is undoubtedly true from my experience: very frequently the help which Parliament votes for under-privileged sections of the community by no means gets to the people most in need. Nowhere is this more true than with the elderly. I think that here, certainly, is a situation about which we really must do something.

Without going over the whole range of services, it is a fact that elderly people and retired people can receive help from a whole number of different sources. Even in the medical field one single old person alone in a home may be receiving help, advice, and service from four or five or even six different sections of the National Health Service. In addition, the person may be, or perhaps ought to be, getting help from the Social Services Department, and perhaps from bodies like Help the Aged, Age Concern, and the various charitable bodies, and all sorts of other organisations which exist to provide help. It has always been my experience that in any section of activity where so many people are responsible there is sometimes a tendency for no one person to accept responsibility.

For many years I have felt that there is a need in local authority areas for a new kind of officer called an old persons' officer. I know there was a time when there was a children's officer, and I know now we are in a mood in which we have moved away from specialist social workers. We now have a generic social worker. Every social worker is a universal genius who deals with mental problems, or housing problems, or whatever it is. But I really believe that it would be helpful if in every community there was one person who was responsible for integrating the various services available for the elderly, so that the elderly themselves could go direct to that one person, or even others, like doctors such as myself, who very often do not know the things they ought to know. All right, maybe this should be the health visitor. But would it not be better if it was one person with that specific responsibility? As I said, where so many are responsible there is a tendency for no one person to accept responsibility, and then we get the tragic cases to which the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, referred, when someone somehow has been forgotten and overlooked.

I come to the question of retirement. In my view we must get away from the concept of retirement as a sudden, short, sharp shock in which the citizen goes from full work—from 40 or more hours a week, sometimes with overtime; overtime especially when getting ready for retirement because of the need to have extra money to pile up resources—to doing absolutely nothing at all. This is a concept in which we are sadly lagging behind. At one conference after another recently in Europe, at Strasbourg and elsewhere, the British representative has paid lip service to the principle of phased and gradual retirement, but what have we actually done? As has been pointed out by many speakers in the debate, many of our regulations provide direct disincentives to phased and gradual retirement.

Consider, for example, the earnings rule. That does not give any incentive for gradual retirement. Certainly we have partly got rid of it, as a result of a Back-Benchers' revolt in another place, and it was a tragedy that such a revolt was necessary to get rid of that anomaly. So many of our rules and regulations somehow seem to operate as a disincentive to people to phase their retirement so that they may gradually phase out their activities rather than come to retirement with a sudden, short, sharp shock. We do not do nearly enough by way of education for retirement, as has already been said, or to simplify the various measures with which people must contend. Consider the taxation structure for the elderly, the complexities of age exemption, marginal age relief, and so on. For elderly people who do not have accountants at their beck and call these are tremendous difficulties which cause them great worry. They have the difficulties of the earnings rule, difficulties which they do not understand, and problems in relation to employment.

I have a final suggestion for noble Lords to consider. We have recently adopted a new scheme with the hope of reducing unemployment, the new job release scheme by which men are encouraged to give up their jobs at the age of 64 to allow others to fill those jobs and so reduce the total number of unemployed, and the person giving up such a job receives about £23 a week, equivalent to an early pension. But I would like the House to consider something else. I think it is time we started thinking about job sharing. I see no reason why people who reach a certain age should not be able to say, "I like my job and I would like to carry on doing it for many years, but I would like to share it with somebody else". Why should they not occasionally be able to say, "I have found somebody of a like mind with similar training doing a similar job," and be able to say to the employer, "I want to carry on with my job but from now on Joe and I are sharing it. It will be fully done and we will share the responsibility for it. We will divide the work and the money"?

Of course the employer will say that that will mean two lots of National Insurance contributions and all sorts of bureaucratic complications in the wages department, with taxation and the Employment Protection Act and so on. But I should have thought it was not beyond the wit of man to devise a simple solution which would encourage employers to make it possible for employees to embark on a system of job sharing. Thus, I would like noble Lords to consider, in addition to the job release scheme which we have adopted—it does not seem that that scheme is as yet doing very much—the possibility of a job sharing scheme which I think would be something on the way towards phased and gradual retirement.

Let us remember that whatever age we are, and whatever we do, some people will want to stop work and do other things, and that it is a mistake to assume that everybody dies if they do nothing. I had a patient until recently who had been a boatswain on a sailing ship; he had been retired for 51 years when he died. For the 51 years he had been retired he smoked thick twist, drank whisky, and did practically nothing but talk about his seafaring days, and a very happy and healthy man he was. There are others who are healthy and happy only if they are in a state of feverish activity all the time.

Let us remember, therefore, that we must have flexibility. We cannot have a unified system which is forced on everybody. We must have a flexible system offering the maximum range of opportunity in regard to working and retirement for the maximum number of people. When we have done that we shall have done a great deal for the elderly, and we shall have done a great deal for society as a whole.

6.56 p.m.


My Lords, the House has this afternoon provided almost a unique forum of experience on this interesting subject and, in view of the wealth of contributions, I feel sure that the task awaiting the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, in replying is one of great complexity because noble Lords have touched on many aspects of the whole problem of retirement. My approach must inevitably be to re-emphasise what my noble friend Lady Young said when she quoted her package of three items. She felt that to achieve what we all, I think with almost unique unanimity on this subject, seek is flexibility. My noble friend's package contained three elements: first, a flexible retirement age; second, the abolition of the earnings rule—and, no doubt associated with that, phased elements within that earnings rule—and, third, the approach of index-linked pensions.

Problems of such great complexity can be tackled only in a phased and orderly fashion and the number of solutions which noble Lords have offered have given the Government the opportunity to listen to what has been proposed. Here I must enter a point of controversy because in recent weeks Lord Wells-Pestell"s right honourable friend the Secretary of State has perhaps not been a very acute listener, when above all else what those 10 million people shortly or at present in retirement seek is a Government who will listen to their problems, to the possibility of their solutions and to those who advise, both within the social services and in the groups of retired people.

Last Friday the Secretary of State made a very important speech at the Institute of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, a speech which I will refer to as a "no crock of gold" one. I hope the Government will not take offence if I label it such. It was a very important address because its object was to set aside the suggestion which the British Medical Association had advanced of further, in their view necessary, expenditure of £2,000 million for the National Health Service to sustain it in its present form.

The Secretary of State suggested that there were other ways of achieving savings, and to some extent I think we can agree with all his conclusions. However, there is a most important matter where we depart from him, and that is that he chose to make it the opportunity to refute the evidence of the BMA before that evidence had been adduced to the Royal Commission at present sitting on the National Health Service. That suggests that the Government are not prepared to listen before making a major Statement, and it anticipates the likelihood that the Government may set aside the advice that has been given in your Lordships' House. I very much hope not, but it does carry that suggestion.

The implications may perhaps be divided into four: the financial, employment, educational and health implications. I should like to take these in order. The financial implications are very strong and weigh very heavily on the minds of those either in retirement or about to be retired. I listened with the greatest interest to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Byers, and admired the vigorous manner in which his proposals were adduced. I would repeat from this side of the House that, more than anything else, we seek a Government that will attempt to retain the currency of this country at its existing value. Nothing is more important within the pensions field than that the Government should seek to do so.

The ways in which a Government may seek to do so are varied. They may tie pensions to a cost of living index but, more than anything else, their fiscal policies must surely be aimed in that general direction. In the past three years we have had scant evidence that this was being done. We recognise the enormous problems with which this country, Western Europe and the world are faced in regard to inflation generally. Nevertheless, the first concern in regard to protection should be those in retirement and those on fixed incomes.

I believe that the possibilities of retaining the value of the pound are nowhere better demonstrated than by the case proposed this afternoon. I was shocked when the noble Lord, Lord Amulree—I believe it was he—described a situation in which a retired couple found themselves in a position where their life savings were not only of little value but were indeed an active disability.


My Lords, I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King.


I beg your Lordships' pardon. The noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, made the observation and I believe that the Government's thinking in this field in regard to the disincentives to savings must be changed.

As regards the employment implications, I listened with great interest, as, I am sure, did all your Lordships, to the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, on job sharing. Surely fresh thinking should be applied in this field where the employers and the TUC are concerned. This may not be a field that will show immediate yields but it is very well worth considering.

Thirdly, the educational implications were particularly emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, I feel very strongly that the noble Lord touched on one of the vital centres in this debate when he mentioned adult education. All your Lordships will, I believe, be concerned that the closure not only of a number of teacher training colleges but also of adult educational colleges is being considered by the Department of Education and Science. I hope that the Government will pause for consideration before these closures are definitely confirmed, because nothing is more important than to give the opportunity of education in further crafts and skills to promote interest not only for job creation but for hobbies in retirement. Much greater priority should have been given to adult education in earlier years, but let us not now allow the situation to run beyond our control. Surely the Government can, even at this late hour, ensure that those colleges which are at present under threat of closure shall be given some stay of execution.

Finally, there are the health implications. I should like to dwell specifically upon these because my noble friend Lady Young foreshadowed in her opening remarks that I would spend time and lay particular emphasis on them. I should like to turn to the document, Priorities for Health and Personal Social Services and refer especially to page 41, because there we come to a paragraph that, speaking of domiciliary services, reads as follows: The more these can be expanded, the more pressure on residential accommodation and on hospitals can be eased. On a national basis, we suggest that expenditure on home nursing (and health visiting) should be increased by 6 per cent, a year…". This is an absolutely vital field and many noble Lords have referred to this. Within the budget proposed by the Department, one hopes that, nationally, the proposals at present being considered for cuts in the Health Service will not imply that that vital 6 per cent. growth per year will be cut off.

There are very many more aspects in that important document that I do not wish to dwell upon, but perhaps none is so important as a matter raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester in regard to mental illness and depression. He dealt at some length with the chain of reaction that led from the point when a person was informed of his early retirement. Depression and mental illness take many forms and the graduation of these afflictions passes through some very difficult and complicated stages. But catering for the mentally ill is by no means that part of the Health Service for which funds have been particularly generously allocated. If we turn to the document, we see under the heading of "Priorities to 1979/1980" on page 57, that it will be very clear where the most serious deficiencies lie. These are within the community services.

In the Government's programme on mental illness, they stressed particularly in, I believe, Cmnd. 6233 where they believed the importance would lie. However, if we read the Consultative Document we find this: 8.11. "The most serious deficiencies in existing services for the mentally ill are in the local authority and social services, where in 1974 there were fewer than 4,000 residential places, and only just over 5,000 day places, against an estimated national requirement of 12,000 and 30,000 places respectively". I feel, as do a number of your Lordships, that this particular aspect of the service provided for old people will be the Cinderella and may get left out of the arrangements.

I should like to turn now to the question of supplementary benefit and an important matter raised by the noble Lord, Lord Amulree. He suggested that the take-up of supplementary benefit was not what he would like it to be. I would remind the noble Lord that in 1972 220,000 people took up supplementary benefit, that by 1976 912,000 people had taken it up and that in this year over a million have done so. Perhaps this is a melancholy reflection on the inflation situation. Nevertheless, the take-up has been considerable over the past three or four years. However, the whole point is this: why should supplementary benefit be necessary if the general level of pension be adequate?

I should like now to turn to the question of the National Health Service in a very important aspect; that is, the question of its stock-piling. Here, may I once more refer to the speech of the Secretary of State. It is quite clear from that speech, when he enunciated the three principles of equity, efficiency, and effectiveness, that the Secretary of State was referring to good housekeeping. In no particular field is it more important that the right amount of goods and the right level of quality of goods should be maintained by the Health Service, and it is encouraging to read in the Health and Social Services Journal of 28th January, that this matter is very actively considered by Mr. Stanley Hymen, Dean of Middlesex Polytechnic.

But there are some very important matters which arise from this which have already been dealt with in the Collier Report on the purchase of medical equipment. Consulting doctors and nurses may be most important in order to achieve the "best buy", but behind the Collier Report is the implication that a very large number of options in equipment and drugs will be set aside, and behind those options are a large number of firms who may find it extremely difficult to seek other markets.

I believe that the question of purchases within the National Health Service is a very important one. It is a question of decisions which must be made and it is a question of the right choices, because no group in society is a greater user of the services of the National Health Service than the aged, who form probably more than 50 per cent. of the customers, if we may so term them. We are told that a 1 per cent. reduction in the purchasing of goods by the Health Service will save £5 million. Will this be a real saving, because perhaps the same goods, if purchased for the shelf, may yield a better return in terms of higher prices next year? Nevertheless, the question of cutting waste from the Health Service must be of the greatest importance. We believe that the advice of the Pharmaceutical Society in this field should be listened to. The question of repeat prescriptions should be a matter of great concern, and I ask the Government to consider the advice of the Pharmaceutical Society because very often repeat prescriptions are inadequately prescribed by those other than the medical practitioner.

It is very clear that the good housekeeping suggested by the Secretary of State needs very careful scrutiny by those concerned, and we certainly hope that the Government will listen carefully to what is being said at the present moment by many voices, both outside and within the profession.

In summing up I should like to turn finally to what my noble friend Lady Young said. In bringing this subject forward to your Lordships' today, she believed that there was a very real need for the Government to review their policies in this whole field, especially the question of flexible retirement age. We believe that in this field this is one of the most urgent matters that the Government should consider.

7.14 p.m.


My Lords, I do not know where to begin. When, 10 days or so ago, I saw that this matter was set down for debate, I consulted my officials, and we have given it much time and thought, and we came to the conclusion that there were 73 different headings applying to the matter of people on retirement. Tonight your Lordships have dealt with 32 of them, and so if I spend just one minute on each—and it is no good my doing that—I shall take 32 minutes, and if I spend two minutes on each of these headings I shall take 64 minutes. As I want to do justice to your Lordships perhaps you would make yourselves comfortable in your seats so that I can deal adequately with the situation.

I say that with an air of levity because I complained—and I am going to complain again—that when we had a debate on one-parent families it ranged over the whole of the Finer Report. This subject is much too large, and although I have no authority for saying this (and that does not bother me one little bit) I hope that when we have debates in the future, be they long or short, if they are likely by their title to cover a very wide field, we shall put down in the Motion the field that we are to cover. We could have a very useful debate tonight on four or five matters, and I could have given, I hope, adequate answers, but this is something that I cannot do in view of the fact that the debate has ranged over 32 different matters. I want to deal with one or two things——


My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves that point, I should like to say that he will find that your Lordships' House is very sympathetic to what he said, but a debate like this gives us the opportunity to air ideas which do not necessarily require answers. Therefore one has to temper the whole field of the debate, not expecting a specific answer from the Minister on the 32 points raised.


I am very much obliged, my Lords, because I could not do it in any case. What exercises my mind in debates of this kind is that invariably they are used to have a dig at the Government, and there has been implied criticism again tonight. Not one person has paid tribute to what the Government have done since March 1974 on pensions. Never in our history have pensions for the retired people and the elderly received such a boost that they have been in line with earnings, and I think that when we consider what is being done it is necessary to make certain admissions that, although there is much more to be done, the Government have not in fact been dilatory in dealing with this matter.

I know that the noble Lord, Lord Byers, will not expect me to try to deal with the pension situation tonight. He knows my own particular interest in both ordinary pensions and occupational pensions. He has seen my right honourable friend the Minister of State for Social Security and been able to discuss the matter with him, and he knows that we want these two types of pension to go along not only side by side but hand in hand.

I should like to deal with just one point which the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, raised. He is an old friend of mine and so I hope he will not mind my saying that I thought that his example was an unfortunate one. What the noble Lord is saying—and this is precisely what another noble Lord is saying—is that when a person retires, if he cannot manage on the retirement pension, then he can apply for supplementary benefit, and if the Supplementary Benefits Commission finds that he has not got enough coming in, the State should entirely ignore the person's savings and his income from savings. Is anybody to say that that is a right and proper thing to do? I think that the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, said that the income was £2 a week, which is £100 a year. It represents a reasonable capital—a capital that is bringing in £100 a year. Where does one stop? Does one say that where people have capital and they are receiving interest from it, this is to be ignored to meet their needs; that if they feel that they have no enough to live on as a result of the-State retirement pension, they should go along and willy-nilly be given supplementary benefit to the complete exclusion of capital and the interest they are receiving from capital? Or is one to add, "Provided it is not more than £100 a year, or £500 a year"? What is the figure to be? We have to have these lines of demarcation, and it is quite unrealistic for anyone to say, either explicitly or implicitly, that they should be ignored.

I want to say to the noble Lord, Lord Balogh, that I can deal with the matter he raised. He raised an important matter relating to Civil Service pensions. As he knows, this is a matter for the Treasury, for which, happily, I have no responsibility at all; but I will see that his remarks are drawn to the attention of the Treasury. I want to give the noble Lord, Lord Byers, the same assurance: that I will make it my responsibility to see that my right honourable friend the Minister of State reads what the noble Lord said today, because I know it is relative to something which has to happen in a few months' time, and there is a marked degree of urgency about it.

If I may speak for myself, I was interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, said, because I felt he brought a real touch of realism to our debate, understanding, if he will permit me to say so, the difficulty of some of the problems with which any Government are faced in this type of situation. I liked his emphasis—at least, I think he emphasised it—on the fact that the community has to do more than it is doing at the present moment. When I came to your Lordships' House, a good many years ago now, one often heard the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft. I think we are now the poorer for not hearing him so often—and I do not say this because I now want to correct something he said. I may be quite wrong, but I understood the noble Lord to say, when talking about pensions, that the self-employed did not receive a State pension. They do in point of fact receive a State pension. There are certain benefits that the self-employed are not entitled to, but when they reach the age of 65 they get the normal basic State pension.


My Lords, will the noble Lord forgive me for interrupting? He is perfectly right to make that point, but the parallel I was trying to draw was between the civil servant, with his linked pension, and the artist, the barrister or the actor, who is in a very different position. But I accept the noble Lord's correction.


My Lords, I do not want to go over the figures, but the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and one or two other noble Lords raised a number of quite important points. I think we would take on board all that they said. I do not think there is a great deal of difference between our view and their view. The fact is that we are faced with certain realistic situations at the moment, and the State—and I am bound to say this—cannot at this stage, or in the foreseeable future, do very much about the vast number of things which I think we would all agree need to have something done about them. It has been pointed out that in 1985, in less than ten years' time, we shall have in this country over half a million people over the age of 85. If we are really to face up to this situation, we have got to assess what the State can do and what society can do. I differentiate between the two because I believe there is a difference.

I think we have to bear in mind, when we talk about personal responsibility, that there are now more people in this country engaged in voluntary social work than ever in our history. Let us not forget that. When we condemn people for not doing this and for not doing that, we must remember that there is a vast army of people—they are countless—all making a contribution for the benefit of somebody else. We are living in a time when people are concerned about the needs of others and when, very often, they do it at the cost of a certain amount of personal sacrifice and expense to themselves.

I believe that the Government, whichever Government it may be, have a real responsibility to look after the weaker members of the community—and your Lordships will forgive me using the word "weaker". They are people who need our help; and it is the Government's job, I believe, to provide the financial resources. But I think we have got to look to the future, because, in the future, no Government are ever going to have the amount of money necessary to do all that is required to be done in the community. There has got to be a closer relationship between the community and the Government; there has got to be a joint enterprise.

One thing from which we are suffering at the moment is that too many voluntary organisations are going off on frolics of their own, spending large sums of money without necessarily finding out whether that particular effort of theirs is required in that particular area, or whether, if it is required in that particular area, when they have provided it out of voluntary contributions the local authority or the Area Health Authority, or some other Government Department, can take over the financial responsibility for it. There is not enough co-operation between voluntary organisations. One has appeals all over the place for money to build this or that; and yet, when it is built, the local authority or the Area Health Authority is expected to take it over and meet the running costs of it.


My Lords, would the noble Lord very kindly admit that the two cases I quoted showed precisely the point he is trying to make? In the case of St. Mary Abbots the Health Authority has taken on board the whole of the running costs of this scheme, which cost a quarter of a million pounds; and the same is true of the other one in Avon.


Yes, my Lords, this is a good voluntary organisation. What I am complaining about is that this does not happen often enough. I know something of the plight of the elderly—and I want to say this as a churchman because the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester is here. I am entitled to say this as an active member of the Anglican Church, and it is not a criticism: I wish that the parishes would get down to making an assessment of the needs of the people in their parish. During the war there was not a street in the United Kingdom which did not have an air-raid warden or two air-raid wardens, or even three air-raid wardens if it was an enormous street or an enormous road. I believe that every church has enough members in its congregation to find out from the local DHSS office the number of retired pensioners living in a particular parish—and they would not be great in number. Then, one could have a street warden system whereby the pensioners could be visited from time to time and thus provide somebody who was responsible for looking after them. This is done in some blocks of flats, where two or three people in the block make a point of calling on old people.

I sometimes think that this would be better than having some of the, I would say, incestuous (I cannot think of a better word) discussions which go on time after time, season after season. That would be a wonderful time to do it, to sit down and decide what can be done. It is not only the job of the Churches, but of every organisation. Oxford—that is where I live; it is where the noble Baroness lives and it is where the noble Lord who is sitting on the Woolsack at the moment lives—probably has more voluntary organisations than any other city in the country. They are doing a magnificent job, but they do not necessarily know what each other is doing, and there is a great deal of overlap. I suggest that there is too great a tendency to say that the State ought to be doing this and that the Government ought to be doing that; and, having said that, I feel that there ought to be a little more co-operation between the voluntary organisations themselves.

Several noble Lords have raised the question of flexible retirement. We think it just is not on at the present moment.

This is a very difficult thing. What do we mean by flexible retirement? Do we mean that anyone can choose their retirement age over the age of 55 or 60? I cannot see that there is ever going to be enough money to allow a person to retire at 60 on a pension which is going to be adequate for his or her needs. It must be made up out of supplementary benefits.

My understanding is that the financial problems involved may be gleaned from the fact that it is estimated that not only would there be a reduction in pension age in the State scheme but it would cost something like £2,000 million a year extra in the long term, and over £1,000 million extra with the present high level of unemployment. I do not want to say that this is a pipe dream; although it certainly is a pipe dream at the moment. It is something that we ought to be working towards; but I do not think that anybody who suggests a flexible retirement age has sat down to think of what is involved, to think of the cost of it—and not only the cost in terms of lost insurance contributions, but in terms of the tremendous amount that must be paid out because people will not be able to retire on an adequate pension.


My Lords, a flexible retirement scheme might involve retirement later rather than earlier.


Yes, my Lords. Then, I think, one must look entirely afresh at the whole concept of retirement. As one noble Lord says, it is actuarial. Our new pension scheme will provide a very substantial retirement pension, when it has been established long enough, that would go a long way towards meeting some of the difficulties that have been mentioned tonight.

A number of noble Lords raised the question of moving people into smaller accommodation. There has been Government encouragement to increase the number of small units built by local authorities. In 1975, 23 per cent. of the dwellings approved were designed specially for old people, and over 30 per cent. consisted of small units, compared with the 14 per cent. of the population which people over 65 represented. Some insurance companies have facilitated the move by enabling old people to realise assets tied up in a property, and the Government are having discussions with the National Federation of Housing Associations and with Age Concern about pilot projects by housing associations with the same object in mind. The Government may be able to grant-aid these projects.

More generally speaking, the Department of the Environment is preparing further guidance to local authorities on a range of measures by which better use—and I mean by that more effective use—can be made of the existing housing stock. That includes conversion of larger properties into a number of smaller units and facilitating the taking-in of lodgers. I hesitate to talk about the general housing problem because I think I would take too long; and I will not deal with the earnings rule for the simple reason that the Government view is well known. If it were to be abolished, it would cost something like £150 million in 1977–78. The noble Lord shakes his head.


My Lords, the noble Lord knows well that those figures have been disputed over and over again.


My Lords, that is my information, and it is from a department of my Department that deals with this particular matter.

As noble Lords know, there are three heating allowances. One is of 70p a week, one is of £1.40 a week, and one is of £2.10 a week. These scales accord to the nature of the heating of the accommodation that has to be taken into account. One of the problems is that the heating allowance is given all the year round; so that the 70p a week allowance gives an additional purchasing power of something like £36.40 a year; and the highest rate of £2.10 means that the pensioner is getting £109.20 a year. I am sure that during the summer months the money is not put away; it is used for other purposes. When we ourselves thought that perhaps this allowance could be given in the winter months only, the idea was very much resisted by pensions organisations.

I was asked about the publicity for the electricity discount scheme. I can say that everyone cashing a supplementary benefit or family income supplement order in the week beginning January 24th —that is, the week before the scheme began—received a leaflet explaining the electricity discount scheme. There was also, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley mentioned, television and Press advertising. I do not think that we could have done much more than that: everyone who cashed a supplementary benefit or a family income supplement order got a leaflet on it. I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona, how this works and who pays for it. My recollection is that a pensioner or retired person goes to the post office with the electricity bill. The person at the post office takes off the code number and copies it on to a form and makes out a payment form for a quarter of the bill. This is given to the pensioner, who sends it off with his or her payment of three-quarters of the total bill. Have I made that clear?


My Lords, I do not want to complicate this. I was addressing myself to whom, at the end of the day, picks up the tag for the 25 per cent. Is it the electricity organisation or is it some part of the noble Lord's Department?


My Lords, it is paid to the electricity authority. As I understand the situation—and I think perhaps we had better leave it at this—the post office gives an amount for 25 per cent. and the recipient of the bill pays the remainder. The post office charge the Department of Energy for the clerical work involved; but I understand that that is only a small amount.

I was asked about the job creation programme. I understand that so far there have been 41 schemes in the United Kingdom which have resulted in 47,000 houses being insulated at a cost of £466,000. Most of the schemes are run by the local authorities, but some are run by voluntary bodies. Many of the houses insulated have been for old and disabled people. I think I ought to admit that we have a stop at the present moment in our minds with respect to the insulating of walls, and we are having discussions about it. The first print of the Health Education Council leaflet, Keeping Warm in Winter, of half a million copies went out quickly and a reprint, also of half a million copies, is going very well. They went out at the beginning of November 1976. They were distributed by the Health Education Council to Area Health Authorities, social services departments and a number of voluntary bodies and organisations. The staff of those organisations then distributed them to the people involved.

I was asked about roof insulation. We recognise its importance in a number of ways and we have increased the requirements of the building regulations. Government subsidy is now available to help local authorities with the cost of installing roof insulation in their existing homes. Where it is done for elderly or disabled people, no other work has to be carried out for the grant to be payable. We have also introduced special arrangements for the private sector under the improvement grant system. My right honourable friend recognises that the cost of installing roof insulation may create hardship to an old or disabled person who is applying for disablement grant. They have therefore agreed that in those circumstances it should attract grant along with other improvements being carried out. It may be that only roof insulation is to be carried out, but that also can attract a grant.

I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, about house renovation grants. I cannot give him the figures of the people who take this up. The number of cases where the consent of my right honourable friend is needed to the making of an improvement grant is few, and if there are delays—and I would accept that there are delays—they arise from the way in which the applications are handled by the local authorities.

In the case of grants for roof insulation in the houses of old or disabled people, my right honourable friend proposes issuing a further circular removing the current need for consent from the departments concerned. Local authorities will then be free to get on with it without having to apply to Whitehall. I ought to say that we are aware of the work carried out by the Friends of the Earth, and other voluntary bodies, in helping old people to insulate their houses. We have also just learned—let me be frank about it—of the guidance pack produced by the Friends of the Earth. The Government have not been involved in its distribution and I am therefore unable to say how wide a use has been made of it. We shall want to consider whether we shall take steps to give this further publicity.

I do not know whether I ought to continue in view of the fact that I have been talking for nearly 30 minutes. If I may wind up, I acknowledge that what I have said is not satisfactory and is inadequate, but it is hardly my fault. If this does not sound patronising—and it is not meant to be patronising—on behalf of my right honourable friend I should like to pay tribute to the Pre-retirement Association. We know a great deal about their work. It is our business to know what is going on, even if we sometimes fall down on other things that we should be doing. They have been making an excellent contribution. Having said that, it would be wrong of me to leave it there. There is Lord Maybray-King's organisation which is internationally known. I should like to take this opportunity of saying how much we recognise the importance of the contribution of the voluntary organisations. No community could do without it.

We are moving into an era where there will be more and more work to be done by the voluntary organisations—that will please some people on the other side of the House—and less and less by the Government in the sense that the Government will have to find ways and means of grant-aiding local voluntary organisations to do certain work because it can thus often be done more effectively, and we are the first to recognise this.

I should like to thank noble Lords for their contributions. I apologise for my own inadequacy, but because of the time factor a remedy is rather beyond me. I repeat what I have said: we are indebted to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. We do, even if your Lordships do not believe it, go through Hansard over the next few days with a fine toothed comb taking out and pushing various matters to the Ministers who have responsibilities covering those aspects. This is sincere. As I said before, we are grateful to the voluntary organisations working in this field.

7.45 p.m.


My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Young, who unfortunately has had to leave before the end of the debate, I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, that had she been here she would have been pleased with some of his answers, but by no means all. The adequacy and length of reply would have no doubt satisfied her. On behalf of my noble friend, I should like to thank all those who have contributed to this debate, and I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.