§ Mr. Foulkes
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services (1) if he will estimate the cost of allowing all pensioners over the age of (a) 70 years (b) 75 years or (c) 80 years to receive free spectacles;
(2) whether he will exempt pensioners in receipt of housing benefit from paying the full price of spectacles once the Health and Social Security Bill becomes law.
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke
Receipt of a pension has never carried with it a right to free glasses under the general ophthalmic service at any time since optical charges were introduced by the Attlee Government in 1951. Free glasses are available, however, to pensioners in receipt of supplementary benefits and, in addition, those on low incomes may receive full or partial remission of optical charges.
The assessment of such pensioners takes account of their resources and requirements including housing costs and any housing benefit received. There has therefore been no need for special arrangements in respect of recipients of housing benefit.
Information on the number of pensioners who obtain glasses under the general ophthalmic service is not available, nor is information available on how many pensioners get them free or at reduced cost. It is not therefore possible to make a realistic estimate of the cost of extending the provision of free glasses to pensioners in particular age groups.
When the Health and Social Security Bill is enacted pensioners who at present receive free or reduced cost glasses under the general ophthalmic service on income grounds will continue to receive them. Most pensioners who are not on low income are free to make the same personal choice as the rest of the population in deciding whether or not to choose NHS type glasses. I see no case for a subsidy for all patients above a certain age with a particular taste in spectacles.