The House will recall that on 17th June I undertook on behalf of the Government, but without anticipating or duplicating the work of Sir William Beveridge in framing any long-term scheme, to carry out an immediate examination into the present position of old age pensioners and widows so far as it is now accentuated by war-time conditions. That inquiry has been duly made and the Government have reached the conclusion that the present position can be met by an increase in the scale rates governing supplementary pensions, by improvements in winter allowances and by steps to make good any lack of clothing, bedding and other household necessaries from which supplementary pensioners may be suffering in view of the increase which has taken place in the cost of such articles.
The Assistance Board are submitting draft Regulations increasing the scale rates for supplementary pensions, and these draft Regulations, when made by the Ministers concerned, will be laid before Parliament as soon as possible with a view to their approval by affirmative Resolution. The increases in the scale rates proposed will be 2s. 6d. for each person of 16 and upwards whose needs are taken into account, and 1s. for each child under that age. Thus, the increase in the case of a married couple without dependants will be 5s. Similar Regulations will also be submitted with reference to unemployment assistance. Arrangements can be made to bring these increases into effect within three weeks of the date on which the Regulations receive the approval of Parliament.
Winter allowances are given to meet the excess of winter over summer consumption of fuel and light. The amounts normally given have hitherto been 1s. 6d. for a person living alone, and 2s. for a man and wife, and the period for which they have been given has been from the beginning of November until the end of March. The Government are informed that the Assistance Board had already reached the conclusion that the normal amount of the allowance should be increased to 2s. 6d., whether for a person living alone or for a man and wife, and that they now propose to extend the period of the allowance until the end of April.
The action which the Assistance Board are taking with regard to clothing, bedding and other household supplies was described in the reply given by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health to my hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery (Mr. Daggar) on 2nd July. Grants will be made in cash, except in the case of blankets, for which special arrangements are necessary owing to difficulties of supply. The total cost to the Exchequer of all these measures will be some £10,750,000 per annum, in addition to the cost of the special grants which may be anything up to £1,000,000 in the present year.
I gather that we shall have a chance of discussing these proposals before they come into effect, but I want to express my intense disappointment with them. There will be a fight about them.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the important concession that he has just announced will go a long way indeed towards meeting the old people's requirements? Would not those hon. Members who are still dissatisfied render better service by getting Darby-and-Joan clubs started in their constituencies to relieve the loneliness of these old people, now that their material needs have been so well met?
Is it proposed to make no increased provision for the widows, whose cost of living has been increased; and are we to understand that this slight increase —with which I am so disappointed—is not to be disregarded in the operation of the means test?
There is no alteration to the main structure of the present administration of old age pensions. This change is directed to meeting the war-time needs of the old people. With regard to widows, those who have reached the age of 60 will receive the further benefits now proposed.
Is the Chancellor aware that this niggardly increase of 5s. in the case of married couples does not even make up for the increase in the cost of living, and that great hardship will be occasioned to these people and considerable dissatisfaction expressed in all parts of the country? Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that the extra amount, according to his figures, is not equal to one day's cost of the war?
No, Sir; I hope that my hon. Friend will explain to persons concerned that it is open to anyone so affected, without any limit to the amount involved, to apply for an increase in his supplementary pension.