Old Age and Widows' Pensions and Unemployment Assistance.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 29th July 1942.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Ernest Brown Mr Ernest Brown , Leith

The Liberal party were the originators and played a very big part. Although I do not want to be drawn into controversy, and will not be drawn, I would like to say that the balance-sheet would be interesting.

For the purposes of the records of the House—I know Members are glad to have a table in the OFFICIAL REPORT, because these ephemeral White Papers have a way of disappearing—I would like for the convenience of Members to give the House a comparison of the more important of the present effective rates and the proposed new rates. For a pensioner living alone the existing rate is 19s. 6d. a week, and the proposed rate will be 22s.; for two pensioners (husband and wife) one of whom is the householder the existing rate is 32s. a week and the proposed rate will be 37s.; for a pensioner who is a householder (but has no wife or husband) the existing rate for a man is 19s. 6d. and the proposed rate will be 22s., and for a woman the existing rate is 18s. 6d. and the proposed rate will be 21s.; for a pensioner living as a member of someone else's household, that is, a non-householder, the existing rate for a man is 13s. 6d., plus an addition for rent, and the proposed rate is 16s., plus an addition for rent, and for a woman the existing rate is 12s. 6d., plus an addition for rent, and the proposed rate is 15s., plus an addition for rent. Let me add that the rates for dependants of the pensioner who are 16 years of age or over are correspondingly increased by 2s. 6d., and the rates for dependants under 16 years of age by 1s.

I think that gives the House and the country a broad picture of the principal changes. So I sum up in this way. The Regulations do two things, subject to the variations in the table. First, they raise the rate for a supplementary pensioner living alone from 19s. 6d. to 22s. and, second, they make a corresponding increase in the rate for pensioners living as members of a household. This is done by increasing the special addition which has all along formed an element in the scale rates of such pensioners. It has been 1s. 6d. for those over 16 and 9d. for those under that age. It will in future be 4s. for adults, and 1s. 9d. for dependants under 16.

The improvements I have described have been decided upon by the Assistance Board and agreed to by the Government in order to meet certain war-time needs which were the subject of a recent Motion in the House. As I have several times told the House, in answer to Questions, the Assistance Board have been keeping a sympathetic eye on various war-time needs with a view to review if and when circumstances demand it. The House itself has several times called attention to certain differences and difficulties for our old friends in war-time shopping. There is on record a number of speeches by Members who have called attention to particular difficulties. Members in all parts have pointed out that they did not, in present circumstances, stress the cost of living especially as the Government at great cost had controlled the price of food, but that old age pensioners found it difficult to cope with the intricacies of rationing and were not always able as well as others to take advantage of available supplies of unrationed foods. The inequality of the movement of the prices of various items of household expenditure made it difficult for the Assistance Board to decide at what point they ought to act. But considering the whole of the facts within their knowledge, they felt that action should now be taken so that the increases may take place before the summer is ended. When my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer asked for a swift inquiry as a result of the Motion carried in the House recently he was able to report to his colleagues that an increase ought to be made, and the Government unitedly agreed to the Draft Regulations. I have no doubt that whatever are the views of Members on the long-term policy, these increases will be most welcome to the 1,125,000 now receiving supplementary pensions and to those old age pensioners who, because the level will have been raised, will now be able to apply for a supplementary pension with success. Any pensioners with resources who feel they could qualify under the new rates should apply as soon as the House—as I hope it will to-day—affirms this Regulation.

I would like now to say a few words about method. This, of course, involves a big administrative task. The simultaneous alteration of over 1,000,000 supplementary pension books, most of which are current for 26 weeks, is a big task. The Assistance Board tell me that they intend to send to every supplementary pensioner a notice asking him or her to return the supplementary pension book. For this purpose the pensioner will be given a franked envelope. Special stamps indicating the amount of the increase will be put on the outstanding orders and the book will be returned to the pensioner. In a proportion of cases the supplementary pension book will fall due to be renewed in the ordinary way at about the same time as the increase becomes due. In these cases the new books will have the full amount written in and there will be no stamps affixed. I mention this so that hon. Members may note it in talks with their constituents and so as to avoid unnecessary inquiry from pensioners who get books without the stamps and wonder why their books have not stamps whereas those of their neighbours have. The regulations will take effect, if approval is given to-day, on the pension pay-day in the week beginning 17th August.