Old Age and Widows' Pensions and Unemployment Assistance.

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

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Photo of Mr George Daggar Mr George Daggar , Abertillery

If the Minister will allow me to finish, I will make it clear why that has been asked for. I think one may be excused, and the old age pensioners may be excused, for explaining about the continued investigations, inquisitions, examinations, calculations and regulations. When some of us make reference to the cost of the Assistance Board we are never supported by hon. Members on the other side of the House who are always referring to the unnecessary hoards of officials, and yet this Board involves an expenditure of over £4,500,000 a year. The Board was established in 1935 to dole out assistance to the unemployed, and it is now charged, or so it is claimed, with the task of meeting the needs of the aged people. In the period from 1935 to 1940 this Board cost the nation £27,431,000. The Government know by now the requirements of old age pensioners, and I think it would be much better to scrap the Board, save the money, pay the people a decent pension and employ the officials on productive work.

Whenever we raise this question of old age pensions it is always thought that we have a disposition to exaggerate. Before the war the then Minister of Health, Mr. Neville Chamberlain, said that 90 per cent. of our old people managed to live without recourse to the rates, and it was only necessary for 10 per cent. to apply for public assistance. We pointed out that even that 10 per cent. meant that there were 307,800 of these people applying for public assistance and that, if it were not for the pride of the old age pensioners, many more would be applying. Directly the Supplementary Pensions Act came into operation it had to be admitted that our arguments were correct, because directly an opportunity was afforded the old people to apply for supplementary pensions instead of public assistance, the figure jumped to nearly a million, and there are more cases now where these people rather than apply for supplementary pensions will endeavour to exist on the small pension of 10s.

In the last Debate I gave the budget of the single person, and also the case where husband and wife were receiving the pension. The expenditure in those two cases cannot be controverted. In the case of the single pensioner all that was allowed for meeting the necessary requirements of food and clothing was 7s. 1d. a week. In the case of the husband and wife the amount was 15s., which proves that approximately 7s. per week is available for the purchase of food and clothing in the case of persons who are entitled to the supplementary pension. Do hon. Members realise what can be purchased with 7s.? If you assume that each of them takes 28 meals in a week, the 7s. only permits of meals not exceeding 3d., with nothing left for clothing. The right hon. Gentleman who introduced these Regulations recently sent a message to the National Welfare Council in which he said: We need the help of everyone throughout the country to maintain the home front and to see that we build up the citizens of the future on whose behalf we are fighting. Those were noble sentiments and we agree with them. But these old age pensioners constitute a part of that home front, and you cannot maintain them on 3d. meals. It is not worth while to build up citizens in anticipation of providing them with such a rich diet. In any event, this House has reached a stage at which it becomes necessary to provide fair treatment for old age pensioners other than in terms of 3d. meals.

We also ask that something should be done for widows. Whatever strength there may be in the case that we are making for old age pensioners, there is considerably more to be said for the widows. The Government's refusal to deal with that problem is highly regrettable, because the widows have had no increase at all since the original Act was passed in 1935, although the cost of living has gone up 32 points. Since January, 1925, it has gone up more than a half. In addition—this is a strange feature of the case—if she has children to maintain, she gets 5s. for the first and 3s. for the second, as against 7s. 6d., 10s. 6d., and in some cases even 11s., for other children. Hon. Members are aware of the varied arrangements for the provision of children. There are the children known as unaccompanied evacuees, children of unemployed persons, children of men in receipt of compensation, and children of air-raid victims, all of whom, with the exception of two classes, are in receipt of a higher scale of pension. While the widow's child has to be maintained on an allowance of 5s. or 3s., the others get varying amounts from 5s. to 11s. a week. The refusal to deal with the widows' case will long be remembered as a dereliction of duty. That assistance to these women requires legislation is not a valid excuse. Bills can be passed through the House in less than an hour if the nation demands and requires it. Something ought to be done for them immediately.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to a long-term policy and said we should await the Beveridge Committee's Report, but that has no attraction for me. It is necessary to have regard to the recommendations of that Committee, particularly in view of the fact of the enormous amount of money required for the prosecution of the war, so that in the autumn, when we get the Committee's recommendations, no effective legislation can be introduced until about Christmas time, and, whatever might be said about the expenditure on the prosecution of the war now, obviously by Christmas time it will be considerably higher. If it is firmly believed that something can be done for these old people in the autumn, why not give them something now? Give them an instalment of what you propose to do for them in the autumn. I am afraid that whatever provision is made will be made at an appropriate time, and that is when the kiddies are enjoying Christmas presents. I make these observations because the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in the Debate of 17th June, to which I have referred: I would certainly say to the House that it would not be desirable to anticipate, or to duplicate, the work of the Committee in working out any long-term scheme."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th June, 1942; col. 1649, Vol. 380.] He was referring to the Beveridge Committee. Needless to say, if the proposals in the Regulations are either in anticipation or in duplication of what we are to expect from that Committee, I hope Sir William Beveridge will insist upon a long holiday and thus delay the report by his Committee.

May I make one or two observations on the concessions with regard to winter allowances? I admit that the proposal will mean some advantage to the old age pensioner. At present the period covers 22 weeks from November to March and the allowance is 1s. 6d. for a person living alone and 2s. for a man and wife. Both payments will be increased under the Regulations. It is an advantage to have the period extended for a month, but, after all, it is not such an enormous advantage because the London County Council through its Public Assistance Committee already pays 3s. 6d. a week for the period from the beginning of October to the end of April. I want to stress now what I stressed on 17th June, that the payment of the winter allowances is an admission that the payments made to our old people are insufficient. A reasonable, adequate pension is preferable to these fiddling niggling arrangements in dealing with the problem. We consider that these Regulations are unsatisfactory. They do not meet the demand. They are meagre, mean and miserly, and this House should make a greater pension increase to our old people. The time has arrived when we should cease the continuous fiddling methods of dealing with old age pensions. It is not creditable to our reputation of being a great nation, and our agitation inside and outside the House will continue until we secure justice for those on whose behalf we make an appeal to-day, namely, the old age pensioners.