I beg to move,
That the Draft National Assistance (Determination of Need) Regulations, 1948, dated 28th May 1948, a copy of which was presented on 31st May, be approved.
It is not long since the House parted with the National Assistance Bill, which received the Royal Assent on 13th May. Part II of that Measure provides for a unified State service of financial assistance according to need and places upon the Assistance Board—to be re-named the National Assistance Board—the duty of administering the new service. In deciding whether a person is in need and the extent of his need, the Board, acting through its local officers, must give effect to the regulations made by the Minister of National Insurance.
The procedure laid down in the Act for making regulations is for the Board to submit to the Minister draft regulations, for the Minister, if, as in the present case, he approves the Board's draft, to make a draft in the same terms and lay it before Parliament; and, finally, for the Minister to make substantive regulations if Parliament approves the draft. Operative regulations cannot therefore he made until they have been approved in draft by both Houses of Parliament. Subject to that approval, which the House is being asked to give tonight, the regulations will come into effect on 5th July.
The regulations now before the House in draft will govern the general level of assistance payable to not far short of one million citizens. They are, therefore, of considerable interest and importance, not only to the persons concerned, but also to the whole community. They will apply to different classes of person at present assisted in various ways—by the Assistance Board, mainly under unemployment assistance and supplementary pensions regulations and by local authorities by way of outdoor relief under the Poor Law, blind domiciliary assistance or tuberculosis treatment allowances. For the first time, a bewildering variety of relief scales and tests of need will be replaced by a uniform standard which will apply all over the country, but which, of course, will be subject to adjustment in relation to individual circumstances.
Hon. Members who are familiar with the present regulations for the assessment of supplementary pensions and unemployment assistance will have noticed that the draft regulations now before the House are constructed on much the same lines. Instead, however, of there being as at present, two sets of regulations, one applying to old people and widows and another to the unemployed, it is proposed to apply a uniform scale to all classes in need of assistance with the exception only of blind and certain tuberculosis recipients, for whom the Act itself requires special provision to be made. The existing differences in the scales for unemployment and the aged are considered to be no longer justified in conditions of full employment, when the great majority of persons who may be expected to require assistance will be either right outside the employment field or, for one reason or another, only on the fringe of it, and will be likely, if they need assistance at all, to need it for a long period.
The new scale is, therefore, intended to provide a reasonable standard of living for those requiring long-term assistance. Persons who are away from work for a short period because of minor ailments, or, say, while changing from one job to another, will be entitled, subject to the statutory provisions, to sickness or unemployment benefit under the National Insurance Scheme, and I submit that it is reasonable to expect that benefit will meet their requirements during such short interruptions of regular work.
The most important figures in the draft regulations are the new scale rates which will effect an improvement in the weekly incomes of nearly all existing recipients.
I interrupt only because we are now passing away from a point which I thought the Parliamentary Secretary would have developed a little more fully. In the past there have been these two entirely different scales, in the case of unemployment assistance and supplementary pensions, and that was a clearly accepted policy. Now there is to be the same scale in both cases. I think the House should be told exactly why this change is to be made. I quite recognise that the hon. Gentleman has referred to it, but he has not made it quite plain to me why this policy was justified in the past but is not justifiable for the future. Full employment is not in itself, I think, an explanation of this change.
I thought that the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson), might raise the point, and the Minister of National Insurance will deal with the principle, but the fact is that I started off by hoping that I might not be asked to say too much. It is getting late and hon. Members are, of course, anxious to get home but—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—I appreciate the point very much indeed. My right hon. Friend will deal with the general principle. I appreciate that probably it is an important one, but quite frankly we wish to have one, and only one, scale in the future.
I was going on to say that the main rates are those prescribed for a person living alone or as a householder and for married couples. The single householder's rate will be 24s., to which, of course, a rent allowance is added, as compared with the current ex-rent rates of 18s. for unemployment assistance and 20s. for supplementary pensions. The new rate for a married couple will be 40s., plus rent allowance, compared with the present 31s. for unemployment assistance and 35s. for supplementary pensions.
Comparison with the rates of outdoor relief at present paid by local authorities is more difficult because of the wide variety of practice among authorities, particularly in the treatment of rent, but the scales themselves are undoubtedly better than the vast majority of the local authorities' scales. The comparison is, however, further complicated by the changes to be made on 5th July in regard to insurance benefit. If there are cases in some areas where the authority has been paying more under the present scales than would be payable under these regulations, the Board have powers under the Act to take that fact into account and will continue to pay the higher amount to avoid reductions in individual cases. Blind persons in need of financial help are at present assisted by local authorities under provisions in the Blind Persons Act.
Persons who have given up work to undergo treatment for certain infective forms of tuberculosis are assisted, at the cost of the Exchequer, under a special scheme introduced during the war by the Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland. From 5th July these persons will look to national assistance, and the Act requires that the regulations for determining need shall provide especially for blind persons, and those who have suffered loss of income to undergo treatment for tuberculosis of the respiratory system. The regulations now before the House accordingly prescribe more favourable rates for those persons, so as to enable them to meet the extra expenses in which their disability involves them. The rate for a single person aged 21 or over will be 39s. plus rent allowance, and for a married couple, 55s. plus rent; for a married couple both of whom are blind the rate will be 65s. plus rent.
These rates are substantially higher than those payable at present under the tuberculosis treatment allowances scheme, though in some cases, I should add, the higher rate may be offset by the fact that resources will be taken into account. Here again the comparison with the blind domiciliary assistance rates of local authorities is difficult owing to the variety of local practices. I think, however, it is clear that the adoption of the proposals in the regulations will be to the advantage of the vast majority of recipients of blind allowances. As with other cases, the Board will take into account the amount previously received, so as to avoid any reductions in any individual case in which the authority has been paying an exceptionally high rate.
The Minister referred to the great variety of the system of administration where it has been in the hands of local authorities. Has he any figures to show what the general average has been, where there has been any guarantee that in particular cases this will not result in any reduction?
Obviously, before the Board started on this matter they did succeed in getting all the information from the various local authorities; and the information I have is that out of 200 local authorities I examined, the new rates are better than the rates of 184 local authorities.
So far as the others are concerned, in some cases for single persons they are better, for married couples not just as good; but so far as the actual amount is concerned there is not much difference. However, we have power—and that power will be used—to see, so far as the present recipients of assistance are concerned, that they will continue on the present amounts.
I should say, that before fixing these scales for these two special classes the Board consulted representatives of the blind associations and of the associations concerned with the prevention and treatment of tuberculosis, and gave most careful consideration to the views expressed by those associations. It is hoped that those who are specially concerned with the welfare of these classes will feel reasonably satisfied with the improvements now proposed. The Board intends to administer assistance to tuberculosis persons in close co-operation with the medical authorities, and the Board's local officers will keep in touch with the tuberculosis officers at the local dispensaries.
Turning to the second part of the regulations dealing with the computation of resources, the absence will be noted of any reference to the current rule which requires the Board, save in certain special circumstances, to restrict assistance or withhold it altogether from a person living in a household of a son or daughter or a parent earning more than £6 a week. That has gone, and with it has gone the last remnant of the former household means test.
Old people and others living with self-supporting relatives will have their needs assessed without reference to the income of those relatives. Only in those cases where the applicant or his wife is the householder will other members, as at present, be expected to contribute a sum never exceeding 7s. a week towards the rent and other overheads of the accommodation they occupy. This is, of course, in accordance with the Act. An improvement, however, has been made in the actual figures, in as much as a lower rate of contribution than 7s. will be taken if the earnings are less than 70s. Formerly, the lower rate applied only if the earnings fell below 55s.
Moreover, no contribution at all will be taken if the householder or his wife is blind. Local authorities at present are empowered to waive the contribution in blind cases but are not bound to do so. The regulations, therefore, in excluding all blind householders from the operation of the contribution rules, are an improvement on existing practice. Improvement is also made in the rules governing the treatment of any earnings of an applicant or his wife. At the present time a supplementary pensioner can earn up to 10s. 6d. a week without his supplementary pension being affected. In future, he will be able to retain the benefit of the first 20s. of his earnings. This brings the rule to be applied by the National Assistance Board into line with the rule applied to retirement pensions by the Ministry of National Insurance. We think, of course, that it is much easier, so far as the old age pensioners are concerned to remember one simple rule than to remember two.
There will be a special earnings rule for able bodied persons of working age who are required to register for work at the employment exchange. They will be allowed to retain the benefit of the first 10s. a week of any earnings. The new rules will go far to meeting representations that have been made by Members of the House that more encouragement should be given to retired persons and others who cannot be expected to undertake regular full-time employment, to work part-time. The 20s. disregard does not, however, apply to able bodied persons who should be doing a full-time job, as it is obviously undesirable to encourage such people to settle down on assistance supplemented by part-time earnings.
Apart from one other provision in general terms about resources not particularly mentioned, Part II of the Schedule reproduces the disregards provided for in the Act, including the improved disregards in respect of capital and trade union or friendly society sick pay. In accordance with the undertaking given to the House when the Bill was before Standing Committee, the power given in the general provision will be used to disregard the first 10s. 6d. of the aggregate of any voluntary payments of a charitable or benevolent character, subject, of course, to the usual 20s. limit where there are other resources disregarded. Special mention should be made of the very important clause which enables the Board's officers where there are special circumstances to adjust the amount calculated under the various rules. This is an essential provision of any regulations for determining need. It would be impossible to devise regulations which would meet the infinite variety of human circumstances, and if the Board's administration is to be flexible and adaptable, as it should be, and as it has proved in the past, some such power of local adjustment must be given.
If the regulations now before the House are approved, they will come into effect, as already stated, on 5th July. All supplementary pensions and unemployment allowances then in payment, together with allowances now paid by local authorities, will be reviewed in the light of the new scales and rules, so that any increases can be put into payment as soon as possible after that date. I am sure the House will appreciate that this is a very heavy task, because it involves the review of some 800,000 cases. It is hoped that the majority of pensioners and others will get the increase from 5th July, but the whole review will in any case be completed within two months of that date, existing payments being continued pending review so that there will be no gap.
The House, I am sure, will wish to know the cost of these improvements. At present, the combined cost to the State and to local authorities is about £30,000,000. That is the cost of supplementary pensions, unemployment assistance, blind domiciliary assistance, outdoor relief and tuberculosis treatment allowances on the present rates, though this figure would fall on 5th July to something like £28,000,000, when insurance benefits, particularly sickness benefits, are increased. The additional cost to the community of substituting the new standards now proposed will be of the order of £9,000,000 a year, that is to say, without allowing anything for a probable increase in the numbers applying for assistance. The whole cost in future will, of course, come from the Exchequer.
It is suggested that the draft regulations provide a fair and humane code of state assistance according to need. The scales of requirements allow an appreciable margin over bare subsistence, since it is desired that no one should be denied a reasonable standard of living. The means test has been freed of its worst features, which made the Poor Law so unpopular in earlier days, and the disregards and the rules about capital leave no room for the charge so often made in the past that thrift is being penalised. The draft regulation's as a whole are accordingly commended to the House in the confident expectation that their provisions will be made welcome.
We are deeply interested in the scales which are now laid before the House and we are much indebted to the Parliamentary Secretary for his painstaking and clear elucidation of them. I might say, as a personal matter, that it is an odd coincidence that it falls to the lot of two Lanarkians to review these Regulations—one submitting them and the other from the Opposition examining them, especially as the hon. Gentleman sits for the constituency which I myself sat for in a previous Parliament. My interest is greater since I myself had a certain amount to do with the founding of the whole scheme of supplementary pensions and the enlarging of the work of the Assistance Board, which has now assumed a permanent place in our social services.
I think the keynote of the whole matter was struck by the Parliamentary Secretary when he said that it is impossible to devise regulations which will cover the infinite variety of human need, and that therefore some form of relieving authority seemed to be an indispensable feature of the social services. I do not think it is possible to make fixed pension scales adequate to cover the innumerable cases which require relief in our modern communities, although it is obviously desirable that as many as possible should be covered by what I might call the automatic workings of a pensions scheme, and that, relatively speaking, a smaller number should be left to the individual examination which is necessary under schemes such as this.
The numbers, of course, are still large. Paragraph 17, I think, gives us the gist of the matter, pointing out that about 550,000 persons are receiving, either for themselves or for themselves and their dependants—that is to say that it covers a still larger number—unemployment assistance or supplementary pensions from the Assistance Board. It is, therefore, a matter of great importance to a large class of the community, and it is very desirable that fair conclusions should be reached. It is also very desirable that, as far as possible, these documents should be self-explanatory.
Therefore, I wonder if the Minister could give attention to the rather lengthy explanatory note at the end of the draft, which says that these regulations are made to comply with the provisions of Section (5) of the National Assistance Act, and in accordance with the special procedure laid down under Section (6) of that Act. I wonder whether, perhaps, it would be desirable to expand this a little, either in this draft or in future drafts, because I think we should a void, as far as possible, legislation by reference in these matters, since these documents often have to be reviewed, and are certainly often studied, by those who have not the opportunity of referring to the Sections of the Act in question.
The Regulations arise out of the Act which was recently passed by the House and which in Committee had the remarkable experience, as far as I remember, of having only one Division. It was an occasion upon which the whole House first, and subsequently the whole Committee, addressed itself single-heartedly to the task of making a good job of the Act upon which these regulations were to be founded and showed a singular amount of unanimity of purpose. I wonder, however, whether the figures which have been given today bear out, in all respects, the contention advanced by the Minister. As far as I have been able to ascertain from a study of these admittedly complicated scales, people with, let us say, three children who are fairly young—say 11, 7, and 4 years of age—would be given £3 7s., plus their rent, under National Assistance; but if they were on sickness benefit they would receive only £2 19s. 6d. I should like to ask the Minister whether he can confirm, or possibly controvert, these figures. I am simply anxious to know.
There is no dispute between us. I understood the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to ask how we arrived at these figures. First, there are insurance benefit rates; and then there are assistance scales, and the difference between the two will be covered by supplementation if the applicant applies for assistance.
The right hon. Gentleman is contending that the actual sickness benefit is below the rates of assistance, and it shows the discrepancy in the standards of living on which the Minister was commenting to the House. Furthermore, the whole question of supplementation, of course, will have to be governed very largely by the local flexibility and adjustment of which the Parliamentary Secretary spoke, because the danger, if I may say so, about this great uniform scale applying all over the country is that, first of all, there are the "pockets" here and there. The Parliamentary Secretary mentioned local authorities and said that in 184 cases the scales would be better and that, on balance, they would be lower in some respects, but the Board was given discretion to pay up to the higher scales in the case of local authorities which had previously given better conditions. It is a provision which I myself introduced in the Act of 1940 that for the person responsible there should be a continuance of the higher scales; and he will correct me if I am wrong in saying this, but I believe it was a feature of one of the earlier schemes of unemployment assistance.
It is a highly desirable thing that the persons concerned should continue to receive at the rates at which they are accustomed to receive, because it is difficult to explain adjustments of the scales. The fact that these scales varied in certain places showed that a certain amount of variety was inherent in our system and the present scales are, perhaps, a little late in being introduced. The whole nation is to move as one in this matter. The bringing of these things into co-relation with the whole pension system of the country may delay the adjustment of these particular reliefs which, by the very nature of the cases, must apply to individuals rather than to classes.
The explanatory note mentions that the rise is, to some extent, due to the rise in the cost of living. That squares with the information which I, myself, have received. If it had been solely a matter of the assistance dealing with the supplementary pension, an increase would have had to be made sooner because of the rise in the cost of living since the last determination of these scales. The flexibility to which the Parliamentary Secretary referred will, and must be, the keynote of the whole approach. The new provisions as to the disregards also follow to some extent the rise in the cost of living. The sums which are mentioned now are, in fact, not quite so much greater than the previous sums as seems on the face of it to be the case. They are to some extent governed by the fact that actually there has been a decline in the purchasing power of money since these matters were last considered.
I welcome the special provisions which have been made to bring the tuberculosis and blind persons' pensions within the sweep of this general scheme. Some of my hon. Friends who have special knowledge of the position of blind persons, will wish to comment further on those matters. I, myself, am more particularly interested in the provisions for tuberculosis. The war-time scheme for a special allowance for people suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis was most valuable, but there was harshness in the scheme when it had to be explained clearly that it was only to be given to those who had no chance of recovery. That is a very grim thing indeed, because nothing is more calculated to injure the health of a person suffering from tuberculosis than the statement—and it may often be a mistaken statement—that in the opinion of the authorities the person suffering is not likely to recover. That provision has been modified. This general provision for extra payment for those suffering from tuberculosis will in my view be likely to lead more quickly to improvement in the statistics for that disease than more ambitious schemes of medical treatment or new drugs, however attractive they may seem. Very often the old fashioned remedies of food and fresh air are much more satisfactory in dealing with this illness, and if provision can be made for that it is much better and gives the patient a very much better chance of ultimate recovery.
The provisions which are now proposed deal with a very difficult problem, that of the people who fall outside carefully constructed schemes. In all these matters the balance is very difficult to strike. The Parliamentary Secretary mentioned that in the case of able-bodied persons, for instance, the disregards which were allowed for older people or people who I understand—
That comes rather badly, if I may say so, from an hon. Member who belongs to the same profession as myself, and whose first care must obviously be the welfare of the sick and the aged. He should not desire to terminate the proceedings and send the House home before it has done its work.
These are matters which it would be very wrong of us to try to pass too quickly. It may be that I am speaking more slowly than usual, though I am often blamed for speaking too fast rather than too slow. If I am speaking slowly now it is that I am speaking under a grave sense of responsibility, because what we say tonight will be the subject of keen and anxious study by a great many people to whom it represents perhaps the whole difference between happiness and unhappiness in what remains to them of their lives.
I say that the striking of a balance in these matters is difficult and the Minister himself referred to it more than once when the Bill was passing through Committee upstairs. There are marginal cases which will always prove a great problem to those who have the responsibility of administering the scheme. The marginal cases which have been a problem ever since the days of the Webbs will certainly not disappear in the present year of grace While admitting that marginal cases may well exist and prove obdurate and stubborn, we yet realise that our people as a whole are anxious to do well and are anxious to co-operate with the authorities in these matters. We realise, too, that disciplinary measures which are sometimes harsh and unpleasant have to be taken—but they will be regarded by the community as a necessary part of carrying through great schemes such as our social services and not as if they were some specially harsh and unnecessary application of bureaucracy.
I am sure the Minister will be glad of the support of the House as a whole in these matters because these are difficult questions and they might very easily rise in particular cases to a level which would actually injure instead of helping the cause of those whom I am sure the House sincerely wishes to improve and benefit.
I want to make only two points about the regulations. Fortunately or unfortunately, this House must either accept or reject them. We cannot move any Amendments to them and it would be easier for us if we could change them. To my mind, they do not go far enough. They go a long way towards helping some unfortunate people in the country who have been waiting for some improvement in their economic conditions since 1943. Since 1943, when the last regulations were brought before this House, there has been a considerable change in the cost of living figure. Were one to examine the scales of pay in the regulations now before the House and the relation they bear to the increased cost of living, one could make out a good case for improving the amount of money payable under these regulations.
No one will disagree with the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) in saying that there should be greater clarity in these regulations. We have tried from time to time to get some simplicity into regulations which have to be operated for and understood by the man-in-the-street, but here we have regulations many aspects of which it is difficult to understand. I want to ask the Minister, for example, if he will explain what is meant by paragraph 9 of page 6 of the Regulations:
In computing the available resources of a person there shall be taken into account any resources not particularly mentioned in this Part of this Schedule reduced by such amount (if any) as is reasonable having regard to all the circumstances of the case.
You quote that to an old-age pensioner or to a man who has been out of work for 186 days and he will then turn to you and tell you where to go.
I think this paragraph, and indeed, the Regulations, could be simplified in order that the man-in-the-street could understand them. From time to time I have tried to impress that upon that Department. The last deputation I had to the National Assistance Board was of the Old Age Pensioners' Association on 3rd March, 1948, and I then stressed the importance of simplifying the regulations so that these old people, nearing the end of their lives, can understand them.
The next point I want to make was stressed in the Committee stage, when the Bill was before Standing Committee C upstairs, and is that of the importance of the Department insisting that Assistance Board Area officers should exercise their discretionary powers as generously as possible. Our trouble is that we cannot get the Area officers in various parts of the country to exercise the discretionary powers in a generous way. The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans), the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson) and myself stressed the point when discussion took place on Schedule 2 of the Act, and suggested that if the Minister would not agree to the specification of an amount the discretionary powers should be exercised as generously as possible. It would be all right with me, all right with the House, and, I am certain, all right with the people of the country if the Minister himself had to exercise the discretionary powers. We should then have a human approach to this problem. But somehow or other, in some mysterious way, we get Assistance Board officers—thank God they are not all alike—who approach this question with what is called the Poor Law mind; they still have the Poor Law complex. We, as a Government, have abolished the Poor Law system. We now have to abolish Poor Law conditions. These regulations will help in that direction. Might I recall what the Minister for National Insurance said when Schedule 2 was under discussion? He gave expression to these words:
We have given very serious consideration to this Schedule, which contains the proposed disregards under the new scheme of assistance. The Committee will realize, of course, that this assistance scheme is part of our general plan of social security. It stands behind the other schemes, and will be available to all those not covered by the insurance scheme generally. It will also have the function of providing supplementary assistance to the benefits provided under the scheme itself."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 11th February, 1948; C. 420.]
We fully agreed with the sentiments expressed by the Minister of National Insurance on that occasion. As the discussion went on, we again stressed the importance of these discretionary powers being fully used as we thought they should be used and as we desire they should be used, generously and humanely. This is what he said in response to our plea:
I have stressed upon the Boards their duties in this field, quite apart from disregard. I believe we are making a good Bill, but however good we make it there will be circumstances calling for consideration over and above any kind of scale of disregard which we lay down. The wise and full use of discretionary powers will be the acid test of the administration of this scheme."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 11th February, 1948; c. 431.]
If the Assistance Board's officers throughout the country fail to administer this scheme as generously and wisely as this House intends, the scheme will fail. It will fail if from time to time we have reports of a parsimonious policy being pursued by the Public Assistance Board.
There is one great feature connected with these regulations which I welcome, not that I desire to take advantage of it unless there is cause to, but the Assistance Board will now be subject to questioning about its administration on the Floor of the House. Never before has that happened. I therefore appeal to the Minister—I appeal through the medium of the columns of HANSARD—for this scheme to be administered as generously as possible by the Assistance Board. Be it remembered that these regulations will apply to the poorest of the poor in our country who have been waiting long months and years for some improvement in their economic standard of life.
This subject of human need is, I am sure, not one for party controversy, but if I heard the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) aright, he was claiming a little too much. He said it was his party which had removed the Poor Law and the means test. Without being unduly controversial, I want to place on record that that is a travesty of the facts. The whole process of removing the Poor Law started eight or 10 years before the last war broke out. The process of removing the means test started—
I hate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but surely he will recall at least that the first time that pensions were mentioned in relation to assistance for the poor people of this country was in the year 1860, and that nothing was done from 1860 until 1908?
I do not want to be contentious. Of course, my party was not in power in all the years which have been mentioned but that is quite by the way. I am talking about modern times. It was Harry Betterton, now Lord Rushcliffe, who first took the war pension out of the means test when he accepted an Amendment of mine in the House some years ago. Mr. Neville Chamberlain took the thing a stage further. In one sentence, I would say that the process of removing the stigma of the old Poor Law and getting rid of the means test has been a long one in which all parties have taken a share. I did not rise to raise that point; it came to my mind because of what the hon. Member said.
I want to ask the Minister a few questions. I attended a committee which he convened of persons interested in the welfare of the blind in the early stages of his preparation of the Act, and I should like to praise him and thank him for having consulted those concerned on many occasions since. He has done his best to secure their advice and help. It would not be right to say that he has wholly met the requests they have made to him, because what they asked him to do was to establish a disability pension for blind persons. They thought that sounder and better. The fact remains that, within the limits imposed by his whole scheme, the Minister has done what he could with regard to the allowances to be paid to unemployable blind persons.
I want to ask one or two questions to make quite sure about it. It has been admitted that in the cases of 30-odd local authorities the payments which will in future be made to blind persons will be less than they are at present. We have an assurance that the individual blind person will continue to get the payments he is now getting. If I have put that wrongly I hope the Minister will correct me.
The reason I want to be clear about this is that I have been asked to represent this point to the Minister. I was asked to meet a body of blind persons under the auspices of the National League of the Blind—a trade union, and an organisation friendly to the right hon. Gentleman—in Barrow-in-Furness. That is the constituency next to mine, but the committee represented the blind persons in my constituency too. They asked me to represent to the Minister that no blind person should receive less under this Act than he got before. I did represent that to the Minister when he met us, and I want to be clear that I understood the Parliamentary Secretary rightly when he said that, although the rates would be lower in Barrow-in-Furness in future—I take that as example because it is the one I have been connected with—nevertheless, no blind person there will individually get less on 6th July than on 5th July.
I am obliged to the hon. Lady for answering for the Minister, but with all respect I would prefer the authority of the Minister's explanation.
I go on to another point regarding ex-Service men. Some time back, in the twenties, we had a Determination of Needs Act, the first in which disregards were introduced. That was in Mr. Baldwin's Administration in 1924–29. The then Minister of Labour, now Lord Rushcliffe, who piloted the Bill through the House, introduced a £1 a week disregard of a man's disability pension. That is continued in this Act. It is hard to understand the details of the Act and the Regulations, and I should like an assurance that it is continued in no less generous terms.
A new item has been introduced among the disregards which I greatly welcome, and which I fostered at an earlier stage, that is the 10s. a week which may be disregarded if it is a gift from a charitable fund to a person in need. There is, however, a limitation that the total of all disregards must not exceed 20s. a week. If the British Legion seeks to help a man who has lost one leg and who is receiving £1 a week pension, when his £1 has been disregarded the 10s. given by the British Legion cannot then be disregarded, and the British Legion's proposed gift is therefore negatived and worthless. Does that not follow, and might it not indirectly impose a means test upon those ex-Service men, which would prevent them from getting the benefit which hitherto they may have had from their societies? In fact, the British Legion does pay sums of money of this kind, and has done so for the last 10 or 15 years; and they have been very widely disregarded by the local assistance authorities. I should like to know whether I have interpreted that rightly or not.
Those are the only points I wish to raise, and I should be very obliged if the Minister would answer them. With regard to blind people, I should like to say that, though it is regretted that it was not found possible to introduce the disability pensions payable solely on ground of blindness, the Minister, to my knowledge, has done his best within the terms of the brief that was given him to make this Act as agreeable as possible to the blind world.
I am very happy to follow the hon. Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser), because I, too, want to make a few observations on, and ask a few questions about, the subject of blind welfare. I have been in touch with some of the national organisations interested in this matter, and, on the whole, I have to say that they regard the provisions in the draft regulations, with certain reservations, as humane and generous, and we can only hope that the regulations will be interpreted, as the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) has said, in the spirit in which they were stated by the Minister in his admirable introduction of the subject on the Committee stage of the Bill.
It is true that the assistance grants in the regulations fall short to a certain extent of the best domiciliary assistance grants given by local authorities in the past, but, on the whole, taking the average for the country, they will prove to the blind of the country a very considerable increase in income, and in ability to obtain the amenities they so much need. The Minister has stated that there will be no loss of income for those already enjoying certain standards in domiciliary assistance. I should like to ask the Minister when this non-detriment provision will take effect. Will it take effect from the date of the laying of the regulations on 28th May, or from the date of the publication of the Bill last year? I ask that because we know that certain local authorities have increased their domiciliary grants during that period.
With regard to paragraph 29 of the Explanatory Memorandum, which applies to blind residents in homes maintained by a voluntary organisation as the agent for the local authority, or in national homes conducted by a national organisation which takes blind people from all parts of the country, I should like to know whether the allowance for personal expenses, greater than that proposed in the draft regulations will be continued? That is to say, will the non-detriment clause have effect there? In those homes there is granted to blind persons a considerable amount in excess of the 5s. plus the 26s. they will draw in assistance for the 21s. which will be charged to them for their maintenance there.
The new regulations—and, for that matter, the Act itself—make no provision for disregarding any proportion of sickness benefit. That disregard has been enjoyed by the blind from the early thirties, and I cannot see why the Board should discontinue it. The omission is deliberate. The Minister might argue that he cannot include in the regulations something which is not mentioned in the Act. If that is the constitutional position, then I wish to press him for an assurance that the local pension officers of the Board will use their discretionary power to disregard sickness benefit when assessing a blind person's means. These discretionary powers have been emphasised by the Parliamentary Secretary in introducing the regulations and by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman from the Opposition Front Bench.
It is also clear from the Minister's statement in Committee that while the receipt of National Health Insurance disablement payments will not be affected under the non-determination provision, those in future receiving such benefit will have it taken into account by the National Assistance Board. We are of opinion that the disregard of 10s. 6d. should continue. The Minister's policy is anomalous, for while refusing to disregard sickness payment, he will disregard £I of the payment in respect of industrial injury. Under this arrangement, two persons with the same industrial disease will have payment made on two entirely different standards. A person blinded by an industrial accident, although paying the same contributions as a person who is blind from some congenital disease, like optic atrophy, would qualify for an attendance allowance or unemployed supplementary under the industrial injury provisions.
One other point applies particularly to Scotland. In Scotland, the Scottish Workshops for the Blind gave their members on retirement at the age of 60 a grant of 50 per cent. of their minimum earnings. Hitherto this pension was entirely disregarded in assessing the means of a blind person for domiciliary assistance by local authorities. Under the new regulations this pension will be regarded as retirement pay or grant from a voluntary source, but only 10s. 6d. will be disregarded. This is looked upon as a very retrogressive step and has given rise to considerable disappointment. I hope the Minister will be able to assure us that some alleviation will be made in that respect.
Finally, I would like to welcome these regulations. The blind community welcome them and those of us who have been associated with and have worked for the blind join in that welcome. I hope this grave disability from which the blind suffer will be somewhat alleviated by the knowledge that they will have social security.
I should first like to invite the Minister's attention to the point made by the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown), who said that, in his understanding of the matter, it would in future be possible for the administration of the scales laid down in these regulations to be brought up in Parliamentary Questions upon the Floor of the House. It is clear that nothing in these -regulations can affect that position. The right to ask Questions arises out of the Act which is now on the statute book, and so far as I can understand, nothing has happened to change the legal position as it was laid down when the Unemployment Assistance Board was originally set up. But in view of the statement that has been made, it is important and desirable that the Minister should make his view of the position quite clear.
There has been no change. Matters of detail cannot be raised, but matters of principle can. These scales have been worked out by the Board, and we can regard the Board as the most experienced administrators of this branch of assistance in the country. I think that any hon. Member who set out to criticise these scales in detail would be a rash man. The fact that the Minister and the Government are making themselves responsible for putting these regulations and these scales before the House, is an additional reason for assuming that, broadly speaking, they meet the requirements of the Act under which they are made. I, therefore, do not propose to criticise any of the provisions of these scales.
It is, however, well worth while to draw attention to two important points which arise thereunder. I ventured to interrupt the Parliamentary Secretary when he was introducing these regulations when I thought that he passed over, without sufficient explanation, the change of policy which is taking place where the Board is proposing that for the future, there shall be one single scale of national assistance, in place of the two different scales which have applied in unemployment assistance and supplementary pensions. When so great a change as that is being made, there ought to be an explanation of the old system and a justification of the new.
As I understand the reasoning in the past, was that when someone had ceased to be employed, and was never again going to draw a full week's wages, it was considered that the supplementation of pension would require to be on a higher scale than in the case of someone who was still capable of working and had every hope and expectation of returning to work. That, I believe, was the reason why the scale of unemployment assistance was lower than the supplementary pension. But now that is being abandoned and the same scale of supplementation is going to apply in both cases. When I ask for an explanation upon that point, I do so not solely because the expenditure of public money has to be justified, although I am not ashamed to put forward that argument.
The main reason I ask is that one of our greatest difficulties, when we receive letters of complaint from constituents, is that these constituents always point to someone who has apparently received better treatment. It is extremely difficult to convince the ordinary constituent that every claim which he or she puts forward has to be justified upon its own case, and that to point to someone whose case appears to be parallel but probably is not, for reasons which neither the correspondent nor the hon. Member knows, is not a real argument which one can put forward. Therefore, it is very important, when this single scale is being introduced to deal with people who fall into two entirely different categories, and when they are going to be treated for the first time in the same way, that we should have an authoritative explanation of why the two scales have now been brought into one.
The second and perhaps the more important point which arises under these scales is the very close similarity of the totals to be paid for uncovenanted assistance and for insurance benefits under the National Insurance Act, 1946. I am not going into details of scales which, for obvious reasons, are not strictly comparable, but in the case of the married couple the difference is that between 40s. and 42s., and for a single adult it is the difference between 24s. and 26s. That manifestly, is only a small difference. The conception when the system was first introduced in the Unemployment Act, 1935, was that there were to be three tiers of people in receipt of special assistance; that is, of some assistance other than wages. The person entitled to covenanted benefit under the Insurance Act was the first; then there was the Assistance Board set up to deal with others, including those who had exhausted their right to benefit; and there was the assistance from the local authority which was, more or less, in the position of a net with a smaller mesh designed to catch those who had fallen through the nets at higher level.
That has been done away with, and under the present scheme there are two nets, one for those in receipt of insurance benefit, and one for those who, in future, are to receive these scales of benefit from the National Assistance Board. What I am pointing out to the Minister is that there is only small financial difference between the standard insurance benefits which the person is entitled to receive if he is out of employment for a short time, and the assistance provided under these scales. If we take further into account the question of rent, we find that assistance will be higher than insurance benefit. Under these scales there is to be supplementation by the amount of rent payable in any particular district, and almost everywhere that will be more than 2s.
Therefore, what those who have no other source of income will be entitled to is likely to come to more than that which they are entitled to of right under the insurance scheme. In the past, it has always been the case that the scales of assistance provided for might, in many cases and especially for those with large families, amount to a good deal more than the standard benefit which was payable. But owing to the operation of the means test and its various modified applications under different Acts of Parliament, in the majority of cases it did not appear to be worth while for someone entitled, as of right, to insurance under this scheme to ask for supplementation from the Board in accordance with the scales for which we provided.
The gradual elimination of the means test, which is a matter of such unqualified satisfaction to hon. Gentlemen opposite, has brought about this change. Now the financial difference between the standard benefit to which an insured person is entitled is not, from a practical point of view, very different from the assistance to which he or she is entitled under these scales. In a great many cases, the persons in receipt of standard benefit will actually have other sources of income and, therefore, they will not be tempted to make an application. In other cases, the difference between the two will be so small as to make them consider it not worth while to make the application for supplementation.
Here I would invite the Minister's attention to a curious anomaly that has arisen. There is, in fact, so little difference between the assistance that the uninsured is entitled to under these scales and the standard benefit to which someone is entitled who is within the scope of unemployment insurance, that I am not sure it does not point to one of the most serious defects in our economic system. The right hon. Gentleman knows that the present rates of contribution are extremely high, and that those at the bottom of the income levels are going to find the weekly contribution burdensome to bear. He has done the best he can on a sound actuarial basis to put the rates of unemployment benefit as high as possible. Yet in spite of that fact if these scales are, as I firmly believe they are, only approximately what is necessary to prevent a person from falling into want, it means that even the scheme of unemployment and health insurance, which was piloted through this House only last year, does not remove the insured person from fear of want.
I am not going to make any criticism and I am not suggesting any change in the scales, but I draw the House's attention to what is a serious and unfortunate fact—that when this House approaches the problem of unemployment from two entirely different angles, it arrives at a very small difference. When it asks a man or a woman to make a substantial contribution from his or her weekly earnings and calculates on an actuarial basis what is the maximum unemployment benefit that can be paid, that figure does not amount to anything very different from what we are prepared to pay out of the National Exchequer in order to prevent a man in similar circumstances, who for one reason or another is not insured, from falling into want.
We are discussing these scales tonight, and we shall accept them, but it would be a good thing if the Minister, who is responsible to Parliament for both these entirely different basis of payment on an actuarial basis, one of which rests upon an insurance scheme and the other upon need, would tell us whether he does not feel some anxiety that the two scales are so very close to each other. The addition of rent, which is additional to these scales, in most cases gives someone who claims assistance more than an insured man draws as unemployment benefit.
In spite of the fact that we have actually done away with the means test, these scales are considerably better than the scales paid to people in receipt of assistance in the past. There are just two points I should like the Minister to answer. The first is the question of the type of form that officers of the Assistance Board will ask certain people to fill in. Is it the intention completely to dispense with the present type of form which asks for so many details and to apply an entirely new form because of the different circumstances suggested in the recommended scales? For instance, there is laid down in Schedule 1 the detailed amounts to be paid to an individual between certain ages. If he is a person resident in a household and is completely crippled and unable to maintain himself, or if he is a mental defective unable to maintain himself, I do not think that all the questions that are now on the forms, and to which many people take strong objection, should have to be answered. That is because the payment is made to that person not in relation to the family income at all, but in relation to his being unable to maintain himself at all.
We ought, therefore, to be able to dispense with a number of the detailed questions that are now being put. I suggest to the Minister that between now and 5th July he or his Department should look very carefully at the forms in operation at the moment. I think he will discover that those to be used after 5th July could be couched in much simpler terms and need not ask for the antecedents of the people to whom I have referred. This is an important matter because the type of questions now being asked will no longer be necessary when we have new scales laid down under different circumstances. Such questions would be very wrong where the person is a crippled child over 16 years of age with no income of any sort, and also where the amount granted under the Regulations if the person is 18 or over would automatically be 17s. Ed. Because that person had no income, I do not see any reason to want to know the income from the rest of the resident family. On the form at the moment that information is asked for and I cannot see why the Department wants to know the income coming from the rest of the family because under these regulations as I read them the Board cannot take into account the income coming into a family at all. I hope the least possible embarrassment will be caused to those people who make application in the details asked for in filling in the forms of application for assistance.
I hope the Minister will impress upon those people who will continue to administer the new regulations that an entirely new viewpoint has to be taken. I have had some very distressing cases—some of which I have had to refer to the Assistance Board in London—in which the attitude adopted by some of the officials in Liverpool has in no way been satisfactory, and has had to be reversed on instructions from the Assistance Board Chairman in London.
I hope the Minister will see particularly that definite instructions are given to those officers who will continue to administer the new set of regulations that they must adopt the attitude that the people who apply for assistance do so not because they want something for nothing, but because they are desperately in need, and the Assistance Board is their only source of help. I have had long and tragic experience in the past of people who were completely destitute. I remember in 1931 a statement by the then leader of the Conservative Party that is a week was enough to keep a child on. That date is not very far distant, but we have now got away from that point of view.
The thing with which I am most concerned is the method of administration—the approach made to the people who will not be entitled to benefit under any other regulation and who will have to make application for assistance to the Assistance Board. If an officer subjects old people—and old people in need—to the treatment to which some have been put by officers of the Assistance Board, it is the duty of the Minister to see that such an officer is removed from the possibility of dealing with people in the way in which some Liverpool officers of the Assistance Board have been allowed to deal with destitute people who have applied for assistance. I welcome these scales not because they are sufficient but because they are a tremendous step forward in relieving some of the disadvantages and difficulties which, up to the moment, have never been relieved by public assistance committees and relieving officers.
I have one or two general observations to make. I can remember that many members on this side of the House, when they were sitting on the other side, could not find language strong enough to condemn the means test as an abomination. The Parliamentary Secretary now tells us that the means test has been deprived of its worst features. But it is an evil, ugly thing however it is trimmed. "You can polish the horns of the devil but you don't make him a saint." The Government should have taken an opportunity of this kind to put a complete end to the means test and to make allowances for the people of this country which would have removed any possible cause of fear or insecurity. However, if we say that, the Opposition will say that it is public money and that we must not hand it out indiscriminately.
I ask the Minister to remember that we have just finished the Gas Bill, as a result of which people will become unemployed through the Government taking over the industry. They will become redundant. Are the allowances in these regulations to be paid to them? No. The Opposition insisted that amounts should be paid to them which would maintain their normal standard of life without any question of any kind as to their means. That is happening under the Gas Bill; why cannot that apply when other industries are taken over or closed down? Why can we give full maintenance to one group and not to others?
I know the work the Minister has done in connection with the Act and these regulations, and I want to draw his attention to this. A man with a wife and three children is entitled to 67s. a week. According to the experts of the Oxford Institute of Statistics and the figures they produced last year, that amount means that there will be nothing whatever left for boots or clothing, or what are called the little luxuries of life, but are in fact the little necessities. I want to quote a case to the Minister in order to bring home what these figures mean. It is true that the Opposition at one time proposed 1s. or 2s. a week for children, but we have not got very far beyond the 2s. a week. If we compare the cost of living with what it was in 1931, we have not made very much progress.
I draw the Minister's attention to a case in the papers the other day. On 9th and 10th June the newspapers reported the case of a Mrs. Setter who appeared on a charge of forging a cheque, having changed it from £1 to £2. She was separated from her husband and had a maintenance order of £1 a week for herself and three children, and the rest from the P.A.C. Her total income was £3 2s. She paid 12s. rent, leaving her with £2 10s. She said:
When I have paid rent, coal, gas and food for the children and myself, I have 2s. 1d. left.
The judge sentenced her to one day's imprisonment, which meant her immediate release, and said:
We have listened to a most terrible story of a good mother struggling against appalling adversity.
Under these regulations, a mother with three children will receive £3 3s., 1s. more than Mrs. Setter—and of whom the judge said those words. Taking into consideration the value of the £ and the shilling, the rates under these regulations will mean that good mothers and good fathers will be continuing the terrible struggle against adversity. I hope it will not be long before these rates and the rates of national insurance are raised to an entirely different level.
I find myself in agreement with the hon. Lady the Member for Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mrs. Braddock) when she talks about a humane attitude in the administration of these regulations. I hope that the Minister will pay particular attention to that. The fact that the unemployment assistance and non-contributory pensions are now being merged will mean that a certain amount of voluntary work which has been done very humanely in a friendly atmosphere will be replaced by official action. There is not the slightest reason why that official should not treat cases in exactly the same way, but I think there will have to be a certain amount of guidance from the Department to attain that end. I am a little worried about this levelling of unemployment assistance and the non-contributory pensions. I have taken these regulations to my constituency, and I am informed that to certain non-contributory pensioners they will mean a decrease in what they are now receiving. We have had an assurance tonight that that will not happen because some regulation—I cannot find which one—will—
Supplementary pensions have been paid since 1940 by the Board. These new scales will replace the existing supplementary pensions. Every pensioner will then be better off. He cannot be worse off. The present scales, for example, are 20s. for a single person and 35s. for a man and wife; the new scales are 24s. and 40s.
That is the first point I wanted to make, and I have got the assurance I wanted on that. Now I want the Minister to consider the question of capital, and how it is regarded. The House should realise that today these old people are getting only 3 per cent. on their investments. If we take the example of someone with £300 invested, he is only getting an income of £9. Under these regulations there will be deducted 5s. a week. It would not be proper for me to complain that the regulations do not deal with the point, because the error, as I see it, is in the Schedule to the Act and not in the regulations; but I think it would be fair to ask the Minister to look at this point, and if interest rates continue in future as I think they will, to bring in amending legislation to deal with it.
The old people of this country have waited a long time for these regulations. It is not easy for any political party to translate idealism into the cold terms of legislation, but I believe that the whole of our social service legislation does lend itself to that. I want to ask my right hon. Friend whether, under these regulations, those persons who, having no income at all, never having applied, are either mentally deficient or physically incapable of work, and hitherto have been maintained by their families, will be entitled automatically to draw this contribution from the State. If that case is covered, it will mean a great deal to very many people who have borne a heavy burden in the days that have gone by. During the last month I have had no fewer than four parents come to me to ask whether we shall be catering for that type of person. I hope the Minister will feel able to give a satisfactory reply to that question.
I thank my hon. Friend very much. I think that that alone typifies the new spirit there is in this House. I happen to live in the Rhondda Valley, and it almost makes me beside myself when I notice that on the Tory Benches, while we are discussing regulations concerning rates for the blind, for the tuberculous, concerning supplementary rates of pensions, there are but two Tory Members present. I believe that the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson) is a National Liberal of some sort.
I have no doubt the hon. Gentleman is, or he would not be here now. I believe that by this Measure my right hon. Friend is paying tribute to the family life of this country, by destroying the household test, thus removing one of the most evil things we have known. No valley in Britain has suffered more than the Rhondda Valley from this iniquitous household test, imposed by those very people who were this very night, as the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) said, fighting for the maximum compensation for their friends in the gas industry, but who fled from this Chamber as from the plague when we turned to discuss these matters.
It is not my fault if the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is poor at arithmetic, but if he will count he will find there are more than 25 here. I could not let this occasion pass without saying, in view of the experience I have had in the Rhondda Valley, that it is enough to make a man beside himself when he views the indifference there is in this House when such regulations as these are being introduced.
I ask the Minister also whether all old age pensioners who today are receiving only the 26s. a week—or the two guineas, in the case of a man and his wife living together—will automatically be considered by the Assistance Board, or whether they must make application if they want to get the benefit of the supplementary pension. I trust that our old folk, who have waited a long time for this recognition, and who have suffered much because of the increased cost of living, will find that the terms of these regulations will make life sweeter for them all.
I do not want to follow the hon. Member for Central Cardiff (Mr. G. Thomas) into the political realms that he has explored, further than to say that it is, at least in part, the responsibility of his side of the House that the number of people here is so few, because the Government will not give time at an appropriate hour to discuss matters of such importance. The Debate on the Gas Bill ended at an appropriate hour tonight. It was only after that that we started to discuss this matter. I do not intend to pursue this point, because on the whole, throughout our discussions on the question of public assistance, we have been in harmony and I hope we shall not diverge from that.
The first observation I should like to make is in regard to tuberculosis benefits. I wonder whether the benefits now granted to induce people to get treatment at the earliest possible stages are adequate to the intention. Wage rates at the moment are sufficiently high to make it a very great hardship to drop so much and receive only the same benefits as the blind. That is a very heavy sacrifice, and I wonder whether it will be a sufficient inducement to many people to undergo early treatment, so that these benefits really achieve their object. My second point is a question to the right hon. Gentleman. I feel certain of the answer, but I would like to be reassured. In the assessment of requirements, rent is to be taken into account. I want to be quite certain that where a person is living in a house which belongs to him, the value of the rent is not calculated as part of his resources. I see that the right hon. Gentleman indicates that it is not and I am glad to have that assurance.
Great stress has been laid by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) and by the hon. Lady the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mrs. Braddock) on the manner of administering the regulations. We have had the assurance that they are going to be administered more humanely than in the past. If that is so, it should be reflected in the financial estimates, but on looking at them I see no reflection of that. Making a rapid calculation, rates have been raised by 30 per cent., and it is just by about that percentage also that the estimate of the cost is raised; so that it does not seem to me that the Treasury consider there will be any more generous or humane treatment. I know humanity is not only the actual amount paid. Part is method and part is what is paid. I do hope there will be complete sympathy between those who have to administer and those who are to benefit. That can only be done by maintaining the personal touch, and in that I hope at least there will be a saving of paper.
My last point follows on what the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) said in comparing the benefits receivable under Unemployment Insurance and Unemployment Assistance. This may seem a paradox but I think it necessary to put this view before the House. Those who benefit under Unemployment Insurance will, in general, have behind them some savings and they will be benefiting as a right. Therefore, they may be able to count on a little assistance to their Unemployment Insurance benefit from their resources. Those who are benefiting now under Unemployment Assistance are those who, in the main, have come to the end of their resources. Therefore, it is logical that the basic rate for Unemployment Assistance, paradoxical though it may seem, should be higher than the rates for Unemployment Insurance, which, after all, is a contractual, and not a stipulated benefit. I want to put that before the House because I feel that eventually that will inevitably be the case, although, of course, the regulations do stipulate that requirements and resources should be balanced one against the other, and only the balance paid.
I feel satisfied that the House and the country generally, in accepting the scales submitted under the regulations, will be satisfied as to the uniformity of the scales. Perhaps the most important part of the regulations is the uniformity. I think that feature can be emphasised, particularly in regard to payments made to those suffering from tuberculosis which is deemed to be remediable. That was always an unsatisfactory payment, in that a person who received payment for remediable tuberculosis might reach a stage at which the tuberculosis was considered to be no longer remediable, and the person reverted to the ordinary scales. That amounted to a death warrant.
Now the Minister has stated specifically that even under the local authorities where existing payments are higher than those proposed in the regulations, those higher payments will be continued. I would like to ask whether persons living in an area in which the higher payments have been made and who become claimants after 5th July will receive those higher payments. Otherwise, it may well be that two people of similar circumstances who are resident in the same area, and perhaps living next door to one another, will receive different scales because one is at present a recipient and the other will only be a recipient after 5th July. That will mean that there will be different scales. I should be obliged if the Minister would either confirm or deny that. If it is so, there will not be uniformity.
Another matter which worries me considerably is the question of widows. There is a considerable number at present who draw the widows' pension, but who, under the new regulations and under the new Act, will receive payments according to the regulation scale; but they will not be entitled to the old age pension when they reach the age of 60 unless they pay contributions under the new scheme. Therefore, one may well find that some of these widows, while being assisted under the regulations of the National Assistance Board, will have to pay, from that assist ance, contributions of, I think 3s. 4d. a week so that they may qualify for the basic pension when they reach the age of 60. Again, that is a considerable hardship because it means that if these widows want to qualify for the basic pension when they are 60, they will have to live at something like 3s. 4d. below the scale unless the National Assistance Board is authorised to pay an additional sum for the outgoings incurred in putting on stamps. In some cases I know there will be certain bonuses, but I am afraid that there will be a considerable number of widows drawing the widows' pensions who will not be entitled to the old age pension unless they can start payments after 5th July under the terms of the new Act.
The other point I would like to raise concerns the atmosphere in which this will be administered. There are new scales and a new atmosphere, and though the present scale of 24s. is to be paid to householders for all the requirements other than rents and rates, that does not preclude the fact that there are recurring expenses for domestic items and clothing. These require replacement from time to time, and it is a case of determination of need. I would not expect that a sum could be paid, added to the sum suggested in the regulations, to meet recurring expenses such as clothing, but when it comes to the assessing of the needs of aged people, I hope there will be a complete departure from the present practice.
Many hon. Members will be aware of the fact that when the inspector goes to assess the needs of the old people, the standard of the assessment is that of the very least. They have been subjected to all sorts of indignities. I hope that the new Act will not make for assessment on the basis of the barest necessities only; that it will not be a question of whether there is a spare shirt for the old man, or a spare sheet. I know that the Minister will have the widest possible interpretation placed on these things, but we may well be in the hands, not of those with the "new look" but of those with the "old look." If there is to be the success which the Minister, and indeed, the whole House wishes, there must be a completely new departure, so far as clothing and these domestic items are concerned.
I welcome the new scales, although it is matter for regret that the present pension is lagging behind the cost of living and will only meet the barest needs to our old age pensioners and other recipients. Nobody who welcomes the new rates need labour under the delusion that the old people are going to be "well off" under them. It is going to be a difficult task indeed. I have listened sometimes to the calculations concerning the devaluation of the pound, and some people have said that it may go to nine-pence; but, in any case, money value has altered very much, and the cost of vegetables, for example, for these old people has gone up. In the case of a cauliflower the price is up to two shillings or half a crown. These are the things they need to keep themselves alive. Therefore, the old age pensioners under the new scales are not going to have a good time. They will still have great difficulties in making ends meet. Because of that we may expect, when the officers are assessing the replacement of domestic requirements, particularly clothing, that they will adopt the "new look" and see that these old people get more generous treatment than ever they did in the past.
I will take only three minutes to put two specific points. I want to mention the country people who are recipients of this benefit. The Parliamentary Secretary made it plain that certain people would be called upon to register at the employment exchange, but what is to be done when there are distances of 10 and 12 miles to be covered to get to those employment exchanges? Are the people travelling those distances going to be granted their fares to cover those distances, because generally speaking they are called upon to sign on at those exchanges twice a week. Then there is the question of benefit. How are these benefits to be paid, because it cannot be expected that the people who have to travel long distances twice a week to sign on at the employment exchanges will have to go the same distance for the benefit? In some cases it means many hours from home making the journey there and back. Will they get a subsistence allowance in addition to fares? If not, what method are the Government going to adopt?
The next point I want to raise is with regard to the people in the country who are entitled to receive benefit. At present the welfare officers generally make the payments direct to their homes. Will that procedure be followed under the new regulations, or what will be the position? If the money is sent by postal order through the post, in some cases in my constituency it will means walks of four, five and six miles to cash the postal orders. How are such people going to be helped? Those are the two specific questions I want to put, and at this late hour, I content myself with them.
I must register the strongest possible protest against these most important regulations have been allowed to come on at such a late hour. I know the Minister is not responsible for that, but those who decide what time should be allotted to these regulations must have forgotten the obvious—that these regulations have a direct bearing on the saddest and most unhappy of all the people in the country. The fixing of the time has been grossly unfair, having regard to the important matter which we are called upon to deal with now.
I have a few questions I should like to put to the Minister. I must say at the outset that the Minister must expect questions from those of us who have seen and known mass unemployment in our constituencies, particularly during those years when the philanthropists now on the Opposition side of the House were in power and were determining the destiny of our people. We cannot possibly be satisfied with the scales that are laid down in these regulations. It is pure hypocrisy to suggest that people should live with the smallest amount of pleasure and be deprived of anything like material comfort, which would be the case on the figures that are shown under these regulations. I refuse to believe, as was stated from the Opposition Benches this evening, that it is presumed that these figures have been fixed by the Board. The Board are said to be the most experienced of all administrators in the country. Yet, knowing the long years of unemployment in this country, they have produced these niggardly scales—when the Minister is about to lift at this moment about £450 million from the Unemployment Fund.
I. ask the Minister to assume some measure of responsibility. I put down a Question to the Minister a few weeks ago in which I asked him whether he would not consider it proper to distribute the £450 million among the unemployed of this country, and the Minister said that that Fund would be merged in the new scheme.
I am glad to be corrected, and I know that we can bring more pressure to bear on the Exchequer not to pay in so niggardly a way. But wherever the money comes from, I hope we shall be perfectly clear that these scales do not even offer a subsistence to people who may have to live on them. I am sorry that the rent allowance regulation is so poor. It would have been much better if the Minister had left it:
where the applicant is living alone, the net rent payable, or such part thereof as is reasonable. …
What can be regarded as "reasonable" is to cover the whole of the rent. There is a great deal of dissatisfaction about the considerable lack of uniformity so far as the rent allowance is concerned. I hope the Minister will issue instructions to all area officers that since the phrase "net rent payable" is in the regulations, this is the minimum allowance he hopes will be paid under the regulations.
I know that if the discretion were left entirely in the hands of the Minister, I should have very little worry indeed; but different individuals in different parts of the country will exercise the discretionary power imposed in them according to their practice. I hope the Minister will pay more particular regard to the matter than he has done in the past: it will be necessary in some areas, as I know from experience. May I also make it clear that I appreciate every scrap of benefit that will come to the people through these regulations, and also that if I have been harsh in my criticisms, I know that the Minister will not take it personally. If it were left to him, no one would be more pleased to give real satisfaction to the people concerned than the present Minister of National Insurance.
There are some points here on which I am very confused. The Parliamentary Secretary has told us that there are roughly 200 authorities, and that of them 184 are not paying such good scales as will be paid after 5th July. That leaves 16 authorities in doubt. There are over 200 local authorities in Scotland. What does this figure of zoo mean? Surely it does not relate to all the authorities in Scotland and England?
That leaves us in this doubt: There are 16 authorities which administer public assistance and which are paying as good—and probably better—scales than are to be paid on 5th July. Where are these local authorities? Does anyone know? I tried to find out in Scotland and wrote to the welfare officer at Coat-bridge, asking him if he would send his scales, and if he would compare them with those about to be paid by the Minister. The reply which I got was that he had made repeated applications to the Ministry for the scales, but was constantly refused. He could give me only the scales being paid in my own constituency. From the Library, I got our scales and compared them. I may say that the scales given to me by the welfare officer were the scales operating in the Parliamentary Secretary's own constituency. If I were the hon. Gentleman, I would not throw my cap into the air too soon, because there are quite a lot of worrying things about this. To begin with, I find that a blind man who has a wife who possesses her sight, is now getting IOS. more than he will get after 5th July.
The hon. Member is never discourteous. If we are assured that those getting the higher scale will continue to get it, what is to happen if a man becomes blind after 5th July? Think what is going to happen if a man has a duodenal ulcer after 5th July. I find that the scales for the sick are very much lower in Lanark on and after 5th July. I find that the disregards are fewer. The disregards at present are National Health Insurance, disability pensions and retirement pensions. On and after 5th July, the disregard of National Health Insurance will go. How much of the population of Great Britain do the 16 areas represent? In the Clyde Valley alone we have half the population of Scotland. What I am now referring to applies throughout the whole of the Clyde Valley and will thus cover half the population of Scotland. If we know how many of the population the 16 authorities comprise, we shall then find how many will be worse off and how many will be better off.
I said that the disregards for the sick will be less than they were before. Mark you, we all know that the sick always got the unemployment allowances, but it will now be different. The Minister says that the man will be quite as well off and that those who have the higher grants will keep them, but that if a man has a duodenal ulcer after 5th July, he will be a much more unfortunate man than if he had it before 5th July.
The hon. Lady mentioned me particularly in view of the fact that I come from one of the Lanark Divisions. It ought to go on record that while she described the present rates of the Coat-bridge local authority as being 10s. per week more than the proposed scales, one important feature which she forgot is that the Board's scales as proposed are exclusive of rent whereas the Coatbridge scales are inclusive of rent. The other thing I would like to mention is that the Coatbridge scales, as she now mentions, were only raised round about March this year. It is important to note that.
Even including rent, it still leaves such a man at a disadvantage. We are told that the household means test has gone. No one thinks it has. Here is the position. I will give one case as an example. A man came to me last week when I was interviewing in my constituency. He had three daughters working, and because of that, he suffered a very big reduction in his own amount for his wife and himself. The girls were earning 26s., 30s. and 55s. He will still have a reduction in respect of each of those girls, only instead of 7s. for the eldest it will be 5s. and instead of 5s. for the one earning 26s. it will be 2s. 6d. He will still be subject to the family means test. I hope I shall not be considered a Parliamentary "Mona Lott" for pointing out these things and not throwing my hat into the air too soon.
There is one thing on which I violently disagree with the menfolk on the Front Bench, and that is this constant talk about uniformity. One cannot have uniformity in unemployment any more than one can have it among Socialists, who are usually the greatest individualists when one gets down to brass tacks. There are many areas, the Midlands, for example, where unemployment is 3 per cent., where people are unemployed only three weeks or six weeks, or even six months. There are other areas, like Clyde-side, where people have been unemployed for years. Here is the difference. In the case of a few months' unemployment, the household can do without new dresses, new shoes, renewals of household crockery and curtains and sheets; but when one gets into the depressed areas where unemployment has been running for months, these renewals are absolutely necessary, and the grant has to be bigger. Therefore, I am dissatisfied that there should be this uniformity, and that the depressed areas, which are carrying this longer burden of unemployment, should be treated uniformly with areas where unemployment is out-and-in. I am sorry that I have these grievances.
I shall detain the House for only a few moments while I put one question to the Minister regarding the difference between the scales for unemployment and National Health benefit and the scales set out in these regulations. It seems clear from the Act and from the regulations that, technically, a person in receipt of National Insurance benefits, either in respect of unemployment or National Health, can, under Section 4 of the Act, come to the Assistance Board for the benefit to be supplemented. I want to ask the Minister what that will mean in practice. Will the person who is entitled to the ordinary scale of unemployment benefit, which may in certain cases—say in the case of a man and wife and three children, and taking into account the rent allowance—be somewhere in the neighhourhood of 20s. less than under these regulations, be able to go as a matter of course to the Assistance Board and obtain supplementation which will make up the difference? I should like to know if that is the position, and if instructions are being given to the Assistance Board officers to implement it. This concerns a very large number of people who will await the Minister's answer with interest.
I want to direct the attention of the House to one aspect of the regulations which has attracted little attention during this discussion, that is, the effect they will have on tuberculous patients. When the Bill was recommitted to a Committee of the Whole House, I expressed the hope that the regulations would be as wide, imaginative and generous as possible. I am glad that tonight I am able to give at any rate qualified approval to the regulations. Whether they are as wide, imaginative and generous as possible can only be seen when we know to what extent the Assistance Board are going to use the discretionary powers we have given them in the National Assistance Act.
The Parliamentary Secretary referred to the fact that there had been discussions with the various associations concerned with tuberculosis. I am sorry that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) has left, because we are both on the Council of the National Association for the Prevention of Tuberculosis, and I think he would agree with me when I say that we, as an Association, have appreciated the sympathy and the courtesy that both the Ministry of Health and later the National Assistance Board have shown to the representations we have made. But the fact that they have received the representations does not necessarily mean that in every case they have acted upon them, and there are three classes of persons whose cases I should like to put to the Minister, in the hope that he can give me some assurance about them.
The Parliamentary Secretary also referred to the fact that the rates in paragraph 3 of Part I of the schedule are a material advance on the allowances which were made in the tuberculosis treatment allowances scheme administered by the Ministry of Health. That is true, and in addition, of course, the new scheme has the enormous advantage, to which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities referred, that whereas in the original scheme, if a man receiving the payment was later shown to be incurable, he was deprived of benefit and sent to public assistance, as I understand the new scheme, that system is now at an end. The incurable patient (will continue to draw the allowance. That is a remarkable achievement of the Minister of National Insurance.
In the past these men had to go to public assistance. It is their case, the case of the chronically sick, that I want first of all to raise tonight. After all, it is people who are chronically ill from tuberculosis who are, perhaps, the most tragic victims of that disease, because it is they who have so little to which to look forward, and who have very little hope of a bright future. Under the regulations the chronically sick are in a substantially inferior position to those people who suffer some loss of income if they undergo treatment for tuberculosis. The chronically sick will receive the reduced rates in paragraph 2 of part I of the schedule. I do hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to say that the National Assistance Board will exercise its discretion in the widest possible way in making up the allowances paid to those people.
The second class to which I want to refer is that of the children under 16 with tuberculous parents. As I understand the regulations, they will get the scale laid down in paragraph 2, and there will be no special allowances for young children of tuberculous parents. It is of the utmost importance that in families of this kind the children should have the highest standard of living and especially of nutrition, because that is one of the few cases in which money can, in fact, ensure success or failure in the prevention of tuberculosis. The third class to which I want to refer is, for example, that of students who are, in fact, not earning money but who have to give up work to enter a sanatorium for treatment. I should like my right hon. Friend to explain whether they will come within the terms of paragraph 3 of the schedule, and will be eligible for the higher rate of benefit.
These are three cases in which I suggest my right hon. Friend should advise the Board to exercise its discretion in a generous way. It is important to realise that tuberculosis is a great social problem as well as a medical problem, and if my right hon. Friend can do something to relieve those people from financial anxiety, of the kind to which the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities referred, he will do a great deal to alleviate the lot of the tuberculous people of this country.
It is a rather late hour, but I am very anxious to cover as many as I possibly can of the questions raised by hon. Members who have stayed to listen to the replies I have to make, and to questions raised by those hon. Members who have had to leave, for various and good reasons, I have no doubt. It is desirable, I think, that I should begin by explaining the setting and the context of these regulations. I do not complain about it—indeed, it was rather inevitable, perhaps—that almost everybody who has spoken has spoken of some particular point, and there is a danger, therefore, that these particular points will obscure the general effect of these new provisions.
On 5th July, let me remind hon. Members, this scheme starts, not separately or alone, but as part of a general system of social security. There will be a new Insurance Scheme providing benefits for all contingencies and national assistance will lie behind this scheme providing supplementation where benefits are not adequate to meet needs, or assistance for persons who do not qualify for insurance benefits. I should like hon. Members to realise that under the present provisions a working-class person who was sick for some months in the past had to go on the Poor Law. Thousands of people during the last week of the present scheme will receive rips. 6d.—taking a man, his wife and child—the following week their benefit will be 49s. 6d.
I beg my hon. Friends to realise that we are, because of the new Insurance Scheme, taking literally thousands of people out of the Poor Law completely and giving them benefit as a right with no means test at all. It is important that hon. Members should realise that we are setting a new standard. The old standard of destitution is gone. The old rules about liability are gone. Liability is confined to a husband and wife and for their children under 16. There the liability ends. Thousands of young men and women who are physically or mentally handicapped today cannot apply for any kind of assistance because of the income of their fathers. After 5th July they will be able to apply for assistance in their own right.
Let me give one more example of what can happen under the new scheme. A pensioner and his wife can have £750 of war savings, £50 in other capital, making a total of £800; they can have up to £1 a week in superannuation or other kinds of pension, and earn up to £1 a week—and all this will be completely disregarded. I ask hon. Members to compare that with the old unemployment assistance, and with the Poor Law. I think we have a right to take pride in what we are trying to do under the scheme.
I come to the point raised by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot). I have taken a note of the point raised about the Explanatory Memorandum and the desirability of expanding it when it is necessary in future to publish a draft of this nature. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman raised a point which was raised later on by the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) about insurance benefits and assistance. It is true that the margin between benefits and assistance is becoming very narrow indeed. That is inevitable. In this scheme we have tried to arrive at fair scales providing a reasonable basic income.
Following the recommendations of the Beveridge Report and the White Paper published during the war, we based our finances of the Insurance Scheme on a flat rate contribution. I have said to the House on several previous occasions that we have about reached the limit of what we can do by means of flat rate contributions and in future we shall have to give further consideration to see whether some method of financing the Insurance Scheme other than by flat rate contributions cannot be found. I know the contribution of 4s. 11d. a week is going to be a serious one. I hope, however, that when people think that they cannot afford this contribution, they will also bear in mind the benefits which they will receive after 5th July. The margin is becoming narrower and I am anxious about it, because we want to see a balanced scheme in which every part fits into the other.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) asked a question about paragraph (9). The paragraph refers to other resources. There are some resources mentioned in the regulations, but there may be other resources not mentioned, and the purpose of paragraph (9) is explained in the Explanatory Memorandum. The hon. Member for Ince also raised a question about the use of discretionary powers, as did other hon. Members. Quite frankly, our hope is that insurance benefit will cover most of those on short-time benefit and that in the main we shall need to cover by assistance only the longtime sick without an income and also that large class with varied needs and in varied circumstances outside the insurance field altogether.
We have laid down here scales which are clear to all. These scales, given as a basis, in this field of widely varying needs and circumstances, and of people afflicted in varying ways, must be administered with a wise and generous discretion by the Board. First of all, it is done by the Board's officers. But the matter does not end with them. After an officer makes his decision an applicant who feels aggrieved can appeal to the local appeal tribunal. That body will have the right to listen to his appeal, and to change the decision of the Board's officer, and to use their discretion in the matter. In the exercise of their functions, the officers and the appeal tribunals will have advisory committees, upon which men and women of wide experience in the locality will serve. They will be able to advise the officers of the Board upon the use of discretion, and upon their general administration. I think that through these committees and the appeal tribunals, and through whatever influence the Board itself can exercise, we shall be able to build up a service which will have wide discretionary powers.
I know how late the hour is, and I apologise for interrupting; but I would like to ask whether the Minister will issue explicit instructions to the tribunals. I will not ask him to answer the corollary to that question which is whether he is satisfied with the work which his tribunals have been doing all over the country.
Of course they will know where they are. I think it is far better to leave these things to the people in the localities. They will know the circumstances. It would be a profound mistake to begin this scheme, in which we want a wise and generous discretion, with the Minister issuing instructions to these people as to their discretion in the future. I am certain that it would be a complete mistake to start off from that angle.
I want to refer to the speech of the hon. Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser). He and I discussed with others the question of a handicap pension. I have a great deal of sympathy in this matter. I am thankful and grateful indeed for the generous words which the hon. Member used in saying that I had tried my best to meet the points raised by the blind, although I have not been able to do so in full. He asked about the 16 authorities which in varying ways now provide in some cases more, and in some cases about the same, benefits, and whether the scales, if rigidly applied, might lead to a reduction on 5th July. I gave the answer that those recipients of higher assistance than the new scales up to the publication of these regulations would be protected. A number of authorities in the last few months have increased their scales. To be perfectly frank, that was not playing the game. Those authorities knew perfectly well that their liability ends on 5th July. Coatbridge is one of those authorities. They have known for months past that the whole of their responsibility ends on 5th July.
It is only a few years ago that public assistance in Merthyr was costing 16s. 6d. in the That is a burden which lies on Merthyr today. We are taking over the burden of all these depressed areas. They should recognise that. We recognise that where scales were higher at the date of publication of the regulations they will stand still, so to speak, and the higher scales will be retained for existing beneficiaries. Having given that assurance, I now come to the disability pension. The hon. Member for Lonsdale raised the question of the disability pension. I confirm that what he said is true. There is in the new Act a maximum aggregate disregard of £1 He will realise quite clearly that some kind of aggregate amount had to be made and the aggregate is £1, which would apply in the case to which he has referred. The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) dealt with the question of a standstill and the disregard of sickness benefit, and both of those are questions to which I have replied. There is, then, the question of blind persons living in homes. This was also raised by the hon. Member for Lonsdale, and the answer is that if there are any—and cur information is that there are very few—who are getting more than the new scales they will, however few they are in number, retain the higher amount which they are getting.
I now come to the speech of the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) who asked why there was a single scale. There are at present two scales, one for those who are unemployed, which is at the lower rate, and the supplementary pension which is at the higher rate. In the old days unemployment benefit at a higher rate was paid for a certain period and, when that was exhausted, there was nothing left for the person but assistance. Under the new Insurance Act, unemployment benefit is paid at the standard rate for 180 days but when the standard benefit is exhausted, the claimant can appeal to a tribunal for an extension of benefit at the standard rate. That is a very important difference.
We think that persons in the unemployment field, if I may put it that way, who are now registered, are those who in the main have been unemployed for very long periods. Most of our able-bodied unemployed are short-term people, and the large proportion of those unemployed for any appreciable period of time are those who are quite disabled, and for them special provision has to be made. There are those who are suffering from pneumoconiosis, and the war disabled, among others, and we are trying to do what we can for them. We are helping them with Remploy factories and by providing light industries, but they will, it has to be admitted, not get employment in the open market. We are, therefore, designing special factories run by the State as social enterprises. Those who are likely to be registered for assistance will be long-term cases, and we have decided to have one scale instead of two.
I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, but I should be most grateful if he would assist me. The point he has raised is one of very great importance and for that reason I do want to get it quite clear. There was this Clause in the Bill, the number of which I did not mention, and my hon. Friends did not entirely agree with the line which the Minister took in Committee upstairs, but it provided for an extension of benefit for a man who was unemployed for a long time. Does this particular provision of the two kinds of supplementation being brought together mean that the basis is that this is only likely to apply, in the majority of cases, to persons who, although young enough to get back into work, are so disabled that they are brought into the same position as old age pensioners who are not likely to go back to industrial life?
The Government have provided separately for that type of person in the Assistance Act. Where possible they will be encouraged to enter a training or reception centre, which we think is a better way than revised scales. By that means we enable them to earn an independent livelihood again. I have already answered the other two points raised by the hon. Member, and I need not repeat what I have said. My hon. Friend the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mrs. Braddock) raised the question of the type of form in use by the Assistance Board. She was referring to the form which was designed to deal with the present circumstances. A new form will have to be designed for the purposes of the new Act. She again referred to the question of allowances and as I have already said something about that, I need not add anything more. The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) made a reference to a man and his wife and three children and the amount of 67s. which they would get. He made one mistake in his recital of the facts which I should like to correct. He overlooked that, in addition to the 67s., there would be a rent allowance. That is a point I wish to get in, because it makes a very big difference.
I admit I did not mention that it was plus rent. I do not think I mentioned any exact figure, for the point I was trying to make was that that sum of 67s. would not leave anything for boots and clothing.
I am not quite sure about that, but I was anxious to get the figure correct. Compared with the existing scales, 67s. is a very big improvement. The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) asked me a question about capital disregards. He was actually thinking of the non-contributory pension for those over 70. That is the old Lloyd George pension which in 1936 was brought from 5s. to 10s. There are about half a million of these pensioners, and Lord Beveridge, in his Report, recommended that we should end that 1936 Act and bring these old age pensioners into the Assistance field. Instead, as there were so few, we decided to increase the pensions from 10s. to 26s. (or 42s.) and retain the old Act for them. In about ten years the Act will become meaningless, because all should be within the ambit of the new National Insurance Scheme. I do not think it is worth disturbing these old people at present.
My point was that we were actually deducting more than some applicants were receiving. Some applicants were receiving £9 and had £13 deducted and I asked him to reconsider that aspect of the scheme.
That is under the 1936 Act. The non-contributory pensioner is entitled to ask for a supplementary pension, and if he has disregards he will get the benefit of them when the supplemention is being assessed. I hope I have made the position clear. My hon. Friend the Member for Central Cardiff (Mr. G. Thomas) asked a question about administration. Where a person is receiving a supplementary pension the adjustment to the higher rate will be made automatically, but if he is not receiving any supplementary pension he will be invited to apply.
The hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson) asked whether the new T.B. scales were not inadequate. We have removed the regulation whereby a man who was given virtually a T.B. death sentence had his allowance stopped. That was a thing we were all of us rather ashamed of and it has now gone. The whole purpose of the scheme is to give scales that will be sufficiently attractive to induce a man to give up work in time to go and seek treatment. The hon. Member thinks the new scales are not adequate; but we believe and hope that they will be. We shall watch this matter with very great care and we are in close association with the health authorities on it. If the scales and conditions do not fulfil their purpose, then me must look at them again—but for the time being we think they are adequate.
The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Mr. Hubbard) raised the question of certain anomalies. It is quite true that on 5th July there will be anomalies, for some persons in those areas where the scales are higher now, will be getting something higher and newcomers to assistance something lower. I would like the House to understand, however, that we have had a tremendous job to do and have done our best. We have had to take scales of assistance for the blind paid by 200 authorities and make one national scale of them. To have drafted scales which are better than the scales of 184 out of the 200 authorities is no mean achievement. The scales of blind assistance showed some astonishing differences, the highest paid being double those in the lowest-paid areas. There is no justification at all for a scale for blind people which gives one blind person in one place double the assistance paid in another place. In raising the scales we are raising the general level of payments to persons everywhere, including the blind. I am very grateful for the tributes that have been paid to us by the blind themselves, including a letter from the National League for the Blind thanking the Ministry for the generous and humane way in which we have approached the problem.
The hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. F. Anderson) was concerned about the payment of benefits for people in the countryside. That is a problem that has been very much in our minds and we will do our best to tackle it in the best way. The hon. Member for Coatbridge (Mrs. Mann) asked "where are the authorities"—but the 16 authorities in which the scales may be slightly higher represent only a small proportion of the total population and the recipients of assistance in those areas only a very tiny proportion of the total number of recipients throughout the country.
I think we have made a reasonably good job of this and now we can look forward to 5th July. From the very beginning I strove, in planning my work as Minister, to bring these schemes into operation on the same appointed day. I was thinking of those thousands of men and women in the country who have never been in any insurance scheme and I was anxious that they should not suffer the terrible disappointment on 5th July of being still outside insurance benefits and in the grip of the Poor Law—when I undertook this very pleasant work three years ago, I wanted to have one "appointed day" for the whole scheme—by these various Acts of Parliament, we make reasonable provision for them. Indeed, I claim that we have made far better provision than anything before, taking it as a whole, and far better provision than in any other country in the world. For these reasons, I hope the House will give unanimous approval to these schemes.
It is open to people to apply. In regard to the question of the widow who retains a pension of 10s., and will not be entitled to the old age pension of 26s. unless she contributes, the point raised is whether the Assistance Board can give assistance for the purpose of paying the insurance contribution. That would be an entirely new field. I can hold out no promise of that at all. We are making it possible to obtain benefits from the insurance schemes after very few contributions in some of these cases, and I do not think I can promise anything more at the moment.