National Assistance

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th December 1955.

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Photo of Mr Ernest Fernyhough Mr Ernest Fernyhough , Jarrow 12:00 am, 7th December 1955

If I were the Minister, I would invite the Littlewoods people to give me a few lessons on how to pay out money quickly, and I am sure that the pensioners would be very glad.

One of the things that always disturbs me about anything of this kind is how mean and miserly we are when we are dealing with those right at the bottom of the social line—4s. and 2s. 6d. The hon. Member for Louth said we would all like to give them more but that we have to be very careful because it has to come from somewhere. Of course it has. But if it is true, as we have been told this afternoon, that there are people suffering from under-nourishment and malnutrition and who are slowly being driven to their graves because they are not getting enough, then the defence of those people is just as necessary as if they were being attacked by an enemy from abroad.

Being killed by steady starvation is just as bad as being killed by guns. Hon. Members on both sides have indicated case after case of serious, urgent need for an increase in the allowance. We should apply to the wellbeing, the safety and the health of these people the same economics that we apply to the hydrogen bomb. We say that we must have a hydrogen bomb, and nobody ever questions the cost. I say that we must have an aged population relieved from poverty, and I do not want the cost questioned. We can always find money to protect our people from the enemy abroad, but we can never find money to protect them from poverty, which kills far more than any enemy has ever killed and in a more brutal way, because it is a more lingering death.

Who are these people? Who are these 1,600,000 people who will benefit to the tune of £12½ million during the next 12 months? They are the aged, the sick, the unemployed, the cripples and the maimed. They are the defenceless section of our community. They are not the people, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) said, to whom the Chancellor needs to appeal for restraint. They are not the people who have been making it difficult for Britain to export. They are not the people who can afford to buy motor cars, television sets and washing machines.

They are the people who are living from hand to mouth, and who know constant worry and anxiety. If a wireless valve fails, or an electric lamp bulb burns out or a pair of shoes need repairing, they are faced with an economic crisis. These people live on such slender means that any out of the ordinary expenditure creates for them an economic crisis.

If we were in their circumstances, how should we spend the £2 or the 67s.? We need only look at an Answer which I received this week from the Minister of Food. I asked what was the increase in expenditure on food between 1951 and 1954. Of course, I was merely doing what the hon. Member for Louth used to try in relation to the Labour Government. He did not get the answer he wanted, but I did. The increased expenditure on food has amounted to £820 million, and of that sum £640 million is represented by increased prices.