I will, with permission, Sir, answer Questions Nos. 70 and 71 together.
Yes, Sir. The Government have been considering the position of the older war pensioners with a serious disablement—borne by most of them since the 1914–18 war—and have decided to introduce a new allowance for the war disablement pensioners who are aged 65 or over and whose assessment is 40 per cent. or more. The allowance will be at rates ranging between 5s. and 15s. a week, according to the degree of disablement.
The Government have also decided to give some further help to the most seriously disabled war pensioners. In order to do this, the existing rate for the comforts allowance will be increased from 10s. to 20s. a week. We also propose to extend eligibility for comforts allowance at the present rate of 10s. to war pensioners at present not receiving it, but in receipt of either unemployability supplement or constant attendance allowance.
The cost of all these changes will be about £1·6 million in a full year. The necessary amendments will be made in the Royal Warrants, and it is intended to bring all these improvements, full details of which I am circulating in the OFFICIAL REPORT, into operation on the first pay-day in February, 1957.
These proposals will need study, but may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is aware that the extension of these special allowances to new and wider categories of disabled men will be very widely welcomed by the British Legion, the British Legion in Scotland, the Royal Air Forces Association, St. Dunstans and other societies which have recently made representations, among other things, in this sense? May I also ask him, particularly, whether he will realise that the application of these benefits to a much larger number of seriously disabled men is a move in the right direction? Finally, could he say how many disabled ex-Service men he thinks will benefit?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the earlier part of his supplementary question.
In reply to the latter part, the allowance at age 65 for disabilities in excess of 40 per cent. will, it is calculated, affect 55,000 war pensioners. The doubling of the existing comforts allowance will benefit about 8,000, and the extension of the comforts allowance at the lower rate will benefit about 13,000.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that all members of B.L.E.S.M.A. will be grateful for the statement he has made this afternoon? As chairman of the all-party committee concerned with this question, may I thank him and his Joint Parliamentary Secretary for the consistent interest that they have always shown in the claims for the disabled men of the 1914–18 war?
On one point of clarification, may I ask my right hon. Friend this question? The totally disabled, from, say, 85 to 100 per cent. disability, will receive an additional 15s. Would I be right in assuming that by doubling the comforts claimed, that benefit would come to an additional 10s., making 25s. per man?
If the pensioner concerned were over 65 years of age, and in receipt of the existing comforts allowance—that is to say, he qualified under the present conditions for it—the increase which my hon. Friend has mentioned would be the operative increase.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's reference to my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, who has taken a great interest in this subject for many years.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that on this side of the House his announcement will be welcomed as a response to an appeal which, as he knows, has been put forward for a long time by Members in all parts of the House? May I ask whether, in announcing these reforms, he has considered the possibility of doing something similar for the industrially injured, whose provisions usually march in step with those of war pensioners?
I am much obliged to the right hon. Member for what he has said. These proposals relate to the war disabled; they are a war pensions measure, in exactly the same way as the introduction of the comforts allowance as a separate war pensions measure took place in 1951. I have no statement to make at present on any part of the National Insurance Scheme, to which, of course, the matter of industrial injuries belongs.
I have in my hand a letter dated 14th November from someone in Blackpool which tells of a man having a 60 per cent. disablement, this condition being attributable to the 1914 war; but he only got a pension from 1953. Can this man now claim to go back to 1914–18, in which war he was, in fact, injured?
I should not like to answer the hon. Member on the facts of a particular case without looking at it, as he will understand. This allowance will start to operate from February next; it will not be retrospective beyond that.
Would the Minister say whether or not this welcome increase applies to pensioners over the age of 65 whether or not they are suffering from injury sustained in the 1914–18 war, because it is possible that a pensioner may be over 65 and have incurred his war service disability later than 1918?
This applies to all war disability pensioners who satisfy the two conditions of being over 65 and an assessment in excess of 40 per cent., no matter in what war they sustained their disability.
The Minister's statement concedes a new principle, that disability becomes an increasing burden in old age. May I, speaking for all those on this side of the House who have been advocating this change to the Minister and his predecessor, thank him on behalf of all ageing ex-Service men?
The conditions, which have stood since 1951, governing the award of a comforts allowance to war pensioners who are in receipt of both the unemployability supplement and the attendance allowance and to certain other seriously injured pensioners, will be maintained; but the rate of the allowance for pensioners in these two classes will be increased from 10s. to 20s. a week in the case of other ranks and from £26 to £52 a year in the case of officers. About 8,000 pensioners will benefit from this improvement. Review will be automatic and application will not be necessary.
The new comforts allowance, at the rate of 10s. a week (£26 a year for officers), will be awarded to those seriously disabled pensioners who are receiving either the unemployability supplement or the constant attendance allowance and who do not come within the two classes now qualifying for the allowance. This extension of the allowance will benefit about 13,000 pensioners Application will not be necessary.