Plight of the Aged

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th June 1959.

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12.5 p.m.

Photo of Mr Stephen Davies Mr Stephen Davies , Merthyr Tydfil

I beg to move, That this House calls upon the Government to give immediate additional financial assistance to the elderly by increasing the retirement pension and the present earnings limit, and by waiving their wireless and television licence fees; that 100 per cent. grant be given to local authorities for the next five years to build both modern old people's homes, for 30 to 60 people, and suitable housing schemes so that the elderly wherever possible be integrated with the rest of the community and for which will be provided home helps, meals on wheels, and other domiciliary and social aids at nominal rates, and that all Part III accommodation be removed from the curtilages of hospitals. I notice from the Order Paper that an Amendment has appeared—as I understand it, at the eleventh hour—to my Motion, and I am entitled to infer from that that those responsible for the Amendment and those who support the Amendment are absolutely against my Motion, which I have the pleasure, the very great pleasure, of moving this morning. I have most carefully read the Amendment for what it is worth. What is it? It is nothing other than pure rhetoric, the same vapid generalities that we have been getting from this Government and their supporters over the years, the same meaningless and, I must say, unconscionable verbiage. Why did not those who support the Amendment adopt a straightforward negative attitude to my Motion and tell me and all those hon. Gentlemen who may support me that they disagree, instead of veiling what must be a horrible sense of guilt within these rubbishy, meaningless words of the Amendment which has appeared only this morning?

It will be clear straight away that my Motion covers a much wider field than the mere demand for an increase in the pension rates for the elderly, though, of course, we make that increase our top and immediate priority. It is being realised today by more and more people and, in particular, by the medical profession and social workers up and down the country that we need something much greater than that, and the Motion is, in effect, a plea that the whole problem of the aged, the wider circumstances of their lives, shall be considered and that we should meet the social and medical as well as the economic needs of old age.

I wonder what those who are responsible for the Amendment would say about that. It is a question of improving their lives and not, as at present, perpetuating their existence. The general public would be shocked if they appreciated the conditions in which many old people live, both in their own homes and, I am sorry to say, even in some hospitals and welfare institutions. The supporters of the Amendment dare not gainsay that these elderly people are, all in all, the depressed section of the community. Let us have the grace to admit that this is a shameful fact.

I am old enough to remember a couple of generations of my people. It is to them that we owe much of what is best in our lives today. I see them in my constituency, the miners, iron and steel workers, transport, road and rail men, and others, many of whom have given 50 years of hard and creative work to the nation and, to the knowledge of all of us, in many instances have played a great part in the social, cultural and religious life of our people.

Let us have the grace to admit what a mean and unimaginative lot we must be when we think of the endless bickerings amongst us as to whether 50s. or 60s. a week is the bare, soulless rate of subsistence for those who have given so much to this generation. That is what the Amendment suggests we should still give to the aged.

How many of us realise that enforced retirement from work is a terrible experience for many, if not for most, men? As Mr. Peter Townsend has said in his splendid book "The Family Life of Old People": I have found that retirement from work is a tragedy for most men. It alters their lives, lowers their prestige, thrusts them into poverty or near poverty, cuts them off from the friendships and associations formed at work, and leaves them few opportunities of occupying their time. I can personally vouch for the truth of that statement, for I see it borne out in my town and in many other parts of South Wales, as Mr. Townsend saw it in the course of his inquiry in East London.

The pension, therefore, should be enough at least to preserve personal pride and consciousness of being a respected member of the community in which the pensioner lives. I urge that the single retirement pension of 50s. at present be immediately increased to 65s. a week, and that the pension of a married couple be raised from 80s. to 100s. I feel that even this proposition is pretty mean, but I know the kind of Government we have, and this is all I dare at the moment ask.

Surely, the Postmaster-General should also make his contribution. All I ask of him is that he waives the wireless and television licence fees. That is not asking for much. Furthermore, the Motion asks that a 100 per cent. grant be given to local authorities for the next five years to build modern people's homes to accommodate from 30 to not more than 60 people. These should be built in adequate grounds and provided with lifts and other modern facilities. Here would be housed the elderly persons who had no relatives or interested friends who would and could look after them. But, where a husband and wife are alive and where there is a relative prepared to take in those aged persons, the 100 per cent. grant should also be given towards the building of suitable houses for them.

I am asking for comfort rather than a great deal of expense, and I hope that the Government will pay some attention to that. Why not have for an elderly man and wife a bed-sitting room, kitchenette, bathroom and lavatory? In the long run, it would be much cheaper to the nation and infinitely better for elderly couples than spending money on hospitals and Part III accommodation and places of that kind. The accommodation that I suggest would also provide an ideal home for two elderly women. I have found almost without exception that elderly people much prefer to live in their own homes than with relatives, and that is only natural.

As Mr. Townsend says: Family life becomes more important, not less, in old age. Associations and friendships at work die away, and other friendships and social activities are weakened by retirement, poverty, infirmity and bereavement. We all know that, but it is as well that we should admit it now. In view of all this, as the Motion suggests, the life of the elderly should be, as far as possible, the life of the people generally, and that life should be spent in the community in which the elderly have long lived and which they know. Where necessary, home helps and also meals, in particular dinner, should be provided, and, of course, provided at nominal rates.

We cannot fully consider the economic and social problems of the aged apart from the hospital problem. Needless to say, as I am not a member of the medical profession, I have made what inquiries were open to me, and I have been helped considerably. I am credibly informed that rarely are elderly patients admitted to hospital for clinical reasons only. This, amongst other authoritative statements, was confirmed by the Standing Medical Advisory Committee for Scotland in a comparatively recent report, which stated that— … the problems of the medical care of the elderly … are more domiciliary than institutional, and are more problems of social medicine and of medical administration than of clinical medicine. I am glad to hear that some hon. Members here this morning agree with the view of those with much greater authority outside this House than mine.

This, I am advised, would call for a review and classification of all patients in chronic sick wards and in Part III accommodation, so that all the patients concerned could be given accommodation suitable to their needs, either by returning home—in particular to the homes I have just described—with the necessary domiciliary help, or to modern old people's homes, or if necessary, by making a longer stay in hospital for treatment. This has been pressed and pressed, and I have a faint suspicion that this Government are conscious of the problem and have exercised a little thought on it. I am sorry that I cannot put it higher.

I say with all the emphasis my experience justifies that Part III accommodation should never be attached to or near a hospital. Obviously this is psychologically bad. It creates a sense amongst these people, which I have seen and felt, of hopeless finality to their lives, the end of everything. It does not matter what care, what attention, what kindliness and what cleanliness there is there while they feel this. As long as we have Part III accommodation within the curtilage of a hospital, it has a direct and psychological effect on many aged people, and I and others are satisfied that it speeds senility, even though perhaps unconsciously.

I shall be asked where the money for all this is to come from? It is the same chronic, old question, often put by one who would love to run away from his responsibilities. I say deliberately that it can and should be found by ending the terrible waste of our resources. Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I must refer to this in passing, because it answers, at least in part, the question often put in connection with matters of this kind. I am referring to the ending of the manufacture of those dreadful weapons of destruction, weapons of which everybody is afraid and everybody swears they will not use, but which we go on piling up and on which we spend about £1,500 million a year. Much could be saved in that way.

We could also get much of this money if we had the courage, the sense of decency, to put an end to the present vast gambling with our country's resources. If a rumour goes about that one party will buy up a brewery, millions upon millions of £s change hands in a matter of hours. It is not beyond the wit of Government to control those resources and direct them to decent, creative work for which every Government should assume responsibility.

I know—I can almost hear it now, because its echoes are always around this House—that if what I suggest in my Motion is realised there will be a panic cry of inflation; that is, if we demand that the people who have made it possible for us to help them in the way I have suggested this morning Should have a small measure of justice. We shall hear again the cry of inflation, the slogan of the economists and financial experts who know nothing about either economics or finance.

I am not apologising for putting some feeling in my attempt to justify in this short time the contents of the Motion I have moved. I am not despairing. Whatever happens at the end of this debate, I know, for one thing—and the movers of the Amendment will have realised this—that if we cannot get much from this Government, thank heavens the day is approaching, and approaching rapidly, when a Government will once again pay some decent, honest attention to that section of our society which has the first claim upon our consideration and upon our wealth.

12.29 p.m.

Photo of Mr Frank Allaun Mr Frank Allaun , Salford East

I beg to second the Motion.

My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies) has spoken for millions of our fellow citizens and, in my view, he has spoken magnificently. What we are urging is an attack upon the two curses of old age—poverty and loneliness. Few of us can look forward to growing old because, with some exceptions, old age means the loss of one's faculties, one's life partner, one's friends and one's job. These are the natural burdens of old age, but if we are to add to them the unnatural burden of grim poverty, then we are turning old age into tragedy. It is against this that we are protesting.

We claim that £2 10s. a week is not enough. Old people cannot manage on it. If there is any Member of Parliament who challenges this, I hope he will say so, say so publicly, and say so in his own constituency. Old people cannot manage on it, and anyone who claims otherwise either does not know or does not care about what is going on.

Like most hon. Members present, I spend a considerable time visiting the homes of old people in my constituency. What I am about to say relates to Salford, but it could be repeated in constituencies throughout the country. I give as an illustration the case of a 79-year-old widow on National Assistance, receiving £2 14s. a week. She pays 10s. 5d. for rent, 10s. 9d. for coal, 3s. for gas and 2s. 6d. for laundry, and that leaves her with £1 7s. 4d. for everything else. She spends 2s. 10d. a day on food. Her diet includes no fresh milk, no fresh fruit, no tinned fruit and no vegetables. She spends 1s. a week on tinned milk. When I asked her what she would do if she had a little more money, she said, "I would buy more milk and a bit of something tasty to eat." The items in these budgets are pitiful, such as 2 ozs. of butter. Everybody knows that if one buys food or anything else in very small quantities one pays very dearly for it, and in these circumstances the need to buy a new coat or a new pan becomes a disaster.

Thanks to the splendid work done by the Civic Welfare Department in Salford, we have a mass of experience of this subject. Their work includes visiting every six weeks every old person living on his or her own. The others—there are 16,000 of them—are visited every twenty-six weeks. Because of this, Salford knows what is happening to its old people. A wealth of knowledge has been amassed from this suffering. Because of the activities of the Department and the Committee, and particularly the devoted work of the most outstanding Civic Welfare Director, Mr. James Roberts, we believe we have something with which we can help other people.

I want to give two cases mentioned in a letter from Mr. Roberts which reached me this morning. One concerns an 82-year-old widow living alone in a spotlessly clean home. There was no indication of what she was going through. The trim curtains concealed a great deal of what was occurring. There was real deprivation there. The old lady had threatened suicide by gas poisoning, and the gas has since been removed from her house and electricity installed. A great deal of help was given to her by the Civic Welfare Department and the Companionship Circle for the Elderly, a voluntary body about which I shall say a word later. The old lady was homebound, and her only outlet was to write long letters to the Civic Welfare Department and the Director. She died two months ago. In her last letter she dealt in a most moving way with the suffering she had endured and also the comfort and joy given to her by the Department.

The other case is that of a 70-year-old widow with the £2 10s. pension. When her case was examined she was still awaiting a decision about her son's Service pension, her son having died in May, 1944. A pension was applied for after her husband died last year. I am glad to say that, thanks to what has been done to help her, a pension of 27s. 6d. a week has been granted on top of her £2 10s. a week pension. That is hardly a fortune for her.

An appeal has recently been made in connection with the World Refugee Year, a very worthy cause which I hope will receive great support, but I would point out that there are millions of British refugees, men and women living far below the poverty line in the back streets. Help should be given to these British refugees. Charity begins at home, and we should think of them, although what they want is something more than charity. They want something to which they are entitled by right. It is easy for people living in the West End—not only the West End of London but the west ends of all the cities in the country and the west ends of the world—to ignore what is taking place just round the corner in the back streets.

Last night I was speaking to a lady of 71 about what it would mean to her if there was a pension increase. She said, "It would make life more worth living." The Government have been asked four times recently by the Opposition to raise the old-age pension from £2 10s. to £3 a week, although I agree with my hon. Friend that even that is by no means enough, but it would at least mean something for the old people. We have asked that the pension should be raised to £3 a week and that it should be on a sliding scale, so that if the cost of living rises the pension will go up with it. Four times the Government have refused.

However, I am certain that this Government dare not face a General Election with the pension at £2 10s. a week and the Labour Party committed to a pension of £3 a week. Therefore, I am sure that before the General Election the Government will be forced either to make some improvement or to promise it, and I hope they do so because the need of the old people is such that I do not care who gives them an increase as long as they get it. I also hope that it will be clearly realised that if the increase is given it will be as result of the pressure of the Labour Party, the trade unions and the old-age pensioners' associations.

The question of the old-age pension is political dynamite. Most of us attend meetings in our constituencies and outside, and I think all hon. Members will agree with me that the two issues on which we have crowded meetings today are, firstly, the H-bomb and, secondly, the old-age pension. There are 5 million old-age pensioners and there are several million more people approaching pensionable age. In addition, there are their sons and daughters who feel strongly about this matter. I believe that no Government could afford 40 overlook this pressure. I refer to the old-age pensioners' federations, of which there are two, both immensely strong and virile. Good luck to them. Indeed, there is more life and strength in some of the old people's organisations than in some youth organisations.

If in Western and Eastern Europe pensions of up to two-thirds of a worker's previous average wage can be provided, surely in Britain we can pay a hit more than £2 10s. a week, although I agree with my hon. Friend that money is not everything. We are asking for services as well, but I stress that the services should be added to and not substituted for an increase in the old-age pension.

I want briefly to put forward four simple, concrete and new proposals which have emerged from the experience in Salford, an experience gained as a result of the tremendous suffering there. I am proud of the pioneering work which Salford has done. I remind hon. Members of the previous examples which Salford has set the nation—the survey of every one of the 20,000 old people in the city, which took five years to complete but which was worth the trouble. It brought to light not only many of the difficulties of the old-age pensioners, but also the fact that many of them were unaware of the assistance which they could obtain from the State.

There was the example of the Companionship Circle for the Elderly, which co-ordinates the activities of representatives of Ministries, the local authority, voluntary associations, trade unions, and so on. The list of the Circle's activities is too long to give now, but there is one which I want to mention, the weekly visiting of 4,000 old people living on their own. People go to sit with these old people. Even the senior girls from a high school visit them, read to them, do the washing-up for them, or undertake jobs which the old people are incapable of doing for themselves.

Another example of the work done by Salford is the publication of a booklet which is issued to an old-age pensioner on the day he receives his first pension payment. The booklet contains details of all the services available to him from the State, the local authority, or voluntary organisations. A minor example has been the conversion of a bus with a sloping ramp to permit invalids or old people to be wheeled into the bus in their chairs so that they may be taken from one part of the city to another.

The first of the four proposals I have to make arises because of the great need for day centres for the elderly. Such centres would not be expensive propositions, but would be open to old people for most of the day, from, say, ten o'clock in the morning to nine o'clock in the evening. We all know that there are thousands of flourishing old people's clubs—over-sixty clubs, Darby and Joan clubs, old-age pensioners' clubs, and so on—but they are usually open for only one afternoon or one evening a week. We are asking that these centres should be open all day.

It is remarkable that local authorities do not have power to undertake such work, except for two or three which have Local Act powers. At present only voluntary organisations helped by annual grants are able to undertake this work, and the financial grants are limited. Day centres would provide pleasant surroundings and a social life for old people and would give local authorities a good opportunity to provide them with hot meals, occupational activities without profit, and so on. This is a serious proposal which deserves equally serious treatment.

Secondly, there is a problem of old people living with their married children. Even with the most amiable people, both young and old, this creates difficulties. The young people want to be on their own and the old people do not want to feel themselves to be a burden. Salford's proposal is that blocks of maisonettes should be built in the grounds of homes for old people which have already been established by local authorities. These homes have replaced the workhouse. Big mansions have been taken over and the grounds are ideal for snob maisonettes. That would help by enabling a friendly eye to be kept on the old people, in matters such as bathing, proper feeding, and so on. To provide such maisonettes would cause very little inconvenience or expense. I do not claim to be an expert, but it seems to me to be anomalous that only district councils, under county council arrangements, have powers of this sort. Why should not such powers be extended to county boroughs, such as Manchester and Salford?

In this connection, I refer to the very good development in Walsall where what are known as "granny flats" are being built. These enable the elderly to live under a separate roof, but on the family doorstep. There is a self-contained annexe, containing bathroom, bed-sitting room, and kitchen, adjoining the council house. I understand that six of these flats are nearly ready for occupation. There is a covered access from council house to flat, and the inclusive rent is 8s. 3d., which seems a remarkably good proposition.

Thirdly, power should be given to local authorities to establish holiday homes on lines parallel to those permitted for handicapped persons under the National Assistance Act, 1948. In Salford and other cities there are many people who lave never had a proper holiday because they have been too poor and too busy looking after their families and scratching a living. It would be a godsend to these people if they could get out of the rotten environment of city streets and get a breath of fresh air. It would be very beneficial to their health and happiness. It would do them a world of good. In a country such as ours, it would not cost a fortune for something to be done in that way.

The fourth suggestion is the waiving of T.V. and radio licences. It means much more to a lonely old person to have a wireless and television set than it does to young people who have their families. However, the licence fee of £4 a year makes it impossible for many old people to have a television set, and I do not see why they should not be helped.

Where is the money to come from? My hon. Friend's proposition of 15s. a week increase in pension for 5 million people would cost about £180 million a year, which is a lot of money, but it is only one-eighth of the fantastic sum of £1,500 million we are spending on armaments every year. It narks me that we can always find money for war but when we ask for a smaller sum for peaceful purposes it cannot be afforded.

I rejoice that this morning's news tells us that one very great and powerful trade union in our country is proposing that we should stop spending money on nuclear weapons, and I hope that the money will be spent on improving conditions for old people instead. There is, however, an alternative way in which the money could be found. There is an annual net increase in incomes in this country of £865 million a year. That was the figure in 1955, but I regret to say that there has not been the same increase in the last three years. We know that is due to the Government's economic policy.

If we took only a small proportion—it would be about one-fifth—of this £865 million annual increase in net incomes and devoted it to helping the old people, we could raise their old-age pensions by 15s. a week immediately, and not just for a man, but 30s. for a couple.

The Amendment to our Motion states that the limits to what … a pensioner who has retired from regular work may earn without reduction of pension were increased on 20th April, 1959 … What an achievement. There is tremendous indignation about this earnings rule which stated that if one earns £2 10s. 0d. a week there is a reduction from one's earnings, If the movers of the Amendment think it satisfies the old people who want to go on earning that they are now allowed to earn an additional 10s. 0d. a week, they are making a big mistake. If these proposed improvements were made for the old people they would bring great happiness into the lives of millions of retired pensioners.

12.53 p.m.

Photo of Mr Anthony Kershaw Mr Anthony Kershaw , Stroud

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: noting that Her Majesty's Government are keeping under review the rates of retirement pension and other National Insurance benefits and that the limits on what a pensioner who has retired from regular work may earn without reduction of pension were increased on 20th April, 1959, welcomes the improvements being effected in the provision of accommodation and other services and amenities for those old people who require them, and is of the opinion that continuing co-operation between all the authorities and bodies concerned with these problems offers the best guarantee of steady continuation of the progress already achieved. We have listened to two sincere speeches, as we have come to expect, from the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies) and the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) on the subject of old age, about which they, but not only they, feel deeply. Whilst I agree with much of what the hon. Gentlemen said about the old age problem, I find it a little nauseating that they assume that they are the only people who care for the old-age pensioners and that only the other side of the House has done anything for the old people. Nevertheless, I am sure that they are as anxious as anybody here to do whatever is possible for old age and other retirement pensioners, and I have listened, as we all have, with thought and care to what has been said.

The general proposition that the old-age pensioner would be rescued from poverty by an increase in the basic pension of 10s. a week is one with which I cannot agree. It is unfortunate that the Labour Party continues to dangle this offer in front of the retirement pensioners with the argument attached to it that that would actually remove them from the poverty line. It will not do anything of the sort. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil does not agree with that proposition. He considers that the rate ought to be an extra 15s. or 20s. a week for single people and married couples respectively.

I hope I shall be forgiven for pointing out in passing, because it has been pointed out before, but it remains true, that the rate at the moment is higher in real terms than it has ever been. It is higher by nearly 7s. a week in real terms than when the Conservative Government came into office. I also agree with the riposte to that remark, that it was only just that the old people should share in the rising prosperity of the country. They had a right to the increase which I know the whole House was glad that they received.

I return now to my argument on whether an increase of 10s. a week would in itself remove all retirement pensioners from the poverty line. I am sorry to please the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil so soon, but may I examine the cost of the increases suggested. If the retirement pension goes up, other benefits connected with it will also go up, as they have done in the past, to maintain some sort of relationship between them. The hon. Member for Salford said that the cost of an increase of 15s. a week would be £180 million a year. I do not agree. Doubtless that is true with a 15s. increase, but one must also consider the other charges which in fairness one has to add. I, and other people better able to do it than myself, have estimated that the cost of raising the retirement pension by 10s. a week would be a little over £200 million a year.

If one continued making the pensions contributory, it would mean an increased contribution of 4s.—2s. from the contributor and 2s. from the employer, which would be a very heavy imposition. If one does not do that, it means an addition of 1s. on the Income Tax. We have often had increases of 1s. on the Income Tax before, and I have little doubt that we shall get it again, so let us not shed tears about that. My point is not that we cannot put another 1s. on Income Tax for social purposes. It is that Is. on Income Tax will not benefit those who need it most because it is not true, and we know it is not, that all retirement pensioners are living on the poverty line. Only a small proportion of them are down on the bottom.

The hon. Member for Salford said that there were 5 million retirement pensioners in this country. Only 1 million of those are in receipt of National Assistance, so it would seem that one-fifth of the retirement pensioners have not enough to live on without National Assistance. Those are the people we want to help most. If we give an increase to 5 million people with the desire to help only 1 million, it follows that we are giving 4 million people extra help which, ex-hypothesi, they do not need as much as the people at whom the help is aimed. That is an extravagant way of distributing the nation's resources.

I know what an effect has been achieved by the propaganda of the Labour Party that 10s. a week on the old-age pension is their policy, and in using the word "propaganda" I do not mean to be unfair. During the Whitsun Recess, I went round my constituency and into houses occupied by old-age pensioners. One, who was very old—nearly 80—and sick, said to me, "You get me another 10s. on my pension and I will die happy." I simply did not have the heart to engage in the sort of argument that I am now putting before the House and try to explain to him that 10s. on the basic pension would not help him one penny because his National Assistance would be reduced accordingly.

Photo of Mr Norman Dodds Mr Norman Dodds , Erith and Crayford

Why not put up the National Assistance scales?

Photo of Mr Anthony Kershaw Mr Anthony Kershaw , Stroud

I will come to that suggestion later. The point I am making is that to increase the basic pension by 10s. a week will help many people who do not need it without helping the poorest. It is illogical to tax the nation in order to give people help which they do not want.

I am not arguing that the pensions should not be raised, but I am saying that the benefit should be given to those who need it most, and the rise should he as far as possible confined to them. The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Dodds) suggested that we ought to put up the National Assistance scales, and I would not be against that. But there are some snags involved in doing so, which this House, on a Private Member's day, can discuss without party politics. If the National Assistance Board were in future to receive instructions from the Government as to the level of need, we should be going back to the system, which we found very unsatisfactory, under which the National Assistance Board was directly under the day-to-day control of Government. We should be going back to the old days of the means test, and an organisation under which the Government were responsible for the exact amount of money which it was judged a man needed in order to stay alive. I do not believe that any party should think of reintroducing that system without careful consideration.

It is much better that the Board should be independent to the extent of being able to decide individual needs. That is a solid advantage. We have had experience of the opposite system, which we found not very satisfactory. To increase only the National Assistance rate and not the basic pension—which would counter my argument that a basic increase would not help the very poorest—would have the disadvantage that the Government would control the level of need or dictate what the need was. Secondly, it would mean that the increased pension would be dependent upon a means test. Everybody would have to have a means test before he could have an increase in pension. We would all agree that that is not a very attractive proposition, politically.

Leaving aside the difficulty from our point of view, as Members of Parliament, it would not be a particularly welcome situation for the old people if they had to undergo such a means test before they could get an increase.

Photo of Mr Norman Dodds Mr Norman Dodds , Erith and Crayford

Is the hon. Member saying that if the House found that there was a need to increase the basic pension by 10s. the officials of the National Assistance Board would not themselves appreciate the need for increasing their own scales, without a direction from this House? If the officials saw the need themselves, where would the pressure be?

Photo of Mr Anthony Kershaw Mr Anthony Kershaw , Stroud

I am sure that the officials would take that factor into consideration, but it would be a retrograde step if the Government were to say to them, "As from Monday week the poorest of our population need 10s. more than they do now." That is my point. I leave it with the hon. Member to judge whether it is a good one.

Further, to raise only the National Assistance rate without touching the basic pension would remove any necessity for thrift. Two households living side by side, one of which had managed to save £250 over its lifetime and the other which had managed to save nothing, would be on exactly the same footing and would receive exactly the same consideration from the State. I believe that there is some value in thrift, although the accidents of life make it impossible for anybody to be certain about it in this world. I should like to see the present system continued, whereby increases are given from time to time and National Assistance scales are reviewed constantly by the Board on its own responsibility. That has given solid benefits, as proved by the arithmetic which I have tried to put before the House.

I should like to make one personal suggestion. As we all know, it is not so much the weekly outgoings and the weekly pension coming in which cause the greatest difficulty to pensioners; for many of them it is the impossibility of incurring any sudden large expense, such as is involved in buying a new suit, or getting a new type of stove for the living room. People who have no savings cannot incur a sudden expenditure of £25, £30 or even £50. They will never be able to accumulate such a sum during the years remaining to them, even if they can save a few shillings a week. I know that the Board occasionally makes grants in this respect, but I wonder whether greater attention should not be given to the possibility of making a once-for-all payment in specified oases where it is considered really necessary.

The Motion also refers to the earnings limit. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil and the hon. Member for Salford, East may have forgotten that the earnings limit was raised as recently as six weeks ago. It rose from 50s. to 60s., and the personal allowance of the widowed mother rose from £3 to £4. It is a matter of some importance that that increase was approved in principle by the National Insurance Advisory Committee, which is a non-party body. Although I appreciate the feeling which old-age pensioners have in this matter, I say without equivocation that an earnings rule is still necessary in order to protect the retirement principle. If two men, one of whom is 65 and the other is 64, are working side by side on a bench, and are getting exactly the same wage for doing exactly the same job, it is a little illogical that the man who is 65 can stay away from work for a day and then go back to his job with £2 10s. extra. He makes it difficult for the young man to gain promotion in his firm. He presents a difficulty which the trade unions have long recognised—the possibility of the adulteration of labour and wages. In times of unemployment there must certainly be a tendency for that danger to arise.

It has been estimated that to do away with the earnings rule would cost £110 million a year, which is the equivalent of the cost of an increase of 5s. on the retirement pension. It follows that that £110 million would be given to people who are now in employment and, therefore, have a higher standard of living than the pensioner who, for one reason or another, is not in employment. If, therefore, we abolished the earnings rule, we should be giving £110 million a year to pensioners who, ex hypothesi, do not need it so much as others do. I would rather give that money to those who are not in work than to those who are.

The Motion goes on to ask for free wireless and television licences for the old. I am certain that many of us have a great deal of sympathy with that proposition, but I think that it would have to be hedged round about a bit, because, certainly in my household, and no doubt in many others, grandad would have to be responsible for the licence because he could get it free and I could not. No doubt that difficulty could be got round by the ingenuity of my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General.

To my mind the proposition has, to some extent, another objection—not a very great one because the sum involved could not be large—which is that it would help everybody whether they needed it or not. For instance, it would help the noble and gallant Field Marshal Lord Montgomery to pay for his television licence. I am sure that he has one, because he is a great operator in that sphere. It would enable him to get the licence free. It may be that he already gets it as a business expense anyway and would not need it. Therefore, let us bear in mind the fact that the proposition would help everyone whether they needed it or not and would therefore cost the country more money than was reasonable.

Photo of Mr Stephen Davies Mr Stephen Davies , Merthyr Tydfil

Do I understand that the hon. Gentleman is really opposing this small proposition in the Motion, that television and wireless licences should be granted free to the aged? Does he not really agree with the proposition?

Photo of Mr Anthony Kershaw Mr Anthony Kershaw , Stroud

I should be against it if the administration were such that every pensioner received the concession as of right. If it could be devised so that only those who needed it got the licence free, I should not be against the proposition. Obviously, one cannot cover everything in detail in the Motion, but I wish to put it on record that to my mind the suggestion would have to be carried out in such a way that not everyone was helped.

The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil and the hon. Member for Salford, East very properly made some interesting remarks about the housing of the old people. I was very happy to learn from the speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government the other day that of the local building which is going on at present nearly 25 per cent. is being devoted to houses for old people. This is an advance on 1951 when only just over 7 per cent. of local authority building was devoted to the needs of old people. They are now getting a very high proportion indeed, and it is very satisfactory that that proportion is rising.

I believe, as I think most of us do, that the one-bedroom house is the best sort of accommodation for old people. Not only are they on their own away from the younger people, to whom they are undoubtedly a burden—no doubt the younger people are a burden to the old on occasion—but also they can have accommodation with other old people or be near their own families and still be dependent on them to some extent while at the same time maintaining a sense of independence.

I am very glad that the Government have retained the housing subsidy of £10 a year on dwellings for old people. The Government have been encouraging local authorities to build houses for old people, and circulars on the subject have been sent out on a number of occasions in the past 18 months or two years encouraging local authorities to do so. I welcome that manifestation very much. I saw, as other hon. Members will have done, the exhibition in March this year of building for old people in London.

As to looking after old people in their own homes, I am sure that the home help system is much better and infinitely cheaper to the country than institutional care. I think there is hardly anybody who would not agree with that, and I rejoice very much to know that last year no less than 25 million visits in all were paid by home helps in the country, half of them to old people.

Then we come to the question of the family and to what the family ought and can give to the old people today. It is widely said, and with some justice, that young people today do not look after their old folk as they used to. I do not feel that that criticism is justified. To begin with, in the really old days, what else could people do with the old people except keep them in the family? They could not be put out into the gutter. Nowadays conditions are different. People have to travel a lot and to change their jobs a great deal. The amount of turnover of labour in the country is extraordinary. Millions of people change their jobs each year, and very often that involves changing houses as well.

Again, there are nowadays many more attractions outside the home and many more things to do. There is the opportunity of holidays with pay and so forth which did not exist in the old days and of which it is only right that the younger people should take advantage. If they have grannie at home it quite often means that the wife cannot leave the house at all or only for a short time, and then only if she gets assistance from a neighbour.

It is true that at least two-thirds of the old people receive help in some form or other, usually the only help they get, through their own families. In support of that, I quote the book by Mr. Townsend, which the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil urged me to read. I have read it. It describes Mr. Townsend's investigations in Bethnal Green. It says that two-thirds of the old people in that area, from where I should have expected, owing to the exodus caused by the war, that families would have moved away more than from other areas, receive some sort of help from their families.

I suggest that one easy and very efficacious way of helping the family and of helping the old people to continue to be looked after by the family would be, in some way, to increase the various allowances that are available for the care of old people, such as the constant attendance allowance or the allowance to the daughter.

One of the things which makes younger couples unwilling, or often absolutely unable, to look after the old people is that they cannot afford the constant cost of laundry, attendance and cleaning which is necessary. If they could receive something of the order of 10s. a week for this purpose it would at least cover the cost of the laundry. Alternatively, if they could get a sitter-in so that they could go out together, say, once a week and could be sure that that was a routine on which they could rely, it would make a lot of difference. Quite a small sum of money would be involved, but I think it would reinforce the family life which, I think we are all agreed, is one of the things that keep the old people going these days.

To turn to the Amendment rather more particularly than to the Motion, I thought that the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil dealt rather hardly with it. He said that it was mere verbiage. Bearing in mind the achievements which have been made since the present Government came to office, if the Amendment is verbiage what were the remarks of the Socialist Government when they were in power? However, leaving that aside, I would point out that I also in my Amendment call attention to the serious plight of our old people. Let it not be thought that we on this side have any lack of sympathy with or any lack of awareness of what the problem is regarding the old people of this country.

I would call the attention of the House to the fact that the fifth line of the Amendment welcomes the improvements being effected in the provision of accommodation and other services and amenities for those old people who require them. I think that takes in what I have previously been trying to say, that that is my objective in the Amendment. I think the Government's objective in their legislation is to help those who require help and not necessarily to help everybody whether they need help or not.

Retirement pensions are not all of one sort. In these days they come literally for every section of the community. There are no less than a million pensioners living on occupational pensions—not perhaps off them; they have to have other resources as well. These pensions have been earned while the pensioners were at work. Of the working population approaching retirement age today, no less than half will receive occupational pensions and enjoy whatever benefits they have paid for. There are also increments to the pensions which may be earned by continuing at work after the age of 65, and these are received by over half of the pensioners today. The average amount is 9s. a week for single people and 13s. 6d. for married people. That removes quite a number of pensioners from the basic pension poverty line.

We know that the majority of pensioners have some form of savings. The amount may not be very much, but they have some, and they have their family on whom they can rely. I hope that in future a pensioner will be able to rely on his family to a greater extent. We need not be too pleased about the fact, but there is also National Assistance. It is a matter of satisfaction that the number of people receiving National Assistance is falling. The figure is now just over 20 per cent. compared with the figure of 22½ per cent. which obtained when the Conservative Government took office. Finally, we have the basic pension.

All these sources of help, income and sustenance are available to the retirement pensioners, not all of whom are poverty-stricken. Some are, and those we must consider, but they are not all poverty-stricken. It is no service to the retirement pensioners as a whole to suggest that their resources are limited to the basic pension and that only on an increase in the basic pension will their future happiness depend. That is not true. Above all, I believe that one of the greatest benefits—possibly the greatest—which any Government could provide for retirement pensioners would be to guarantee that the cost of living does not continue to rise.

Inflation is the constant fear of people who are living on small fixed incomes. They do not know whether next week they will have to do without some little luxury which may be the last they can afford. That is the canker which works into them and gives rise to a sense of instability and their fear of the future. It is a matter for congratulation for everyone in the country, irrespective of party, that for more than twelve months the cost of living has not risen. If that position can be maintained—I believe that it can be maintained only by a Conservative Government—it would be the greatest benefit which retirement pensioners in this country could receive.

1.23 p.m.

Photo of Mr Frederick Farey-Jones Mr Frederick Farey-Jones , Watford

I beg to second the Amendment.

It is with a certain amount of pleasure, mixed with a little uneasiness, that I second this Amendment. My uneasiness arises not because I have any lack of faith in the Amendment, but because of the approach to it by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies). We all know that the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil has a very large heart, much larger than his head—and I am not making any indirect reference to the size of the hon. Member's head. Would not every hon. Member, irrespective of party, support an increase in pensions, were that possible? Everyone desires an increase in pensions, but, as legislators and Members of Parliament, we must remember that the question of pensions is not like the ordinary business dealt with in this House. Any hon. Member would gladly give every old-age pensioner in his constituency an extra £1 or £2 a week, if the money could be found. But in legislating for pensions we are not legislating for our own day and time.

Every student of political and social life knows that old people are living longer. People are going into industry much later in life. Gradually, over the next twenty years or so, the members of the population actually earning will become fewer and the financial burden of pensions will become greater. I agree, as would every other hon. Member, that those old people alive today are the true sufferers. They have suffered since 1945 from the result of continuing inflation, for which many of us might know where to apportion the blame. The proposition of the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil——

Photo of Mr Stephen Davies Mr Stephen Davies , Merthyr Tydfil

I know that the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Farey-Jones) has Welsh roots, and I do not apologise for that. But may I tell him that the correct way to pronounce the name of my constituency is "Merthyr Tydvil" and not "Merthyr Tadfil."

Photo of Mr Frederick Farey-Jones Mr Frederick Farey-Jones , Watford

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman.

He will recognise that I am paying him a tribute when I say that everyone is in sympathy with what he has in mind. But he and I and other hon. Members owe a responsibility to future generations. The hon. Gentleman said something to the effect that there should be enough pension to preserve personal pride. In my opinion, which I am sure is shared by all thinking people, those who have a personal pride, citizens of integrity, do not regard a State pension as an automatic right. A State pension should be an addition to and not a substitution for the way a person lives his or her life. I am terrified by the idea which appears to he growing, and which was latent in the speech of the hon. Member, and of his hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun), that the State should do everything for people when they grow older. If that becomes the attitude of mind of everyone, heaven help this country as a country.

At all costs we must preserve the responsibility and integrity of the citizen. We must impress upon our young people, the boys and girls going to their first job, that they owe a responsibility to their fellows to provide for themselves to a certain extent in their old age——

Photo of Mr Stephen Davies Mr Stephen Davies , Merthyr Tydfil

Mr. S. O. Davies indicated dissent.

Photo of Mr Frederick Farey-Jones Mr Frederick Farey-Jones , Watford

Does the hon. Gentleman disagree?

Photo of Mr Stephen Davies Mr Stephen Davies , Merthyr Tydfil

Profoundly. The hon. Member has forgotten that we are talking about people who are the victims of the rotten conditions which existed in the coal mines, in the iron and steel works and in most other industries and services in this country. They had nothing from which to save, and the party to which the hon. Gentleman belongs saw to it that it would he impossible for them to have anything.

Photo of Mr Frederick Farey-Jones Mr Frederick Farey-Jones , Watford

The hon. Member is selecting one section of the community. I am not doing that. I am as fully aware as he is that there are people who are up against it, and facilities must be provided for them to live their lives in the manner in which an ordinary citizen would expect to do. But when the hon. Member suggests that we should legislate for increased pensions, and even make it a rule that old people should get free television, he is advocating a course of action which, from a financial point of view, would wreck the ship of State.

Photo of Mr Albert Hunter Mr Albert Hunter , Feltham

Surely the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Farey-Jones) is aware that employees pay large weekly sums in connection with insurance schemes?

Photo of Mr Frederick Farey-Jones Mr Frederick Farey-Jones , Watford

Of course I am aware of that. Not one hon. Member of this House would support poverty of any description in 1959. That is why pensions should not be regarded as a party issue or be used for gaining votes by either side. This has an important effect on the probity of our public life.

Incidentally, before coming to this debate I prepared a record on a comparative basis of what has been done by both sides of the House. If any hon. Member of the Opposition persists, as did the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil in his opening speech, in trying to create the impression that we have done little or nothing for the old-age pensioners, I recommend that he studies exactly what has happened from 1945 up to the present moment. He will find that the Opposition come out extremely badly.

Photo of Mr Frederick Farey-Jones Mr Frederick Farey-Jones , Watford

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Salford, East is not in his place. He made a distinct reference to the earnings rule. There is a lot of bad thinking about this earnings rule, which is as important to the T.U.C. and the trade unions as it is to us and to general industry. The Minister of Pensions and National Insurance has already pointed out how important this rule is, when he said: The whole purpose of that rule is to protect the retirement principle. It is clear that if there were no earnings limit it would be possible to go through a form of retirement one day and resume full earnings the next. I do not wish to enter into a long argument on the retirement principle today. It has been accepted by Beveridge and by the Phillips Committee and its abandonment would cost over £100 million a year almost entirely in pensions paid to people in full increments. The purpose of the earnings limit is solely to protect the retirement principle. Therefore, there is no reason for keeping it any lower than is necessary for this purpose."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th January, 1959; Vol. 598, c. 892.] Great play has been made also about the health and welfare of the elderly. Of course, we are all deeply interested in those things and we must be. We should refrain on either side of the House from suggesting that any hon. Member, who-ever he or she may be, has not the health and welfare of the elderly at heart.

In 1954–1955 my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Health initiated a nationwide survey of the quality of the services available to the chronic sick and elderly. A summary of these investigations was produced in the Boucher Report. The Report showed that the existence of several authorities dealing with different aspects of old people's welfare need be no obstacle to a coordinated service. For guidance, the Minister defined more clearly than hitherto the responsibilities of local authorities and hospital boards in dealing with the chronic sick and the elderly.

Further development of outpatients' services for the elderly was recommended. High priority had to go to the establishment of a geriatric department in every hospital centre. Schemes for a short stay in hospital by chronic sick patients who were being nursed at home were commended. The Minister of Health also stressed the importance of the health services for the elderly both in the hospital and in the home, when he said in the House of Commons: Our policy … is to seek to keep the elderly in their homes as long as possible, and when they have to go to hospital to rehabilitate them wherever possible so that they can live at home again, helped by home nursing and the other domiciliary services. … It is obviously not enough, in this obviously competitive world, merely to enable the old to live longer. What we have to try to do is to help them to stay fit longer and thus remain active members of the community, contributing to its vigour and well-being."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th July, 1958; Vol. 592, cs. 1404–5.] Further, the Minister urged on local authorities that they should help in providing a co-ordinated service by making it possible for as many as possible of the elderly to remain in their homes. This demanded more residential accommodation, more visiting and more home helps. The part which hospitals, too, could play in this by employing domiciliary visitors to assess the needs of cases in their homes, was also stressed.

Since then, what has happened? This question provides a very good answer to the case made by the mover of the Motion. There are now more than seventy geriatric departments in England and Wales for the rehabilitation of the elderly, and more such departments are being set up. There has been a rise in attendance at chronic sick and geriatric clinics from about 7,000 in 1950 to more than 39,000 in 1957, which is the last year for which figures are yet available. Services in the home have also greatly increased. The home nursing service has grown by more than 23 per cent, since 1949 and visits by home nurses were more than 25 million in 1957, over half of those visits being to old people. Among other services which have increased are the home help service and the home visiting service. Surely those facts do away with a great deal of the hon. Member's argument.

I particularly wish to draw the attention of every hon. Member to a document which was published only a few days ago produced by the Councils of the Institute of Actuaries and the Faculty of Actuaries in Scotland. It is entitled "National Pensions". It is one of the most efficient documents on this subject that I have yet read. In fairness, I must say that I have studied both the scheme sponsored by the Government and the scheme of the Opposition. Having lad a considerable training in insurance I can recommend a perusal of this document.

Photo of Mr Norman Dodds Mr Norman Dodds , Erith and Crayford

Is it better than the Government's?

Photo of Mr Frederick Farey-Jones Mr Frederick Farey-Jones , Watford

No Government document was ever so good that there was no room for improvement. There is considerable room for improvement in the Opposition document. I believe that this problem can never be finally solved unless we set up a National Pensions Council, with wide powers to investigate and recommend, and on a permanent basis of regularly reporting to Parliament. This matter should not be one for misguided sympathy which, in ten or twenty years' time, can lead only to chaos. What is required is sheer statesmanship, so that future generations will bless and not curse the efforts we are making at the present time.

1.40 p.m.

Photo of Mr Albert Hunter Mr Albert Hunter , Feltham

I have great pleasure in supporting the Motion moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies) and seconded by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun). The both made very thoughtful and sincere speeches. It has been my privilege to follow the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Farey-Jones) in airline debates, but I think this is the first time I have followed him in a debate on the subject of old people. He has made some interesting points, but if I do not comment on what he said I know he will forgive me, because I want to concentrate on the Motion and not to take too long, so that other hon. Members on both sides of the House may have an opportunity to take part in the debate.

I am pleased that Parliament has provided a day for the discussion of matters relating to old people. We discuss many matters in this House, but it is very seldom that we get a day in which we can discuss the problems of old people, not only their pensions, but their housing, domestic help and other services which we feel are essential in order to brighten their lives. The Motion states clearly the items of assistance that should be given to the aged so that they may enjoy the amenities of life.

The first part of the Motion is very important. It urges increasing the retirement pension, and on that I give my hon. Friends full support. The present pension is £2 10s. a week for a single person and £4 a week for a married couple. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree that those rates can mean nothing but bare subsistence. The basic rates should be increased. The fact that more than I million have to apply for National Assistance supports that view.

The present rate of pensions does not give the old people the means for proper living. Food and heat are the main items on which old-age pensioners spend their pensions. It is estimated that from their pensions they spend 25s. per week, on average, on food. Anyone examining the position will know that it must mean buying the cheapest forms of food, and there is no margin whereby old people can buy little extras that they may fancy. Most of us have had old people living with us. My mother, who lived to a good age, would often say that she fancied something tasty for tea. I could afford to buy her tinned salmon or something like that, but many old people have no son or daughter who can buy such things for them and the pension rates do not allow them to buy such items themselves.

In the summer, old people like to have salads, but we know that the price of tomatoes is high. In recent weeks it has been as much as 3s. 6d. a lb. and now the price is 2s. 6d. or 2s. 9d. a lb. In the early part of the summer a lettuce costs 1s., 10d. or 8d. Old people who fancy salads in the early part of the summer find that item out of the reach of their incomes. In winter heating is a very expensive item for old people. They cannot go out in the rain and cold and they need heat in their homes. Solid fuel is expensive and, if they use electric fires, the cost is a heavy item. Probably old people living alone in their homes spend more on heat, electricity, coal or gas, in winter than do ordinary citizens because they cannot get out of doors so much. That is a strong point in favour of the suggestion that there should be an increase in basic pensions.

One of the boons of the twentieth century for old and lonely people is radio and television. Of all sections of the community who listen to radio or look in at television, greatest joy is given to old people. Viscount Montgomery has been mentioned, but not all old people, like him, can afford to pay for a licence for radio and television. The radio licence costs £1 a year and, for a person who is just making ends meet each week, £1 in a lump sum comes into the category of those things mentioned by the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) as being too great a burden. A television licence costs much more—£4 a year.

It is wrong that, just because they are unable to pay for the licences, the old people should be denied these amenities which could brighten the evening of their lives. A man may be able to afford to have a television when he is working, but when he reaches the age of 65 and retires from work he has to surrender his radio or television. Practical help should be given in this respect. When one bears in mind the huge profits of millions of pounds made by Independent Television one considers that some arrangement should be made with the Government by which old people could be excused having to buy a television or radio licence. I appeal to the Minister to give consideration to that point in the Motion. It is not a mountain that cannot be overcome with good will and a little effort.

I am glad that domestic help has been mentioned, because that is needed by many old people. I hope that the Government will consider giving more assistance on these lines. The "meals on wheels" service is greatly appreciated. In some districts the service brings a hot meal once a week, and in some districts twice a week, to old people. In my constituency they welcome a hot meal being brought to their doors at a charge which is well below cost. I pay tribute to the Council of Social Service and the W.V.S. for the great voluntary service they give which enables this "meals on wheels" service to be provided. They do a great work and we should express appreciation to those who give their time voluntarily in this way.

My hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East also mentioned the Darby and Joan clubs the over-sixty clubs and federation clubs. I often go to such clubs in my constituency and I wish to express appreciation to those responsible for organising those clubs. The Darby and Joan and federation clubs arrange outings to the seaside in the summer and visits to the theatre and Christmas parties in the winter. All these people are doing a good job; but we want more help. I support the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East that financial grants should be made to local authorities to enable these clubs to open in the daytime so that the old people may enjoy games and social activities. Therefore, I hope the Minister will explore the possibility of providing permanent clubs for old people in our towns and cities.

Another subject which has been raised is housing. This requires special attention. We need more old people's bungalows and flats. We have some splendid examples of this sort of accommodation in Feltham and Hounslow, but we need more. As has been pointed out, the aged population is increasing, and for this reason there is a demand for more of these bungalows and flats. This would help to create a balanced housing policy, for if the children of people occupying a three-bedroomed council house got married, the old people could be transferred to an old people's bungalow or flat and their house would be available to accommodate people on the housing list. Therefore, I support the policy for the erection of more old people's bungalows and flats because this would help the housing policy generally.

I should also like to see more old people's homes. Such homes have been provided in different parts of the country. For example, in Feltham an old country mansion has been converted into separate flats, each with a sitting room, bedroom and kitchen and with its own front door. The large billiard room has been turned into a lounge, with a television set, so that the old people may go there in the evenings and enjoy each other's company. If the Minister can speed up schemes of this sort I am certain that they will be of great benefit to the old people.

As I said earlier, I am glad that Parliament has given a day to the discussion of the problems of old people. My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil in his Motion calls upon the Government to increase the basic rates of old-age pensions, to waive the licence fee for radio and television, and urges the extension of special services such as "meals on wheels" and the provision of suitable housing accommodation, and I support all these items. I hope that today we shall carry this Motion which was moved so ably by my hon. Friend.

1.53 p.m.

Photo of Miss Joan Vickers Miss Joan Vickers , Plymouth, Devonport

The mover and seconder of the Motion said that they wished to discuss the natural burdens of old age and the wider aspects of old people's lives. I should like to devote my remarks to some practical suggestions dealing with both these points.

First, I should like to discuss these people about whom we are all rather worried—people living on the basic pension of £2 10s. As has already been mentioned, we know that they can get National Assistance, but we know, too, that they do not care to do this. I suggest to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary that discussions might be carried forward with representatives of the old-age pensioners to see whether they would agree to these 1 million people being given an extra 10s.—those people who really need it—so that we might see how far they could get on without National Assistance. I am worried about those people who do not apply for National Assistance because they like to conceal their circumstances "behind lace curtains". I should like to ascertain whether this suggestion would be acceptable to the old-age pensioners concerned and their association. After all, there is a decreasing number of persons in this category because the others will be coming into the existing schemes.

I should like to deal with one matter which has not been mentioned. The earnings limit has recently been increased to £3 a week before any deduction is made from pensions. If pensioners, who may be earning £3 a week, take a bus or tram to their place of employment, or if they have to wear overalls, the cost of these and the fares is taken into account in assessing their earnings. That fact may not be appreciated by some people.

A number of hon. Members have suggested waiving the payment of wireless licences by old-age pensioners, but I think this might he unfair on other members of the community. Many people are disabled from a very early age, many are bedridden, and they need this relief equally with the old people. I gather that anything from £3 million to £8 million would be involved if this suggestion were put into operation, and I think if this relief were given only to the aged it would be unfair on other sections of the community who are probably more disabled than the elderly people.

So far no hon. Member has mentioned anything about the prescription charges. Personally, I have always been against prescription charges. I suggest that if persons over 70 years of age are in need of medicine, whether they are on National Assistance or not—and we know that if they are on National Assistance they are able to reclaim the money—they should be allowed to reclaim money so spent. One knows a number of old people who spend as much as 4s. a week on medicines, and they do not take medicines unless they need to do so. They do not generally need "pep" pills and things of that sort.

Several hon. Members have referred to housing schemes. In any of the new housing schemes, if we are to keep old people out of hospital it is essential to have some form of warden. We should certainly keep aged people in their own homes to the end of their days, if possible, provided that they do not suffer from any disease for which they need hospital treatment, but we must realise that they need some form of help and care. I suggest that those who contemplate building these flats and bungalows in the future should make provision for wardens to live in or near these premises.

On the question of the meals on wheels service, I was disappointed that two hon. Members opposite did not have an opportunity of having their Private Bills making a small Amendment to the National Assistance Act, 1948, accepted. I supported them on both appropriate occasions; in fact, on one occasion I actually moved the Second Reading myself. I hope that the Government will give more facilities to local authorities to enable them to provide this service.

The hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) mentioned the question of heating and the need for old people to keep warm. As hon. Members will know, there are schemes for buying summer coal. Therefore, older people who have the money can enter these schemes when coal is about £1 a ton cheaper. However, if they are on National Assistance their coal money is cut off during the summer months. I should like to see a scheme introduced whereby the National Assistance Board, at the request of the individual, would pay into a fund an amount of money in the summer months so that old people can secure the benefit of the extra coal when the winter comes. By the time the winter had arrived a considerable amount of extra coal would have been accrued at the cheaper prices.

I particularly want to mention schemes for the boarding out of old persons. Such schemes have been tried, completely separately, by the cities of Exeter and Plymouth. They have both been run by that very admirable body the Council of Social Service and are of very great advantage to many old people.

I should like to give the House a little idea how the scheme works. The latest figures I can obtain are that at present fifteen men and thirty-five women are being boarded out in Exeter, and fifty-nine men and fifty-two women are being boarded out in Plymouth. This scheme has been going on since 1954, and the numbers who have previously been boarded out and have died are twenty-eight in Exeter and fifty-three in Plymouth. Those who have been transferred to homes or hostels are eleven in Exeter and twenty-seven in Plymouth. Those who have been transferred to hospitals or nursing homes are eighteen in Exeter and twenty in Plymouth. Those who have been boarded out temporarily, because a person is not always fitted in while relations are away, for example, are fifteen in Exeter and ten in Plymouth.

There is an account of this scheme in the Library if any hon. Members care to read it. It has been discovered, by studying the scheme, that the old people are more contented, more active and more independent when living in private homes rather than in a communal home. To start the scheme, the governors of the National Corporation for the Care of Old People gave a grant, because it is essential that there should be someone trained to deal with the scheme. There must be one member of the staff of the Council of Social Service appointed, as it is a full-time job and they have to go round and find suitable homes.

I want to stress in this debate that I do not think that young people as a whole are thoughtless about their old folks. Several books have been written about this, including one called "People in Need". It has been proved that the majority of young people care for their old folks in some way, but one has to remember that, with larger families and with a great many mothers earning, they have not the time to care for the old people in the way they did before. However, I do not think that they can be accused of lack of responsibility and thoughtlessness.

I understand that the National Assistance Board Act, 1948, gives jurisdiction to counties and county boroughs to find accommodation for old people. Therefore, by the boarding out scheme also old people are being helped, and those bodies can help by making contributions towards the upkeep of the old people.

For example, an advertisement was inserted in the paper saying: Will anyone offer a home for an elderly man, (82) able to get about; needing little care. Can pay £3 a week". Thirty-three answers were received. I know of a similar example with a woman: Elderly woman seeks home with family". She went even as far as stating the district. Suffers from arthritis. Ground floor accommodation needed". She also received a considerable number of offers. The replies were from ex-nurses, people who had lost their parents and elderly people needing companions.

The placing is done in the following way. First, the right type of old person and the right type of hostess must be selected, and then they must meet. If the old person is in hospital, the hostess is given the opportunity of visiting the old person in hospital and having an exchange of views. They accept the old person as he is and do not try to alter him. There is no compulsion in this scheme, and if they do not fit in a transfer can be arranged. To each person—the hostess and the old person—the social worker has to give moral support and a feeling of security. They also have to train the hostess for a few weeks. The old person has to be accustomed to the idea of going to that house. Also, these people on both sides are given the right of selection and of obtaining references if they need to do so.

The National Assistance Board will pay grants towards this scheme. Some hostesses or hosts—it is nearly always a woman who takes in other people, because she is more easily able to do the cooking—may themselves be on National Assistance. Therefore, it has been found necessary to approach the National Assistance Board and have that woman's allowance adjusted. Once the person is in the home, there is no visiting. It is considered to be that person's home and there is no further visiting. The average weekly charge works out at anything between three and four guineas. The social worker explains to the hostess beforehand what she has to do in the case of a person dying.

Furthermore, if the person is at all disabled, I understand that by virtue of Section 29 of the National Assistance Act, 1948, handrails can be provided if it can be proved that the person was previously handicapped. Handrails to the bath or extra supports going up the stairs can be provided.

For all these reasons, I think that it is a scheme worth commending to many county and county borough authorities.

We have also in the City of Plymouth day clubs. One hon. Member mentioned that there are many clubs, but said they are not always open. It is interesting to note that we have two. One is run entirely by the old-age pensioners themselves and one is run by voluntary workers. In recent years the numbers going to the clubs for meals has fallen, because we have found that old people are now more able, with the money they have, to provide meals for themselves. They attend the clubs, but they are not taking quite so many meals as they did.

I do not want to make fun about the scheme which I am about to mention, because it has worked extremely well. It is what we call the "Bird Scheme". Many old people are completely house-bound and they need some form of companionship, a friend or a pet. To them, even a cat or a dog is a difficulty. In the City of Plymouth we provide them with a budgerigar. They have a cage, a bird and a week's seed and sand. The companionship of these birds, because they do talk on occasions and certainly can he spoken to, has proved enormously valuable. It has given old people someone to talk to, even if no reply can be received. It has given them some real interest and something to which they can themselves attend. Even if they are tied to their chairs, they can clean the cage out.

The chiropody service has not been mentioned by an hon. Member today. I welcome the fact that there will be an extension of the chiropody service for elderly people. This will be of great benefit and I hope that the domiciliary aspect of the service will not be neglected. Some hon. Members said that old people were not getting holidays. A great many local authorities and voluntary organisations now get in touch with hotels in seaside areas and obtain reduced out of season rates. More and more old-age pensioners are taking advantage of going for their holidays in the out-seasons. Nowadays it is very rare to find an old person who, if he wishes, cannot have at least one outing a year.

Mention has been made of small houses in housing estates and of flats for old people. Some voluntary organisations—I mention particularly the Sutton Dwellings Trust—have formed most attractive little villages entirely for old people. In some ways, that is going contrary to the idea expressed on many occasions that elderly people wish to be kept within the community rather than on separate housing estates. Having had practical experience of this type of village, I wish that we had a great many more of them in the West Country. They are a great boon. They are delightful to live in and the old people seem to find enormous companionship between themselves.

A great thing is to keep the old people in some form of employment, even though they are not in paid work. In the City of Plymouth the National Federation of Old-Age Pensioners and the Council of Social Service run a skilled hands exhibition, which happens to be being opened while I am speaking now. I have seen some of the exhibits and they are very good indeed. This is something that keeps these people occupied and interested, and it is good when there is a certain amount of competition among them. I suggest that these exhibitions have great value, and should be held more widely.

I should like to pay a great tribute to the voluntary organisations. Whatever a Government may do, and however much pension a person may have, there are, as was said earlier in this debate, wider aspects to these people's lives. There is a considerable burden, particularly physical, in old age, and unless they get companionship and personal help, all the money in the world will not bring them real pleasure.

Therefore, when my hon. Friend replies I hope that he will tell us that his Ministry will consider those wider aspects again so that, perhaps with further grants to voluntary organisations—and, I would hope, the acceptance of one or two of my suggestions—we may be able to provide for those wider aspects of life that are so necessary to us all.

2.11 p.m.

Photo of Mr Arthur Probert Mr Arthur Probert , Aberdare

I am very pleased to follow the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers) because we are all aware of her great interest in these social problems. I want, too, to compliment her on her positive proposals. It is true that they have not gone far enough for me but, coming as they have from the benches opposite, they are very welcome.

Like the problems of unemployment in the scheduled areas, the problems of the elderly section of the community are debated almost monthly in this House, and there is no doubt that many of the things that have been said today will be said again next week when we debate the National Insurance Bill. That in itself indicates that these problems must be very serious indeed, while the necessity for these debates is an indictment of the present Government. If the Government were doing as they should, the Opposition would not have cause to speak so much on this subject.

Many millions of those now in retirement have lost that power of protest that they had during their working lives, when they belonged to very effective trade unions. It is, therefore, incumbent on us in Parliament, and on public-spirited people outside it, to speak as often as we can on their behalf. The farcical thing about it is that these are the very people who have created the country's wealth and have put it in it's present position—and there is no doubt that most people who have lived here for any length of time will say that this country is one of the finest in the world.

As I say, it is these people, who are now in penury and loneliness, and suffering beyond description, who have created our country's wealth. All social workers know this, and all hon. Members are aware of it. The Government are aware of it, too, yet very little positive effort is being made by the Government to solve the problems of the older people.

Next week the House will be considering legislation dealing with superannuation and pensions, but I say quite frankly that it is immoral legislation, because the very people who are suffering most today will not get a penny out of it. From the benches opposite, and from other sources, we continually hear the cry that people should save for themselves. We have heard it again today. It is said that they should be encouraged to save for the future.

The large insurance companies, in their hypocritical criticism of the Labour Party's very excellent superannuation scheme, continually assert that it would discourage the people from saving. Even from many liberal voices we get the same cry. They say that the people want to be independent, that they do not want charity. Most people would agree that this sounds nauseating nonsense to the widow living on £2 10s. a week, or the couple receiving National Assistance with a few shillings extra for rent. It is absolutely scandalous to advance such arguments to them.

Those who are insurance-minded—and there are still those in my own party, I admit, who agree with this—say that these people do not meet the actuarial requirements necessary to give them more. That may be true in the very narrow, limited sense, but I ask again: what about the wealth that they have created for the country but which they are not enjoying? What about the country's great social and economic progress to which they have contributed?

I do not want to be sentimental about this, but I have the acquaintanceship of many miners' widows. I know them personally. They are not isolated cases—there are dozens of them. There is the miner's widow who, for years, day in and day out, month in and month out, had to get up at crack of dawn to see husband and sons to work, and then prepare for their return, the hot bath before the fire in the one living-room-kitchen. She then had to attempt to dry their sodden filthy clothes for the next day's work.

If that poor widow feels a sin in receiving the so-called charity of an extra few shillings a week then, for the very life of me, I cannot see why she should. If she and others like her were compensated or pensioned in accord for what, through themselves and their men-folk, they have helped to produce for the country, they would be geting, not 15s. extra, but many pounds a week. On the other hand, there are sycophants living today in the lap of luxury who have never lifted a single finger to help the country's progress.

We call ourselves a Christian country but where the Christianity is in this I do not know. Therefore, we should have an end of this nonsense, coming from all quarters, to the effect that people want to be independent and would refuse charity. It is not a question of charity. The country is in great debt to present-day pensioners, and until we repay that debt we should hold our heads in shame. Many hold the cynical view that a number of these people will be dying off, that the rest of the community will be coming on to superannuation schemes and that the debt will be cancelled in that way. I will never feel that the debt has been cancelled until the old people have been given something extra.

As for saving for the future—how in heaven's name can a man or woman raising a family on £8 or £9 a week hope to provide for the future except through the weekly stamp? There are millions of workers taking home no more and it is farcical to talk of their being able to save for the future. Let us hear no more of that.

Poverty is only one of the problems facing these old people, and here I want to quote a paragraph from the 1955 Report of the National Assistance Board, which says: Human needs cannot be separated in neat watertight compartments. The problems of those whose working days are over arise from failing powers for which there can be little expectation of betterment. They need help with their daily chores; they cannot see or hear as they used to, despite glasses or deaf-aids; they may require help in dressing or other personal matters; and they may in the end become bedridden or need hospital treatment. Housing may become a problem. But perhaps the worst enemy is loneliness as relatives and friends drop off. These troubles may steal upon them gradually, or they may come suddenly; and the officer must keep a watchful eye on the old person who lives alone and be ready to call in help when it is needed. I can think of no paragraph in any official Government document—this is, of course, in a Report of the National Assistance Board—which has put the problem of the elderly so succinctly.

The fear of poverty can be taken care of quite simply by an immediate increase in the scales, whether the National Assistance scales or the National Insurance scales, or whatever it may be, so long as the old people are given sufficient to live on.

The evil of loneliness is another matter, and it is one thing which is spreading. It is a disease of modern times and arises partly from the social changes. It has been known in the large cities for a long time, but it is now attacking the small communities which I know so well. There is a comical phrase, and it is quite true, that the Welsh are a nation of "Knock-knocks". When I first heard that phrase I wanted to know what it meant, and I found it meant that people were always knocking at their neighbours' homes to know what was going on. That was found especially in the small communities, but it is rapidly changing because of the social changes which are occurring. I do not want to go into those today, but nowadays life in the small communities is in some way much more similar to what it is in the large cities, and even now it is possible in a small community for a house to be insulated, as it were, from the rest of the houses in the street, and a tragedy can occur in the house and those living next door are entirely in ignorance of it and of what is being suffered by their neighbours.

I am not going to weary the House with figures. The figures are available and they have been repeated often enough, but the problem is there, and the problem is so huge that it is, of course, forcing itself upon those authorities who are interested in tackling this problem, and, as we have heard, some of the larger authorities are tackling this problem in imaginative and courageous ways.

The Motion refers to other problems, including those of the health of the aged. I think the division of responsibility between the hospital boards and the local authorities in providing for old people is too often unnecessary, and it can lead to hardship in marginal cases. This is something we ought to tackle very quickly. I remember reading a book by Miss Hall, The Social Services of Modern England, in which she quoted a case in Manchester of a firewood seller who, after being turned away from hospital because he was not sick, was again turned away by the local authority because he was. The poor chap was returned home to die. This is a problem of the division of responsibility.

The position of the chronic sick, as has been indicated this morning, is another serious problem. Many of them are in bed not, as has been said, primarily on medical grounds, but for social reasons. They cannot be returned home because, perhaps, there is no home for them to go to. Perhaps they cannot return home, when they have a home, because there is no one to look after them there. Consequently, they are occupying hospital beds which should be occupied by people in urgent need of hospital treatment.

This leads me to the question of welfare homes. Because of the shortage of places there arises one objectionable practice which I must mention. An unwanted old person is made the victim of this practice. Perhaps he becomes rather senile, becomes a little confused. Those who are caring for him become a little fed up and impatient with him, and they attempt to get that old person certified, and it does happen that old people are certified and placed in mental institutions for the rest of their days, and that is because there is still an extreme shortage of accommodation for old people. What a picture! And it can be painted only because of that shortage.

Therefore, I welcome that part of my hon. Friend's Motion which calls for many more welfare homes to be built. Moreover, I agree with the demand for a 100 per cent. grant from the Government. I would press upon the Government to see that the authorities responsible build these homes within a very short space of time. What a relief to our conscience it would be if they were built.

In this connection I must mention another problem indicated by the Motion, the question of the size of the homes. They must not be too large. I would mention a personal experience I had. I visit such a home in my own constituency as often as I can. There are many old friends of mine there now. It is a very pleasant place which is humanely and imaginatively run. It is not a very large home, but it is too large, and because of its size this misfortune occurred, that when they were preparing for last Christmas festivities, six of the residents were in the mortuary ready to be buried. The effect that had upon the other residents I need not describe here. They were preparing for a festive occasion and the authorities were trying to make the place a real home for the residents, but because of the size of the place and the large number of residents, inevitably some of them were lying in the mortuary. Homes of smaller size would prevent such an eventuality.

Then there is the feeling of belonging. In a large home one is simply one of a large crowd. In a small home, one does become one of a family even if it is, perhaps, a large family.

This brings me to the question of houses. We have heard this morning of what is being done by various authorities, but a lot more can be done. I cannot quite agree with the hon. Lady the Member for Devonport on the question of segregation. I still think it is very important that we must not segregate the elderly from the rest of the community. It is almost a platitude, I agree, but I feel very strongly about this.

I think the local authorities should make greater use of the existing houses in established communities as the existing houses become vacant. They could provide a ground floor flat for an elderly couple in such a house and let the upper floors to younger people. That would mean that the elderly people would be living in established communities where they wait to live, and it would mean that they would be living in a house where 'here were younger people living, and in case of emergency those younger people would be readily available to assist the elderly people.

I think, therefore, very much can be done in this way. I am glad to see that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government is here, because I have a special bee in my bonnet about one-bedroom accommodation. I simply do not accept it at all. I think it is a great social mistake. I have said this locally when my own authority has been making efforts to provide accommodation for elderly people. The one-bedroom accommodation is a mistake. I was interested in what my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) said about annexes to council houses. Perhaps I would withdraw my objection if there were some such solution as that to this problem, but the one-bedroom accommodation does lead to difficulties, for instance, when one of the elderly couple becomes sick and ought to sleep separately from the other. It is then perhaps necessary to remove the sick one to hospital for that reason only. If the elderly couple's son or daughter or grandchildren could come to help there is nowhere for them to stay. Perhaps the elderly people would like their children or grandchildren to spend a holiday with them, but there is no accommodation for them. This is one thing we have to look at very closely indeed, and I hope that the Minister of Housing and Local Government will take another look at it.

I do not want to talk too long, but I want to make a reference to "meals on wheels" and the laundry services. These also are mentioned in the Motion. These services must be extended very quickly indeed because they are a boon to so many of the elderly people living alone who either cannot be bothered to cook or physically cannot cook a hot meal or cannot afford to cook a hot meal. If we could provide them with one hot meal a day it would be a great boon and advantage to them.

As for the laundry services, we all know that in sickness, particularly in cases of incontinence, laundry services are essential for elderly people. These should be extended and extended very quickly.

I would conclude with a reference to another, completely different, aspect of the problem. The administrative difficulties which exist because of the different or differing responsibilities of the authorities are not likely, as I see it, to disappear as things now stand.

The victim, of course, is the elderly person. For example, the hospital authorities are responsible for the provision of beds for the chronic sick and the local health authorities for the provision of home nursing, domestic help and health visitors. Incidentally, I think that some of the home nursing people are really heroic. I have personal friends in the medical profession and they have told me that some of the jobs which these home nurses perform must be seen to be appreciated. The local welfare authorities are responsible for the provision of residential accommodation and, finally, the National Health Service Executive Council is responsible for the general practitioner service.

Whilst all these attempt to act in accord, it is quite natural, because of this heterogeneous make-up, that there is in practice a lack of co-operation, and it is a miracle that the system works with such success. The Minister must pay attention to this problem. It would be a good thing if it were possible to have one authority which could statutorily co-ordinate the activities of all these people. I compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies) and my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East on moving and seconding the Motion, which I support 100 per cent.

Question again proposed, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question.

2.31 p.m.

Photo of Mr Reginald Bevins Mr Reginald Bevins , Liverpool Toxteth

I hope the House will forgive me if I make a short intervention now. I want to confine myself to a few sentences on housing in relation to old people. I think my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health is hoping to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, at a later stage. This House is the sounding-board of the country, and is always ready to listen with sympathy and very real understanding on behalf of the elderly and the aged. I know that hon. Members on both sides of the House will share my view that we are indebted to the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies) for his eloquent and wide-ranging speech today. In his peroration he was rather more optimistic about the electoral chances of his party at the next General Election than some of his hon. Friends, but we welcome his optimism, no matter how ill-founded it may be, because it helps to keep the Government on their toes.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government had the pleasure of visiting Merthyr Tydvil in company with the hon. Member as recently as last week and of seeing something of what is being done in that part of South Wales and of gaining an appreciation of the problem that confronts the local authorities. I know that my right hon. Friend enjoyed that visit and he has asked me to express his regret that he cannot be present here today. He has not gone to see the fillies at Epsom but to see some of the slums of Oldham.

The proportion of old people in our community has risen very rapidly, and very soon one person in every eight will be over sixty-five years of age. It goes without saying that this extension in the span of life is a tribute to the medical profession and to our social services, and it reflects in very large measure the economic and social changes which have taken place in the last twenty or thirty years. But I think that the general sense of the House, certainly of what has been said this afternoon, is that the mere prolongation of the general expectation of life is certainly not everything. We as a Government and Parliament have a responsibility to do what we can to see that the elderly people live through the autumn of their lives in circumstances that are as congenial as they can be made.

My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers) and the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Probert) referred to the important question of the loneliness of elderly people. We all realise that there is probably nothing worse in old age than this feeling, which is still very widespread, that people are unwanted by their relatives or the rest of the community. The 1951 Census showed that about three-quarters of a million women over the age of sixty, and nearly half a million men over sixty-five, were living alone and that their numbers had doubled between 1931 and 1951. It is a pretty safe bet that since 1951 the numbers of men and women living on their own have risen even higher.

I agree at once that the wishes of elderly people, within the context of housing, vary a great deal. All hon. Members have come across many cases where elderly people prefer to remain in the house where they have been living during the past twenty, thirty or forty years, even though the house is much too big for their needs. As we all know, quite a large proportion of elderly people become very independent, but there are others, probably in increasing numbers, who are only too anxious to free themselves from excessive housework and chores and to live in smaller and perhaps more modern accommodation where they would feel less isolated than they do in their present family houses.

I believe that it is the general wish on both sides of the House that the more we are able to do to satisfy the growing demands of elderly people for small dwellings, flatlets and maisonettes, the better. This is desirable for its own sake but, in addition, the more we are able to do it the more it has the secondary effect of releasing family accommodation, and this can make a very real contribution to the solution of the housing problem.

I admit at once that not enough has been done in the provision of dwellings for old people since the end of the war. My right hon. Friend and I never tire of saying so in speeches in the country, and we mean to go on saying it. The truth of the matter is that after the war, by general consent of both the major political parties, priority had to be given to the building of houses for general needs. I do not think anyone can be criticised for that, but by 1955 we had 2 million additional permanent houses built and it then became possible, in the view of Her Majesty's Government, to put the future bias on such specialised housing needs as slum clearance and homes for old people. The House would do well to bear in mind that a very high proportion of old people are living in slum conditions at present and that the more we can accelerate the tempo of slum clearance the more we can help the elderly people.

The hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) referred to the desirability of building one-bedroom dwellings or maisonettes in the curtilages of old people's homes. There is no objection Whatsoever to that. There is a great deal to be said for it in many circumstances, and I believe that the Wolverhampton Corporation has built a group of bungalows very close to Part III accommodation in the Wolverhampton district. As the House knows, my right hon. Friend has given very direct encouragement to local authorities to build more and more for old people by retaining the £10 subsidies for one-bedroom flats and bungalows. About a year ago we issued an interesting booklet "Flatlets for Old People", in which we tried to demonstrate how it was possible to build blocks of flatlets containing more or less self-contained dwellings for old people at reasonable rents. The Government have also urged housing authorities to take over large houses and to convert them into self-contained bed-sitting-rooms for old people. A considerable amount has been done in this respect and as Exchequer grants are available for this work we hope a great deal more will be done.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) said earlier in the debate, we have made a great deal of progress in recent years in expanding the number of dwellings available for old people. It is not long ago that only about 7 per cent. of the total number of new dwellings in the country provided by local authorities were designed for elderly people. Today we have been able, through persuasion and through the subsidy arrangements, to encourage local authorities to raise that proportion to 20 per cent. My hon. Friend referred to a figure of 25 per cent. in his usual forward-looking fashion, but although we have not achieved that figure yet, we shall achieve it in the next year or so.

In conclusion, I assure the House that my right hon. Friend is not in the least complacent about this problem. We want to do all we humanly can to meet the demands for small, labour-saving homes which are easy to manage, which are well designed and which are pleasant for elderly people to live in. We shall certainly take the opportunity of studying in detail all that has been said in this debate, because I know that my right hon. Friend in anxious to consider any ideas about housing which will help to bring a measure of greater contentment to those of our fellow citizens who are about to enter the autumn of their lives.

2.42 p.m.

Photo of Mr Norman Dodds Mr Norman Dodds , Erith and Crayford

I want to pay a tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies) for being the champion of the elderly people today. No doubt at his age he feels much better able to speak and think for them than some of the younger Members who have spoken here today.

I agree with my hon. Friend in asking that priority should be given to keeping elderly people in their own homes and in the community as far as possible. In that respect, there is a great need for much greater expansion of the domiciliary services. Despite what we have heard here today, there is not enough impetus or encouragement given to make it possible for old people to stay in their homes, and there can be no doubt that in Worthing it has been clearly indicated that when it comes the cost of domiciliary services through the voluntary organisations is not as great as many people think. I often wonder why the Government—and probably the Labour Government were just as much at fault—ignore deterioration in people until they become home-bound, helpless and a 100 per cent. expense to the Exchequer. There needs to be much earlier action, and if there is, I am convinced we shall get far better value for money and that elderly people will be much better off.

In moving the Amendment, reference was made to the fact that the question of the elderly should be kept outside politics. In other words, when anyone speaks about the plight of elderly people the remark is made, "Oh, better keep it out of politics". In my own area, which is typical of many, there is at present a campaign in the local paper about how contemptible it is to bring the old age pensioners into politics. That may be so, but I would like to refer to the 1951 election in this respect. I have a handbill issued by the Conservative Central Office almost on the eve of that election. On the cover there is an elderly lady and an elderly gentleman, and inside is shown the plight of the old-age pensioners and what a poor deal they were getting under a Labour Government—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Wait for it! The party opposite made a pledge that when the Conservatives got in those who needed help most would get it first. Quite frankly, we have seen in their turn the bankers, the brewers, the road hauliers, the steel barons and the property owners being helped because of the increasing wealth of the country. People seem to think that because the pension is slightly higher than it was under a bankrupt Britain after the war, this is all the old age pensioners should have. All I would say is that they should look at the pamphlet issued in 1951.

Photo of Sir Keith Joseph Sir Keith Joseph , Leeds North East

On a point of correction, would not the hon. Gentleman agree that, long before any tax reductions were made by the Tory Government, the pension was notably increased within a few months of the Tories being returned to power?

Photo of Mr Norman Dodds Mr Norman Dodds , Erith and Crayford

Does the hon. Gentleman know that prior to that the food subsidies were taken off to the tune of £100 million?

Photo of Mr Norman Dodds Mr Norman Dodds , Erith and Crayford

Yes, and this was the amount the bankers got in the first nine months of the Tory Government. Does anyone want to contradict it?

Photo of Mr Norman Dodds Mr Norman Dodds , Erith and Crayford

The hon. Gentleman says "simultaneously". All I say to the hon. Gentleman is that this was not a special document and was not mentioned in the pledge given to the old-age pensioners. They were to be helped first and not simultaneously.

I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) on stressing the grand example in his city of the splendid work of the voluntary organisations. I have followed the wonderful story of Salford and I have nothing but praise for the way in which the voluntary authorities have co-operated with the local authority in looking after the city's elderly people. I had hoped that my hon. Friend might mention one important aspect. The Fourth Annual Report states that the City of Salford Companionship Circle for the Elderly has been able to get 3,000 adults and teenagers who are ready to help them in their work.

One of the finest examples of voluntary assistance is that of the number of young people who are helping there in this scheme. It is worth mentioning that the Shaftesbury Society, organised by a group of senior students at the Pendleton High School for Girls, has been and is doing a marvellous job. In other respects, there have been brought in young people of all religious denominations and the students of Manchester University, senior pupils of schools within the city and senior Boy Scouts. This makes a wonderful story of what young people can do in this age to help the elderly and, as the Parliamentary Secretary has just said, the proportion of elderly people is increasing rapidly.

I should think it would be a good investment for the Government to have a full-time film made of the activities in Salford for use in the country in order to indicate to other people what can be done. Printed documents cannot have the same effect as visual aid. During the war we had this for the troops and it was found to be an excellent way of getting a message over. A film, therefore, would be an excellent way of bringing this work home to the rest of the community.

We were told the other day by the Home Secretary that juvenile delinquency is not a question of need but of greed; in other words, there is no need for many of the offences committed. I believe this arises largely from the determination of older people to save their children from going through the hard trials they went through themselves, and in many respects I believe they have been too molly-coddled.

In saying that, I think that there is some excellent material available. I feel that if persuasion were given in the right way many young people would get a form of happiness, which otherwise they will never get in this age of plenty, through giving up some of their time to helping elderly people.

I was very much impressed by the speech of the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers). There is something lacking in the country in one respect. There is a tremendous amount of good will to do something to improve the lot of the elderly people over and above what a Government can do, but one of the greatest difficulties is to obtain the necessary information. The Labour Ministry in America did a wonderful job in gathering together information of agreements between one firm and another, and this was made available to all in the country who were interested.

I should like to know whether any local authority or any group of people who would like to help can get from the Parliamentary Secretary's Department information to show what is happening in various parts of the country. It is often lack of knowledge which stops people coming forward. Practical experience is worth a lot of theory, and it is felt that there is a need now to coordinate the information secured through schemes in various parts of Britain so that it can be made readily available to authorities who may not have done what they might have done but may do more if they receive the necessary encouragement.

There is greater need for encouragement to hold old people's weeks during which there would be a concentration on all that is available for elderly people. Salford has conducted a very highly commendable survey which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East said, has shown that many elderly people do not know to what they are entitled. Therefore, I suggest we might hold old people's weeks in towns and even large villages. We have carnivals which are part of the British way of life, beauty competitions and baby competitions. Now that we recognise that there is a growing proportion of old people in the population, why should we not concentrate on old people's weeks, which would not only give the elderly people knowledge of the things to which they are entitled but would, above all, indicate to them that they are not forgotten? I understand from speaking to elderly people that what rankles most of all is to be forgotten, even if they have money. Plenty of material is available to make a highly interesting old people's week. The Press needs news items, and in this connection I am sure that an old people's week in any locality would bring some excellent results.

There is another aspect that I want to bring to the attention of those who are interested in the care of the aged. There is an excellent document Care of the Aged produced by the Co-operative Party, which is based on a very intensive survey. Under the heading "Welfare homes"—I feel that too little has been said about this today—even if small houses are built for the elderly people, there are many who arrive at a stage where they need some care and attention, and, therefore, welfare homes are absolutely necessary.

There is one thing in recent years which has angered me. It is something that happens in my area and in many others. An old people's home is opened, and the local bigwigs go on the platform and talk about the wonderful amenities in the home. I feel that this is often overstressed. Alongside that must be borne in mind the number of old people in the locality who would like to enter a home but cannot get into one. We are told of the number of old people's homes which have been opened during the last ten years. That should be related to the number of old people who have to come into this category during the past ten years. I have authoritative evidence that. in spite of the number of old people's homes which are being built, the position is now worse than it was ten years ago because of the number of old people who want to enter such homes.

The document says on page 12: Most old people live alone or with relatives or as lodgers in the homes of others. It says: Although the great majority are prepared to live independently there are still very large numbers who would choose to enter a Welfare Home if places were available. It has been estimated that in London and Greater London only 8·5 per cent. of those who are known to wish to enter homes are accepted. Many authorities have plans for increasing the number of places they can offer; most of these have been set aside because of financial stringency. In one densely populated county in the South of England the waiting list rose from 488 in November 1954, to 553 in October, 1955. I have heard from many areas that, despite the number of places which are allocated for old people, there are, because of the increasing proportion of old people, even more waiting to enter these homes than there were previously. When the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Farey-Jones) mentioned circulars from the Ministry of Health, I could not help thinking that circulars by themselves do not provide accommodation. Time after time authorities in Kent have told me that they have plans for welfare homes but they cannot get them past the Ministry. Is that so? If so, is it necessary? Also, what is to happen in the future? Time after time it has been said that plans exist but the Ministry stands in the way.

It is also felt that the burden of the upkeep of old people's homes falls far too much on local authorities and that too little is contributed by the Exchequer. The Co-operative Party document says: This seems to be a grim reminder of the traditional philosophy in this country that a parish should shoulder full responsibility for its own destitute poor. I urge that when this problem is being tackled the Exchequer should be more forthcoming in helping local authorities to make this provision.

The Amendment says: … welcomes the improvements being effected in the provision of accommodation and other services … I feel that one of the greatest weaknesses is in the provision of places for old people. A few months ago there was a statement in the national newspapers by Mrs. Freda Evans, a magistrate, who told a London conference on mental health: I feel I have been guilty of manslaughter. As a J.P., she found that there was no alternative to having a lady of 90 certified and put in a mental hospital. A doctor said that the lady should not have gone to a mental hospital but there was no alternative because no other accommodation was available. The doctor said that he felt the old lady was in good health and would have lived for many years. However, she died one month after entering the mental hospital. There is evidence that, because of lack of accommodation for them, more and more elderly people have to go into mental hospitals. The consequence is that many of them die very quickly, undoubtedly because of broken hearts.

We have recently been interested in the Mental Health Bill. I agree that it is a big stride forward and to be welcomed, but I have yet to be satisfied that any provision in that Bill will obviate the terrible problem of dealing with old people. It is true that a mental hospital can refuse certain people if it is felt that they would not benefit from admission. Many people would say that my statement was irresponsible, but the simple fact is that my evidence comes from the testimony of some of the greatest authorities in the land, long before the Royal Commission on the Law relating to Mental Illness and Mental Deficiency was appointed.

I want to quote from the evidence of the Justices' Clerks' Society to the Royal Commission in which the Society said: It seems obvious from reports we have received from a number of quarters that justices are being asked to certify where the real problem is senility and not insanity.… The real trouble is that the law has provided proper machinery for dealing with cases which are really due to senility, but the necessary accommodation is not available. Certification under the Lunacy Act should not be an alternative remedy. I can see nothing in the Bill which will provide additional accommodation. Much more accommodation is needed before the problem can be adequately tackled.

In its evidence, the Society of Chief Administrative Mental Health Officers said: We have considerable information which leads us to believe that many old people are being admitted to Mental Hospitals as certified persons of unsound mind because they cannot adequately be cared for in their own homes or in accommodation provided under Part III of the National Assistance Act, 1948. The same testimony comes from the British Medical Association and from the Justices of the County of Devon. I was appalled when I read the evidence of the London County Council, which I think is the most progressive local authority which one could find. If it can happen in London, then heaven help people in other parts of the country. Having given details of the places allocated for elderly people, London County Council said: Owing to the increasing number of old people needing hospital treatment, however, the accommodation at these hospitals is not sufficient and many old people are now being certified and admitted to mental hospitals. From Kent came the evidence: I have dealt with 450 cases in the last five years and 30 per cent. have been in the over-65 age group, There has been no alternative but the mental hospital for them with the consequence that the hospital which serves our area is overcrowded with senile dementia cases, many of whom could be adequately dealt with in other accommodation if it was available and if there was statutory provision for it. We think it is dreadful having to certify people of 65, 70, 80, 90 and, as I did in one case, 100 years of age. Thus one can show that until two or three years ago this was a practice followed far too much. Since there is now a greater proportion of elderly people, will the Minister say what hopes there are of tackling this situation?

I am not blaming the Minister. Much of the trouble arises from the turmoil of the war. What I am asking is that provision should be made much earlier when the symptoms are obvious to the local doctor.

Hospital authorities and doctors in Worthing are closely co-operating and when problems with old people arise, someone goes to the home of the old people to talk to them and help them. The cost is being kept down to a minimum, and I should like to see that sort of thing encouraged by the Government.

I hope that I have spoken in a way to show that this is not a party matter. Many of the things that I could throw forth I could do as well if the Labour Government were in office. It is a terrible problem and one which is very difficult to solve because of the increasing age of the people.

I should like to see this problem taken out of party politics and see everything possible done by the public, the voluntary organisations, and the Government to tackle this in a more effective way than ever it has been in the past.

3.5 p.m.

Photo of Sir Isaac Pitman Sir Isaac Pitman , Bath

The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Dodds) made two extremely good points. He made a lot of others, but I should like to take him up on those. The first is the way in which the individual can help in easing the lot of the elderly. One of the effects of the Welfare State is the taking away of responsibility from the individual to the centre here. The way we are talking about this problem this afternoon will tend to make people say: "It is not my business. This is something which should be dealt with by the central authority." We ought to reverse this and reinstate as much as we can the individual sense of responsibility in what is an individual and human problem.

The Bath Rotary Club is extremely good in its attitude to this. If I have cases in my constituency I ask also the Bath Young Conservatives to help, and they too are very good in giving companionship and care to the elderly who need this individual attention. I am not making this a political issue, because the Labour Party in Bath plays its part in this problem of helping the elderly: but it is a national and fundamental problem. The Churches have a National Youth Sunday. Could they not have a National Aged Sunday and get people to take their part in this problem and so retrieve to the individual from the State a proper share of the sense of responsibility and interest in our more elderly people?

I too am grateful to the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies) for raising this matter. I applaud his heart but I take his head to task very considerably because he is, in the terms of the Motion, misleading, or possibly misleading, this House, and certainly misleading the country. Many of us in this House are past the age of the late entrant and we are paying weekly contributions for our retirement pension. On retirement at the age of 65, we, like Lord Montgomery, will be entitled to start drawing what we have bought and paid for with our own money and with our due share of the assistance of the State.

When not so long ago I spoke to the old-age pensioners in Bath at their request they were astonished to find that I was expecting to draw my pension when I was sixty-five. They said: "Mr. Pitman, you do not lick on stamps". I said "I do not lick them on any more than you do, but I pay for them weekly the same as you do." I told them that I was delighted they should think that I ought to have another £1 a week on my retirement pension. I made no secret that I was in no real need for it because I also contributed, within my own firm, to a pensions scheme based on my salary, that I had certain investments and that I did not think that I should be so badly off that I would need the taxes of the poorer people in Bath to give me that extra £1 a week for which they were asking.

Photo of Mr James Griffiths Mr James Griffiths , Llanelli

I am sure the hon. Gentleman does not want to mislead the House. As the Minister responsible for the late entry provision I can tell the hon. Gentleman he will not be entitled to a pension when he is 65 unless he retires.

Photo of Sir Isaac Pitman Sir Isaac Pitman , Bath

I made it clear that I would get it only when a I retired, just as the pensioners were asking for it as a pension equally on retirement. The point is none the less valid on that account. Where the terms of the Motion go wrong is that they are confusing poverty with age. There are a lot of old people who are not poor. It is not true to say that because one has a sixty-fifth birthday, or a sixty-fifth birthday plus, one is poor on retirement. Equally, the halt, the lame and the blind can be jolly poor although they are not old. This House has traditionally taken an interest in the issue of poverty. But we must not make the intellectual mistake of mixing up the two things, poverty with age, but deal in discussing this with only the one issue, those who are poor among those who are also old.

I now want to go back to the point I was making about my talk to the old people in Bath. We immediately went on to the question of the means test. The way in which those old people were divided as to whether there should be a payment to me on retirement was ridiculous and laughable. At first they all said, "You ought not to get it." I said, "Right, then. You approve of the means test." They said, "Oh, no. We do not approve of the means test. There must not be any means test." I said, "Then how are you to exclude me if you do not have a means test?" They were at sixes and sevens and all I could do was to point out that it was the policy of this country to apply a means test. The means test as a principle was absolutely acceptable to all parties, whether it was in terms of a retirement pension or of somebody's child winning a scholarship to go to a university. What was at issue was not the principle but the level of pitching of the means test, and also the question of self-esteem arising out of the necessity of asking questions about a person's income and means generally in order to administer the means test.

At this juncture in our history I believe that we should afford a more generous pitching of the Assistance Board level of the means test at any rate for the more elderly poor which would also meet the question of self-esteem and administration.

This links up with the other point made by the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford, and by others, concerning the need to encourage old people to live with their families. As the Parliamentary Secretary will confirm, if a family is looking after its own aged poor it is, however, penalised to a certain extent—I believe to the extent of 5s. a week. There are reasons for that, which I will come to later. But after making that penalty, such an elderly relative receives, as an allowance under the Assistance Board level, 41s. a week—plus perhaps the usual variables.

Let us compare that 41s. a week with the institutional costs. As the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford has said, owing to deficiencies of accommodation in local authority eventide homes some old people find themselves in hospitals or unnecessarily "certified" and in mental hospitals. On 19th March I asked a Question about costs in institutions under Part III of the National Assistance Act and in hospitals and mental hospitals. My right hon. Friend informed me that in respect of homes provided by local authorities for the care of the aged the cost varied from £427 down to £180 a year; in hospitals it varied from £968 to £218 and in mental hospitals from £974 to £179. In other words, it costs up to £20 and £10 a week to maintain old people for whom their families no longer care. That provides a very big margin for the Government to deal generously with these aged people and to save what is virtually their own money out of the other pocket, and to allow these elderly folk to remain in the care of their families and with much less cost to the taxpayer.

The money paid to enable these people to remain at home will give a sense of freedom and of dignity and esteem to those in receipt of it. We must do something about this question of self-esteem and nomenclature. Following my Question in the House Mr. F. A. A. Menzler, in a letter to The Times, suggested that we should rechristen the assistance payment to the old-age pensioner and call it a "supplementary retirement pension". I would agree or would suggest calling it the "minimum (conditional) retirement pension"—conditional upon attaining a certain age and upon proving need. This condition of the existence of need is the essence of what we are discussing and indeed, in terms of the Motion and of the Amendment on the Order paper, it is the very point of the contradistinction between the two wordings. One deals with "aged people" and he other with "those old people who require" help. The condition of the minimum (conditional) retirement pension would be the needs of those aged people who qualified for it also by age.

I think that it would be a good thing to make that condition of age and retirement, the age of, shall we say, 70 and not 65 for men, and the age of 65 and not 60 for women. We want people to continue in work past the retirement age and not to be induced by any such more generous National Assistance Board levels to retire earlier than they otherwise would. In my view 70 is a right age. By the time that a man has reached the age of 70, if he is working he is doing so because he is jolly good at it and likes doing it. He is not going to be bribed to retire. Therefore, we ought in setting a minimum retirement pension at that age to be able to have the benefit of both worlds.

I was rather disappointed with the speech of the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Probert) in one respect. He seemed to think it was relevant whether or not a man had earned for the nation in his working life prior to retirement and what. Let us face it. This minimum provision against want has nothing to do with the man's deserts, but with the man's humanity. In fact, the people who deserve most are, presumably, the people who would not get it, because they are the people whose pensions and means are sufficient in any case. Even a waster would get this minimum, and because he is a human being. Even the fact that he may have earned nothing in his life ought to be irrelevant to his human needs—which is what we are discussing.

At the age of 70, I believe it is good business to give a man a better National Assistance level than to pay between £20 and £10 a week to keep him in an institution. Moreover, we want the families to look after these people. I recognise that there is a danger which is one that also applies to the care of children. We do not want the elderly to be a mulch cow to their family and to represent a "property" as a regular source of income. We want the situation, both for the child and for the aged, to be such that an important element of affection is kept alive and that the members of the family are not doing it just as a mercenary proposition. But we do not want them to be badly out of pocket.

I think too that there is a lot to be said for increasing the supplementary pension as the age increases, giving more at, say, 80 and more still at, say, 90. It is at that stage that the elderly become the greatest imposition on their families because they need more constant attention. If they do not need more attention as they get older, God bless them, they are good citizens to this country and I do not think that we should demur from so helping them because of their strength in old age.

The Motion talks about wireless, television, subsidised housing and meals. All of that is wrong on two counts. First, it is wrong in the sense that it is subsidising also those who do not need it, and secondly it is wrong because we are going back to the Truck Act. If we really wish these people to have these benefits, let us be straightforward and honest and pay to them the money to let them buy them at their true cost and do not let us give them to them in kind. From both points of view, then, I appeal to hon. Members opposite to agree that the terms of our Amendment are better and more relevant to the problem than the terms of their Motion.

There is one other way in which I think the Government could help the aged poor and that is in regard to the question of retired Crown servants, particularly those civil servants who were originally in the unestablished class. There are some 500,000 unestablished civil servants whose past unestablished service counts for only half in pension. They are all elderly and clearly all of them are in the lowest income groups. Moreover, I think there are about 350,000 of them to whom the granting of this concession would amount to no more than 10s. a week for each. So it is clear that they are in this class which requires aid. By this means, and by adopting other practical suggestions which have been made, I hope that the Government may be able to do something for the elderly poor for it is the problem of their welfare which we are discussing this afternoon.

3.21 p.m.

Photo of Mr Christopher Boyd Mr Christopher Boyd , Bristol North West

I have always regarded the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Pitman) as a relatively progressive Conservative in some respects—as a supporter of Bernard Shaw, and in some of the ideas which he has advocated in the field of foreign policy, especially the part he plays in upholding the ideal, however long-range, of a world community. I therefore found myself all the more disappointed in his remarks on this subject. There seemed to run as an almost continuous thread through his speech an implication that people who had reached the later stages of life in none too prosperous circumstances ought to be blamed; that it was their fault and that they should not be respected for the part they had played in the past as citizens.

Photo of Sir Isaac Pitman Sir Isaac Pitman , Bath

I did not say anything like that at all. I said that anybody who was poor should receive a pension on the grounds of his humanity, and that the question of what he had contributed to the community before reaching retirement age was irrelevant.

Photo of Mr Christopher Boyd Mr Christopher Boyd , Bristol North West

It seemed to me that the hon. Member was suggesting that those who most deserve an old-age pension would not get one because they had been successful in making adequate provision for their old age without the help of a pension. That seemed to imply some sort of moral superiority among those who had been lucky and successful.

Photo of Sir Isaac Pitman Sir Isaac Pitman , Bath

I referred to two classes. On one side I put the waster, whom the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Probert) seemed to look down on because he thought that such a man had no claim to a pension. I say that the waster has as much claim as anyone else because he is a human being. On the other side, I put people like Lord Montgomery and myself, for whom the poorest of our constituents should not be taxed in order to give us an additional pension which we do not need.

Photo of Mr Christopher Boyd Mr Christopher Boyd , Bristol North West

I agree that we should try to raise the basic standard of living below Which we should not be prepared to let any of our fellow citizens fall, whatever troubles and misfortunes come to them, whether through the fault of themselves or anybody else. But I could not help feeling that both the hon. Member for Bath and his hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Farey-Jones)—although the hon. Member for Bath put it more tactfully than his hon. Friend—seemed to be anxious to promote the idea that it was the responsibility of the individual to make provision for his old age. It seems to me that anyone contemplating the conditions of old-age pensioners. especially those in receipt of National Assistance, and listening to the debates in this House upon ways of improving the standard of old-age pensions, would consider it desirable to make provision for himself, in addition to anything which the community is likely to provide. The desire is there, the problem is how to implement it.

It is easy to assume that saving which is relatively easy for some people is equally easy for everybody else. Both of the hon. Members who have provoked my feelings on this subject are successful businessmen. They remind me of a particular constituent I met recently who gave the impression that he might be a businessman, perhaps in a big way. He told me that he had indeed been in business but his venture had been unsuccessful. It is part of the creed of the advocates of private enterprise that risk-taking is one of the functions of the entrepreneur. It goes with that concept of risk-taking that the risk must not always come off. Some of the enterprises are successful, and some are not. There must be many cases of people who have attempted to be successful businessmen but their endeavours have not succeeded.

Hon. Members opposite should keep it in mind that there are people who have tried their hardest to be successful in business, and have failed, although they followed all the ideals of hon. Members who have succeeded. In their old age, these people are just as much entitled to respect as are other people whose risk-taking did not go awry. There are still many other people whose lives have been spent in hard work on low wages and salaries and who have never had the opportunity of saving very much. I hope, therefore, that we shall all recognise that it is necessary for a civilised society to provide as high a standard of living for all its old people as it can possibly afford.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Watford has returned to us, because I want to refer to another remark of his. I am afraid that I have already referred to part of his speech in his absence, but his opinion was defended by the hon. Member for Bath. He asked whether we could afford to do anything to help the old-age pensioners. I would have thought that after £365 million worth of reduction in taxation was conceded in the recent Budget, the great bulk of it to relatively well-to-do people, we are not in a position to argue whether the country could or could not afford a further increase in old-age pensions.

Photo of Mr Frederick Farey-Jones Mr Frederick Farey-Jones , Watford

My point was that in legislating for old-age pensioners we are not dealing with the immediate year but with ten or fifteen years ahead. With the growing disparity of numbers, I think we should look after the present old-age pensioners and not future generations, who will have their own responsibilities.

Photo of Mr Christopher Boyd Mr Christopher Boyd , Bristol North West

If the country gets poorer in years to come—and it dos not seem to have been getting richer in the last few years on the basis of current levels of production—that may be so, but it seems a rather conservative forecast of the future potential wealth of the country. I should have thought we could expect a reasonable advance with the aid of science and increasing production to provide for an enlarged and ageing population.

We all recognise that every man as he gets older does not want to retire sooner than is necessary. Much the happiest way for him to spend the later years of his life is to continue in work which at any rate is similar to what he has been doing, even though it may be a lighter form of work, until his last illness. We know of many who do that and probably it is the happiest way for any man to spend the later years of his life, even into his eighties. There are famous examples of people who have continued their active lives into advanced ages. I am sure it is clear from the debate that that we all wish to make it possible for more people to continue in work beyond the ages regarded as retiring ages.

In my constituency, unfortunately, there are a great many men who have had to retire against their will because of diminishing employment. The employer has taken the view, looking to the future of the firm, that he should keep the younger men and, if he has to diminish the numbers of those he employs, he would rather dispense with those who have pension rights than the younger employees. That might be all right for the good of the firm, but we ought not to assume that to be compulsorily retired at 65 is any less cruel a position to be put into—in many ways it is worse—than to be unemployed at an earlier age when there is more possibility of getting another job.

In this respect, it seems that the Government themselves could set a better example—I do not say any particular Government, because I think all of them have been as bad in this respect—in relation to Civil Service retirements. If the Government could lay it down that a civil servant does not have to retire against his wish while he is doing efficiently the job in which he is employed or while there is any other Civil Service job he can usefully discharge, so that those who spend their lives in Government service will be encouraged to continue their active working lives as long as it is possible for the Government to find useful ways of employing them, that would be a good example.

One always hears that the pressure comes from the younger ones wanting promotion. It may be that the promotion demand should be satisfied by enabling older men when they reach retiring age to continue, perhaps with less strain, in positions of less responsibility and rank. It would be useful if an example could he set by the Government to other employers to encourage continuation in work of men who are older, regard naturally being had to health and ability to continue to do useful work. If more people could continue working longer, that would be a way of easing the financial task of providing decent standards of living for the other old people who do retire.

A good deal has been said about the desirability of enabling old people to continue living in houses where they have dwelt for many years. There is no doubt that the older that people become, the harder it is to adjust themselves to changes. Attempts have been made to insert into the Rent Act provisions to enable people over a certain age to continue living in the same accommodation at tribunal-fixed rents, during the remainder of their life. I wish that some further effort could be made to establish as a general rule that nobody can be told by his landlord to move after he has reached a certain age. I might put that age at a little lower than retirement age—perhaps 55 or 60. After that time, people should be allowed to stay on for the rest of their days in the home in which they have lived for so long, at an arbitrable rent.

Photo of Mr Anthony Kershaw Mr Anthony Kershaw , Stroud

Would the hon. Gentleman apply that to a service tenancy also? It seems to me that it might raise difficulties for the older person and militate against him being given a job, because of his approaching retirement.

Photo of Mr Christopher Boyd Mr Christopher Boyd , Bristol North West

Apart from the service tenancy question, there is a question whether it would diminish the chances of somebody getting a house when he is approaching the age which had been set. Therefore, I cannot see this idea being easily applicable without having a fairly wide security of tenure enforced. That is one of the reasons why I do not like the whole trend in the Rent Act.

Of course, this is a problem which does not exist in the case of council tenants because they are not turned out unless they fail to pay their rent. In practice very few council house tenants are turned out, though I still favour giving them the same security of tenure that I want for tenants of private landlords. In fact, it will be known to hon. Members on both sides of the House that such a proposal is officially in the programme of the Labour Party.

I should like to make a suggestion, which I have not heard made in the debate so far, although it connects up with other suggestions which have been made, such as "Granny's flat" for example. One of the problems of keeping people in the same home is that their family needs diminish as they get older. The young people go off and get married and very often the old people want smaller accommodation. Equally a young couple setting up home together may want something smaller, but usually they do not qualify for a council house until they have some children. However, we may hope for a better situation in time.

Surely there is need for an expandable type of house or flat on council estates. I should have thought that where councils are building blocks of two semidetached houses, which still seem to be the most popular form of council housing, the upper storey of the block could be made adjustable and rooms could be easily attached to one house or the other as the needs of the two families change. I have in mind the design being such that the two parts of the upper storey could be capable of division by inserting in alternative doorframes, a sheet of sound-proof material flush with the wall so that it would not show through the wallpaper, but could be easily removed to leave a door. In that way we should have houses available, the size of which could change as the needs in each family change. If that were done at all widely, although it would not always happen that one family would be prepared to give up a room at the same time as the other family needed increased accommodation, it would often be possible to make this adjustment to meet families' needs.

One of the things which we want to ensure is that the pension does not automatically shrink when the cost of living rises. If we could control prices, pensioners would be helped immensely. I am in favour of much wider price control than apparently hon. Members on both sides of the House are prepared to support. It has been emphasised that it is important, as part of meeting the needs of old people, that we should try to establish effective restraint of prices and the cost of living.

I come to one small suggestion which has been made before. In my constituency—indeed, in the whole of Bristol, I believe—it is impossible for old people to buy a half-pint bottle of milk or anything less than one whole pint at a time. In this weather that makes things difficult for them. All old-age pensioners do not have refrigerators. It is desirable that some step should be taken to enable them to buy a smaller amount of milk than one pint at a time, which is very wasteful and which they cannot afford.

3.41 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Jennings Mr John Jennings , Burton

During the Whitsun Recess, I watched a television programme which was a fictionalised documentary entitled, "Fear Begins at Forty". I must admit that the title almost frightened me. The programme pinpointed two very vital points. First, it pinpointed the fear of old age, which begins in middle age. Secondly, it pinpointed the desire of the old to be wanted. That is very important indeed. The psychological approach to the problem of the aged is vitally important. It is necessary for their mental and psychological wellbeing that they should be able to grasp that they are still necessary.

This fear which the programme suggested began in middle age has five headings. There is the fear of loneliness, the fear of inactivity, the fear of unsuitable housing, the fear of inadequate financial resources and, last but not least, the natural fear of physical, and in many cases mental, deterioration.

The background against which all this fear takes place is lightened by the fact, as has been pointed out this afternoon, that people are living longer, that the expectation of life is greater, that more can expect to enjoy an active life after retirement and that there is a larger proportion of the community who are old.

That brings me to the cardinal fact about which we differ as parties, namely, the extra financial problems imposed on the State. When considering loneliness, it is important to remember that the physical and mental deterioration is more rapid with those living alone. Therefore, it behoves authorities—whether State, national, central or local—to try to deal with this terrific problem. It is the duty of hon. Members to attempt to abolish this fear. We cannot altogether abolish natural fears, but we can mitigate many of them by policy in the House of Commons.

Hon. Members have naturally looked at what has been done in their own constituencies. In my constituency of Burton, which is a most progressive town, both in education and in welfare of the aged and handicapped—[Interruption.] It is progressive in other ways, too, in certain amalgamations one has heard something about. In Burton there are four residential homes. A new home has been approved. The hon. Member for Salford. Fast (Mr. Frank Allaun) spoke about putting old people near residential homes. We are already doing that in Burton. The old people in 56 flats are supervised by the master, mistress and staff of a nearby home.

I disagree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers) on the segregation of old people. I have studied this problem for years, and I do not agree they should be gathered together in separate colonies. In one town where I lived there was a colony of old people in a district called The Lawns, and I was horrified to see the number of funerals that took place there each month. That is being blunt about it. Seeing their neighbours being taken off like that is not a nice atmosphere for old people. We should build our houses for old people within the community. We do not want separate colonies. In these days, particularly, old people are anxious to take part in local activities and to see other people. There is much more that I should like to say on this subject, but time does not permit.

There is the problem of work. "Too old at 40" is now the cry, but people today can work longer, and desire to do so. I therefore welcome the modern outlook of both parties that recognises in their pension schemes that this desire should be encouraged by the postponement of pension and. particularly, by the increase in the earnings rule. I would ask both parties—whichever is successful at the next General Election——

Photo of Mr Stephen Davies Mr Stephen Davies , Merthyr Tydfil

Oh, there is no doubt about that.

Photo of Mr John Jennings Mr John Jennings , Burton

There is considerable doubt about it—to keep the earnings rule ever in mind. Both parties accept the principle, but we should constantly study how high we can safely put the ceiling, consistent with the retirement principle.

The subject of inadequate resources brings us, of course, to the pension scales. There is a deep fear in old people that drawing pension, and particularly drawing National Assistance, will mean the loss of their pride and the loss of their independence. I am quite certain that in a large number of pension cases there is a definite need for increased pension rates. There can be no denial of hardship in these cases.

The proportion has been put by some of my hon. Friends at about one-fifth. Therefore, one feels that the other four-fifths—certainly the top one-fifth, as represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Pitman)—certainly have other income resources which free them from the need of pension. That makes me think that the future policy of both parties should be that any increase should be channelled to those who need it, and need it most. The Government are doing that in the new Pensions (Increase) Bill, which gives to those who retired earlier on the lower salaries and lower pensions the highest increase—12 per cent. In passing, I should like to see an extra category put in the Bill. Those who retired before 1939 should get more than the 12 per cent.

This idea of channelling the money to those needing it most brings in the need for some means test or other—that cannot be avoided——

Photo of Mr Stephen Davies Mr Stephen Davies , Merthyr Tydfil

There is really a lot of misunderstanding about that. This side of the House has never objected to a means test if it applies above a substantial income, but not at is was applied in the inter-war years.

Photo of Mr John Jennings Mr John Jennings , Burton

I have no quarrel with that at all. I am simply saying that both sides must accept the principle of a means test.

The next suggestion that I would make—it is not new—is that the payment of supplementary pensions which go to pensioners mainly through the machinery of the National Assistance Board should be now and in future integrated into the machinery of the Ministry of Pensions and away from the stigma of National Assistance. I say that quite conscientiously, because, as I know from talking with old people, there is still felt to be this stigma, and all the moral suasion in the world will not take away from the pensioners their early memories of the old Poor Law. Therefore, I want to see the payment of pensions and National Assistance integrated into the machinery of the Ministry of Pensions.

Lastly, I should like to see the name "National Assistance" changed. It is over two years ago since my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Farey-Jones), my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mrs. McLaughlin) and I went to see the Minister of Pensions. My hon. Friend the Member for Watford remembers that?

Photo of Mr John Jennings Mr John Jennings , Burton

The Minister brought with him the Chairman of the National Assistance Board, and we argued the case for these very two things, the integration and the change of name. By this method the old-age pensioners would achieve the target for which they are campaigning, or get nearer to it, far sooner than under the auspices of the other side of the House—or this. It would also do what the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Dodds) said ought to be done: it would take the old-age pensioners out of party politics.

3.51 p.m.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Robinson Mr Kenneth Robinson , St Pancras North

I should like to add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies) on giving the House the opportunity of discussing today this very important and human subject. I should like to felicitate both him and his seconder, my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun), on two constructive and deeply felt speeches which have set the tone for the whole debate.

My hon. Friend has drawn his Motion in very wide terms, and it is not possible to deal adequately with all the aspects of it. I want to say only one word about the pensions aspect which has been very thoroughly covered by many of my hon. Friends.

The mover of the Amendment, the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw), invites the old-age pensioner to derive comfort from the fact that the Government are keeping under review the rates of retirement pension". I think the only comfort he will get out of that is if he feels that the review is the prelude to action. I am wondering whether the Government are going to do something soon about this, because the opportunity is here. The hon. Lady the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance has been sitting on that Bench with exemplary patience all day. I wonder if she would like to get up and tell us that the Government are going to move an Amendment on Report on Monday of the National Insurance Bill to give an immediate increase to the old-age pensioners? Or are they going to wait until the eve of the Election, as my hon. Friend said?

Photo of Mr David Williams Mr David Williams , Neath

As the hon. Member's party did.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Robinson Mr Kenneth Robinson , St Pancras North

It appears that we, like the old-age pensioners, shall have to contain ourselves in patience.

I come now to the health and welfare aspects of this problem. It is clear from many of the speeches today that the existing provisions for the care and treatment of old people are still far from satisfactory. I well remember a debate in this House about six years ago when I had the privilege of seconding a Motion on a similar subject. Almost all the criticisms which were made about administrative arrangements then have been repeated today. We were promised action by the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, but although there has been some very wise exhortation by the hon. Gentleman's Ministry in the intervening years, there has been not all that much achievement.

As many hon. Members have said, this is a problem which is always increasing in size. Certain figures have been given, and I should like to offer two more to the House. They are from the Minister's own annual reports. In 1901, there was one member of the population out of 21 aged sixty-five or over. Today the figure is about one in eight. The figures for the older still are even more remarkable, because since 1948, that is in the last ten years only, the numbers over the age of 75 have increased by more than a quarter, that is by 380,000. Therefore, it is all the more important that we should get the structure of this service right at this stage.

I think the House agrees that the best thing for old people is for them to live in their own homes if that is possible. The second best thing is for them to live with their families if that is possible, and only if neither of these things can be managed is any kind of institutional care appropriate. I am very glad today that there has been no mention of the theory, about which we used to hear a great deal, that somehow, since the advent of the Welfare State, people are less willing to look after and care for their parents and the older members of their families.

I do not believe that there is any evidence for this at all. Clearly, if the presence of old people in the family is difficult from the point of view of overcrowding, or from the point of view of the rest of the family, the interest of the younger people has to be considered, and particularly the interest of the children, and if it is not possible for the family to look after their own people, then regrettably we must say that some kind of institutional care is the solution.

Several hon. Members have mentioned the problem of the housing of old people. A physician in charge of the geriatric unit in one of the London hospitals told me only last week that he could get rid of many dozens of his patients—which must mean thousands in the country as a whole—if only he could obtain housing accommodation for them on the ground floor. That, of course, is one of the most difficult things to get.

I believe that there may well be little or no shortage of hospital accommodation for the elderly in this country. No doubt there is a shortage here and there, but what appears to be a serious shortage is really a reflection of the shortage of welfare home accommodation under Part III of the National Assistance Act. If that gap could be filled and those shortages made good by the local authorities, we could probably even reduce the number of hospital beds which are being occupied by the elderly at the moment, since there is no doubt that many of them remain in hospital simply because there is nowhere else for them to go.

I want, in particular, to support the demand in the Motion for small welfare homes. I think that the figure of accommodation for thirty to sixty people mentioned in the Motion represents about the right upper and lower limits. Those of us who have had any experience of this must feel that the large type of welfare home can never be suitable for this purpose. However much the local authority spends on trying to make it a tolerable place, it can never be suitable for old people's residential accommodation.

One wants the smaller home, not only because it is more likely to be a home in the ordinary and best sense of the word, but because it will inevitably draw its population from a smaller area. These large homes draw on a large area. It is very difficult to get any kind of local community interest in such a home. An interest of that kind is most valuable to the successful running of any kind of old people's home. The other obvious advantage in having them small is that, because they draw on a relatively small area, visiting by relatives and friends is made that much more easy, and visiting is a most important part of the proper care of old people who are not able to live in their own homes.

The main trouble with the health and welfare services for old people is not so much that they are insufficient in the aggregate but that they are not flexible enough and that they are too fragmented. The two words one hears so often when people discuss this subject are "co-ordination" and "integration", and they have been mentioned throughout this debate today. Far too often there are too many agencies involved in a case, agencies responsible often to different authorities, and all too often working in watertight compartments.

I will quote one case which is taken from the most recent report of the National Corporation for the Care of Old People. It mentions a case where no fewer than ten different agencies were involved. When the case came to them the matter was being considered by an old people's welfare committee, the National Assistance Board, the Ministry of Pensions, the housing department of the borough council, home helps, the mental welfare department of the local authority, the local mental hospital, the Red Cross, Wireless for the Bedridden and the meals service. They were all involved in this single case and the welfare officer of the corporation was called upon to try to introduce some co-ordination.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. Probert) said, co-ordination between local health authorities and regional hospital boards could be a great deal better than it is. The Minister recognised this in sending a circular which reminded local authorities of the importance of maintaining close liaison with hospital authorities in order that individuals could be readily transferred, where necessary, from a welfare home to a hospital or from a hospital to a welfare home. In many areas of this country that type of transfer is extremely difficult to effect.

It is largely because of the insufficiency of Part III accommodation that hospitals find it difficult to get patients, who no longer need continuous medical and nursing care, out of the hospital into a welfare home. I admit freely that the corollary is also true, that it is sometimes difficult to get hospital beds for patients in Part III accommodation who could, for a limited period perhaps, be better looked after in hospital. This lack of transferability leads to another most unfortunate result. It leads inevitably to a resistance on the part of hospitals, perhaps conscious, perhaps unconscious, to the acceptance of old people into hospital beds. The reluctance springs from the fear of not being able to discharge them, either back to their own home or to some kind of welfare accommodation when hospital care ceases to be necessary.

The hospitals see their geriatric beds, which are mainly designed for a dynamic geriatric type of service, becoming silted up. Often their long-stay annexes, too, become filled with old people many of whom could well be cared for without hospital facilities. This, in turn, leads to even more distressing and deplorable consequences, which affect not only the chronic and elderly sick but also the acutely ill elderly patient, and often the emergency case. In the Metropolitan area we have run a most admirable system called the emergency bed service. This is a kind of clearing house covering the four Metropolitan regions for all types of emergency case. It is extremely efficiently run and does a first-rate job, but the service is apt to break down when it comes to old people. I have watched it at work. I have listened to the case being described on the telephone, and all goes well until the would-be receiving hospital asks for the patient's age, and if the patient is 70, 75 or older, all too often it is found impossible to take the patient in.

I came across a specific case only this week of someone I know whose mother, aged about 75, was suffering from cerebral haemorrhage on top of acute pleurisy. Try how they might, they could not obtain a Health Service bed in any London hospital. Ultimately, the patient had to have a private bed costing between 40 and 50 guineas a week, including special nursing, which the family can ill afford.

One of the incidental difficulties about the emergency bed service is that the teaching hospitals, in which London is very rich, do not play their full part. One can understand that they do not want their beds full of clinically dull chronic sick cases, but nevertheless their medical students will see progressively more old peoples sickness in their subsequent careers. I believe that the teaching hospitals could and should do more to cooperate in the Emergency Bed Service.

My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Dodds) and my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare spoke of old people being certified in order to obtain for them accommodation in mental hospitals. This is a matter which has been discussed many times over the last ten years or so, and it is important that we should get it in perspective. It it not the scandal that some people have pretended. Nor do I think it is quite as distressing as my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford suggested today. For example, I should want a lot more evidence than he gave about the laxly of 90 who died within one month of going into a hospital, and for the J.P. who certified the patient to suggest that it was a case of manslaughter on her part seems to me ridiculous when dealing with someone of that age, for she might well have died in any environment.

The point to remember is that these old people were certified only because there was no other way of getting any kind of institutional care for them, and they desperately needed such care. Many of them would have gone in as voluntary patients, but the hospitals were, of course, very genuinely full up, and it is only when the patient becomes certified that under the present law the hospital has no option but to receive the patient. That does not mean that these people were improperly certified. My hon. Friend quoted evidence which was given to the Royal Commission on this point. What he did not quote was the findings of the Royal Commission. It found that there was no evidence that these old people admitted to mental hospitals were not suffering from mental disturbance or deterioration.

Another point to remember is that, although a stigma was attaching to them—it is a stigma which we all deplore but which nevertheless exists—they were well looked after in the mental hospital. Indeed, most of them are happy there. Many of them get better and some could go out if there were anywhere else for them to go. It would, however, be a mistake to think that large numbers of old people in mental hospitals could be discharged tomorrow, even if there were other accommodation for them.

Photo of Mr Norman Dodds Mr Norman Dodds , Erith and Crayford

Is my hon. Friend aware that I have a letter from the Minister of Health himself which says that, as a result of an investigation into mental hospitals, it was found that 10,000 people were in mental hospitals who could go out tomorrow if there were proper accommodation for them? If that by itself does not show a disgraceful state of affairs, I do not know what does.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Robinson Mr Kenneth Robinson , St Pancras North

My hon. Friend has anticipated me. I was about to say that one-third of the patient population in mental hospitals is over 65 and it has been estimated that about 10,000 of them—about a quarter—could be cared for elsewhere if there were somewhere else for them to go. The scandalous situation is not that they are being looked after in mental hospitals, but that there is nowhere else for them to go now that they no longer need the care and treatment which they got in mental hospitals.

Having settled down and having established roots in these hospitals, it would be a mistake to think that they could be easily uprooted and placed in unfamiliar surroundings somewhere else without perhaps precipitating the sort of breakdown which led to their admission in the first place. One must be very careful about this. What one must ensure is that this sort of easy way out is no longer possible in future. I believe that the new Mental Health Bill will go a long way at least towards making that easy way out no longer possible, since it gives the individual hospital the right to refuse patients, and that in itself must stimulate the community and the local health authorities in particular to develop more Part III accommodation.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House spoke of domiciliary services and I believe that if we could only expand the domiciliary services to a much higher level, we could do away with the need for much institutional accommodation If we could get more home helps and more meals-on-wheels services and the kind of day centre which my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East described, we could keep many more old people happily in the community.

We all know that local authorities vary very much in the provision which they make for domiciliary services. Today we have heard about the excellent services in Salford, and the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers) mentioned those in Plymouth. Oxford, of course, has a first-rate community geriatric service with excellent liaison between the hospital and the local authority, and my own borough of St. Pancras does very good work for old people. Although it does not have the responsibility for personal health services—that resides with London County Council—it supports, takes part in and co-operates with an organisation called the St. Pancras Association for the Care of the Aged. I believe that there is room for great expansion here, and it is probably the most economical way of tackling the problem.

I am sure that the developments which have been envisaged in chiropody work will be of great assistance to old people, but I am a little unhappy about the structure of the service as it has been described to us so far. I am not sure that we have the pattern right, but this is probably not the occasion on which to go into any great detail. However, I hope that before anything irrevocable is done the House will have an opportunity of a fairly extensive and detailed debate on the Minister's proposals.

In many ways, it is a happy coincidence that this progressive ageing of the population is going and has gone along hand in hand with the technological revolution which is providing us all the time with new resources and which, providing that it is handled wisely, will lead to progressive increases in our standard of living.

The old people of this country, whose labours have helped to lay the foundations, have the first claim on the new wealth being created in this way. It is the duty of this Government, as indeed of all other Governments, to see that that claim is fairly met.

4.15 p.m.

Photo of Mr Richard Thompson Mr Richard Thompson , Croydon South

We have been fortunate indeed that the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies) when he was lucky in the ballot chose this subject for debate today because it is eighteen months since we had a full debate on this problem. The size of the problem is illustrated by the fact that during that time the number of persons over 65 in England and Wales has increased by 50,000. That is the size of the problem overtaking us the whole time. The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) quoted perfectly correct figures when he drew a comparison between the situation at the turn of the century, now, and what it might be in a few year's time. Apart from the human considerations about which we have rightly heard a great deal today, there is a sheer mathematical progression in the increase of the number of the older population which poses one of the greatest social problems of our time.

This problem is the result mainly of great advances in medical skill and knowledge, and vastly improved social conditions. The expectation of life of the elderly is now greater than ever before. While that is a cause for rejoicing, we cannot just rest on that. We have to tackle this problem so as not only to keep pace with it, which is difficult enough, but to overtake it a bit.

All Members know, and we have had many references to it today, that the great majority of elderly people if left to themselves would far rather live in their own homes in the street that they know, among the surroundings that they are familiar with, and with the neighbours whom they are accustomed to. That in itself is not an argument against the provision of much more Part III accommodation—not at all—but it is a fact that the more we can keep elderly people in their own surroundings the better it will be for everybody all round.

Firstly, and mainly, this afternoon I should like to deal with those services which are mainly the concern of my Ministry and which were specifically mentioned in the Motion, starting with the ones directed to trying to keep people in the community in their own homes.

The home help service was referred to a number of times today. As hon. Members know, under Section 29 of the National Health Service Act local health authorities may provide a service of domestic help for households where such help is required. In fact all local health authorities have made provision for this and the service is being increasingly used for old people. The figures for home helps employed show an increase from 11,338 at the end of December, 1948, to 44,989 at the end of December last year. The number of cases attended has grown from 139,816 in 1949 to 271,968 in 1958. We can say that they have doubled.

The home help service is really the bulwark of old people living in their own homes. Both the number of old people helped and the share of the service which is devoted to them have increased steadily year by year. During 1958 home helps attended 199,196 households where help was needed because of the presence of someone who was old or chronically sick. This represented no less than 73 per cent. of all households helped during the year. Many of these consisted of an elderly couple or a single old person living alone. To old people who are housebound the home help is a friend as well as a help, and sometimes their only contact with the outside world.

Many old people need only a few hours of help a week in order to enable them to remain in reasonable comfort in their own surroundings. They are able, at their own speed, to manage the rest of their domestic tasks themselves, and they are happier and healthier doing this than if everything were done for them, or if they were transferred to institutional accommodation.

The more infirm old people may need additional help. Some local authorities have developed new aspects of the National Health Service which are of particular value to the elderly, such as night attendance for people who are ill, and whose relatives need relief; late evening visits to prepare old people living alone for bed, and central laundry arrangements to deal especially with the linen of old people who are incontinent.

I now turn to home nurses. Under Section 25 of the Act a local health authority is required to provide a nursing service to those needing this in their own home, and this service meets the increasing need of the ageing sick who might otherwise have to go into a hospital. The number of nurses employed has risen from 7,758 at 31st December, 1948, to 10,189 at 31st December, 1958. The number of patients attended has increased from 865,686 in 1949 to 1,002,356 in 1958. These attendances involved well over 24 million visits, of which over half were to patients aged 65 or over at the time of the first visit during the year.

I am sorry to have to give all these figures, but they point to the fact that elderly people are getting a good and increasing slice of this kind of service.

Health visitors have also a function to play here. They are State-registered nurses with some midwifery training—not that that is of any importance in the case of elderly people—and with additional qualifications of public health which they get from the Royal Society of Health. They can be an important help to old people living alone, in advising them and encouraging them in caring for their health. But we have a shortage of health visitors, and in the nature of things they must continue to devote the greater part of their time to the primary job of providing care and advice to mothers.

Several hon. Members have referred to meals on wheels. Local authorities have no power to provide a meal service directly for old people, as such, but under Section 31 of the National Assistance Act they can subscribe to the funds of voluntary organisations providing meals, and I am glad to say that this power is very widely exercised. Two national organisations—the Women's Voluntary Services and the British Red Cross—are the largest suppliers of meals, the W.V.S. alone running over 300 meals schemes and preparing 1½ million meals a year. The common charge made for each meal supplied is 1s., although the actual cost of a meal is often double that sum.

There is no doubt that meals on wheels make a great contribution towards helping housebound old people, and the voluntary organisations running this service are constantly endeavouring to improve it and to fill the gaps. In the case of old people who are not housebound it is now generally considered that instead of taking the meal to them it is better to provide luncheon clubs at old people's clubs and other centres, where old people can go to obtain a meal at a low price and, at the same time, find a little community life and companionship.

Photo of Mr Albert Hunter Mr Albert Hunter , Feltham

And not only luncheon clubs. Some services enable them to change vouchers in ordinary restaurants.

Photo of Mr Richard Thompson Mr Richard Thompson , Croydon South

Yes. I am glad to have had that intervention.

A national inquiry into the meals on wheels service is at present being undertaken by the Government social survey on behalf of and through a grant made by the National Corporation for the Care of Old People and with the support of my Ministry. We hope that from this survey it may be possible to assess more accurately the need and value of such a service.

A few local authorities are providing meals in their own homes for the aged sick and other invalids by virtue of their power under Section 28 of the National Health Service Act to make arrangements for the prevention of illness and the care and after-care of persons suffering from illness. For instance, in London an old-established voluntary body, Invalid Meals for London, is responsible for this service with the aid of grants from the London County Council.

Considering the domiciliary services which are available to improve the lot of the aged, an important new development, to which the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North briefly referred, is, of course, the development of a chiropody service. Perhaps I could say that it will be for individual local health authorities to decide on the extent and method of providing the service, but my right hon. and learned Friend has asked them to give priority to old people as well as, of course, to the disabled and expectant mothers. No one would quarrel with that.

The authorities will be able to provide a service from their own premises or by arranging for treatment to be given in a surgery, or by making home visits or making financial contribution to a voluntary body providing such a service or, of course, there can be a mixture of all these methods.

My right hon. and learned Friend's circular went out as recently as 21st April, and, therefore, it is perhaps a little too soon to know precisely what arrangements various authorities propose to make, but from the earlier inquiries which we received from many of them and from the representations we had from their associations we know of the general wish to provide such a service. I have no reason to doubt that it will become an effective and convenient service, because, of course, local authorities already have such wide experience in the provision of other health and welfare services, many of which, as I have said, are of particular value to elderly people.

No reference to the domiciliary services available for the elderly would be complete without a tribute being paid to the invaluable work of voluntary bodies so well known to hon. Members. I would very much underline what my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers), my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Pitman) and other hon. Members said on that point, and particularly the work of the National Old People's Welfare Council and of the 1,480 old people's welfare committees associated with it. Their activities include the formation of clubs for recreation and companionship, the operation of a chiropody service which, of course, the local authorities will now have power to support financially if they wish to do so, meals on wheels, as I have already said, meals at clubs and, perhaps most important of all, the organisation of friendly visiting which means so much to elderly housebound people.

Many hon. Members have referred to the importance of this human touch and I really believe it is appropriate that a voluntary organisation should make it its own special preserve. The National Council is trying to stimulate recruitment of more volunteers for these services and is organising through the help given by the King George VI Foundation many local courses for the purpose of training visitors and others in the right approach to those whom they seek to help. No system of State or local authority provision can wholly take the place of voluntary effort and the kindliness and humanity which we always associate with it.

Dealing with the more institutional part of these arrangements, I will now say a word about welfare homes. The number of persons in residential accommodation has increased from 46,500 at 31st January, 1949, to 79,900 at 31st December last. This includes accommodation in the former public assistance institutions as well as in new homes established by local authorities since July, 1948, and also accommodation provided on behalf of local authorities in homes run by voluntary organisations.

In spite of the restrictions on building materials, and later on capital expenditure, since July, 1948, local authorities have provided 990 modern small homes in new or adapted buildings with places for 31,550 residents. Of these, 133 are in new buildings erected for the purpose. I agree with what was said by the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North and other hon. Members about the importance of moderate and small-sized homes. Local authorities also have done a great deal o improve those former institutions—which eventually we want to get rid of—by dividing them up into dormitories, improving the decorations and the furniture and generally brightening up these places.

Although local authorities have been able to achieve a certain amount in this direction, the pressure on accommodation is such that we have not been able to give up all the large institutions. In some places, the demand is so heavy that it has led to overcrowding, and only those people already very infirm and in urgent need of care and attention can be admitted. This has revealed the need for much more ground-floor or equivalent accommodation, and I am glad to say that almost all the new buildings erected in recent years have been designed for very infirm residents on the lines recommended in the Ministry circular of 25th February, 1955. Lifts have been installed in many existing homes to ensure that bedroom accommodation suitable for infirm people is within the reach of those who cannot use stairs.

The ratio of staff to residents as the age and infirmity of the residents has increased has also tended to increase, because obviously such residents require greater care. Despite what has been done, we still have a shortage of accommodation for the very infirm. There are a large number of schemes for building new homes which are in various stages of preparation and execution, and the easing of the restrictions on capital expenditure in the last six months will result in a more rapid increase of the provision of accommodation in the coming year and subsequently.

Although it is not yet possible to provide the necessary loan sanction for all the schemes that local authorities would like to start, the amount of new building begun during the financial year 1958–59 and likely to begin during 1959–60 is very much greater than in the previous two years. But, as I said, the adequate staffing of so many homes is by no means an easy matter. The stage may soon be reached where staffing difficulties, rather than the difficulties over the replacement of out-of-date existing buildings, may set some limit on the rapidity of expansion.

Perhaps this is the appropriate time to deal with the reference by the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Dodds) to the difficulty of accommodating the elderly infirm at present in institutions. We hope, as one of the beneficial results of the Mental Health Bill now in another place, that we shall be able to get these people out into the community by degrees.

During the last month, my right hon. and learned Friend has sent a circular to local authorities asking them to review their mental health services and requesting them to put forward proposals for development, including the provision of residential accommodation for the mentally infirm. My right hon. and learned Friend has also announced his intention to give a direction to local authorities to exercise their after-care functions as soon as possible after the Mental Health Bill becomes law. That is a way in which my right hon. and learned Friend is able to make provision in the foreseeable future towards the solution of a problem which is always uppermost in his mind.

There is a reference in the Motion that all Part III accommodation be removed from the curtilages of hospitals. The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North gave very sensible reasons why that was a desirable policy. He wants to make an end of joint-user arrangements. Some of these arrangements have been discontinued since 1948, but there are still more than 100 hospitals in which local authorities retain a certain number of places for their after-care and attention cases.

The number of these cases is falling year by year as local authorities provide more new homes of their own, but while the present heavy and unsatisfied demand exists for accommodation to be found for old people who live in the community and who are in urgent need of care, it is only to be expected that local authorities will assign the bulk of the new places which they are able to provide towards meeting this need. The use of new places to replace existing accommodation which authorities are now using, even though that accommodation may often be old-fashioned and not very satisfactory, must, in these cases I am afraid, come second.

Over the last nine years the number of Part III beds in premises vested in the Minister at hospitals has dropped from 13,500 at the end of 1949 to 9,500 at the end of 1958. That is roughly 30 per cent. Over the same period, the proportion of persons for whom Part III places are provided within the curtilages of hospitals to the total number of persons for whom local authorities are responsible for providing accommodation, has fallen from approximately 25 per cent. to approximately 12 per cent.

Nevertheless, even with an enlarged building programme, it will be a number of years yet before local authorities will find it possible wholly to relinquish the blocks of beds in hospital premises to which they retain a user right from 1948. The tendency is in the right direction, but with this perpetual pressure of an ageing population against us the proportion is not going down quite as fast as we should like or as fast as I should like to be able to tell the hon. Gentleman.

Let me now deal with the point about television and radio licences. The Motion asks for the waiving of the licence fees for aged people. Although it does not define them with precision, I imagine that the Motion refers to the holders of retirement pensions as being a convenient sub-division. At present the only people entitled to a concession are the registered blind. They get a free sound licence and can get a combined sound and T.V. licence for £3 instead of £4. There we are working with a small, readily identifiable group and no one of course would grudge the concession for a solitary moment.

To extend it to old-age pensioners as a whole, would mean extending it to perhaps 5½ million people. This would present very great difficulties. We have no means of knowing how many pensioners use their own sets, nor, of those who do, how many cases there are of two or more living together in the same family covered by one licence. The best estimate we can make of the size of such a concession, from the point of view of finding the number of people involved and so on, is a minimum of 3 million and a maximum of 4 million households including old-age pensioners, Television sets are in use in between a third and one half of such households.

The cost of the television licences would be between £3 million and £6 million according to which of the figures in the estimate is correct. Assuming that sound wireless sets only are in use in the same proportion of the remaining households, the cost of a free sound licence only would be between £1 million and £2 million. Th total cost of licence fees for television and sound radio for old-age pensioners would be between £4 million and £8 million per annum. If we also abolished the £1 duty payable on the issue of a television licence, the cost to the Customs and Excise would be between £1 million and £2 million.

I have a great deal of sympathy for this idea but, however great our sympathy, we feel that to grant a free licence would not be an appropriate way of giving help in individual cases of need. We come against the old difficulty that the concession would be wholly indiscriminate. It would be costly and very haphazard in its application. Many pensioners as such have incomes from other sources. Many live in families including members earning quite satisfactory incomes and the wireless or television set belongs to another member of the family. I cannot see that there is a case for such a household to have its licence free of charge by the simple device of having it in the name of the pensioner who happens to live there. I am afraid the opportunities for abuse of such a concession, apart from its likely cost, are so widespread and it would benefit so many people not in need of this kind of help, that it would soon bring the whole licensing system into disrepute.

I must add this. The fact that the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil should advocate such a concession in his Motion draws attention to what we all know—and what I think we are all very happy about—that a very large number of old-age pensioners in fact own radio and television sets. Of course, if they did not, a concession of this kind would be quite meaningless. That, I think, is something about which we should be pleased because it is an indication of the steady improvement which has gone on in standards. After all, only a few years ago the suggestion that old-age pensioners could benefit from such a concession would have seemed almost frivolous, if not cynical. We would have been thinking a few years ago of much more basic needs to be satisfied, but today we have raised our sights—as indeed we should. That, I think, is something which hon. Members on both sides of the House feel pleased about.

I do not propose to devote time today to the proposal for increasing the retirement pension. This matter has been very fully and recently debated in this House. We had the White Paper on 11th November, the Second Reading of the National Insurance Bill on 27th January, the affirmative Resolution and the Regulations affecting the earnings limit on 18th March, the Opposition Motion of censure on 20th April and there have been twenty-five sittings of the Standing Committee. I feel that in view of the closeness of all those debates, the position of the Government has been adequately made clear repeatedly, and with so many proposals also included in this Motion, with which, in fairness to the Mover, I have tried to deal, it would be inappropriate for me to go over this very well-trodden ground again.

The review of the services available to help the aged and infirm, their expansion in recent years and the steady and persistent efforts made to improve their functioning and co-ordination, I should have thought demonstrate pretty clearly that the Government are fully seized of the importance of these services. The Government will continue to do all they can to promote the continued expansion and development of the medical and social services, both national and local, which, though they may not be exclusively provided for their benefit, make the greatest contribution to the wellbeing of the aged and infirm.

Provision by local authorities of more housing for the elderly is being encouraged, as was made clear by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. The amount of capital allocated to the hospital services on the one side, and the residential home service of the local authorities on the other, in the current and the forthcoming financial years shows a substantial increase over earlier years. In the allowance made in the general grants for the local health services, including the all-important home nursing and home help services, the local authorities' own estimates of the future expansion that they are willing and feel able to undertake in the two years 1959–60 and 1960–61, have been accepted as submitted by them.

Although perhaps I shall incur the displeasure of the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North if I use the words "co-ordination and integration" to which he referred—I know that they are in danger of becoming clichés when we talk of local authority services, hospital services and the whole complicated web of our social services in this country—nevertheless, we are determined that this closer co-ordination and integration of all these services will continue to be stimulated by every means which we have in our power.

I am not sure that the answer to that lies in the setting up of new statutory or advisory bodies. I think the machinery is there and the good will to work it, if it exists, will get over all difficulties. I accept that there can be no finality about this and that there are places where all is perhaps not as well as it should be, but, in so far as we can at the Ministry's end stimulate the various arms of the service to work together and pull together that is what we intend to do.

Reference was made to the question of supplying more information, and I might point out that it is one of the functions of my Department's regional staff to make known to local authorities promising developments in other areas. Old people's weeks are organised by voluntary bodies through the local authorities, and the local authorities, of course, may give their support. Information about developments in voluntary effort is distributed by the national old people's welfare body.

I was interested in the reference made to an old people's week. I am sure that I shall not be expected to give an off-the-cuff answer, but it is certainly something that I should like to have more time to consider.

Photo of Mr Frederick Farey-Jones Mr Frederick Farey-Jones , Watford

When seconding the Amendment, I stated my personal opinion that there should be a permanent advisory council on pensions, which should be in the position of making recommendations to the Government of the day, with direct representation to Parliament. Will my hon. Friend give me any indication whether he will give adequate consideration to that suggestion?

Photo of Mr Richard Thompson Mr Richard Thompson , Croydon South

Perhaps I can best answer my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Farey-Jones) by saying that my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance has been in attendance throughout the whole of the debate. She will have heard the suggestion which my hon. Friend put forward. I think that it is appropriate that it should be considered in her Department rather than in mine.

4.51 p.m.

Photo of Mr Marcus Lipton Mr Marcus Lipton , Lambeth Brixton

I am not surprised at the frigid reception which has been accorded by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Motion moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies). Government spokesmen are never at a loss in devising or putting forward excuses for not doing anything. I am not surprised that the Government have not announced today, in response to the plea of my hon. Friends, some immediate increase in the retirement pension. I have long felt that the Government have already made up their mind not to announce any increase in the retirement pension until it is known when the General Election will take place. The two things will go hand in hand. I make the forecast that when the next General Election takes place one of the planks in the Tory Party's platform will be, "Send us back and we will increase the retirement pension". Therefore, as the Government have not yet made up their mind when the next General Election will take place, we must unfortunately wait a little longer before we find out what the Government's practical intentions are.

There are other reasons why it is extremely unlikely that the Government will do anything very substantial for old-age pensioners even when the General Election comes along. First, they will not be returned after the next General Election. Secondly, even if by some calamity they are returned at the next General Election, there are too many other people in the queue for some Government money. The leaders of the aircraft industry, the shipowners and many other people are already standing in Whitehall with their begging bowls. They want millions of pounds to bolster up the private enterprises in which they are engaged.

If the present ruling party has to decide who to help first, whether to help the leaders of large private enterprises which for one reason or another cannot make ends meet or to give something to old-age pensioners. I am sure that the leaders of the aircraft industry, the shipping industry and other people already standing with their begging bowls in Whitehall will come first.

I do not want to occupy the time of the House any longer than is absolutely necessary. I could go on and adduce many other arguments in support of my hon. Friend's Motion. I want very clearly to go on record as supporting the Motion moved by my hon. Friend. The mover of the Amendment, the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw), is still here. I hope that he will withdraw his Amendment in favour of my hon. Friend, so that the Motion can go through unopposed. We do not want there to be any party differences on the subject of old-age pensions. If there are any party differences on the subject of old-age pensions, the Government will be directly responsible.

I do not want to detain the House too long on this Motion for obvious reasons. There is another Motion on the Order Paper on which I should like to address the House. [That this House, conscious of the defects in the existing system of society based on the private ownership of industry, convinced that this system is the principal contributory factor in recurring booms and slumps with consequent insecurity, unemployment and poverty, including the plight of millions of old people, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to plan the organisation of the nation's key industries and services, together with the use and development of our resources in wealth, property and labour, on the basis of public ownership and social equality.] Therefore, I appeal to hon. Members opposite. It would be in their interests at the next General Election and it would be worth many votes to them if they go on record as having supported my hon. Friend.

There are not many Government supporters present at the moment, but those who are will be able to claim credit for themselves in the fact that, when presented with an opportunity of expressing their desire to do something for the old-age pensioners, they took advantage of it. In those circumstances, and because I do not want to deprive the House of the opportunity of hearing me move the next Motion on the Notice Paper, I hope that the Motion moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil will be accepted by the House without a Division.

Photo of Mr Stephen Davies Mr Stephen Davies , Merthyr Tydfil

Mr. Speaker, in view of the splendid support my Motion has had from this side of the House today, which assures me of its early realisation with a change of Government, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

There is an Amendment to the Motion, and I shall have to put hat Amendment.

Several Hon. Members:

Several Hon. Members rose——

4.57 p.m.

Photo of Mr Stanley McMaster Mr Stanley McMaster , Belfast East

I have listened with great interest to this debate and find myself very much in agreement with what has been said by previous speakers. In particular, I agree with the hon. Members for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Dodds) and Brixton (Mr. Lipton) that this should not be a party subject.

I was especially interested in the statements made by my hon. Friends the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health. In my Belfast constituency I have had many interviews with elderly people and have found that their main concern was with the cost of living. They welcome the substantial increases in basic pensions that the past seven years of Conservative Government have brought about, but they are most concerned that those increases should not be wiped out by any renewed advance in the cost of living.

I am glad to report that in Northern Ireland new homes for old people are being built. I have visited some of them in my own constituency, and find that the elderly people living in them are happy, well cared for, and enjoy the companionship that they find there, although there is scope for privacy when they require it. Many more of these homes are required, and the Government in Northern Ireland continue in their policy of providing them as quickly as possible.

I do not pretend that there is not hardship among many old people in Northern Ireland. I have met elderly people in very straitened circumstances who are too proud to apply for National Assistance. Others would like to find work so that they could either continue to support themselves or supplement their pensions hut, in the face of the heavy unemployment we are still experiencing in Ulster, they have great difficulty in finding it.

I should like to mention the plight of many widows who have to live on a very meagre allowance. This applies especially to those who are not qualified to receive old-age pensions but have to live on the widow's allowance only. They find it very hard to buy even essential food and clothes. It is the duty of our Government to give help where it is needed most. It is these people who most require help, and not the elderly people, of whom we have heard today, who are already well provided for.

I should therefore like to support the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw)—

It being Five o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.