I understand that the hon. Member has in mind difficulties which may arise from the effect of certain guaranteed week agreements, but this is not a matter in which I can intervene. The terms of these agreements are a matter for the parties concerned, and it is for the independent adjudicating authorities to determine their effect upon claims for unemployment benefit.
As the Minister knows the case I have in mind, will not he agree that it is very unfortunate that because of a complicated technicality in the adjudicator's award these men will lose unemployment benefit for two days at Christmas, just at the time when they most need it, and the same will happen in respect of New Year's Day? Is there not a way of getting around the adjudicator's award, or of putting the matter right in some other way?
Yes, but this is the effect of this guarantee agreement. There is nothing to prevent men on short time during Christmas week, or any other week in which a holiday occurs, getting unemployment benefit subject to the conditions of the agreement, which can be negotiated and re-negotiated.
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will initiate a new study into the adequacy of the present level of unemployment benefit, in view of the rising level of unemployment what percentage of those receiving unemployment benefit is also in receipt of National Assistance payments; and whether he will take steps to introduce an improved scale of unemployment benefit.
In reply to the first and last parts of the hon. Member's Question, I would refer him to what I said towards the end of my speech in the debate on 26th November. I estimate that rather less than 20 per cent. of those receiving unemployment benefit are also in receipt of National Assistance payments.
Will the Minister confirm that present unemployment benefits for a single man are less than one-fifth of average weekly earnings and, for a married man with two children, still less than two-fifths? Will he confirm that the ratios are smaller than they were in the 1930s and a great deal smaller than unemployment benefit paid in most other European countries? Does he not think this an urgent matter in view of the facts of rising unemployment and payments under hire-purchase agreements and mortgages, which play a big part in many family budgets? There is a real crisis here which he should do something about.
I would not disagree with the figures the hon. Member has given, but we have to compare like with like in these matters. The figures for earnings are gross. From them have to be deducted taxation, insurance contributions and the like, but in any case I do not think it would be possible to consider unemployment benefit in isolation, and certainly not apart from sicknes benefit.
That is not a satisfactory answer at all, because in the 'thirties we had deductions taken from gross wages. As shown by a graph published in the Observer, yesterday, the unemployed or sick man has a standard of poverty which is much worse than it was in the thirties. It is shocking that an unemployed or sick man should get benefit which is only 9 per cent. of the average earnings in the country.
No, Sir. I would remind the hon. Member that following the lapse of the temporary provision made in Section 62 of the 1946 Act, improvements were made in the insurance provisions which enabled unemployment benefit to be paid as of right for up to 19 months.
Will the Minister confirm that in most cases unemployment benefit is payable for only 30 weeks, which is the standard arrangement, but a growing number of unemployed are out of work for a longer period? In view of the long period of unemployment and inadequate rates of unemployment benefit, does not the Minister agree that it is intolerable to impose on top of that a means test after so short a period?
In 1961, in Scotland, about £6,840,000 was paid in unemployment benefit, and about £390,000 in National Assistance supplement to unemployment benefit. In respect of the first six months of 1962, the corresponding figures were £4,570,000 and £220,000.
Does the hon. Lady recognise that these figures reveal that there should now be an increase in the straight unemployment benefit; and that the National Assistance supplement is now becoming standard practice when people are off their official earnings and on to the requirement of the service?
As my right hon. Friend has already said, I think that only about one person in five of those in receipt of unemployment benefit is now receiving National Assistance. National Assistance is meant for this kind of contingency. Those suddenly faced with misfortune should be able to get extra help, and National Assistance does, indeed, act in that way.
Is the hon. Lady aware that if she looks again at the figures she has quoted she will find that the figures for Scotland are not one in five? And if she will look further at the figures of those unemployed for over four weeks in Scotland she will find that the number is probably one in two.
Will the hon. Lady point out to her right hon. colleagues in the Government that, as a result of Government encouragement, there has been a considerable increase in hire-purchase commitments, which can have a very serious effect on a man when he becomes unemployed?
I doubt whether hire-purchase commitments have been encouraged in that particular way by the Government, but these are factors that are taken into account for special grant by the National Assistance Board.