Orders of the Day — Widows' Pensions Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25th January 1963.

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Photo of Mr Victor Yates Mr Victor Yates , Birmingham, Ladywood 12:00 am, 25th January 1963

I join with other hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) on introducing the Bill. If I have any criticism to make of it, it is that his proposal for an increase in the pension is too modest.

As I see the position, what the Minister is asked to do now is to try to give the 10s. widow a little more than 1 cwt. of coal a week. In fact, it does not equal the value of 1 cwt. of coal. Anyone with any human feeling can appreciate how difficult things are for widows in the present fuel crisis. The hon. Lady the Member for East Grinstead (Mrs. Emmet) spoke of the anxiety of a widow bringing up children. We all appreciate the struggle that she must have had. It has been expressed to me as something more than anxiety. Yesterday, I received a letter from a widow who told me that it meant years of agony of mind.

The hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) has spoken of the widow who has children growing up and going to university and other forms of higher education. I have known an example of that in Birmingham. A woman there has had a great struggle to bring up her two children. One has now passed on to the university and the other is about to do so. She now has to revert from an ordinary pension to a 10s. pension after all the struggle that she has had.

Since I added my name in support of the Bill I have been amazed to hear of the great hardship which so many widows in this category in Birmingham are suffering. Yesterday, I received a letter from one who said: It is only because I believe in God, it is only because I am God-fearing, that I have not ended my life. It has been so terribly difficult. It is bad enough for a young woman to lose her husband, but for a widow to find such difficulties about her pension it is still worse.

An association in Birmingham called the Widows Friendship Club has put some questions to me which I ask the Minister. The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Curran) asked by right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) whether, if we abolished the earnings rule for widows, we must hot also abolish it for those on retirement pensions. This lady Who wrote to me pointed out that the war widow and the industrial widow are excluded. I do not think we should cloud the issue by discussing the whole question of retirement pensions. She asked why the civilian widow should be expected to live on a much smaller amount than the Service or the industrial widow.

Is it fair that widows should have to pay the 2s. prescription charge under the National Health Service? Can the Minister explain why the widow should be expected to live on a smaller pension than the industrial or the war widow? I have every sympathy with the war widow and appreciate that her circumstances are special, but life is very difficult for all widows. I quote another letter I have received from a Birmingham widow: I have been a widow for seventeen years, with ill-health, and I have had two children to bring up respectably. I lost a good husband who paid insurance for 31 years. He fought and was decorated in World War I Where is the justice? There are many similar examples.

I hope that the Minister will not try to discuss this problem in technical terms. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly said, it goes back to 1936. I had the opportunity of serving on the Committee which examined the Bill which he introduced. This discrimination was always a source of great anxiety. It is called a reserve benefit or an insurance and its value should be increased. The Minister is to be very generous in relation to the new Bill which is to be introduced. We ask him at least to give the 10s. widow the value of 2 cwt. of coal a week. I think that that is modest—too modest. The widow is in a different position from the old-age pensioner.

I have had a letter from a Birmingham widow who goes out to work. She does not object to having to do so, but she objects to having her pension taxed as well as her wages. She has sent me her wages slip. I should like the Minister to note this. After Christmas she tried to earn a little more, as she said, to "keep her head above water". Her wages slip showed £7 2s. 6d., but when her pension was added she had an Income Tax deduction of 18s. Her wage was reduced to £6 3s. 11d. and then her pension was reduced by £2 3s. 6d.

A widow living alone who has to try to keep her home going with all the expenses of gas, electricity, coal and rent has to go out to try to earn a little. It is monstrous that on a small wage such as this 18s. should be deducted for Income Tax and £2 3s. 6d. deducted from her pension. I support my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton wholeheartedly in asking that the same should be done for these widows as for the war widow and the industrial widow, that we should abolish the earnings rule and enable them to earn a living. The amount involved is not very great. The Minister has admitted that some thousands of 10s. widows are drawing National Assistance.

I hope that the Minister will be generous. We are speaking of a quite small section of the community—there are only about 85,000 of these people, and their numbers are diminishing. I hope that he will recognise that to be generous in this matter will be to relieve acute anxiety and agony of a kind felt by many of these women now. I am sure that the widows of Birmingham would be most grateful for any additional assistance that could be given to them. I ask the Minister not to reject this appeal. Even if he has to modify the proposal, or consider the whole matter again, I hope that he will be generous.