asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether he is aware that Mr. Derick Dunkley of Blackburn, who has a wife and five dependent children, has had his National Assistance reduced from £10 4s. 6d. to £8 16s. owing to the operation of the wages stop; and whether, in view of the hardship caused in this and similar cases, he will review the operation of this regulation.
I am aware of the facts of this case. The hon. Lady's constituent is currently receiving £8 16s. a week from the Board. In addition £1 18s. is received in family allowances. The Board believes that the regulations have been correctly applied in this case. As regards the principle of the wage-stop, it would be wrong for a man to be better off out of work than when he is employed.
Is the hon. Lady aware that the manager of the National Assistance Board told me that had it not been for the operation of the wages stop this man and his family would have received £10 4s. 6d. plus family allowances, so the addition of the family allowances factor is, therefore, irrelevant to the comparison? Is it not astonishing and disgraceful that under a Conservative Administration a man can still be earning wages which are less than the National Assistance Board calculates as being the minimum necessary for subsistence? In view of this fact, and in view of all these panegyrics of "the Conservative administration which have been so carefully planned this afternoon, can we now have from the hon. Lady some action in a case of hardship which has been brought to her attention, as she promised last week that if such cases were brought to her attention she would deal with them?
I have looked into cases brought to my attention. I have looked into this case, and I can tell the hon. Lady that the Board was satisfied that in this case the wages stop provision had been correctly applied. She is now either challenging the principle, in which case she says this man should be paid more than if he were in work, or else she is challenging the application in this individual case. If she is challenging the latter, perhaps she would advise her constituent to appeal to the National Assistance Tribunal.
Is the hon. Lady aware that I am perfectly satisfied that the Board locally has done the correct thing under the current regulations? It is not, therefore, the administration I am challenging but the principle. Is it not obvious that such a principle, operating under a Conservative Administration, where wages are so low in many cases, is one which cannot be reconciled with the humane treatment of five children in such a family?
The hon. Lady would, I should have thought, have known that wages are paid regardless of the family. Wages do not vary according to whether a man has five or 10 or 15 children, but the amount which a man can be paid out of National Assistance is calculated by reference to his family commitments. The principle is absolutely defensible that a man should not receive more when he is out of work than he can get by returning to work.
Can my hon. Friend explain how it is that at a time when average earnings are of the nature at least of £16 a week this man seems incapable of earning more than about £10 or £11 a week?
I would not be responsible for the wages paid in a particular area, and I would not like to make any further comment on this particular case, except to say that this gentleman was classified at the employment exchange as a factory labourer.
Does not a man need, and do not his family need, enough to live on, and are not National Assistance scales intended to provide him with enough to live on in reasonable comfort—just to live on? Is there not, therefore, something wrong in a principle which results in a reduction, in what is awarded, below a reasonable standard of living for a man and his family?
Does not the hon. Lady think it rather strange that she is so much less well informed than her predecessors were? Is she aware that I was given an answer to similar Question on 17th December 1962, when I was told that 18 per cent., or about 176, of the persons mentioned were suffering in this way? Are the hon. Lady and her Department now trying to hide what is happening under this wages stop procedure?
No, Sir. As I and my immediate past right hon. Friend explained to the hon. Gentleman after he had asked a question on this subect, wages stop figures are taken from a sample. That sample is taken in December in each year and I cannot therefore give him the figures current today. I can give the hon. Gentleman the figures from last December when there were 6,500 wages stop cases in Scotland. The only departure from the sampling technique comes when we have an up-rating operation, when a special count is taken. That is why the hon. Gentleman got special figures on one previous occasion.
Does not the hon. Lady agree that, if 6,500 people are affected in this way, this represents a problem of sufficient size to warrant continuous information and scrutiny? Will she see that there is continuous information about and scrutiny into this problem? Will she look again at the manner in which the wages stop is applied? I am not objecting to the wages stop as such, but to the way in which it is applied in many cases.
To take the latter point first, very little use appears to be being made of the appeal procedure to the National Assistance Appeal Tribunals which, as the Hon. Gentleman knows, are independent bodies and therefore can give a totally impartial decision. I have already given my views and I do not think that there is anything that I can usefully add about the principle of the wages stop provision.
But are not the hon. Lady and the Minister seriously perturbed that there are more than 6,000 families—because they are almost all family men—who are living below what even this Government consider to be the mere subsistence level? Are not they aware that it is amongst the children of those families where we find malnutrition? Is not the Minister also aware that, in the working of the wages stop, there may be a man who is classed as a general labourer, and a wages stop is applied to him, but he can prove—as has been proved to me—that he has worked many hours overtime, as labourers do, earning about £20 a week? Thus, we are not asking that they should get more when they are idle than when they are working. Will the Minister and her Department examine these matters much more thoroughly than they have done so far?
If, as the hon. Lady contends, a person is wrongly classified, she ought to let us have details of the particular case. Since I made the offer last week to look into individual cases, there has been only one, from the hon. Lady herself, and another which was referred to me as a wages stop case, but in fact was the case of a widow who does not get benefit. I stand by the general principle and will look into individual cases.