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That is perfectly true, and I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite have noted my hon. Friend's remarks.
The proposal in the Amendment is extremely modest. I hope that it will commend itself to the Minister on the ground of moderate cost for maximum effect as well as on humanitarian grounds. In terms of value for money this is an outstanding bargain offer. There are at present 159,000 men over the age of 75 and 695,000 women over 70 in receipt of National Assistance supplementary benefit, making a total of 854,000 who would be eligible, if none of them were getting an extra discretionary allowance, for the full 5s. proposed in the Amendment. If we discount the fact that some of them will be getting an extra discretionary amount, the total cost in a full year, on the known statistics, would be about £11 million, but this is a gross figure and it would probably be less because of the discretionary allowances which are already being paid.
This is a small price to pay by a society which undoubtedly has a duty to make the last years of our old people's lives as comfortable as possible. This is not a question of asking a benevolent State to pay a dole but of asking society to accept a little more of its responsibility towards the elderly. I agree that any critic of the Amendment who suggests that an extra 5s. after 10 years of retirement is not as much as it might be, but the figure has been pitched at this deliberately in the hope that such a modest advance may be acceptable to the Government. My hon. Friends have not tabled the Amendment because it is part of our party's policy or that we wish to pay lip service to that policy. We genuinely believe that it is desirable to improve the supplementary benefits for those who are in their final years.
We are asking for minimum action to be taken urgently and we do not want promises for the future or statements to the effect that the matter will be considered by a commission or that an inquiry will be conducted. Ideally, we would like to have a bigger increase than that suggested. Ideally, too, it would be an improvement to have further increases each subsequent five years after the 10 years is up, but we recognise the difficulties of innovation and the major obstacle which exists due to the state of the economy. We merely require recognition of this principle and the establishment of this precedent and even the most granite-hearted curmudgeon must agree that it is desirable that the Government should accept this inexpensive and modest proposal.
I have deliberately tried to move the Amendment with moderation so that the very real arguments in favour of its acceptance should not be obscured by partison postures. This should not, however, be taken as a sign of weakness. We are sincere about this and feel extremely strongly on the subject. I would not like the Minister to be in any doubt about this and I hope that, when the Joint Parliamentary Secretary replies, he will not merely deliver a stereotyped, stonewalling, Departmental reply.
I hope that the case will be considered on its merits and that it will be possible to place the needs of the elderly above what might be an understandable party political desire to reject proposals coming from this side of the Committee. I ask the Minister to give sympathetic consideration to the growing needs of the elderly in retirement and to accept this worthwhile and humanitarian Amendment.