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Schedule 2. — (Provisions for Determining Right to and Amount of Benefit.)

Part of Orders of the Day — Ministry of Social Security Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th June 1966.

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Photo of Mr Harold Davies Mr Harold Davies , Leek 12:00 am, 17th June 1966

I had the impression that it might have been and so I wanted immediately to eradicate from the minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite any thought that my right hon. Friend or any of my hon. Friends have hearts of granite. Far from it. Despite the economic exigencies, additional aid for retirement pensioners was one of our first actions upon taking office. Let us, however, come to the realities of the situation.

I am grateful for the speed with which we are getting through the Committee stage. However, speed must not clutter up our thoughts and the clarity of our aims. It is our duty to see that the last years of our citizens are made as comfortable as possible. Everybody throughout the land would agree with that. The question is one of translating this into practice by the Government. It might therefore help the Committee in considering the Amendment if I remind hon. Members why the Government introduced the novel feature of the long-term addition. This 9s. allowance is a completely new innovation. I was glad to hear that the hon. Member for Carlton recognised this. There is nothing stereotyped about it. Its purpose is to cover the great bulk of special needs of the kind met by discretionary allowances under National Assistance. It will enable the Commission to dispense with detailed inquiries, which was one of the things we promised in our Election manifesto, into needs which are necessary in every case under the administration of National Assistance.

I regard this as an important point because our aim has been to create the new scheme in a form which will give our old people an assured income on an annual basis with the minimum of detailed inquiry. That being so, the question is whether, on this basis, the long-term addition ought, as the Amendment suggests, to be put on a preferential footing of the older retirement pensioners. After looking at the matter in depth, we found no grounds for doing this.

2.45 p.m.

The long-term addition is for special needs. It cannot for certain be shown that these needs exist to a higher degree among older pensioners than among younger pensioners. The most relevant evidence available relates to the use of discretionary allowances in National Assistance for people over pensionable age. Taken over the whole year, we found that the weekly average was less than 9s. It will therefore be noted that in giving 9s., we have given more than the average. As a result, the long-term discretionary allowance will totally replace the previous discretionary allowances in something like two-thirds of the existing cases who receive those additions. The remaining one-third have substantial needs. It can be shown that cases with higher special needs exist among all types of age groups. If it could be shown that all the cases with the higher needs were among men over 75 or women over 70, there might be merit in the Amendment, but that is not the case as far as we can judge from our evidence. The Opposition have not given relevant figures to support their case.

The average addition among those over the age of 70 is not known. What is known is that among the non-contributory old-age pensioners receiving assistance, who by definition must be at least 74 years of age, the average addition during the year is well below 9s. a week. Consequently, on this basis, we see no reason to think that the average amount for those over 70 or 75 years of age is appreciably more than for all old people above pensionable age. We know from a sample of cases that, as regards the proportion of pensioners receiving additions, there is nothing of special significance about the age of 75, because in each of the five-year age ranges on either side of 75 about three-quarters are now getting discretionary allowances.

Considered as a measure to replace the existing mass of discretionary additions, the long-term addition does not, therefore, need to be at any higher rate for the over-75s as a whole than for the younger pensioner. While I do not want to be political, this matter has a long history in the policy of the Opposition. I do not want to repeat the famous remark about the donation that the then Prime Minister offered to retirement pensioners.

We have tried to do what was fair. We believe that the very old are not a homogeneous group who can be shown as a category and as a whole to have greater identifiable needs than younger pensioners. We must not jump to that assumption. Many, indeed, have fewer needs. If the purpose of the Amendment is to deal with any suggestion that their resources are eroded by the passage of time and years of retirement, the non-contributory benefit scheme itself is the remedy.

For the first time, the scheme recognises the special position in this respect of pensioners and others out of the employment field, and it does this by providing a long-term addition. If, on the other hand, the hon. Member for Carlton is arguing that on grounds of ill-health many of these people need extra help, the Bill, which we have been dealing with this week, enables the Commission to give it where it is most needed and to give more than the extra 9s. by virtue of its discretionary powers. The Committee therefore should consider the inequity of giving preference to the older people merely by one fell swoop as suggested in the Amendment.

I have not based my argument on cost. I will not bother to take the issue of cost, but no responsible Government could undertake an open-ended or unlimited financial commitment. Both we and the Opposition would agree that our resources must be allocated with an eye to priorities. Having looked at our priorities, we believe that we have got the right balance.

To sum up, I assure the Committee that with the powers already proposed in the Bill any man over the age of 75 or any old lady over the age of 70 who happens to be in circumstances similar to those envisaged by the hon. Member for Carlton will duly get satisfaction and, through the discretionary powers provided in the 13i11, will be enabled to have his or her needs met even above the 9s. long-term addition, if necessary.