asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications what estimate he made of the cost of providing free domestic telephones to all severely disabled people before approving the recent increases in telephone charges; what representations he has received on this matter; and if he will make a statement.
May I ask whether my right hon. Friend appreciates the fact that for many old and infirm people the telephone represents their only means of communication with the outside world—that it is, in 'fact, their lifeline, because they may have to telephone the doctor—and that that lifeline will be denied them if they are unable to pay the extra £4 per year in charges? One day my right hon. Friend will himself be an old man, and may then have bitter cause to remember my words today.
With respect, my hon. Friend is quite wrong. People who are in need in the circumstances which he has outlined can get the necessary assistance from the Supplementary Benefits Commission.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that from our correspondence there appears to be a total ignorance among people that any help at all is available? Is he further aware that from what one reads in the newspapers there appears to be ignorance in the offices of organisations of the type one would expect to have such information? Can he, therefore, give an assurance that publicity will be given to this matter, and that, in time to come, a check-up will be made on the degree to which the help available has been used?
Yes, Sir. This is really a question for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. On 13th April my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State, replying to a Question from the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight), made it very clear that if the Supplementary Benefits Commission was satisfied that a telephone was essential it could give help to supplementary pensioners. On that occasion, my hon. Friend tried to amplify his reply as much as he could, and said that this aspect would be sympathetically dealt with.
They can be assisted as well. Every case is treated on its merits by the Department of Health and Social Security. Those retirement pensioners who do not qualify for supplementary benefit may also receive help. Local authorities also have general powers to help the elderly.