Elderly and Disabled Persons (Telephone Charges)

Oral Answers to Questions — Posts and Telecommunications – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20th April 1970.

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Photo of Mr Raphael Tuck Mr Raphael Tuck , Watford 12:00 am, 20th April 1970

asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications if he will institute a scheme whereby a social grant can be made to the Post Office to enable it to exempt retirement pensioners from the increase of £4 per year in telephone charges.

Photo of Mr Leslie Spriggs Mr Leslie Spriggs , St Helens

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.

Photo of Mr Barnett Janner Mr Barnett Janner , Leicester North West

asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications if he will seek powers to make a social grant to the Post Office to enable it to exempt old-age pensioners living alone, for whom the telephone is the only means of summoning aid, from the recent increase in telephone charges.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell:

asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications if he will introduce legislation to provide a social grant to the Post Office Corporation so that those old age pensioners living alone can be exempt from the increased telephone charges.

Photo of Mr Norman Pentland Mr Norman Pentland , Chester-le-Street

Assessing need and making grants in suitable cases is properly a function of the Social Services, including the Supplementary Benefits Commission, and not of the Post Office, which, as a nationalised industry, is expected to pay its way and charge the relevant costs.

Photo of Mr Raphael Tuck Mr Raphael Tuck , Watford

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.

Photo of Mr Norman Pentland Mr Norman Pentland , Chester-le-Street

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.

Photo of Mr Paul Bryan Mr Paul Bryan , Howden

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?

Photo of Mr Norman Pentland Mr Norman Pentland , Chester-le-Street

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.

Photo of Mr Frederick Willey Mr Frederick Willey , Sunderland North

Will my hon. Friend arrange for notices explaining the position to be displayed in Post Offices?

Photo of Mr Norman Pentland Mr Norman Pentland , Chester-le-Street

I shall be very glad to consider that suggestion.

Photo of Mr Fergus Montgomery Mr Fergus Montgomery , Brierley Hill

What is to happen to people just above the level of those receiving supplementary benefit? Many of them are living on their own and depend on the telephone.

Photo of Mr Norman Pentland Mr Norman Pentland , Chester-le-Street

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.