Both supplementary benefit and family income supplement levels were increased in October and since then beneficiaries over pension age have received a special payment of £10. The Government will continue to keep a close watch on the adequacy of benefits.
Does the Minister realise that the £10 bonus is rapidly fading from memory and that what is fresh in the minds of the old and the poor is the continuing inflation which is taking place? Will he give an estimate of the amount or proportion by which he expects living standards of the older and poorer people in our community to be reduced if the present Government remain in office during 1974?
I am not prepared to speculate on the last point, but I must, in fairness say that since the present Government have been in office pensions have been increased by approximately 55 per cent., whereas prices have risen by 34·5 per cent. In other words, there is a margin of real improvement in the value of the pension achieved by the Conservative Government.
Is my hon. Friend aware that many of the most needy families are separated wives with young children to look after and that they are not protected? Will he consult the Home Secretary to see whether dependants can get away from the lengthy process of having to go back to the courts to obtain increases in child maintenance allowances?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for putting that point. The Finer Committee is studying this matter, but many of these women will be entitled to supplementary benefit. If they are so entitled, we shall ensure that they receive a regular income week by week whether or not the maintenance payment is made by the husband.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the statement regarding improved pensions under the Tory Government is not true? Is it not the case that already retirement pensions represent a smaller percentage of national average earnings than they did in 1967—seven years ago—but that by the time the next increase comes along they will represent a smaller percentage of those earnings than at any time since the national insurance system came into being? Is it not clear that the best way to help the pensioners is for the Government to give an immediate pension increase of £10 for single persons and £16 for married couples? If this Government will not take that step, then after the election the Labour Government certainly will.