HC Deb 22 March 1965 vol 709 cc12-6
15. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what steps she intends to take to ensure that the 500,000 people who are entitled to receive National Assistance but do not get it are made aware of their entitlement.

Miss Herbison

An inquiry is being made into the circumstances of retirement pensioners in order to find out, among other things, how many are entitled to National Assistance but not receiving it. This inquiry, to be carried out in May and June, will also provide valuable information about the reasons why people do not take advantage of the National Assistance scheme. A great deal has, of course, already been done by both the National Assistance Board and the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance to bring the National Assistance scheme to the notice of people who may be entitled to assistance: but, as my hon. Friend knows, one of the objects of the Income Guarantee scheme which we intend to introduce is to deal with this problem.

Mr. Hamilton

Is my right hon. Friend aware that that Answer will give a good deal of satisfaction, certainly to hon. Members on this side? Nevertheless, does she not deplore the fact, even though she understands it, as I think we all do, that half a million old people are either too proud or too ignorant of the qualifying circumstances to apply for National Assistance? Does the National Assistance Board or her Department use television and radio and ask the voluntary associations to help to propagate to old people the need for them to apply for this assistance—indeed, the desirability of them applying?

Miss Herbison

It is not only a deplorable fact but, I think, a very distressing fact that old people are living on an income lower than they might have. It is because we have thought this for a long time that we decided on an income guarantee. I can assure my hon. Friend that much is done. We have a booklet entitled "Help for those in Need". This is distributed by the Board's local managers to people such as doctors, clergymen, social workers—indeed, any group of people that come in contact with old people. I do not think that television has been used, but I will certainly give serious consideration to employing this medium, since it might be one further way of letting old people know what they can obtain.

Mr. Frederic Harris

Since the Allen Commitee specifically made reference to the half a million people on National Assistance not applying for assistance towards their rates, and since the rate burden is almost bound to go on ever increasing, unless something concrete is done to change the system, could not the Minister do something to direct the attention of these people to what relief they can get towards their rates, which is such a big part of their expenditure?

Miss Herbison

Certainly. In every possible way the National Assistance Board is doing this. If any hon. Member on either side of the House has any further ideas as to what we might do, I should be delighted to have them, as I am sure the Board would.

Mr. Murray

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this applies not only to old persons but also to the parents of a spastic who are not aware that they are entitled to National Assistance when their tax allowance drops at the age of 16?In this inquiry will my right hon. Friend look at this point as well?

Miss Herbison


Sir A. V. Harvey

Would the Minister take into account the fact that a number of people who are eligible for National Assistance do not apply because of the name "National Assistance"? Successive Governments have not appreciated this. Will she consider this point, because much could be done in this direction by changing the name?

Miss Herbison

It is true that the name "National Assistance" deters some people from going to the National Assistance Board. I would hope that when the income guarantee is working we will no longer have such a thing as National Assistance but that the whole thing will be brought into a Ministry of Social Security.

18. Mr. Boston

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if she will seek to arrange for people receiving National Assistance Board grants who apply for aid under the domestic help service to be informed automatically that they may be eligible for an additional grant from the Board to cover the cost of the service.

Miss Herbison

Not all local authorities require people receiving National Assistance to make a payment for any domestic help provided. But I understand that it is the general practice of those who still do so either to inform recipients of National Assistance when they apply for domestic help that they may be entitled to an additional grant from the Board to meet the payment, or to advise the Board's local office direct when domestic help is provided. I am writing to my hon. Friend about a case which he brought to my notice.

Mr. Boston

Is my right hon. Friend aware that that assurance will be warmly appreciated, but does she not agree from the case of which I have sent her details that there may be a sizeable number of people who are offered the domestic help service but turn it down believing that they have to pay the minimum, which in one county is 5s. a week, and not realising that they can in fact claim this back from the National Assistance Board?

Miss Herbison

This again is evidently another case where much greater publicity is needed. I can assure my hon. Friend that we will do our best with local authorities and the Board to see that this information is given to old people.

22. Mr. Higgins

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether, in view of the delay in introducing a minimum income guarantee scheme, she will increase the limits of income and capital which can be disregarded in assessing need for National Assistance.

Miss Herbison

Any increase in these limits Would benefit only those people with considerable savings or disregarded income; it would not help those whose needs are greatest or those who, although entitled to receive assistance, have not applied for it. A change of this sort would not therefore be a suitable interim measure pending the introduction of the income guarantee scheme.

Mr. Higgins

Is the right hon. Lady aware that a number of retired elderly people living in their own homes rely on National Assistance and then find that in view of rising rates and prices they have to sell their homes and the capital obtained rules them out from National Assistance? Would the right hon. Lady raise this limit so as to slow down this process?

Miss Herbison

The hon. Member will be aware that in payment of National Assistance, just as where there is an increase in the rent, the person on assistance gets help from the Board, the same applies when there is an increase in rates.

Lord Balniel

The right hon. Lady then accepts the statement in the Question that there is a delay in introducing a minimum income guarantee scheme? As the Prime Minister in his election address said that this would be introduced without delay, can the right hon. Lady at least give an assurance that it will be introduced during the present Parliament? As some compensation for procrastination in her Department, will she at least give some attention to my hon. Friend's suggestion to increase the limit of income and capital which can be disregarded in assessing a person's eligibility for National Assistance?

Miss Herbison

The noble Lord usually amuses me with his synthetic anger. Is he aware that we are working on a minimum income guarantee scheme?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have great difficulties with Questions and they are enhanced if Ministers ask questions of hon. Members opposite.

Miss Herbison

The noble Lord, then, will be aware that we are working on an income guarantee, and if his Government had been really worried about the position of such people as are mentioned here some form of income guarantee would have been introduced long ago.