IN 1967 AND
111. It is interesting
to compare the structure of the Ministry of Pensions and National
Insurance as it was in 1967 with its successor department, the
Department of Social Security in 1997. The comparison can not
be direct, because functions and structures have changed so much;
but the extent of the changes are, in themselves, of interest.
112. In 1967 the Ministry
of Pensions and National Insurance (MPNI) was a well established
Department resulting from the amalgamation in 1953 of the Ministry
of National Insurance and the Ministry of Pensions. There had
been no major structural changes since the merger.
After the First World War, pensions were introduced for disabled
ex-service men and women, and for the widows and orphans of service
men. The MPNI administered these. They were payable all over the
world, wherever the recipients were living. The Ministry also
had important responsibilities relating to the welfare services
which were provided for pensioners and their families.
The MPNI was responsible for providing cash benefits payable under
the National Insurance Acts 1946 to 1957 in relation to the main
circumstances causing the interruption or cessation of earnings.
In 1967 these benefits were: unemployment benefit; sickness benefit;
maternity benefits (i.e. maternity grant, home confinement grant,
and maternity allowance); guardian's allowance; death grant; widow's
benefits (i.e. widow's allowance, widowed mother's allowance,
widow's pension, and widow's basic pension); child's special allowance;
retirement pension; and industrial injuries and industrial diseases
113. The MPNI was one
of the largest departments of central Government. In addition
to its headquarters, which was concerned mainly with parliamentary
and policy work, it had 900 local offices, organised into 12 regional
groups. The Ministry also had a medical department comprising
168 doctors, working in 120 medical boarding centres. The MPNI
also had help from other sources. Unemployment benefit was administered
on an agency basis through the Employment Exchange network of
the Ministry of Labour. Most benefits were paid not at local MPNI
offices but at one of the country's 25,000 Post Offices, which
cashed the MPNI's postal drafts on an agency basis.
114. The Ministry's
tasks were enormous. It prepared and issued about 9 million pension
and family allowance books each year. It kept records on over
800,000 war pensioners. It maintained the records of 24 million
insured contributors and of 3¼ million families drawing family
allowances. Most of its war pensions work was done at Blackpool,
but national insurance records were kept at Longbenton, near Newcastle
upon Tyne, where, at its peak, nearly 9,000 Civil Servants (mainly
young women) worked on a 64 acre site.
115. Eligibility for
benefits in 1967 was, in general, determined by an individual's
record of national insurance contributions. These were paid by
stamps on cards and about 45 million cards were exchanged each
year. The records office at Longbenton was contacted by local
offices through the means of hand punched cards (known as 'shuttle
cards') sent through the post. Shuttle cards giving details of
the national insurance records of individuals arrived in Longbenton
at a rate of about 15,000 a week in the summer, and up to 500,000
a week during a winter epidemic. Newcastle had been chosen as
the site for the records office as part of the post-war policy
to locate Government work away from London, and especially in
areas that had been vulnerable to unemployment. In relation to
sickness benefit alone, there were seldom fewer than 800,000 people
receiving benefit at any one time, and the average number of new
claims was 140,000 a week.
116. The Ministry's
administrative structure was complemented by an enormous network
of tribunals and committees.
In relation to war pensions, there were three pensions entitlement
tribunals and two assessment tribunals in England and Wales (which,
in the period 1952-6, received 55,000 appeals). There were also
other tribunals in Northern Ireland and Scotland. In addition,
there was a Central Advisory Committee, a Special Grants Committee,
and 155 Local War Pensions Committees in Great Britain, plus a
Committee in Northern Ireland.
For national insurance there was a National Insurance Advisory
Committee and an Industrial Injuries Advisory Council, plus 230
local advisory committees for the purpose of advising on the administration
of the National Insurance Act. There were also nearly 220 local
tribunals, normally sitting at least once a week. In 1956, for
example, these tribunals heard some 43,000 cases. From local tribunals
it was possible to appeal to the National Insurance Commissioner.
There were 14 medical tribunals to which appellants could be referred.
117. The Department
of Social Security is today responsible for many of the same areas
for which the MPNI was responsible in 1967. The department continues
to administer the social security responsibilities laid down in
the National Insurance and Industrial Injuries Acts, although
many of the individual benefits have changed. The payment of death
grants ceased some years ago; sickness benefit has been replaced
by incapacity benefit; and unemployment benefit has been replaced
by the job seekers' allowance. Many long term benefits are now
paid direct to individual bank accounts instead of by means of
postal drafts cashed at post offices.
118. Despite the obvious
similarities which exist between the MPNI of 1967 and the DSS
of 1997, there have, needless to say, been some far reaching changes.
Today, almost all the department's staff work not in the core
department, but in one of the department's agencies (the Benefits
Agency, Child Support Agency, Contributions Agency, Information
Technology Services Agency, or War Pensions Agency). The department
is now assisted in its work by two advisory bodies: the National
Disability Councils and the Social Security Advisory Council.
The development of information technology has had an enormous
impact on the department's work. 'Shuttle cards' have disappeared
altogether, and computers are now central to the payment of benefits
and the keeping of national insurance records.