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Pensioners - The Campaign for Social Security Rights

click for more info.This campaign was started primarily to increase pensioners' take-up of Department of Health & Social Security (DHSS) benefits. It had three strands:

  1. To involve pensioners in action regarding their right to social security benefits.
  2. To expose the anomalies, contradictions and failings of the Social Security system.
  3. To confront the state and achieve changes in government policy by the force of grass-root action.

The efforts to obtain heating allowances were an important element of the campaign. The 1966 Social Security Act allowed for discretionary payments where a house was 'damp or otherwise difficult to keep adequately warm.' The SSTUC and the CU argued successfully at appeals tribunals that most houses in the North East were damp and/or difficult to heat. A precedent was established for weekly payments of 50p-75p to be made (a considerable amount at that time) only to have this 'offset against long-term additions' so that usually no extra payment was actually received.

This anomaly regarding the heating allowance was raised at local and national level involving the DHSS, the TUC, and parliament. Several thousand leaflets were distributed in the region. In a notorious incident one leaflet addressed 'To All Senior Citizens' was distributed by Post Offices in the belief that it was an 'official' document.

Success was achieved when Keith Joseph, Secretary of State for Social Security, announced in Parliament that, as from the 1st October 1973, extra heating allowances would be paid on top of supplementary benefits and that, for the first time, recipients would be entitled to the full amount of heating allowance awarded. It was estimated that over 400,000 pensioners benefited at an annual cost (then) of around £6 million.

The campaign for heating allowances was used to spearhead other campaigns for increased benefits. Several important changes in social security benefit policy were achieved and, equally important, a change of attitude by pensioners to claiming benefit rights.

The campaign can also be seen as contributing to an awareness by local authorities to the importance to local economies of maximising the take-up of benefits. Rights 'advice-agencies' were established in many areas. In such ways the state absorbed and deflected popular protest and revolt while, at the same time, economic interests were served in the guise of philanthropic intent.

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