HC Deb 22 June 1971 vol 819 cc1169-72
3. Mr. Arthur Lewis

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether he is aware that in the year ended 17th April, 1971 the £ sterling depreciated in purchasing value by 8.6 per cent.; and on this basis to what extent he anticipates that the proposed increases to be made in September will now offset the fall in the purchasing value of the £ sterling since the date when pensions and social security benefits were last raised and that which will take place between April, 1971 and September, 1971.

The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mr. Paul Dean)

I am confident that the benefit increases next September will more than replace the loss of purchasing power since benefits were last increased.

Mr. Lewis

That may be the hon. Gentleman's opinion, but it is not the opinion of the old-age pensioners. Is he aware that the prices of meat, butter and eggs are going up and we are told that it is the deliberate policy of the Government to get prices up in order to get us into the Common Market? Is he further aware that old-age pensioners are fed up with the Government encouraging prices to go up and depreciating the purchasing value of their pensions?

Mr. Dean

The hon. Gentleman would be a little more convincing if the Opposition supported the Government in their fight against inflationary wage claims, which do more damage than anything else to the pensioners' shopping basket.

Sir G. Nabarro

Does my hon. Friend realise—party politics aside—that, whereas the purchasing power of the £ fell by 8.4 per cent. in the year that ended on 17th April, 1971, at the present rate it will fall a further 11.4 per cent. by 17th April, 1972, thus aggregating a 20 per cent. fall over two years, and that 20 per cent. was the amount of the increase in the single old-age pension? Is not my hon. Friend therefore chasing his own tail in ever-decreasing circles?

Mr. Dean

The fact is that the increase is the biggest ever in money terms. It will more than restore the value of the benefits, and, over and above that, new benefits have been introduced for priority groups—namely, the over-80s and the chronic sick.

Sir G. Nabarro

On a point of order. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.

17. Mr. Sillars

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what is the purchasing power of the State retirement pension now, compared with the same date last year.

Mr. Dean

As measured by the Index of Retail Prices, the purchasing power of the standard retirement pension in May, 1971 was £4.55, compared with £5.00 in May, 1970.

Mr. Sillars

Does not that answer indicate that pensioners have had a hardup year under the Conservative Government and bear out the pensioners' contention that the rise which is due in the autumn is already totally inadequate and that another rise is required immediately?

Mr. Dean

No, Sir. The increase coming into operation in September will more than restore the value of the pension.

Mr. Gardner

Does not my hon. Friend agree that the increased pension in the autumn, which will be the highest ever paid by any Government, will do much to restore the purchasing power and to relieve the suffering inflicted on many pensioners by the inflationary policies of the previous Labour Government?

Mr. Dean

I am obliged to my hon. and learned Friend; he is quite right. We succeeded after 1951 in clearing up the rip-roaring inflation, and we intend to succeed equally on this occasion.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

Will the Government stop talking about increases in money terms, as this means absolutely nothing in terms of increased purchasing power? Will the Minister admit that the supposed six months' improvement in the purchasing power of pensions has now dwindled to at most six weeks?

Mr. Dean

The increase will certainly improve the purchasing power of the pension. Over and above that, there are further increases for the over-80s and the chronic sick. Furthermore, this is the third Bill in this Session to improve the cash benefit for the needy sections of the community.

Mrs. Williams

Will the Minister answer my question?

Mr. Dean

I have answered it very effectively.

23. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services by how much the basic retirement pension, for a single person and a married couple, respectively, has fallen in purchasing power since the last increase.

Mr. Dean

As measured by the Index of Retail Prices, between November, 1969 and May, 1971 the purchasing power of the standard retirement pension fell by £0.64 for a single person and by £1.04 for a married couple, at November, 1969 prices.

Mr. Hamilton

Does not that answer confirm the view expressed on this side of the House that within a few weeks of the increase in September there will be complete erosion and that two years from then pensioners, many of whom are in this state now, will be virtually starving? Is not the Minister aware that, immediately after the war, when Mr. Winston Churchill, as he then was, said that we were a bankrupt nation, the Labour Government increased the basic pension by 160 per cent? Now that we have been promised a "better tomorrow", will the hon. Gentleman give an assurance that he will make to tomorrow for the old-age pensioners and give them half what the Labour Government gave them in 1946?

Mr. Dean

I repeat to the House that the improvements coming into operation in September will more than restore the purchasing power of the pension, and that this is the third Bill in this Parliament to bring additional cash help to those in need. That in itself shows quite clearly that the Government intend to see that those who are in need do not suffer as a result of price rises.

Mr. Ridsdale

Does not this confirm how wrong trade union leaders have been to press for wage demands ahead of increases in productivity, and that they are the people who are responsible for the difficulties of the old-age pensioners?

Mr. Dean

I am obliged to my hon. Friend. Criticisms from the Opposition benches would be much more convincing if we had their support in our campaign against inflationary wage settlements which hit pensioners so hard.

Mr. Molloy

Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that there is nothing more disgusting than for him to use old-age pensioners as an excuse to hammer the trade unions? Does he not realise that many of these working-class old-age pensioners have been trade unionists and have contributed to the wealth of this country, and that his action and his reply today will go down in the records as most disreputable? Is not the only contribution that he and his colleagues can make to old-age pensioners to pack in the job and get out?

Mr. Dean

I am simply pointing out to the House that, if certain sections of the community take out more than is justified by productivity, it is the pensioners and others on fixed incomes who suffer most.