HC Deb 28 July 1977 vol 936 cc1073-4

9.56 p.m.

Mr. Peter Brooke (City of London and Westminster, South)

The House—God and the Leader of the House willing—will rise tomorrow for the Summer Recess. We shall return in October, at a time when we shall be beginning to search the cellars for gunpowder, when there will be far fewer shopping days till Christmas, and when the elderly and the poor will be fearing the coming of winter and the cold. On one side of the ledger there are bonfires with roast chestnuts and yule logs, and on the other side of the ledger there is the terrible loneliness of the cold.

All of us in the Chamber tonight know of tragic stories of old people dying alone from hypothermia. Every death diminishes us all, and should make us less proud of the community in which we live. All of us, too, are aware of those who, living in such circumstances, fear the situation in which they live and for some of whom death comes as a blessed release.

It is so that we in the House, on the eve of our going on our summer holidays, may take thought for the morrow against this issue that I have the privilege of initiating this debate on help with heating costs. The task of initiating the debate, in which clearly others in the Chamber wish to follow me, seems to me to be to state the problem and its parameters and to suggest at least the framework of a solution on which others may subsequently build more detailed structures.

The problem is familiar to us all, that in a period of rapid inflation—I cast no stones in saying this; I am not discussing why there is a period of rapid inflation, this being a descriptive remark —the poor and the old have increasing difficulty in meeting heating bills, and put their way of life, and sometimes their lives, at risk by the way in which they rearrange their expenditure to cope with the problems that inflation imposes upon them.

The clearest index of the extent of the problem, though it also affords encouragement, as I shall develop in a moment, is that in the winter of 1974 one-third of pensioners on supplementary benefit took up their heating addition. By the winter of 1975 that figure had risen to half. By the winter of 1976 it had risen to almost three-quarters, and all of us must hope that the 1977 figure will rise higher still. There are, however, about 500,000 pensioners who have the entitlement to take up supplementary benefit and who are not doing so—

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

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