HC Deb 30 June 1987 vol 118 cc367-8
9. Mr. Fisher

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether, in his review of benefit rates in the tax year 1987–88, he will take account of the increase in average earnings since 1979.

Mr. Scott

Several factors, including any increase in earnings, may be considered when benefits are uprated, but the statutory obligation is to take account of whether benefits have retained their value in relation to the general movement of prices. We have honoured that obligation.

Mr. Fisher

Will the Minister acknowledge the fact that had average earnings been linked to pensions a single pensioner would be £7.40 a week better off and a married couple £11.20 a week better off than in 1979? Is it any wonder that pensioners feel abandoned and ignored by this Government? Does the Minister understand that if pensions rose, not only would that give greater dignity in retirement to pensioners, but it would have a good effect on the British economy and on employment, as the spending of pensioners tends to relate to British jobs and services?

Mr. Scott

Characteristically, the hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong. He is concentrating entirely on basic pensions. The income of pensioners in this country has risen by no less than 18 per cent. in real terms since we took office. By pursuing a pensions policy for the future that is based on choice and flexibility we intend to ensure that pensioners share in the increased prosperity of the country.

Mr. Meacher

Is the Minister aware that it is a shameful indictment of the Government's pensions policy that the single pension today in France and Germany is more than 50 per cent. of average earnings, yet in this country under this Government it is only 18 per cent., and falling? Within 20 years, under current policy, it will he less than 10 per cent. Is it not symbolic of this Thatcher Government that the only people in this country who are denied a rise in living standards are the pensioners and the unemployed?

Mr. Scott

I suspect that the hon. Gentleman is still too hooked on the arguments of the hustings to recognise the reality of the matter. We have heard the arguments that are being put forward and of this so-called league of shame. In Europe this country is second only to Denmark on spending per capita on the elderly. That is the essence of our commitment to the elderly in this country in real terms. We make that commitment clear and we are second only on spending on the elderly per capita in the league in Europe.