HC Deb 06 March 1989 vol 148 cc594-6
16. Mr. Cran

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security by what percentage spending by his Department on benefits for the elderly has risen relative to the rate of inflation since 1979.

Mr. Moore

Fifty-one per cent. of benefit expenditure goes to the elderly. Spending on benefits for the elderly has grown by 22 per cent. in real terms since 1978–79.

Mr. Cran

Does my right hon. Friend agree that in addition to the excellent figures that he has just given, pensioners' total incomes also matter, and they rose by a pathetic 3 per cent. under the last Labour Government, but by 23 per cent. under this Government?

Hon. Members

Not true.

Mr. Moore

My hon. Friend is precisely right. He drew attention to pensioners' real incomes. He was referring to pensioners' average incomes, not simply and solely the state pension. With regard to the average income of all pensioners, my hon. Friend referred to the appalling performance of the Labour Government under whom pensioners saw their average income increase by only 3 per cent. throughout the whole five years that the Labour party was in office.

Mr. McAllion

Irrespective of actual spending on benefits for the elderly since 1979, will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government refuse to allow anyone over 65 to claim mobility allowance? Will he explain why people over 65 are not allowed to claim that allowance? People aged over 65 have the same need to move around as anyone else.

Mr. Moore

No, the mobility allowance was originally introduced for people in work or in comparable non-work situations. Eventually, the qualifying age was raised to 65 and in the Social Security Bill Standing Committee the Government are extending the upper age limit to 80. Considerable costs are attached, to the extent of £1 billion plus, to extend it beyond the age of 65. However, the massive increase in those able to receive mobility allowance is a reflection of the extra money spent by the Government on that benefit.

Mr. Charles Wardle

When my right hon. Friend considers what scope he has to help the elderly, will he also calculate and place on public record the amount of taxpayers' money which goes on social security benefits for citizens of the Irish Republic who freely enter the United Kingdom without specific job prospects or their own means of support?

Mr. Moore

My hon. Friend refers to a feature of our historical relationship with the Irish Republic. I will go no further on that issue.

Mr. Robin Cook

In view of the Secretary of State's earlier comments, will he for the avoidance of doubt put on record the fact that under the Labour Government the basic pension increased by 20 per cent. in real terms in six years while under this Government it has increased by 2 per cent. in 10 years? Does not that tenfold difference between the last Labour Government and this Government put into perspective the relative priorities which the Labour party and the Conservative party give to pensioners?

Mr. Moore

I shall put on record that throughout the whole five-year period of the Labour Government, the total increase in the real average income of pensioners was 3 per cent. Pensions have increased by that amount almost every single year since the Conservative Government have been in office. I remind right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who are concerned about the least well-off in our country that in 1979 about 38 per cent. of pensioners were in the bottom one fifth of national wealth distribution. Happily, they now number only 25 per cent.—not 38 per cent., as under Socialism.

Forward to