§ 11. Mr. Skinner
To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security whether he will meet pensioners' representatives to discuss pensions, standing charges, concessionary fares and other matters; and if he will make a statement
§ Mrs. Gillian Shephard
We regularly meet representatives from pensioners' organisations. Most recently, I met a delegation from the National Federation of Retirement Pensions Associations
§ Mr. Skinner
If the Government meet pensioners' organisations in the next few weeks, they will hear from those representatives that pensioners have been robbed of more than £13 per week as a result of the change in the system in 1979 when the Tory Government came to office. That system allows Ralph Halpern to pick up a pension of £9,000 per week while other pensioners in London, Bolsover and elsewhere do not have two ha'pennies to rub together. Why should those pensioners have to pay for their travel while the Prime Minister gallivants around the world on taxpayers' money? Why should they pay standing charges when the people at No. 10 Downing street do not pay a penny piece? There is one law for Ministers in this Government and another for the old age pensioners throughout Britain—get it changed!
§ Mrs. Shephard
Yet again I remind Opposition Members, in particular the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), that the Labour Administration most certainly did not honour their promises to pensioners when they were in power. I also remind the hon. Gentleman that during the five years to October 1989, standing charges fell, in real terms, whereas during the previous Labour Government electricity prices rose by 30 per cent. That is a measure of the Opposition's care for pensioners. Under this Government, pensioners' average net income has risen by 31 per cent. in real terms. That is something that the Labour party could never hope to emulate
§ Mr. Soames
Does my hon. Friend nevertheless agree that the important point about caring for pensioners is that policies should not stand still and that we should consider all the time how better we can care for them? Will she look at the way in which the Germans and the French 10 are able to provide an enhanced package of concessions for their old people, which makes their quality of life a great deal more agreeable?
§ Mrs. Shephard
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I remind him and the House of the special help that has been provided by the Government for older and poorer pensioners. In October 1989, there was the special package, and a few weeks ago my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made his uprating announcement. In Germany, pensioners get what they pay for. Pensions depend entirely on what people have earned during their working lives. There is no basic state retirement pension. Pensioners have to pay for their prescriptions. They also have to make a 6 per cent. contribution towards their health care. Moreover, the pensions choice that we provide in this country is being looked at carefully not only by Germany but by other European Community member states
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
What are the Government doing for a particular group of pensioners who are casualties of the Thatcher years? I refer to those people who were put out of work in their middle 50s and who have not worked since. When they reach pensionable age, they find that all that they are entitled to is the basic pension; there is no supplement from their earnings, or other employment. They find life extremely difficult, having been on benefit for many years. As those people are supposed to have made a sacrifice so that we could get British industry back on its feet, is not it time that the Government compensated them so that they can enjoy a decent life in retirement, instead of having to struggle on the basic state pension?
§ Mrs. Shephard
The point of the income-related benefits system is that the basic pension can be topped up by income support, community charge benefit and housing benefit. That provides a very good base for all the people described by the hon. Gentleman.