HC Deb 04 March 1991 vol 187 cc1-3
1. Mr. Dover

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what proportion of pensioners own their own homes.

4. Mr. Robert Banks

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what proportion of pensioners own their own homes.

The Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Tony Newton)

The latest information shows that, in 1987, 49 per cent. of pensioners owned their own homes; 45 per cent. owned their homes outright.

Mr. Dover

Does my right hon. Friend agree that pensioners have become better off in the years of Conservative government? Will he confirm that, by 1989, 85 per cent. of them had telephones, 71 per cent. had washing machines and 62 per cent. had their own cars?

Mr. Newton

Indeed, all the evidence suggests that pensioners have been becoming considerably better off in general—although, obviously, with exceptions, to whom we have tried to give additional help through the income support rate. The increases in durable ownership are very striking, as my hon. Friend pointed out, especially in the number of those owning telephones, which has risen from just under half the total to over 85 per cent.

Mr. Robert Banks

Does my right hon. Friend agree that aspiring to home ownership is a basic human instinct and that the Government have made remarkable progress in satisfying that desire? Will he take positive steps to encourage banks and building societies to make incomes and payments available td pensioners on the basis of the asset value of the homes that they occupy, once the mortgages have been repaid?

Mr. Newton

I think that my hon. Friend is referring to a type of scheme which, as he knows, has been advanced with some success in recent years. I have certainly noted his suggestion and I am sure that it will be noted outside the House, too.

Mr. Winnick

I have been informed in a parliamentary answer that two thirds of pensioners have annual incomes of less than £5,000. What justification can there be for requiring those who either own their homes or rent accommodation to pay the poll tax—a tax which is levied on them in the same way and, even more important, in equal amounts as it is levied on multi-millionaires? Is not it very odd for some Conservative Members to be so determined to retain a tax which penalises pensioners, as it penalises so many others in the community?

Mr. Newton

I fear that the hon. Gentleman is once again engaging in extravagant generalisations while completely ignoring the fact that, because the calculation of community charge benefit is based on income support rates as a threshold, and because those rates are, owing to the premiums, higher for pensioners than for most other groups in the population, pensioners receive considerable help with their community charge payments.

Mr. Kirkwood

Does the Secretary of State accept that, although pensioners can own their own homes, it does not necessarily mean that they are wealthy? Of course, the increase in pensioners' average income is welcome, but have not the Government a duty to do more and yet more for those who must rely on nothing more than the state pension?

Mr. Newton

As the hon. Gentleman knows, very few pensioners have only the state pension to live on, unless they are living in someone else's household. If they are renting accommodation, as many will be, they will receive substantial assistance through housing benefit; if they have only the state retirement pension, they are in any case likely to be in receipt of income support. The hon. Gentleman must not overplay his hand. We have been directing additional help to the least well-off pensioners—those on income support.