HC Deb 20 May 1991 vol 191 cc625-7
7. Mr. Paice

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what proportion of pensioners own their own homes; and whether he has made any estimate of how this is likely to change over the next 20 years.

Miss Widdecombe

The latest information shows that, in 1987, 49 per cent. of pensioners owned their own homes compared with only 40 per cent. in 1979. As an even higher proportion of younger people now own their own homes, we have every reason to believe that that upward trend will continue into the next century.

Mr. Paice

My hon. Friend will agree that the figures bear testament to the Government's positive action to encourage home ownership. As increased home ownership works through into the pensioner age group over the next decade, the next two decades and onwards, will my hon. Friend do everything in her power to encourage policies that will enable the asset value of home ownership to be uesd to help pensioners in their later years when they need every penny of income that they can get?

Miss Widdecombe

My hon. Friend makes an important point. There are already schemes to help pensioners to use the capital asset of their homes where that would help them because their current income is restricted. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the matter. As I have said, there are already such policies and they will continue to be produced.

Mr. Bowis

Does my hon. Friend agree that over the past 10 years we have taken great steps forward to improve security for pensioners in terms of their income, their homes and their persons? Will she confirm that there has been a great increase in home ownership and an increase in telephone links to those homes, from 50 to over 80 per cent? Will she consider further ways of extending that and other home security measures so that pensioners feel that they have security at home as well as in the street?

Miss Widdecombe

My hon. Friend is right to suggest that there has been an increase in all forms of pensioners' income. There was a 31 per cent. rise in pensioners' incomes during the first eight years of this Government. There has been a substantial increase in the ownership of telephones and of all consumer goods by pensioners. In general, there has been a rise in the economic position of pensioners, including their savings, income and home ownership.

Mr. Skinner

I did not rise earlier, Mr. Speaker, because of trouble with the cruciate ligament in my left knee.

Bearing in mind the fact that there are about 70,000 home repossessions a year, may I ask the Minister how many pensioners have had their homes repossessed? Given the consequent difficulties for local authorities, will the hon. Lady have a word with the appropriate Minister in the Department of the Environment to ensure that local authorities are able to rehouse pensioners whose homes have been repossessed? The authorities have not had the money to build houses and bungalows for those people.

Miss Widdecombe

Only 4 per cent. of pensioners are still paying a mortgage. All other pensioners who own their homes own them outright. The problem of repossessions is not as great among pensioners as it is in the rest of the population.

9. Mr. Moss

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what proportion of pensioners have some form of private income to top up the state pension and benefits.

Miss Widdecombe

My hon. Friend will be interested to hear that in 1987 a total of 84 per cent. of pensioners received some form of income other than the retirement pension and associated state benefits.

Mr. Moss

Does my hon. Friend agree that those excellent and revealing statistics underline yet again the encouragement that the Government have given to people to save for their retirement? Is she aware that that resulted in a major increase in pensioners' incomes of about 31 per cent. between 1979 and 1987?

Miss Widdecombe

Indeed, and more than half all pensioners now enjoy the benefits of an occupational pension. As an even larger percentage of recently retired pensioners have occupational pensions, there is every prospect of increasing independence among the elderly.

Mr. Winnick

Why should there be any room for complacency when, on the Government's own figures, two thirds of all pensioners have incomes of less than£5,000 a year? When will the Government apologise £if ever —for the way in which, 10 years ago, they broke the link between pensions and earnings? As a consequence, a married pensioner couple is now £24 a week worse off and a single pensioner £14 a week worse off. That is directly attributable to the actions of a Tory Government.

Miss Widdecombe

I see no reason to apologise for a 31 per cent. rise in pensioners' incomes, when all that a Labour Government could manage was a 3 per cent. increase —and that despite the operation of an earnings link. That proves that it is not an earnings link that matters, but the overall state of the economy.

Mrs. Roe

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister is aware that many people are anxious to learn the Government's views on equalisation of the state pension age and the implications that that will have for private pension schemes. Can my hon. Friend say what action has been taken by other countries in the European Community and whether we might learn a lesson from it?

Miss Widdecombe

For some time, the Government have been committed in principle to equalisation of pension ages. I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that it presents immense practical economic, demographic and social difficulties. We maintain our commitment to equalisation and the question of pensionable age is being debated throughout Europe. Many European countries are considering proposals for raising the pensionable age to achieve equalisation. We are not ready to present detailed proposals, but we are committed in principle to that very important policy.

Mr. Allen McKay

When considering pensioners' incomes, will the Government consider not only the numbers involved but the amounts payable? Many thousands of elderly people receive a very small pension, so can the Under-Secretary confirm that it is not the Government's intention to means-test benefits or state pensions?

Miss Widdecombe

It is precisely because we recognise the huge variety of income levels among the elderly that we target resources at the poorer pensioner. It is also why, over the past two years, we have directed £280 million in additional support at the poorer pensioner. Even those above the income support line have available to them housing benefit, community charge benefit, free NHS prescriptions and other benefits that are available in full to those who are on income support. Our policies acknowledge that there is not a homogeneous income level among the elderly and, accordingly, direct assistance towards those most in need.