HC Deb 06 July 1992 vol 211 cc4-5
3. Mr. Andrew Mitchell

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security whether Her Majesty's Government propose to review the system for cold weather payments.

Mr. Burt

Following a review, substantial improvements were made to the cold weather payments scheme last winter, and these resulted in almost 4 million payments being made, at a cost of almost £24 million. The scheme is kept constantly under review and we are currently evaluating those changes.

Mr. Mitchell

My hon. Friend the Minister will be aware that the scheme is targeted towards the most vulnerable in society, including pensioners and those with children under five. I am therefore very grateful to him for agreeing to keep the matter under review. Now, during the hot weather, is the time to ensure that the scheme is in the right order and sensibly composed. I am grateful for my hon. Friend's commitment to that.

Mr. Burt

I thank my hon. Friend. I am aware of his long-standing interest in the scheme. We made a number of reforms to it last year. We believe that we have ex tended and modified the scheme so that it works much better than it used to—certainly better than it did before 1979—and the improvements will be kept constantly under review.

Mr. Wicks

Is the Minister aware that, next winter, between 20,000 and 40,000 more people will die than in the summer months? Is he aware that that means that we stand at the top of the European cold winter deaths league? Does he therefore agree that there are no grounds for complacency and that now is the time to think through the matter with other Departments so that we can stop the annual cull of our eldest and best each and every winter?

Mr. Burt

The hon. Gentleman's point might have been put just as effectively without some of his emotive language. Sadly, there are many causes of death throughout the winter, and they are totally unconnected with cold weather. Obviously, that matter is a constant problem. The system is examined extensively to make sure that it works properly. No claim is necessary; the procedure is automatically triggered. We have also removed the capital requirement, which has made another 400,000 people eligible for help under the scheme. Those are the extensions and modifications that we have made. There is no complacency. The scheme is more extensive than it was before. Every time that I hear the Opposition whinge about it, I know that that is a collective gasp of guilt about a scheme that they had neither the wit to devise nor the money to sustain.

Mrs. Angela Knight

As so many people are eligible for cold weather payments and as last year's changes brought more into the scheme, does that not show the Government's commitment to ensuring that benefits are targeted towards the sick, the elderly and the disabled, so that those in need get the money that they require?

Mr. Burt

Targeting is important in such a scheme, but it is also essential to keep it under review as much as possible to make sure that money goes where it is needed. The Government are committed to doing that.