§ 8. Mr. David Atkinson
To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will make a statement on the future of the Christmas bonus for pensioners.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Miss Ann Widdecombe)
We have no plans to change the basis for payment of the Christmas bonus for pensioners.
§ Mr. Atkinson
Can my hon. Friend confirm that, unlike the situation experienced under the last Labour Government, the Christmans bonus will be paid this year? Does she accept that, as the bonus has remained at the same value for so long, it has become increasingly difficult to justify it in cost-effective terms? Therefore, will she seek 9 to review the value of the bonus with a view either to substantially increasing it or, as I favour, to merge it with a substantially increased state retirement pension?
§ Miss Widdecombe
I have great pleasure in confirming that the Christmas bonus will be paid this year. The reason that it will be paid is that the Conservative Government made it a statutory entitlement rather than a discretionary payment, thus avoiding for ever the situation that occurred in 1975 and 1976 when, despite the grand promises of the Labour party about what it would do for pensioners, the Labour party did not manage to pay any Christmas bonus for those two years. I well understand what my hon. Friend says about the value of the bonus having declined, but to restore it to its original level would cost £720 million. My hon. Friend should reflect that that equates well with the £700 million per year that the Government have targeted towards poorer pensioners—a better use of resources than the universal uprating of benefit.
§ Mr. F. Bennett
Does the Minister agree that pensioners have made a magnificent contribution to this country and should be sharing in any increase in prosperity? As the Government have broken the link between pensions and earnings, how are pensioners to enjoy any of the extra prosperity? Is this not a good opportunity for the Government to restore the value of the Christmas bonus?
§ Miss Widdecombe
Pensioners have enjoyed the benefit of the increased prosperity to such an extent that the value of their total incomes has risen by 34 per cent. under the present Government. Under the last Labour Government, it rose by a mere 3 per cent. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is in the best position to lecture us about helping pensioners to share in prosperity. More pensioners than ever before now own their own homes, have savings in addition to their pensions and have occupational pensions. They are sharing in prosperity—[Interruption.]