§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. William Hague)
In the decade following 1979, pensioners' average incomes increased by 30 per cent.
§ Mrs. Lait
Will my hon. Friend confirm that the income of pensioner couples, excluding housing costs, has risen by almost a half since 1979, allowing for inflation? Will he further confirm that the proportion of pensioner couples in the lowest income groups has fallen from 19 per cent. in 1979 to 11 per cent. now? Does he agree that those figures show that pensioners are better off under a Conservative Government?
§ Mr. Hague
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. She rightly draws attention to the figures published last week showing that the total incomes of pensioner couples have risen by 48 per cent., excluding housing costs, since 1979. That is largely because of the growth in occupational pensions and in income from savings. But the Government have always recognised that not all pensioners have shared in that increased prosperity. That is why extra resources have been concentrated on helping the oldest and poorest pensioners.
§ Mr. Winnick
Is the Minister aware that, last week, a strong deputation of pensioners from all over the country came to the House and that they were deeply anxious that their standard of living will be further eroded as a result of the introduction of VAT on domestic fuel? Does the Minister recognise that, in this country, there remain literally millions of pensioners who are living on the very smallest of incomes? That have not benefited in any way from occupational pensions and now find themselves living day by day, virtually on the breadline. Are not the Government largely responsible because they have refused to increase the pension in line with earnings? Should not they be thoroughly ashamed of themselves?
§ Mr. Hague
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and other members of the Government have always made it clear that extra help will be given before the increase in VAT takes effect next year. That help will be additional to the automatic increase in pensions and other beneftis that will reflect the impact of any increase in fuel bills. But the hon. Gentleman should remember that, in the past 14 years, total expenditure on benefits for the elderly has 9 increased by 40 per cent. in real terms, to a level never dreamt of by any previous Labour Government. The Opposition should remember that on all occasions.