HC Deb 15 March 1993 vol 221 cc6-8
7. Mr. Hawkins

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what extra help has been directed to lower income pensioners in the last three years.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Miss Ann Widdecombe)

Poorer pensioners received extra help worth £70 million in April 1991,£60 million in April 1992, £315 million in October 1992 and they will gain a further £260 million this year because although income support recipients will no longer have to pay local taxes, their benefit will not be reduced.

Mr. Hawkins

Does my hon. Friend agree that pensioners' average income from savings has more than doubled since 1979 while between 1974 and 1979 pensioners' average income from savings in real terms fell by 16 per cent? Does my hon. Friend agree that that is powerful evidence of the poverty that socialism brings for those on fixed incomes in [...]comparison with the success of [...]Conservative polices?

Miss Widdecombe

Indeed. My hon. Friend put it extremely well.

Mr. Olner

The Minister could not have put it better herself.

Miss Widdecombe

I could hardly have put it better, but I will now supplement my hon. Friend's comments by saying that inflation is the single biggest evil facing pensioners in their endeavours to save for their od age. The Labour Government managed so successfully to wipe out pensioners' savings in the inflation years of the 1970s that the net result was that many of the older pensioners who can no longer rely on their savings have had instead to be rescued by our package of help for poorer pensioners. We have much to be proud of and Opposition Members should hang their heads in shame.

Mr. Winnick

If anyone should hang their heads in shame Government Ministers should. Do they not realise that millions of pensioners, especially pensioners who rely on the state pension and supplementary benefit or who perhaps have a small occupational pension, are in a desperate state because of low incomes? Why do so many pensioners ask Members of Parliament—they have certainly asked me this and I am sure that they have asked Conservative Members the same question—who won the last war? They ask that when they compare their plight with that of people in other European countries like Germany.

Miss Widdecombe

What they do know is that the pensioners won the last election. Our policies are such that pensioners are very much better off than they would have been if we had had a resurgence of Labour's policies which is all that Labour promised at the last election. As for pensioners having to rely on the state pension, very few people in this country have to manage on the state pension alone. It should not be forgotten that those who receive income support to supplement their state pensions can have 100 per cent. of their rent paid; 100 per cent. of their council tax paid and, in many cases, they can double the value of their state pensions.

Mr. Ward

Does my hon. Friend agree that on average, pensioners' income increased by 30 per cent. between 1979 and 1993? My hon. Friend might like to contrast that with what happened under the Labour Government. Is it not important to continue to ensure that any funds available from the taxpayer go to those in greatest need rather than to increases across the board?

Miss Widdecombe

Yes, indeed. That is why our support plan for pensioners in the greatest need is worth about £1 billion a year. It is quite true that pensioners' incomes from all sources have risen by 30 per cent. since the Government have been in power. That is because, among other things, of our policy of encouraging occupational pensions, which was so deeply scorned by the Opposition, and of creating personal pensions. The Opposition fought against the incentives that enabled people to take up those pensions.

The Government are wholly committed to the pensioner and to pensioners' incomes. We are not blinkered in believing that the only source of income is the state pension. [HON. MEMBERS: [...]"Boring."] As Opposition Members are shouting, "Boring", they obviously find the problems of pensioners boring because they do nothing about them.

Mr. Skinner

Will the Minister confirm that the pension is now equivalent to about 15 per cent. of the average weekly wage and that it has fallen dramatically in the past 14 years? Widows of retired miners in my constituency get £10 or £11 from British Coal, as a result of which they are disqualified from many of the benefits that the Minister mentioned. Pensioners in many other countries throughout the world, including some in the so-called Common Market countries, receive pensions that equate to 50 or 60 per cent. of average weekly earnings. Those retired miners' widows get nowhere near that, and if they surrender their coal allowance and take money for gas in lieu they lose every penny of housing benefit that they receive.

Miss Widdecombe

The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) was most unwise to mention other countries in the Common Market, because we do better by pensioners on half average earnings than do most of our European neighbours. The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong, because in, for example, Germany and France there is no basic pension. The pensions that he mentioned are for higher earners and are earnings related, whereas Britain has a flat basic-rate pension available to all who have paid national insurance contributions. The value of the state pension has been more than maintained since 1979, and those whose entitlement to coal takes them slightly above the income support level can still, in certain circumstances, get help with other income-related benefits.

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