HC Deb 17 July 1995 vol 263 cc1302-3
9. Mr. Spring

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security by how much the real earnings of pensioners have changed since 1979. [32771]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Oliver Heald)

Pensioners' average incomes have increased by 50 per cent. in real terms since 1979. Earnings represent a small proportion of the total.

Mr. Spring

I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend on his thoroughly deserved promotion. Will he confirm, not only that pensioners' average incomes have risen faster than those of the population as a whole, but that three quarters of pensioners under a Conservative Government now have an income flowing from their own investments and savings?

Mr. Heald

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind comments. The Government's policy of providing a sound basic pension, of encouraging private provision, and of targeting through the benefit system the poorest pensioners has been working well, but it has been underpinned by the Government's economic policies, especially the policy of low inflation. What pension members will have to consider is, having bought into the disreputable Labour old banger—the vehicle of state that it produced in the 1970s—whether they now want to buy the same vehicle just because the salesman smiles more sweetly and there are "go faster" stripes on the side.

Mr. Pike

Does the Minister accept that the increased level for older pensioners is less than that for younger pensioners? Is it not derisory and an insult to those people that when they reach the age of 80, they still receive only 25p extra a week? Is it not time that that sum was increased?

Mr. Heald

The hon. Gentleman is making what, in a way, is an obvious point: as time has gone on, the position on pensions has improved, but he should know that the poorest pensioners are still better off. They are 15 per cent. better off in real terms than in 1979 and that is under a Conservative Government.

Mr. Forman

I welcome my hon. Friend to his new duties and pay tribute to this Government's record in price-protecting the value of pensions. Does it none the less remain the case that a small and declining group of pensioners is solely dependent on the state pension, that they often have to rely on income support as well, and that the Government should think of being more generous to them in a targeted way? Will my hon. Friend give his considered support to that proposal?

Mr. Heald

It is right, of course, always to review these issues, but the fact is that, as from next April, the poorest pensioner couples will receive £100 a week in benefits through the system. It is also right at this point to mention the campaign by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security against benefit fraud. In targeting benefits on the poorest pensioners, every pound counts and it is right that we should use every penny that we can for proper purposes. We should welcome the response that the fraud campaign has had, not just from the general public, but from newspapers such as The Sun, which, through its hotline, will provide valuable information to the Government.

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