HC Deb 20 February 1996 vol 272 cc160-1
4. Dr. Twinn

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what has been the change in real terms in the income of the average pensioner since 1979; and if he will make a statement. [14354]

Mr. Heald

Between 1979 and 1993, the average incomes of pensioners increased by 51 per cent. in real terms.

Dr. Twinn

Does the Minister agree that the rise in pensioners' incomes is a tribute to those who manage the private pension funds, and that the funds are managed in the best interests of pensioners? Does he share my concern that if these funds were to be diverted, perhaps to Government-controlled funds, they would be shifted to lower return projects—maybe projects of a political nature—that would cut pensioners' incomes? Is this not the policy of the Labour party?

Mr. Heald

Since 1980 the private pension funds in this country have had a real rate of return of more than 10 per cent. over inflation. The same is not true of state-run schemes, such as that in Singapore where the return is only 2 per cent. A pensioner in this country, who contributes the same amount as a pensioner in Singapore, will have four times the pension when he retires. That is why the Government are committed to the private sector schemes and why our achievement is so immense in this area.

Mr. Chris Smith

Why does the Minister simply talk about average pensioner incomes—as he always does? Does he not realise what has happened to those pensioners below the average, especially those who receive nothing but the state pension or income support? Has he seen the Institute for Fiscal Studies report that shows that income inequality for pensioners rose dramatically after 1979, and that the richest 10 per cent. of pensioners have five and a half times as much income as the poorest 10 per cent.? Is it not time to stop being complacent and to do something to help the millions of pensioners who are below the average, and who are falling further behind under this Government?

Mr. Heald

As usual, the hon. Gentleman has carping complaints to make about the Government's performance. All pensioners have benefited under this Government. That is why the real rate of pensioners' income has increased substantially, even in the bottom quintile. The hon. Gentleman should look at the proposals that he is making—what is described as thinking the unthinkable. Hon. Members should look at the cost that the Labour party would impose on British industry and on pensioners, particularly with the stakeholder proposals. The hon. Gentleman should not get away with this, and he should not write letters to The Times withdrawing his ideas two months after he has had them.