HC Deb 15 December 1997 vol 303 cc11-2
12. Ms Ward

What is the Government's policy on welfare reform for pensioners. [19068]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. John Denham)

A key objective of the pensions review is to ensure that pensioners have an adequate income in retirement, that they share fairly in rising national prosperity and that public finances are both sustainable and affordable. As we were not prepared to wait for the outcome of the review, which will publish its proposals in the first half of next year, the Chancellor, in his pre-Budget statement, announced our scheme to spend £200 million this year and again next year on winter fuel payments. That is £50 for every pensioner household on income support and £20 for all other pensioner households.

Ms Ward

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. Does he recognise that some pensioners in my constituency will not, unfortunately, be around when the review is published? Some pensioners are in deep poverty. Will my hon. Friend assure them that the review will not only look to the future and to tomorrow's pensioners, but will seek to give positive responses and immediate assistance to today's pensioners?

Mr. Denham

My hon. Friend is right. Today's pensioners are looking for action from the Government and I am pleased to say that they have already seen it. We have kept our election promise to cut VAT on fuel and, as I said, we have announced an additional £200 million this winter and again next winter to help my hon. Friend's constituents and many other pensioners throughout the country to meet their winter fuel bills this year and next.

Mr. Gale

Does the Minister understand that many pensioners' incomes depend on disability benefits? Does he further understand that many of my constituents do not trust the Secretary of State's assurances any more than they trust those of a Prime Minister who seems more interested in looking after and saving the skin of the Paymaster General than in the interests of the disabled? Can the Minister come to the Dispatch Box—is he allowed to—and say categorically that there are no plans to cut disability living allowance or to make it harder for my constituents to obtain it?

Mr. Denham

Pensioners, including those with disabilities, want to be able to live with independence and dignity. That is why it is important for us to ensure that pensioners receive the right mix of cash and services that enable them to live with the independence and dignity that they deserve.