HC Deb 23 February 1998 vol 307 cc7-8
7. Mr. Pond

If she will make a statement on the Government's actions to assist pensioners who are eligible for income support. [29080]

Mr. Denham

We are determined to help the 1 million pensioners who are not claiming their income support entitlement. We have commissioned research to find out why they do not make a claim, and, from April, we shall run a number of pilot projects to find the best way in which to encourage them to do so.

Mr. Pond

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. I am sure that in the pensions review, the needs of the poorest pensioners will be a priority, but, given that Opposition Members continue to peddle the notion that the basic state pension might be subject to a means test, will my hon. Friend confirm once again that cuts to, and means-testing of, the basic state pension were part of the previous Government's policy and are nothing to do with the present Government's policy, and that the basic state pension will remain a central foundation of pension provision?

Mr. Denham

I am happy to reaffirm, once again, our manifesto commitment on which we were elected, and for which pensioners voted in large numbers. The basic state pension will be retained as the foundation stone for retirement and will be uprated at least in line with prices. I am grateful for the opportunity once again to make that statement to the House.

Mr. Collins

I am most grateful to the Minister for what he just said. Perhaps he will now give a straight answer to my question. Will the Government rule out means-testing the basic pension—yes or no?

Mr. Denham

This Government will keep their promises. We have promised to uprate the basic state pension at least in line with prices. We have already honoured that commitment. From this April, the basic state pension for a couple will exceed £100 for the first time. We deliver on what we promise.

Mr. Hope

Is my hon. Friend aware that many people who are in work cannot save with an occupational pension because their employer does not have such a thing? Those people might not be able to afford a private pension scheme. Indeed, those with caring responsibilities are not at work and therefore cannot contribute. Is he aware that if that situation continues, there will be growing inequality in the years ahead when those people reach pensionable age? Can the Government assure the House that, in the pension review, they will look at how we can provide second pensions that are affordable and accessible to people on low incomes or with caring responsibilities?

Mr. Denham

Yes. The pension review has two key elements: first, our proposals for stakeholder pension schemes, which will be value for money, low cost, flexible and particularly suit those who cannot join an employer's occupational scheme or those for whom personal pensions are far too expensive; secondly, we are also considering—again in line with our manifesto—a citizenship pension for those such as carers who cannot contribute to a funded second pension because of their important role in looking after a member of the family or another person.