HC Deb 24 May 1999 vol 332 cc4-5
3. Helen Jones (Warrington, North)

What estimate he has made of the number of people in Warrington, North who will benefit from the minimum pension guarantee. [83993]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Angela Eagle)

We estimate that approximately 2,000 pensioners will benefit from the minimum income guarantee in Warrington, North. The increases in income support rates for pensioners will mean that, this year, in real terms, a single pensioner could be approximately £160 better off.

Helen Jones

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. Will she tell the House whether it is the Government's intention that, if possible, the minimum pension guarantee will be uprated in line with average earnings? If so, does it not highlight the contrast between the Government's policy of protecting the poorest pensioners, and the Opposition's policy of abolishing that minimum income guarantee?

Angela Eagle

My hon. Friend is right to point out that the Government's priority is to protect the most vulnerable pensioners, which is why we have been focusing money on them in the way that I have just described. She was also correct to have noticed that the Chancellor announced that we intend, next year, to uprate the minimum income guarantee in line with earnings.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

Will the Minister confirm that, under those arrangements, according to which the minimum income guarantee is pegged to earnings, whereas the basic pension is pegged to prices, the proportion of people in Warrington, North and across the United Kingdom who are dependent on means-tested benefits will rise indefinitely year on year?

Angela Eagle

The hon. Gentleman talks about means testing, but omits to mention that, in 1979—when the Tories took control of Government—16 per cent. of all benefits were means-tested whereas, in May 1997, when they were finally driven from office, that figure had risen to 34 per cent. Therefore, we need absolutely no lessons from Conservative Members about means testing. The hon. Gentleman should remember that the Government's priority is to ensure that we get help now to those who need it now. The minimum income guarantee will focus real extra resources on those who need them most.

Mr. Steve Webb (Northavon)

May I transport the Minister to Warrington, North, in the year 2064—which is the year in which constituents of the hon. Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones) who are born this year will reach state pension age? Will the Minister confirm that, under current policy, the combined value of the full basic state pension and the full state second pension for those people will be below the value of the proposed minimum income guarantee? Does she accept that that proves that the Government's policy is unsustainable?

Angela Eagle

The hon. Gentleman should stop transporting in time, and start examining the very important changes that we are making to pension provision to ensure that we float off means-tested benefit all those who work a full working life—plus people who care. The state second pension will achieve that goal.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney)

May I welcome the proposal in the pensions Green Paper to examine ways of helping pensioners in Warrington, North and elsewhere whose small second pension takes them just above income support levels and therefore just beyond eligibility for the minimum income guarantee? Many of those pensioners feel that, despite their modest savings, they are little or no better off than those who are on income support and qualify for other benefits. Will my hon. Friend say when the Government might make such proposals?

Angela Eagle

My hon. Friend is exactly right to say that, paradoxically, those who have small occupational pensions and find themselves just above income support levels often end up worse off because they do not receive passported benefits. It is a very difficult issue of public policy, which we are examining. As he will know, we have announced a review of the capital limit, and shall make an announcement on that when we are able to do so.