HC Deb 21 March 2000 vol 346 cc842-3
4. Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South)

How many pensioners in Scotland will benefit from the United Kingdom Government's winter fuel payment scheme. [114011]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Dr. John Reid)

About 900,000 eligible people in Scotland have benefited this winter from the winter fuel payment scheme. Payments are £100 per eligible household.

Miss Begg

I am very glad to see that the winter fuel payment has resulted in well over £1 million being paid to pensioners in my constituency of Aberdeen, South. However, will my right hon. Friend confirm that those payments are only one of the things that the Government have done for pensioners?

Dr. Reid

First, I congratulate and welcome back my hon. Friend to Scottish Question Time. I confirm that almost 14,000 payments were made, totalling more than £1 million, to pensioners in her own constituency of Aberdeen, South to help them to meet fuel costs. It is part of the extra £4 billion that the Government have already pledged in this Parliament to assist pensioners. Of course we have cut VAT on fuel, as we promised. Of course we have restored free eye tests for pensioners, as we promised. Of course we have introduced the guaranteed income for the poorest and free television licences for those over 75. Under this Government, the average pensioner is more than £5 a week better off, and the oldest and the poorest are already more than £10 a week better off.

I do not claim that we have done everything, but—certainly when one considers that all those actions would be reversed by Conservative Members—pensioners are better off under a Labour Government than they were under almost 20 years of the previous, Conservative Government.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

One of the principal and welcome advantages of the winter fuel payment scheme is that the payment is universal and automatic. However, will the Secretary of State confirm that, for some time now, the Government have been advertising the fact that they will introduce a take-up campaign for elderly people on pensions who are not claiming their entitlement, particularly under the minimum income guarantee? When will the Government clarify the exact terms of the take-up campaign, and when will that campaign start to take effect, providing much needed income to pensioner households in Scotland?

Dr Reid

The hon. Gentleman is right that we do not regard these measures as hand-outs, but as entitlements on the part of our senior citizens. We will launch a campaign on 29 March to further explain the entitlements of our senior citizens to one of the many benefits that the Government are gradually introducing for them. In the same way, we have established a hotline for the 145,000 families in Scotland who might benefit from the working families tax credit. We are committed not only to introducing measures to increase social justice, but to making sure that potential recipients are aware of them and claim what is rightfully theirs.