HL Deb 25 March 1993 vol 544 cc427-30

Baroness Jay of Paddington asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to mark the European Year of the Elderly.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege)

My Lords, a full and varied programme of initiatives to mark the year is under way. There are programmes of both national and local events which we hope will provide positive images of older people and bring the generations closer together.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does she agree with me that much of what she has said is about public relations? The European Year of the Elderly would be more understood, and perhaps have greater impact in this country, if the Government were to use the opportunity to protect pensioners' health care, to work on their transport and housing needs and, above all, not to mark it by increasing VAT on fuel.

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, an enormous amount of investment has gone into the health care of elderly people. The state pension is not designed to be the sole source of income for pensioners. In 1989 state benefits on average formed about 52 per cent. of pensioners' total net incomes with savings and occupational pensions as the other major source of income. Ninety per cent. of recently retired pensioners have other income in addition to state benefits.

With regard to the VAT on fuel and power, my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made it quite clear in his Budget Statement that extra help will be given to poorer pensioners and other people on low incomes. They will have that help to pay higher fuel bills as soon as they arrive.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, as one of the elderly—unlike the noble Baroness who asked the Question —perhaps my noble friend will allow me to make a suggestion. There is one totally inexpensive thing that could be done for us; namely, to instruct the police to stop bicycles going on the pavement.

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I would refute the suggestion made by my noble friend that he is elderly. I have never considered my noble friend as elderly. I believe that he is very spry and quite able to get out of the way of bicycles.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that there are 60 million people in the EC who are over 60 years of age? By the year 2000 they will comprise one-fifth of the total population and by the year 2020 they will comprise one-quarter of the total population. The noble Baroness said that this would be a positive year for the elderly; I agree with that. What positive steps do the Government intend to take to harness the experience of older people to help the younger generation and to break down the barriers which have been erected by years of negative attitudes towards the elderly; for example, by talking about the burdens of the elderly and how we can contain the costs of provision for the elderly? We need to break down those barriers and to help to solidify the relationship between older and younger people. What positive action will the Government take this year to improve that situation?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, that is the whole purpose of the European Year of the Elderly. My noble friend—and he is my friend—is absolutely right: that the elderly are the spearheads of our voluntary organisations. They have an enormous contribution to make. This Government subscribed very much to the World Health Organisation's views that we should add not only life to years but also years to life.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, would the Minister welcome a revival of the Bill which was piloted successfully through the House by Lady Phillips and which prevented ages being included on curriculum vitae? Perhaps we should include also the prohibition of age limits in job advertisements because that would help people in their later years to obtain employment. Many of them are capable of such employment and would be wealth-creating instead of making demands of the community.

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, there are many things that we can do. I agree with the noble Baroness that we need to incorporate elderly people's attributes in all kinds of different ways, including employment. Indeed, that is happening. A working party has been set up to try to incorporate older people into equal opportunities policies.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, as it is not entirely unknown for criticisms to be directed at Brussels, will the Minister agree that on this occasion it would be right to give credit to the European Commission for this exercise? Although it is not attracting that much publicity, it is proving to be of great value to a number of organisations in this country by way of an exchange of information and experience with comparable organisations in other member states.

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I agree with the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord. Indeed, the European Commission is also helping to sponsor the year financially as well as giving it its moral support. I hope that this year will he as successful as the International Year of Disabled People which did a tremendous amount in terms of easier access for disabled people as well as attracting attention to the contribution which they make to society.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, in relation to the last question, will the noble Baroness put some pressure on the European Commission to employ people who are over 35 years of age?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I suspect that there is a hidden agenda here of which I am not totally aware.

Lord Murray of Epping Forest

My Lords, as next month will see the publication of the results of a major two-year study of the third age by the Carnegie UK Trust, will the Minister ensure that UK representatives will be involved in the launch? In particular, will she study that report and ensure that all its ramifications are followed up, together with all the issues that have been raised today and many, many more?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I can give the noble Lord the assurance that I will study that report.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware—I am sure that she is—that, although I am one of them, I did not know that this was the European Year of the Elderly? In the circumstances, could not the activities be given a rather higher profile than they apparently have been?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, this has the support of the Prime Minister. The United Kingdom launch was made in the presence of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. It was launched by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health. It is just the beginning of the year, so I am not surprised that the noble Lord was not aware of its existence. But there is a whole series of activities which are planned for the next 12 months.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, I should like to return to the issue raised by my noble friend Lady Jay in her supplementary question. As regards the great addition to energy costs that will cause hardship among many elderly people as a result of the Government's election-breaking pledge on VAT, did I hear the Minister say that the Government are saying that there will be absolute and total compensation for that extra cost which will fall upon elderly people or did she simply say that there will be an increase in the pension at the logical time?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has stated that help will be given to elderly people for their fuel bills. That will be in addition to the automatic increase in pensions and other benefits to reflect the impact of any increase in fuel bills on the RPI. Of course, cold weather payments will also be adjusted to reflect increases in fuel costs.

Noble Lords

Next Question!

Lord Carter

My Lords, does the Minister agree with the conclusion reached by the recent Carnegie inquiry into the third age that was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Murray that, unless attitudes and the Government's policies change, Britain's long-term recovery may be endangered by an increasingly inactive but healthy and independent third-age population which is under-utilised and becoming a burden upon those who work?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I see elderly people—or third-age people, as they are sometimes referred to—as an enormous resource and asset to this nation. I think that it is up to us to make the most of that.

Noble Lords

Next Question! The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Wakeham): My Lords, I think that we ought, perhaps, to move on to the next Question.

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