§ Mr. Peter Bruinvels
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will list the Government's achievements in respect of pensioners.
§ Mr. Major
The Government's main achievement for pensioners has been the creation of a stable and improving economy, with low inflation. This has enabled pensioners at all income levels to improve their living standards, both absolutely and in relation to the population as a whole. Building on a secure foundation of a retirement pension fully protected against price increases, pensioners have, on average, increased their total net incomes in real terms by 359W 18 per cent. over the period 1979–1985 (the latest for which figures are available). This increase is more than twice the increase achieved by the population as a whole. Over 50 per cent. of pensioners now have occupational pensions, compared with 41 per cent. in 1979 and the average value of such pensions has risen by over 50 per cent. Over 70 per cent. have income from savings, compared with 62 per cent. in 1979, and the average value of such income has also risen by over 50 per cent. These improvements have taken place despite an increase of almost a million in the number of pensioners.
In respect of social security benefits, the basic pension has more than kept pace with prices, and now stands at £63.25 for a married couple and £39.50 for a single person. The development of the earnings-related pension scheme means that a man on average earnings retiring after April 1987 may receive additional pension of about £20 week, compared with 95p (in 1979 prices) for a similar man retiring in April 1979. At September 1986 some 1.8 million pensioners (18.5 per cent. of the total) received extra pension under the earnings-related arrangements, either as additional pension from the state or guaranteed minimum pension paid by their employers. The residual effects of the married women's half test have been finally abolished, enabling some 30,000 women to receive a pension for the first time or to increase their existing pension; many more benefited from tax advantages. Entitlement to a noncontributory pension for those over 80 was extended, and made payable at higher rate to some recipients. The number of pensioners receiving supplementary pension has fallen from 1.73 million in February 1979 to 1.68 million in February 1986, despite the increase in the total number of pensioners; only 25 per cent. of pensioners are now in the lowest income quintile of the population, compared with 38 per cent. in 1979. Higher take-up of benefits such as mobility allowance and attendance allowance has extended them to greater numbers of pensioners than in 1979, and total spending on social security benefits for the elderly has increased by some 29 per cent. between 1978–79 and 1986–87.
In respect of health and social services, provision for the increasing number of elderly people has been maintained and improved. The development of health services for elderly people has been one of the Government's highest priorities for the National Health Service. Our main objective has been to provide services which enable elderly people to live at home for as long as possible. To this end, the community health services have been expanded considerably. For example, between 1978 and 1985 the number of elderly people treated by district nurses rose by 28 per cent. and the number of elderly people treated by chiropodists rose by 25 per cent.
The specialty of geriatrician medicine has continued to expand. Between 1978 and 1985, the number of consultant geriatricians increased by 45 per cent. Between 1978 and 1985, the numbers of elderly in-patients treated rose by 60 per cent. and out-patients by 40 per cent. and day hospital attendances by 20 per cent. Elderly people have also benefited from the development of acute hospital services. Between 1978 and 1984 the numbers of cases of elderly people treated for acute conditions increased by 24 per cent., hip replacements increased from 28,000 to 38,00C and cataract operations from 38,000 to 55,000. There have also been significant increases in personal social services. 360W Between 1978 and 1985, the number of day centre places for elderly people rose by 15.5 per cent. and the number of home helps grew by 14 per cent.
Since 1979 age allowances in the tax system have been increased significantly in real terms and this year a new higher age allowance was introduced for people aged 80 and over. About 400,000 elderly single people and married couples will benefit; up to 25,000 will be taken out of tax completely by the new allowance.