§ Mr. Kilfedder
To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what steps are being considered to look after the welfare of pensioners during the winter months, particularly regarding financial support for adequate heating in their homes.
§ Mr. Hanley
Basic pensions, together with any income support which may be payable, are intended to cover pensioner's day-to-day living costs, including heating throughout the year. Income support includes special premiums, ranging from £13.75 to £26.20, to help with pensioners' extra needs. From April 1992 there will be, over and above the normal uprating provision, a special increase of £1 a week in premiums for single pensioners and £1.50 for pensioner couples who are disabled or over 80. The cold weather payments scheme has also been considerably improved. Payments of £6 will be paid automatically to eligible people as soon as a seven-day period of exceptionally cold weather is forecast by the Meteorological Office or actually occurs. The capital rule has also been abolished, making more people eligible.
In addition to cash benefits, the Department of Health and Social Services seeks to provide elderly people with practical advice and information as part of its annual "Keep Warm, Keep Well" campaign. This aims to alert elderly people and their carers to the dangers of winter weather; encourage them to take simple steps to keep well; and provide them with information on services, such as insulation and draught-proofing schemes, and the availability of social security benefits.