HC Deb 03 May 1991 vol 190 cc355-6W
Mr. Soames

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will make a statement on the achievements since 1987 and the present objectives of Her Majesty's Government's policies for caring for pensioners.

Miss Widdecombe

Since 1987, the Government have maintained the value of the state retirement pension and have continued to pursue the sound economic policies which have been the essential catalyst for the growth in pensioners' income during the 1980s. In addition, the abolition of the earnings rule in 1989 has allowed older people to remain in employment without reducing their state pension. The increased prosperity which these policies have brought to an expanding number of older people means, for example, that over 70 per cent. of pensioners now live in homes which are centrally heated and 86 per cent. have access to a telephone.

At the same time, we recognise that there is still a need to protect the position of those who are less well off. As part of the April 1991 uprating of income-related benefits, the ordinary pensioner premium (for those aged 60 to 74) was increased by an extra £1 per week for single people and £1.50 for couples at a cost of some £80 million. This is in addition to a previous measure, taken in October 1989, which directed extra resources to older and disabled pensioners through income related benefits at a cost of £200 million in the first full year.

There have been significant increases in the help available towards fees for those pensioners living in residential care and in nursing homes—a total of £1,270 million went to some 189,000 recipients in 1990 of whom the vast majority are elderly.

The Government have also assisted those who wish to remain independent within their own homes. We have established, or helped to fund, a number of schemes, such as the minor works assistance grant, the disabled facilities grant and the home improvements agencies which provide independent advice and practical help for elderly people who wish to undertake repairs.

Of equal importance to the maintenance of independence is the support given carers in the community. The Department has taken its own measures to improve their lot both by increasing financial provision through the extension of invalid care allowance to married women and the recently introduced carer premium in the income-related benefits. The number of carers receiving ICA has increased from 11,000 in 1985–86 to an estimated 125,000 in 1990 and estimated expenditure is now £213 million.

Over the last 12 months we have introduced other measures which will help carers further. The amount a carer can earn without removing entitlement to ICA was increased from £12 to £20 in April 1990 and by a further 50 per cent, to £30 from April this year. A new carer premium was introduced into the income-related benefits in October 1990. Together with the abolition of the six-month qualifying period for attendance allowance for people with a terminal illness, this measure will cause a greater take-up of ICA. Finally, from October this year the carer premium will be extended to eight weeks after caring ceases.

Our primary objective for the future is to continue with and enhance the policies outlined in this reply—policies, for instance, which meant a real increase in income of 31 per cent. for the average pensioner in the first eight years of our term of office and which have helped nearly half of all pensioners to own their own home and nearly three-quarters to build up their own savings income. More particularly, the community care proposals outlined in "Caring for People", which will be fully implemented by 1993, will be shortly be providing a complete, locally determined package of care for those who will require it.