Orders of the Day — Pensions

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30th November 1971.

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Photo of Mr Brian O'Malley Mr Brian O'Malley , Rotherham 12:00 am, 30th November 1971

The Secretary of State, after his exposition, has hardly been overwhelmed by support from his back benches. That is not surprising, bearing in mind the negative nature of his speech and statement. It was not only interesting but significant that hon. Member after hon. Member on the Government back benches preferred to speak about the position of pensions and pension structures 20 years on rather than discuss the problem which we have raised in our Motion. We have had discussions about pensions well into the future and a philosophical tour of the pensions industry and pensions generally.

I can understand hon. Members opposite, who complain and criticise the system and who, clearly, wanted some help for pensioners, feeling embarrassed by the speech of the Secretary of State. The right hon. Gentleman has made the Government's policy absolutely clear, and it can be summed up by saying "No more money for retirement pensioners this winter." That is Tory policy in November, 1971. Those on supplementary benefit must wait for help until the autumn of next year, while those who are not receiving supplementary benefit—which includes on one recent estimate about 875,000 who are entitled to it but do not claim it, and about 2 million retirement pensioners who are above supplementary benefit, but only just—will have to wait not until 1972 but until 1973. This is at a time when the value of the pension is being eroded week by week as a result of roaring inflation such as we have not seen for years.

The hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. McCrindle) expressed the hope that we could develop a pension structure which would avoid party political debate. On the basis of the Government's recent White Paper "Strategy for Pensions", Command 4755, there is precious little hope of that. Page 1 of that document says: There must be no promises that depend on our children doing more for us than we were willing to do now for our parents. Within that sentence is an explanation of just about all that is wrong with this Government's attitude towards the present generation of pensioners and of what is wrong with their White Paper proposals. That sentence illustrates that their proposals for the future will perpetuate poverty among large numbers of the aged into the 21st century. It also accepts the plight of the present generation of retirement pensioners with a frightening complacency, at a time when to help them would be a boon to the economy.

It is clear from the right hon. Gentleman's speech that the Government lack the political will to implement what is not only morally right but economically desirable. The Secretary of State made a disappointing speech, and it is not only hon. Members on this side of the House who are disappointed. He said how well pensioners had done between 1955 and 1965 and he included the substantial increase of 13 per cent. in real terms which the Labour Government made in 1965. He juggled the percentages around and then decided that a comparison between the level of pensions and the national average wage did not suit his purpose. So he switched to a comparison of pensions with disposable income, not mentioning the increased walfare charges which hurt the lower-paid people.

My hon. Friends the Members for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) and Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) echoed the mood of both sides of the House when they said it was a pity that the Secretary of State was juggling with figures. There are more important things to discuss when pensioners are experiencing enormous difficulties because of inflation and rapidly rising prices.

It appears from the Secretary of State's speech and from the Amendment that the Government are satisfied with the up-rating made several weeks ago and feel that they are entitled to sit back and do nothing more for pensioners. The Secretary of State and the Government may be satisfied, but the pensioners are not. The September, 1971, issue of Pensioners Voice, the newspaper of the National Federation of Old Age Pensioners Associations, said this about the increase: Never before has the single pension been increased by so much, but never before has the cost of living risen so steeply to wipe out the increases. No wonder pensioners are angry, no wonder they protest. As I pointed out to the Under-Secretary of State during Question Time a fortnight ago, it is not without significance that within weeks of the up-rating which so delights the Government Front Bench, the old-age pensioners associations were holding protest meetings throughout the country. The pensioners do not share the satisfaction of the Government in what they describe as the largest pension rises ever given of £1 and £1·60. On the very day those increases were introduced, in terms of real purchasing power based on the last increase in 1969, they were 3 per cent. overall and 7 per cent. for pensioners over 80. This was at a time of a massive balance of payments surplus and a steep recession in consumer demand. At a time when the Government could afford to increase substantially the income of pensioners, they introduced a real increase of 3 per cent., whereas in 1965, at a time of financial crisis, the Labour Government increased pensions by 13 per cent.

Hon. Members on this side of the House and informed financial and economic commentators in the national newspapers are saying that the Government should be doing more for pensioners—