Pensioners (Government Policies)

Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 7:28 pm on 6th July 1988.

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Photo of Charles Kennedy Charles Kennedy , Ross and Cromarty and Skye 7:28 pm, 6th July 1988

I beg to move, That this House notes the increasing proportion of elderly people in society; views with great concern the failure of National Health Service funding to keep pace with the growing demand placed upon the Health Service by the elderly; believes that greater support and financial provision must be given to the field of community care; condemns the recent changes in Social Security regulations and in particular the cuts in the housing benefit budget which have caused hardship for many pensioners; recognises that the income of many pensioners is woefully inadequate; and calls upon the Government substantially to increase the real level of old age pensions. One of the most profound demographic changes in Britain is the increasing number of elderly people, which number will continue to accelerate. There are now 3·7 million people over the age of 75 and by the year 2006 that will have increased to 4·1 million. By 1996, roughly 15·5 per cent. of the entire population will be over the age of 65. That presents a major demographic change which will have implications across society, not least for the welfare state, and especially for health and social services, social security and the caring services generally.

It is worth noting, not least in the context of the review of the Health Service, of changes in the system of social security and of developments in social policies generally, that the straightforward reality is that such a vast increase in our elderly population is due largely to the success of the welfare state. Improved health services, education services, housing, environmental and working conditions are a cause for celebration in any country, especially when moving towards the latter stages of the 20th century. They are a tribute to the achievement of generations since the industrial revolution.

The political and public policy problems that are generated by an increasing proportion of people in the non-working phase of their lives, who are not producing revenue but are more likely—and quite rightly—to be consuming it, are a fundamental product of the success of the nation in improving conditions. I hope that the review of the Health Service and the changes in social security will be viewed in the longer term. It should be remembered—this is one of our fundamental differences with the present thinking and policies of the Government—that the welfare state provision that has led to greater longevity for so many people has made it a victim of its own success.

That is one of the fundamental philosophical differences that have emerged between the Government and the various Opposition parties during the past eight years, and the motion draws attention to that fact. If my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) is fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he will say more about that.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field). Debate on the nature, extent and form of Health Service provision is attracting far greater political attention, and that is a tribute to his work as Chairman of the Social Services Select Committee, the reports of which have recently informed debate on the subject.

The changes in the Health Service are beginning to be discussed more openly by Ministers, not least by the Secretary of State in recent interviews. The Government are concerned about increasing choice. We do not differ from them on philosophical grounds, but choice is too often seen from the consumer' point of view. I do not want to dwell on that in view of yesterday's debate on this subject; but none of us wants the credit card type of health care that is to be found in North America, particularly in the United States, where there is enhanced consumer sense.

The figures are well known. The demand made by the elderly is high, especially in personal social services, compared with that of people of working age and the young. The elderly should not pay the penalty for any changes along consumerist lines which the Government may be contemplating. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some reassurance about that.

I wish to concentrate on social security and the housing benefit changes. I welcome the fact that the Government have recently made concessions, but for many thousands of pensioners a total of £540 million has been taken from the housing benefit budget by the recent social security changes. That is a harsh price. In addition, everybody is now expected to make a minimum contribution of 20 per cent. to the rates no matter how low his or her income may be. In theory, people who receive income support have an extra £1·30 a week in benefit to cover that charge, but in practice 20 per cent. of the rates bill will often work out at considerably more than that. Here in Westminster, for example, 20 per cent. of the average rates bill works out at £3·12 a week, which is considerably more than the amount built into income support.

Many claimants on incomes just above the minimum level—perhaps occupational pensioners or people of pensionable age still in part-time employment—will lose benefit by the introduction of a higher taper for withdrawing help. Housing benefit is now being taken away at a rate of 65p in the pound for every £1 above the income support level, which means that benefit is withdrawn on the basis of net earnings. Therefore, people with low-paid jobs who have benefited from tax cuts will find that they lose most of what they gained in tax cuts through the reduction of housing benefit.

I am sure that the Minister and right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have come across many such cases in their constituency surgeries. The figures are small in terms of the hundreds of millions of pounds involved in the Budget, but the result is great hardship and heart-rending for many pensioners who already live at the breadline. I welcome the fact that the Government raised the capital cut-off for housng benefit to £8,000. That was a small step in the right direction. My party takes the view that no cut-off point should have been introduced in the first place. I do not want to be unduly churlish about the changes that the Secretary of State has announced, but they were announced in haste and largely in response to Conservative Back-Bench pressure. I do not want to belittle the Opposition's contribution, but Conservative Back Benchers recognised that the people who were being hit were likely to be their voters. The change was made because of that rather than because of the merit of the case. That was their motivation, not the merits of the case. The Government are fond of preaching about morality, but there is a curious contradiction between what we hear said from the Dispatch Box and in other places and what influences the troops behind the Prime Minister.

Prior to last month there was no capital limit for claiming housing benefit. Instead, notional interest on any savings was taken into account. That was a much fairer system, as it meant that help was phased out more gradually. In other words, the severe loss at the point of that change was considerably cushioned or diluted, especially when compared with what happens now.

We have argued previously, and do so again tonight, that the cuts in housing benefit were wrong in principle and that the Government should now consider restoring them and act to do so. We should like the rate of the withdrawal taper to be reduced, as we believe that the system is particularly hard on low-income families and those with small pensions. We should also like consideration to be given to the abolition of the capital limit and the reinstatement of the system of notional interest. We should like a system which is generally more flexible and responsive to individual needs, instead of a system which forces people into crude and often arbitrary categories, regardless of their particular circumstances.

We should like a system which lives up to the fundamental, fairer and simpler reform of the social security system which the previous Secretary of State for Social Services hailed when he introduced the comprehensive review—and the public hearings which followed—and its implementation in legislation prior to the last general election. The Government's track record on housing benefit in particular, and social security provision in general, makes them extremely culpable.

Finally, I should like to refer briefly to the moves towards care in the community, which has commanded the support of successive Governments and of all parties. Elderly people face hardship because all too often the social services, local authorities, various other authorities and, for that matter, the voluntary sector do not receive the support from the Government, such as the rate support grant, that they require if they are to meet the demands of the central policy that is not just being encouraged but is being demanded by the Government.

Let us take as an example public sector housing. It has been estimated that to put right the backlog of repairs for such housing would cost about £10 billion across the nation. Elderly people suffer because poor housing affects their health. When broken down on a regional basis. that figure is well beyond anything that could be met from the budgets of even the truest blue, most loyal, Conservative local authority. It can be neither contemplated nor met at local authority level. It is the Government, centrally controlling the purse strings, who are causing so many of the difficulties.

Roughly 95 per cent. of the elderly live in their own homes. Therefore, an effective network of community services is essential. The Griffiths report recently emphasised the need for more money and support for community care; for example, for respite care. However, successive Select Committee reports, and other reports, have shown that the Government have not given as adequately or as generously as they should if they are to make that welcome policy become a reality.

I come now to a feature of community care which we have long advocated—improving support for the carers through the introduction of a carers' charter. We have still not seen adequate movement on that by the Government, despite encouraging signs from the previous Secretary of State prior to the last general election.

Taken in totality, those and the many other points that will doubtless arise during the debate point to a Government who are not meeting their obligation to distribute the tax revenues of the realm in a way that is appropriate to the priorities of most people, one of which would be provision for the elderly. The Prime Minister has frequently been quoted as saying that she considers that there is no such thing as society. I hope that that is an example of her being economic with the truth.

Surely, if one truth holds, especially for this subject, it is that in an interdependent, interrelated society such as we have in Britain at the moment a Government can best be summed up by looking at what they offer to those at the two ends of the age spectrum. They should offer a sense of idealism and opportunity for their young, and a sense of comfort and security for their old. In this country those things are available to many, but they are not available to a sufficient number. In many parts of the country substantial sections of the population, especially the elderly, do not enjoy comfort and security. The Government should at least try to create the conditions for those needs to be met. I hope that tonight's debate will be a reminder to the Government that more needs to be done in that policy area. I commend our motion to the House.

Photo of Mr Michael Portillo Mr Michael Portillo , Enfield, Southgate 7:45 pm, 6th July 1988

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: congratulates the Government on the success of its policies for pensioners, in particular the control of inflation and the stimulation of the economy, which together have dramatically improved pensioners' total incomes; commends the Government for the increased resources now available to the National Health Service; concurs in the Government's determination to ensure that the considerable resources committed to community care are put to the best possible use; and endorses the recent reforms of social security, not least because they increase the choice of future pension provision.". I am genuinely grateful to the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) for the opportunity to have this debate on the position of the elderly in our society. I agree with much of what he said. I agree that the working population of our nation has important responsibilities towards those who are retired, not least because when they were the working population those who are now retired made their contributions to pay for the people who were then elderly. However, more than that, we have a responsibility to the elderly because they are the generation who fought and suffered in the wars of this century and who lost a great deal in the inflation of the 1970s.

The debate is a good opportunity to reflect on the needs and worries of the elderly who face poor health, failing capacities, loneliness, cold and inflation. I believe that for many—not for all, but for many—the worst of those problems has been inflation. I say that because inflation dealt them a double blow: an almost lethal financial blow, with repercussions on their health and ability to face the other problems of old age; and deprived them also of their independence, pride and self-esteem.

I begin unashamedly, broadening the context of the debate, by declaring that there was no stronger duty upon the Government than to control inflation and no greater benefit has come to the elderly than the gain that they have received from our success in controlling inflation.

Under the previous Labour Government, we all know that inflation reached 27 per cent. However, to understand that, let me illustrate what that would mean today. If inflation over 12 months ran at that level, the basic single pension, worth £41·15, would be reduced by £8·75 over that 12-month period and the couple's pension, worth £65·90, would be reduced by £14 in just 12 months.

The effect on any occupational pension that a pensioner might have would be just as devastating. Most damaging of all would be the effect on savings. In fact, during the period of both the Labour and Lib-Lab Governments, the value of pensioners' nest eggs in building societies fell by a third, and their income from savings fell by 16 per cent. in real terms.

Today the position is very different. The House is well aware of our pledge to maintain the value of the retirement pension in real terms and of our success in honouring that pledge. However, the retirement pension is only one element in the income of most pensioners and, because of that, the average living standards of pensioners have risen rapidly as inflation has come under control.

Photo of Charles Kennedy Charles Kennedy , Ross and Cromarty and Skye

As the Minister wants to broaden the context of the debate, I hope that, when considering the value of the retirement pension and the figures that he has quoted, he will not forget the decision of the Conservative Government in the early days after 1979 to break the earnings link. Can he give the House the equivalent figures for what the pension would be worth now?

Photo of Mr Michael Portillo Mr Michael Portillo , Enfield, Southgate

For the hon. Gentleman's sake, I am sorry to say that I intend to address that issue later in my speech. I am not sure that he will enjoy it quite as much as he thinks.

In 1985, 70 per cent. of pensioners had incomes from savings compared with 60 per cent. in 1979. Not only do more people now have income from savings, but this income in real terms has increased by about half. Over half of all pensioners, including 70 per cent. of recently retired couples, have income from occupational pensions. Only four out of 10 of all pensioners had such income in 1979. Not only do most pensioners have occupational pensions, but the real value of their average income from such pensions has increased by more than 7 per cent. a year from 1979 to 1985. As a result of those factors, average pensioner living standards rose by 18 per cent. between 1979 and 1985—a faster rate than for the population as a whole and for the working population. By 1985, the average pensioner couple had a gross income of about seven tenths of the wage of the average male manual worker. We have every expectation that the growth trend in living standards will continue strongly as more people retire with second pensions.

Photo of Mr Michael Portillo Mr Michael Portillo , Enfield, Southgate

If the hon. Gentleman is going to ask "What about the rest?", which is what he has asked before, I shall come to that.

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood , Roxburgh and Berwickshire

Will the hon. Gentleman give way, on a different point?

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood , Roxburgh and Berwickshire

I am following the Minister's argument carefully. He may be interested to know that I strongly support the move in the direction of occupational pensions, which, by the end of the century, will provide for the vast majority of people who have retired and enable them to sustain their living conditions. The problem is that, between now and then, people on supplementary pensions will suffer grinding poverty. It is no good the Minister talking about averages; he must address that problem as well. I agree that occupational pensions and state earnings-related pensions will iron out the difference in the long term, but we are worried about the short term.

Photo of Mr Michael Portillo Mr Michael Portillo , Enfield, Southgate

I cannot make my entire speech in four minutes, especially if I keep giving way. I am coming to the hon. Gentleman's point.

The motion calls for an increase in the real value of pensions. I understand that desire, but it misses the point, just as the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye did when he intervened. In the past, when an attempt was made to raise the pension in line with earnings or prices, the result was not a rapid increase in pensioners' living standards. The increase was minimal—3 per cent. over the period 1974 to 1979—as thousands who had fended for themselves were brought down by inflation into reliance on state benefits. As usual, the real problem is more complicated than the hon. Gentleman or Britain's middle party is prepared to acknowledge.

I should like to say something about how we compare with the rest of Europe. In the past, simplistic comparisons between pensions in the United Kingdom and pensions in, say, Germany have been made most notably in press advertisements issued by the Labour party's Euro MPs. The difficulties of comparison are obvious. Here we have a basic pension, but no one is expected to live off that alone. A couple with nothing else would receive income support and housing benefit, lifting their weekly benefit from the state far above the pension of £65·90 to over £90 a week in an average case, to which could be added free prescriptions and dental treatment, social service support, concessionary fares, and so on.

In Germany, there is no basic pension—only earnings-related pensions—and no comparable system of housing benefit. Germany, therefore, has both richer pensioners, who were chosen for the Labour party's press campaign, and poorer pensioners, whom it ignored. It is ironic that, by implication, the Labour party embraces a system that involves greater inequality than ours, based on what people earn rather than what they need. This may be another appeal by the Labour party for the yuppie vote.

There is only one basis of comparison that the European Statistical Bureau is prepared to endorse—the proportion of GDP spent on the elderly. On that basis, Britain at 9·6 per cent. is third, just behind Denmark and France. The hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) has not risen because, I suspect, she is embarrassed by the Labour Euro MPs' campaign. The hon. Lady would, of course, appreciate the difficulties of comparison.

I want to turn to poorer pensioners because I recognise that there are people without savings, occupational pensions or SERPS. Even among that group there are observable improvements in living standards, and I ask the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) to recognise that fact. The luxuries of a few years ago—such as televisions, telephones and washing machines—have reached many of the very poorest. They have enjoyed increases in income. Between 1981 and 1985, the incomes of the poorest 10 per cent. of the population increased by more than 8 per cent. compared with 6·4 per cent. for the population as a whole. In the same period, the number of pensioners in that group—the bottom 10 per cent.—fell from 18 to 8 per cent. The proportion of pensioners requiring income support is falling.

The new income support system recognises the extra needs of the elderly. Income support for a single pensioner covers the value of his or her supplementary benefit scale rate, the standard heating addition, average water charges and 20 per cent. of average rates. A pensioner couple automatically receive £16·25 a week more than an unemployed couple who are under 60 and £18·60 a week more if they are disabled or over 80. The same rates form the basis of the more generous housing benefit provision for the elderly than for those under 60.

I know that the greatest concern to hon. Members—it was an important part of the speech of the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye—arising from the social security reforms has been housing benefit. I remind the hon. Gentleman that those on income support continue to receive 100 per cent. help with their rents and get the maximum help—80 per cent.—with rates. Their income support contains £1·30 for the average of 20 per cent. of rates. Therefore, the starting point for the calculation of housing benefit also contains that £1·30. The new housing benefit system gives more help to many of those who have to pay high rents and far greater protection against future rises in rent and rates for all housing benefit recipients.

It was our aim to reduce the numbers on housing benefit because, with one household in three receiving it, it had been an extraordinarily distended benefit. But even today about 6 million people receive housing benefit. The savings made by the taxpayer on housing benefit, quoted by the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye, are outweighed by the compensation for 20 per cent. of rates added to income support, by the extra money devoted to family credit and by transitional protection. The hon. Gentleman was wrong to refer to the 20 per cent. as an addition to the reductions in housing benefit. He did not refer to the fact that the reductions in housing benefit accounted for by the 20 per cent. of rates is then recognised in the income support rates.

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Shadow Minister (Social Security)

The hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) was too kind to the Government. Although he mentioned the £1·30 that the Government claim to have added to the rates of income support to compensate for what they say is the average amount of rates, he omitted to mention the £150 million that the Government clawed back from those basic rates before they added the £1·30. The real value is not £1·30 but 80p for a couple. The Government saved £150 million by that sleight of hand.

Photo of Mr Michael Portillo Mr Michael Portillo , Enfield, Southgate

I do not recognise the hon. Lady's figures. I was taking issue with the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye about the fact that he made it sound as though £540 million had been removed from housing benefit without compensation and, in addition, 20 per cent. had been demanded of people in their rates. The record will bear me out, if the hon. Gentleman checks it.

Because those on income support receive maximum housing benefit, on the whole, the concern about large losses has centred on people whose income puts them some way above income support levels. It is worth stressing that, however large those losses have been for some, they still have incomes after meeting their housing costs which are higher than if they were on income support. The new housing benefit system guarantees that that will be so for everyone paying rent and rates.

We recognise that a drop in income is hard for the elderly to adjust to, and we have responded to the difficulties that have been brought to our attention. The transitional payments unit at Glasgow is up and running and the first payments have already been made. The elderly, along with the disabled, families with children and widow's pensioners, can apply for compensation for reductions in their housing benefits above £2·50 a week. Arrears will be met back to the start of the new scheme in April and payments will continue for as long as necessary. Payments will, of course, be disregarded in working out normal benefit entitlement. We have taken steps to publicise the scheme and will take further steps. I am glad to announce that later this month we will run a further national advertising campaign.

The best advice to those who think that they might be entitled is that they should apply. The form—RR4—is straightforward and available from post offices, local authorities, advice centres and, of course, DHSS offices. In addition, I know that a number of local authorities will be trawling their housing benefit records to trace those likely to qualify.

Pensions and other cash benefits do not tell the whole story. We are concerned not just with the income of elderly people but with their quality of life. For many, that means staying at home with their friends and relatives for as long as they can. Expenditure on NHS services and personal social services mainly used by elderly people increased in real terms between 1978 and 1986 by 22 per cent. and 15 per cent., respectively. The elderly have gained significantly from the major advances in surgery. For example, between 1979 and 1985, the number of joint operations increased by 14,000 and the number of eye lens operations—mostly for cataracts—by 19,000.

Within the social security budget, there is a wide range of benefits which support elderly disabled people in their homes. Attendance allowance is paid to more than 400,000 people over pension age, some two thirds of all those who receive it—and it is an important element in helping with the financial burden faced by elderly, severely disabled people when living in their own homes.

We have long recognised the financial sacrifice that many carers make, and invalid care allowance is paid to almost 100,000 carers to help mantain their income. None the less, I certainly recognise that many carers give up years of their lives to care for parents, wives, husbands, sons or daughters, whether they receive benefits from the state or not. Those carers probably make as big a contribution as social services or social security, and we should never forget them.

Photo of Mrs Elaine Kellett Mrs Elaine Kellett , Lancaster

What is the position of a man who retires under the age of 60 with a bad heart, who is not eligible for constant attendance allowance, whose wife is advised to give up her job to look after him and who, because he does not receive constant attendance allowance, cannot get a carer's allowance? What will happen to such people?

Photo of Mr Michael Portillo Mr Michael Portillo , Enfield, Southgate

I am wary about answering detailed cases, but in general, if that person were receiving invalidity benefit, he could receive an addition to his invalidity benefit in respect of his dependent wife. That would help to maintain their income.

In all the talk of the decline of the family, we should recognise that the family remains the most important source of support to the elderly, and we could never hope, and should never aim, to displace it—nor, indeed, the voluntary sector which supports the elderly and the carers.

Although we want as many elderly people as possible to live at home—and 95 per cent. of them do—we recognise that for some elderly people it is not possible or desirable. The House will be well aware of the very large contribution being made from supplementary benefit to support people who go into residential care or nursing homes. The figure has increased from £10 million in 1979 to £670 million in 1987. The number of people helped in that way has risen from 12,000 to 170,000.

That raises a serious point. If we spend too much on people in homes, we may be putting community support at risk and people may have to enter homes because domiciliary support is not available. At present, we are considering a number of reports, particularly Sir Roy Griffiths' report. We shall study them carefully, as they merit, and bring forward proposals in due course.

A point which underlies today's debate—it was certainly highlighted by the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye—is the rapid rise in the numbers of elderly people. During the next century there will be one and half times as many pensioners as today, and broadly the same working population. Whatever levels of benefit are paid to the elderly in the next century, it must be sensible to encourage those of working age today to provide for their retirement, particularly at a time when participation in work by men and women is so high, when real wages are rising and unemployment is falling.

The thrust of our pensions reforms has been to broaden choice in pensions, to heighten awareness of the need to provide for the future and to increase the numbers covered by occupational pension schemes. There is increasingly little reason why retirement and poverty should be in any way connected. Our reforms will continue to break that connection, but without the risk of impoverishing the working population of the future and without choking off economic growth.

Our policies address every aspect of the pensioner's needs. Economic growth is essential if we are to support an increasing number of pensioners. That people should provide for the future alongside the state schemes is necessary, if high living standards are to be maintained into retirement. inflation must be controlled if that individual provision is to hold its value in the years when it is drawn upon.

By pursuing those policies, there will be scope for families, on the one hand, and for the NHS, local authorities, social security and voluntary bodies, on the other, to provide support to the elderly: to enable them to remain in their homes while they can, and to take up residential places if they cannot.

Today's motion—which, obviously, I oppose—is in many ways sadly misguided, but it does have one merit to which I pay tribute. It recognises that the needs of the elderly are complex and are about much more than just the level of pensions. The Government have addressed every aspect of the question, and most importantly the need for economic growth which is the key to everything else. That is why I commend our amendment to the House.

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Shadow Minister (Social Security) 8:04 pm, 6th July 1988

I listened with considerable interest to the Minister's observations, which echoed in their complacency the wording of the Government amendment. Perhaps at this point we should commemorate the fact that this week we are celebrating not only the 40th anniversary of the National Health Service, but the 40th anniversary of the establishment of national insurance benefits, of which the most well known and the most taken for granted is a reasonable income in retirement, a pension which should allow our fellow citizens to enjoy dignity and independence in their declining years.

Perhaps the most vital lesson that the Government should have taught us—although, sadly, some of us seem to be slow learners—is that nothing can be taken for granted. In recent years sneaking worries have become apparent, even on the Conservative Benches, that the Government were being so unwise as to undermine, and even threatening to demolish, the National Health Service.

With the exception of a few more expert or vigilant souls, the realisation has not yet become widespread that, at the same time as weakening the service to the sick, the Government are cutting back on the rest of the welfare state and are undermining that other post-war consensus. Pensioners who lived through at least one and in some cases two major wars have earned the right, not just to the lip-service of respect, but to financial support from us in their retirement, in the same way as they offered financial support to us in our childhood. What a tragic, wicked irony it is that those whose sacrifices helped to justify the establishment of the welfare state should be at the sharp end when, after 40 years, a Conservative Government start to demolish the welfare state, whose existence so many of them have silently resented for 40 years.

Ministers and Tory Back Benchers speak of rising numbers of elderly people as if they are nothing but a problem. As the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) said, they do not celebrate the success of better health care, housing and diet in an extended life span, let alone make available public funds even to maintain, let alone improve, the benefits for which so many have sacrificed so much.

I noted the Minister's observations about the level of spending on community care. I remind him again, as Opposition Members have reminded him so often, that most of the contributions to the Budget for which the Government like to claim credit in these debates is from Labour councils which the Government rate-capped and about whose expenditure on social services the Secretary of State for the Environment, the Prime Minister and Conservative Members complain.

The Government complain—as the Minister almost strayed into doing today—about there being more pensioners, as if it were news, as if the pensioners had been beamed down from Mars, and as if they had no right still to be around. They call them a burden on the working population—to use the Prime Minister's words. Surely it must have been clear, at the latest since 1928, roughly how many pensioners there would be this year. Those to whom apparently it comes as a surprise are guilty of culpable ignorance on a grand scale. But the Government are guilty of something worse than ignorance. They are guilty of deliberately rejecting that consensus about our duty to our elderly citizens.

The effect of the changes that the Government have made in pensions—to which the Minister referred hardly at all—is to reduce the provision made for pensions to well below the level provided today. I find it particularly disgraceful that at the same time as the Government are ensuring lower provisions for pensioners they are doing everything they can, for short-term political gain, to increase expectations.

In the comparative secrecy of Standing or Select Committee, or in this debate in the Chamber—in a speech that I suspect the Minister will not circulate to the pensioner organisations in his constituency—Ministers may talk about the need to reduce pension expectations, but the propaganda machine is working in entirely the opposite direction. The Government are deliberately encouraging the young in particular into the new, so-called personal pension schemes. In the process they are also encouraging disparaging comparisons with the state scheme. I imagine that hardly any of those who are attracted by this propaganda will realise until, unfortunately, too near their own retirement that the comparison is with a state scheme that has been halved in value by the Government and that, even if their investments are successful, and even if they never have a sustained period of unemployment or sickness, the pension that even the better off can expect to receive will be worth less than the basic state pension of today.

Photo of Mr Anthony Favell Mr Anthony Favell , Stockport

The hon. Lady denigrates the Government's efforts to encourage people to provide for their old age. Does she not agree that the vast majority of people take both pleasure and pride in providing for their old age?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Shadow Minister (Social Security)

Either the hon. Gentleman has not been listening, or he has not understood a word of what I am saying. I do not denigrate the idea of people providing for their old age. I hope that many people will be able to earn enough, despite the Government's encouragement of a low-wage economy, to do precisely that. The last Labour Government did far more than this Government have done to encourage the growth of occupational pension schemes. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) has clearly not looked at the record, if she thinks that that is amusing.

The last Labour Government put enormous effort, as the occupational pensions industry will tell her, into encouraging the growth of good occupational pension schemes, for the benefits of which the Government attempt to claim credit. I do not disparage provision for one's old age, but I condemn the deliberate reduction of pension provision. That is precisely what the Government are doing. If the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell) thinks that they are not, I recommend to him the technical annex to the 1985 White Paper. The Government are reducing pension provision, while at the same time talking up pension expectations. That is what is so dangerous and damaging, and that is what the Opposition condemn.

The Government have savaged the state pension scheme and the standards that have to be met by occupational pension schemes because they say that the cost of the scheme, unamended, was miscalculated, that it was spiralling out of control and that it could not be afforded. That is just not true. The cost of the state earnings-related pension scheme was not significantly different in 1985, when this Government tried to abolish it, from the cost that was anticipated in 1975 when the scheme was introduced by the Labour Government, with the consent of the then Conservative Opposition. That is not just our judgment. It is the considered and publicly expressed view of the Government Actuary, who said, in words simple enough for even Conservative Members to understand, that it was the "political will" to meet the cost that had changed, not the cost itself.

Even if it had been true that in 1985 the Government found pensioners of whose existence we were all ignorant in 1975, with financial consequences then unforeseen, the cuts in pension provision that this Government had already made would have more than taken care of the problem. The Government claimed in 1985 to be worried about the level of the national insurance contribution that would be needed to meet the full cost of the state earnings-related pensions scheme, although they ignored again the Government Actuary's figures—not ours—which showed a decline in the overall ratio of those dependent on the working population for support because of the effect of a declining birth rate. However, the break in the link between earnings and the basic state pension had already wiped out the extra cost by the time the Government made these proposals in 1985.

The state earnings-related pension scheme—untouched and unmodified by the 1986 Act—would have done no more than make up for the dramatically declining value of the basic pension, leaving the pensioners of tomorrow at least no worse off, though no better off, than today's pensioners. But that was too much, too generous and too costly for this Government. In their determination to cut the cost of provision for retirement, in their dogmatic zeal to make a rotten buy—the Fowler plan for penury in retirement—look like a good buy, they halved the value of SERPS as well. They have deliberately legislated to reduce the standard of living of tomorrow's pensioners below that of today's pensioners, by whatever means their pension is provided.

The Government, who justified the case for this change by saying that it would mean raising too much money through national insurance contributions, are in this year alone raising, through those contributions—which hit the lowest paid the worst—£2,000 million more than they need for the national insurance benefits now in payment. They are making a profit of a cool £2,000 million this year at the expense either of the pensioner or of the national insurance contributor, depending on how one chooses to look at it. But no matter how one looks at it, it cannot be squared with the Government's concern for the national insurance contributor, as expressed in 1985.

Nor should we look too narrowly just at pensioners' incomes. The Government have taken to boasting—the Under-Secretary of State did it again today—that, thanks to the improvement in occupational pensions—fostered by previous Governments of all colours, even previous Conservative Governments, who were more sensible than this one, because of the post-war consensus of which I spoke but which the Government are so spectacularly breaking—the average standard of living for pensioners has risen sharply in recent years.

Photo of Mr Anthony Favell Mr Anthony Favell , Stockport

Does the hon. Lady accept the Government's figures that, without change, the cost of the SERPS scheme would rise from £200 million a year now to £23,000 million a year by 2033? How would that be paid for?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Shadow Minister (Social Security)

I am not sure that I accept the hon. Gentleman's last figure.

Photo of Mr Anthony Favell Mr Anthony Favell , Stockport

It was £23,000 million a year.

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Shadow Minister (Social Security)

Yes, I heard it, but I am not entirely sure that I accept it. I cannot recall from memory whether it is correct. However, again I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has been listening to me.

There has been no change in the cost of SERPS, to which the Conservative party agreed in 1975 when in opposition and then in 1985 when in government. There was no argument then about the fact that there would be a peak in the year that the hon. Gentleman quoted and that at that stage the level of national insurance contributions would need to be raised. However, we are talking about a period of 50 years. I hope that the hon. Gentleman accepts—perhaps it is not mentioned in the brief with which he has been supplied—that by 1985 that cost was well out of the window. The Government had more than saved on the damage that they had done to the basic pension, whatever might have been expected in the increased cost of SERPS.

That is the point that I am making to the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends, little though they like it. Whether or not they recognise it, their Government smashed the standard of living that could have been enjoyed from the basic pension, and now they have done the same thing with SERPS. The inevitable result, according to the Government's own figures, set out with admirable clarity in the technical annex to the 1985 White Paper, is that in future the total pension will be less than the basic state pension today. That is what the Government have legislated for, and that is what the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have voted for. I am not surprised that they do not like it. They will like it even less as time goes on, but it is the pensioners who will like it least of all.

The Government boast of the improvement in the average standard of living of pensioners, but it is the Government who have done so much to claw back the benefit of those improvements. The Government penalise those with occupational pensions of over £35 a week—a figure that has remained unchanged for years. That penalty does not apply to pensioners whose extra money comes from investment. It applies only to those for whom it comes from their work. In nine years the Government have increased the basic pension by only 5 per cent. in real terms, compared with 20 per cent. in real terms under the last Labour Government in half the time. At the same time, they have doubled VAT, put special taxes on gas and electricity and scrapped the concessionary scheme for standing charges for fuel that the Labour Government introduced.

Photo of Mr David Martin Mr David Martin , Portsmouth South

Is the hon. Lady able to explain why the electorate, so badly treated, returned a Conservative Government in 1983 and then in 1987 with such massive majorities? Why did the hon. Lady's party lose so resoundingly in 1979 if the Labour Government were treating so many pensioners so well?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Shadow Minister (Social Security)

The hon. Gentleman may have heard me comment earlier that some people appear not to have learnt the lesson that is taught by the figures. The Government won a victory, but does that make any difference to the figures that I have given? Does it mean that the Government are providing more money than I have identified? Does it mean that they are not basically cutting the cost of pensions and of SERPS? No; it means that they got away with it. It means also—and I do not know how long the hon. Gentleman thinks he will serve in the House—that some future Government, of whatever party, will live bitterly to rue the day that his Government took the action that they did. Comments of the kind that he has made will be utterly irrelevant then, as they are fairly irrelevant now.

This is the Government who—as the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye commented—have cut £650 million from rent and rate rebates. Most of that has been at the expense of those having only small war or occupational pensions, about which the Under-Secretary of State has been boasting. This is the Government who offered nothing to the oldest and poorest pensioners, who—as was said by the hon. Member for Stockport-never had the opportunity to provide for their retirement because they never enjoyed a decent wage during all the years of their working lives.

Pensioners have been given no advice except, to be fair, that of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie), who said that they should mortgage their homes, or give up holidays that they cannot anyway afford, to pay for operations that the Government will not fund because they choose instead to give the money to the wealthiest in the land. This is the Government who offer no extra help, no matter what the need, to the pensioner couple who have saved just about enough to pay for their funerals. This is the Government who have reintroduced into a system founded on hard won rights the need to beg for charity.

The Under-Secretary of State and his hon. Friends have been, and are, very complacent about the Government's record on pensions. To some of them I do the justice—although they may not care for it—of assuming that they are unaware of the consequences and implications of the Government decisions for which they voted. To them I say bluntly that the Government are betraying this country. They should he ashamed that those who have earned so much now receive so little. Unless the policies which the Government have been pursuing are reversed, in 30 or 40 years' time hon. Members, in whatever part of the House they may sit, will be as astonished as they will be aghast at the legacy of poverty and neglect that the present Government bequeathed to them.

We for our part remain convinced that it is the duty, as much as it should be the pride, of the family of the nation to care for its elderly members. It is a duty that we shall not shirk.

Photo of Mr David Atkinson Mr David Atkinson , Bournemouth East 8:22 pm, 6th July 1988

I represent a constituency that has one of the highest proportions of pensioners in its population. When I was elected to the House nearly 11 years ago, one of the major issues then was the disastrous effect that the policies of the last Labour Government were having on pensioners, with the erosion of their savings by inflation, of their investment income by taxation, and of their dividends by control. At that time, Labour was being sustained in office by the party responsible for the motion we are debating this evening.

Today it is a different story, but as memories fade, pensioners should be frequently reminded of what they and their predecessors went through 10 to 15 years ago. Compared with their predecessor, this Government have a first-class record in responding to pensioners' demands and needs. My hon. Friend the Minister referred to some of those responses this afternoon. The conquest of double-figure inflation, which was the pensioners' worst enemy, has to be our major achievement, with an average of 5 per cent. inflation compared with 15 per cent. under the last Labour Government. There is also the continuing fulfilment of the Prime Minister's pledge that the Government will never allow the value of state pensions to fall behind the cost of living. There was also our response to pensioners' complaints, which brought forward the annual increase from November to April.

The Government's responses also included an entitlement by law to the annual Christmas bonus, which Labour abolished for two years because its economy could not afford it. The abolition of the grossly unfair domestic rating system, for which elderly owner-occupiers have been crying out for decades, is now in sight. As was mentioned in debate yesterday, pensioners in particular have also benefited from the real increase in resources to the National Health Service since 1979. That has brought a 20 per cent. increase in hospital nurses caring for geriatric patients, a 34 per cent. increase in consultant geriatricians, and an increase in the number of hip replacement operations front 28,000 a year in 1978 to 40,000 today.

Those are all achievements that cannot be ignored arid for which the Government deserve full credit. However, I accept that none of that suggests that we should not be doing more for pensioners, because there is more to be done. Inflation is still far too high at 4 to 5 per cent. That represents a halving of the value of savings during the average period of retirement, and that is higher than the figure other countries have been achieving for several years. I hope that the Government will redouble their efforts to achieve their target of zero inflation.

Although the majority of pensioners have a second income and are doing well by it, 15 per cent. still rely entirely on the state retirement pension. Many of them have been unable to afford to invest in a second pension, with war service and the post-war years denying them the opportunities which exist today. The time has come for those pensioners to enjoy a better share in the economic success achieved under our Government, and I want all future annual increases in the basic state pension to be at least 1 per cent. higher than inflation.

The Government continue to provide extra help to the over-80s—with, for example, the extra allowance in last year's Budget and a higher premium of income support—but I ask them now to replace the historic 25p increase, which has to be an insult, with a better deal for those reaching the age of 80.

Another anachronism is the earnings rule, which the Government pledged to abolish in each of the last three elections. Maintaining a rewarding occupation is one of the best incentives to a healthy old age. To remove all remaining restrictions will cost about £85 million, and l hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will do so in his next Budget.

Thanks to the prosperity generated by the Government's policies, in which the majority of pensioners have shared, income is no longer the problem that it was. Today, many old people are more in fear of bad health, of loneliness, and of the immobility that often results from having no family, friends or neighbours who really care—bearing in mind that 30 per cent. of all pensioners live alone and that 80 per cent. of them are women. I should like the Government to present a package of policies complementing their pension strategy and offering new incentives and encouragement to provide for health and housing needs in old age. For example, I hope that the Treasury will, as part of my right hon. Friend's NHS review, concede tax relief to pensioners wishing to take out private health insurance.

I hope that we have not heard the last of attempts to help the elderly to retain their financial independence by realising the asset value of their homes, as was proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill), with his scheme for this year's Finance Bill, giving tax relief on home annuity loans, which the Government have declined to accept. I hope also that further thought will be given to schemes bringing the private provision of sheltered accommodation for the elderly with supporting health services—such as that pioneered by McCarthy and Stone in my own constituency—within the means of all who have the asset of a home to realise.

Finally, I make a plea on behalf of those pensioners whose investments in Barlow Clowes are now so obviously at risk. They have been asked to register their interests with the liquidators and to report to FIM BRA where financial intermediaries have been involved. Many elderly people will be confused by all that. Will my hon. Friend ensure that special advice and assistance will be made available, perhaps at post offices, to those elderly people who need it in respect of Barlow Clowes?

Photo of Mr Ieuan Wyn Jones Mr Ieuan Wyn Jones , Ynys Môn 8:29 pm, 6th July 1988

As we have heard already tonight, the problems faced by the elderly must be seen in the context of the tremendous growth in the proportion of elderly people in society. An OECD study referred to in today's Financial Times notes that the percentage of the population aged 65 and over in the United Kingdom will increase substantially from just over 15 per cent. in 1985 to 28·7 per cent. in 2050. Alongside that figure is the realisation that health spending on the over-65s is more than four times as high per capita as spending on the under-65s. For the over-75s, the proportion rises to almost six times. Figures published by the Welsh Office suggest that there will be an increase of 50,000 in people aged over 75 in the next 20 years, and that in the United Kingdom generally there will be over 1 million more pensioners by 2025 and a substantial increase in the number of those over 75 and over 85.

The Government recognised that their stated policy of caring for old people in their own homes and within their local communities had not been working, so they asked Sir Roy Griffiths to prepare a report. It is clear that we now need a fresh look at community care in the light of the increase in the elderly population that we face in the next three decades.

The Public Accounts Committee report published on 25 April this year shows that between 1980 and 1985 the number of elderly people accommodated in private and voluntary homes increased by over 100 per cent., and that the level of supplementary benefit used to finance that accommodation rose from £18 million to an estimated £459 million in 1986. Clearly, substantial additional resources have been targeted to that sector. But the same report also pointed out that up to 23 per cent. of claimants entering residential homes could have stayed in their own homes for longer periods had appropriate community support services been made available. In my view, resources have been targeted in the wrong direction.

The PAC report said that since 1974 the Department of Health and Social Security had, under statute, required the NHS and local authorities to co-operate in planning and operating complementary health care services. The report also noted, however, that progress on producing jointly planned strategies had been slow and was hindered by differences in planning time scales, in accountability and management structure and, in some areas, in geographical boundaries between health and local authorities. The lack of joint planning is one of the reasons why care in the community remains a dream rather than a reality, and the Government must address the issue now.

In 1976, the Department introduced joint finance arrangements under which area and district health authorities made annual grants to local authorities and voluntary bodies for approved community-based schemes. Grants are for set periods, and are subject to tapering in the final years. As the House knows, there has been a growing reluctance on the part of local authorities to take up that initiative, as they are ultimately responsible for continued funding and set the charge against other priorities that they may have for spending within their own budgets.

The National Audit Office report, published in October last year, also referred to the difficulties encountered in joint planning and collaboration between authorities and various agencies. The report pointed out that supplementry benefit is paid to claimants in residential care without any assessment of the need for that care. It referred to pilot studies commissioned by the Department, disclosing that in about 93 per cent. of cases examined the claimants were found to be in need of care. If, however, the appropriate accommodation and intensive support services had been available in the community, that figure would have been substantially reduced.

In my view, there should be a shift away from care in residential homes towards more support for community-based services. The National Audit Office report that some elderly people currently in residential care could continue to live in their own homes for longer periods if such support were available. This highlights the importance of providing such reports where necessary, and points to the need for further research on whether some forms of assessment should be undertaken to ensure value for money for both the resident—who should obtain the most appropriate form of care—and, of course, the taxpayer.

Now we come to the Griffiths report, which the Government are so reluctant to debate here. That report on community care, entitled "Agenda for Action", addressed itself to the problems encountered with joint planning and collaboration between the various agencies, and recommended that the main responsibility for community care of the old and other priority groups should be concentrated in the hands of local authorities. The services—including residential care, day centres, hostels, home helps and meals on wheels—are now run variously by the NHS, health authorities, the private sector and local authority social services departments. Under the Griffiths proposals, local authorities would handle the amount currently spent through social security on places in private and voluntary residential care homes.

Sir Roy Griffiths spent a year investigating the way in which the switch from long-stay hospitals to care in the community is operating. We all have experiences of the problems that that creates for the elderly. I am sure that every hon. Member will have experienced the nightmare of being telephoned by families at the weekend, or perhaps late at night, saying that the hospital insists that an old person leaves and goes either home or to a residential home immediately. Such families are put into a tremendous quandary. They are faced with old people being asked to leave hospital because they no longer need the acute medical attention that they have been receiving. They may have had a period of recuperation, but the families are then faced with a problem because the support for community care is not there.

The conclusions of Sir Roy Griffiths match those already outlined in the reports by the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee: that a clear responsibility must be given to one body or authority for monitoring and developing care in the community, because joint planning has failed. I fear—as, I am sure, do many other hon. Members—that, owing to the Government's pathological antipathy towards local authorities, the Griffiths recommendations will not be acted on, and we shall face the massive population explosion among the elderly without a coherent strategy.

Let me again draw to the House's attention the decision by the DHSS and the Welsh Office to withdraw funding from the research team for the care of the elderly, based at the University of Wales college of medicine in Cardiff, from January next year. It seems to me the height of folly to withdraw funding from a department that is looking at a number of the problems that we have been addressing tonight, and has gained expertise not only in monitoring specific schemes but in piloting new ideas.

Poverty levels among pensioners in Wales are on the increase. Eighteen per cent. of pensioner households in Wales were wholly dependent on benefits in 1987. Now 20 per cent. are. Coupled with the cuts in housing benefit for pensioners with modest savings, Government policies have hit pensioners especially hard in recent years. I urge the Government to set pensions at a level that will ensure that pensioners can live with the dignity and the measure of independence to which they are entitled.

Photo of Mr Anthony Nelson Mr Anthony Nelson , Chichester 8:40 pm, 6th July 1988

The hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Jones) spoke with great conviction and sincerity, and I pay tribute to what he said. Few of us would not share many of the sentiments that he expressed about the importance of community care, which is an accepted trend in modern attitudes towards supporting the elderly. To some extent, local health authorities are already putting his views into practice. Of course there are financial constraints on them and thus on the pace at which change can take place, but the hon. Gentleman did the House and his constituents a service in reminding us of the importance of this subject.

I thought the hon. Gentleman's speech was in stark contrast to those of some Opposition Members this evening. For example, the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) indulged in a bit of political hyperbole, not to say downright cheek. Anyone would think that she had not been a Labour Member between 1974 and 1979 and that she dissociated herself entirely from a Government who, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) reminded us, was responsible for inflation at 27 per cent. and a standard rate of income tax of 35 per cent. Let us not forget that that Government took away the pensioners' Christmas bonus for two years, or that they increased the retirement pension by 0·6 per cent. a year during those five years, compared with the real increase every year under this Government of 2·7 per cent—a total increase of more than 18 per cent. in real terms.

The hon. Lady was a member of the party and Government that presided over a time of economic disaster at the end of which we were led to the International Monetary Fund with our begging bowl. It was a time when the lot of the poor and the elderly was meagre. Not a pensioner in the country would swap the financial support they receive from the Government today for that which they received in 1979. They are all better off——

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Shadow Minister (Disability)

A number of my constituents worked in the oil industry and are now pensioners. What benefit have they gained from oil revenues under this Government?

Photo of Mr Anthony Nelson Mr Anthony Nelson , Chichester

If it is not self-evident to the hon. Gentleman that the country's economy and standards of social support and of living after tax have improved immeasurably, nothing that I say would be likely to persuade him. The comparison that I made was fair.

The hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) is highly respected on both sides of the House and I pay tribute to what he said. His speech was delivered in measured tones and I, like my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, believe that there is a good deal in his party's motion. However, he has not been in government, and his party always indulges in generous promises at other people's expense. As it is never likely to be in government, it can afford to be more generous about not having a capital limit for entitlement to housing benefit.

I was pleased that my hon. Friend the Minister said that the Government had adjusted their view on this important matter in response to representations. The extraordinary thing is that, when the Goverment do something that is apparently wrong or unpopular, and there is an outcry, they are called intransigent if they do nothing about it. But if, in response to parliamentary and public pressure, they recognise that changes need to be made, they are accused of only looking after their own for narrow political purposes. Of course we are looking after the wider public interest and seeking to be re-elected—that is wholly proper and honourable. No doubt we should not be re-elected if we did not deliver. So far the record shows that the electorate and pensioners are at least reasonably happy with the record of the Government, to which I pay tribute tonight.

On top of the genuine increase in the state retirement pension and the reduction in inflation, there has been a significant increase in real-terms expenditure on the Health Service. About £9·2 billion per annum has been allocated within Health Service expenditure to elderly people. Their interests have by no means been forgotten. Infrastructural social support has been offered them, as well as direct financial payments; the Government have an exemplary record on that.

Nevertheless, I believe there is a consensus in the House—based on visits to our constituents and talking to those of them who are elderly—that many pensioners still find it difficult to make ends meet. I represent a constituency with nearly double the national average number of pensioners, including a growing proportion who are very elderly. It is not only a matter of money, but of life becoming much more complicated. People do not always understand their rights, and I am glad that my hon. Friend the Minister is to undertake a publicity campaign to emphasise what can be achieved if people apply to the DHSS.

More elderly people live longer now, and more of them live alone, so the costs of accommodation cannot be shared as they were in the past. Capital costs for those who live in properties that they own—the costs of repair and renewal—are significant deductions from their savings. I know many elderly people who do not qualify for financial support and are frightened about how they will pay for major items of expenditure that come along—£500 here, £700 there. Those sums represent a major proportion of their accumulated savings. We must recognise that, as I think the Government are trying to do in building up personal provision for the future. But many people face a short-term problem because they have seen the real value of their accumulated earnings and savings eroded in recent years.

Not unnaturally, many of our constituents look at their net position. They are not like Ministers, who espouse the virtues of an improvement in a particular policy for which they are responsible. Our constituents count up the net result of rent increases for their council houses, changes in housing benefit and milk bills. They work out exactly whether they are better or worse off. If they are worse off, they are worried about how they will cover the costs. So, although we have an exemplary record of maintaining and improving standards of living for the elderly, and at least of meeting our manifesto commitments, we have a particular obligation to improve the lot of the elderly in a way that helps the least well-off and maintains the relativity of the system, so that those who have provided for themselves see the benefits of so doing during their lifetimes and are not penalised to the extent that others who have not done so are underwritten by income support and other means of social security assistance.

I suggest two themes or policies that draw on some of tonight's comments. The first concerns targeting financial assistance for the elderly. In their social security review and legislation, the Government have acted rightly and of necessity. The main reason for what they have done was the need to target assistance from limited financial resources on those whose need was greatest. That was wholly defensible and a proper responsibility of Government. Now, having done that, with all its attendant difficulties, my hon. Friend the Minister should seek opportunities to build up the level of support for pensioners more generally. He should not in future try to pre-empt any additional resources that he can argue out of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury for the least well-off.

That is a controversial view, and others are entitled to take a different view. Some of my elderly constituents are just above the line of entitlement to all sorts of support, are badly off and finding it tough to make ends meet. We have done what we can for those on the lowest means. At least the real value of that support will be maintained, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East suggested, there is a substantial case to be made for improving the level of the state retirement pension ahead of the level of inflation.

Many of my constituents do not receive income support, housing benefit, lower-cost, local authority-provided sheltered accommodation, a free television licence or help with their fuel or with the cost of furniture removal, yet they cannot by any stretch of the imagination be considered well off. In fact, many of them are significantly worse off than those who receive and are entitled to this panoply of support. Those people come to me and say, as they do to other hon. Members, "What is the purpose of providing for myself during my working life? Where is the equity and fairness in helping those who are less well off and have made less provision for themselves so that they are better off than I am? What prospect is there for an improvement in my standard of living?" I tell them that their best prospect lies in steady improvement of the state retirement pension, at least to the level of inflation, and perhaps over and above that. If we can expand the economy, as has happened in recent years, there should be every reason to expect real increases in the state retirement pension.

I am drawing on part of the content of the SLD party motion and on part of the speech of the hon. Member for Derby, South, who pressed my hon. Friend the Minister not to forget the case for improvement in the statutory retirement pension. He will have our full support in arguing the case with Treasury Ministers. The time to do that is not a year before an election. There should be a steady improvement year on year, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East suggested.

That in itself is not enough. Although my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East was unsuccessful in his attempt to bring about a change in the tax law for elderly home-owners to release some of their capital, I believe that we should begin to consider the problems that we have built up over a generation of tax relief in tying up people's capital in non-income producing assets. Many people in my constituency, which has relatively high property capital values, are sitting on properties worth very significant sums of money, but are living in genteel poverty and sometimes finding it difficult to afford to put on the electric heater during the winter. There is a paradox between the capital values of people's accommodation and the Government's unwillingness or inability to change the tax laws to release some of that capital to support those people during their retirement.

I should like to see quite a different scheme. I should like to see a new form of variable tax relief over and above the personal allowances built into our tax regime. People should, at different stages in their life, be able to adjust to different expenditure necessities. For example, when people are young and get married, they probably need the maximum tax relief for a mortgage. The current value of that relief is probably about £800 a year. That is the value of basic rate of tax on the average level of building society interest on a mortgage of £30,000. That £800 could and should be used during people's lifetimes for other forms of designated expenditure.

That would not be an additional personal allowance that would allow them to spend the money more generally and perhaps draw in imports and fuel inflation, but a special allowance to spend on designated areas of need and responsibility. I would include among those both private education and private health provision, although those are contentious issues, but they should include, in addition, provision which the elderly can make themselves. For example, if an elderly person has paid off his or her mortgage, he or she is not able to take out a new mortgage on that property and obtain tax relief on the interest paid. Why not? They should be able to do so as pensioners. However, as I understand it, they are able to borrow money secured against the property, purchase an annuity with that money and obtain tax relief on that loan.

That smacks of the "nanny" state which says, "We'll give you tax relief, but only if you give the money back to an institution to manage for you". We should give it to the people and let them decide what is in their own best interests. A more moveable tax allowance that people can use at various times of their life with the ability to release the capital built up in their homes for designated expenditure, which would be of perceived value to them, would be a more flexible and desirable system. It would allow any combination of that expenditure within the allowance.

I hope that in the fundamental review that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services is undertaking he will be open-minded to some more imaginative schemes, such as the one I have proposed, as there is a long-term problem to be addressed and redressed. Just as we have made a good start and have a record of which we can be proud, so we should not lose sight of the need to tackle the problems of the future. The best way to do so is to have a further improvement in the real value of the state retirement pension during the remainder of the Government's period of office and to change the reliefs and allowances so that we can release the capital that elderly people have accumulated and help them to help themselves, as they all desire.

Photo of Mr Jimmy Dunnachie Mr Jimmy Dunnachie , Glasgow Pollok 8:56 pm, 6th July 1988

The recent housing benefit cuts are among the worst examples of the thoughtless, uncaring attitude that we have come to expect of the Government. The Government say that they want people to be independent, but, at the same time, they penalise the most fiercely independent section of our society—our senior citizens.

Those are men and women whose lives have been governed by hard work, thrift, duty and independence—in fact, by all the values that the Government claim to extol. They are also men and women who have worked and fought for a fairer society in which being old or poor, or both, was neither a shame nor a crime, yet all the Government can offer them is a kick in the teeth, telling them that they are of no account in the twilight years of their lives. We all know that those people could never begin to compete in the get-rich-quick jungle of man-mind-thyself Thatcherism. Even worse, the cuts have put fear and terror into the hearts and minds of senior citizens because they remind them of the depression years and of that most dreaded by-product of Victorian values, the workhouse.

I have already written to the Prime Minister outlining the hardships that the cuts are creating for senior citizens in my constituency. All that she could offer them was the hope of transitional payments—in other words, a postponement of their agony. When I raised the matter of benefit cuts, she misled the House with her answer, showing that she is either unaware or simply does not care about the cruel effects that her Government's policies are having on the lives of ordinary people. Every week in my surgery, I witness these cruel effects on many senior citizens, who, through no fault of their own, have few or no savings and are worried and frightened because they do not know how to make ends meet.

I can give some examples of this from my constituency. I recall an elderly man from the Carnwadric area whose rent and rates bill has risen by a third, an elderly lady in the Craigbank area who now has to pay an extra £30 a month, an elderly couple in the Arden area who face a 50 per cent. increase and an old lady in north Pollok who must now pay a third of her total income in rent and rates. These examples are only the tip of the iceberg. That such men and women are reduced to pleading for mercy in the twilight years of their lives is a crime against humanity.

The effects of the housing benefit cuts on the lives of the elderly make a mockery of the freedom from want for which the Labour party fought so valiantly—a battle that it won—after the war. Instead, this policy marks a return to the darkest days in the nation's history, when the old and the poor were tossed aside, to be treated as less than human. It is a tragedy that these uncaring days have returned. I beg the House to reverse this vicious policy, so that dignity and self-respect can be restored to our senior citizens in the closing chapters of their lives.

9 pm

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe , Maidstone

In their recent treatment of pensioners, the Government are most to be congratulated on their targeting. We have tried to help those who are most in need, and to a large extent we have succeeded. The hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett), whom I am delighted to see has returned to the Chamber after a lengthy absence—at least she.is here, unlike most Labour Back Benchers—said that we withdrew millions of pounds in benefit in our recent changes to social security and housing benefit. She omitted to say that the main losers of such benefit were asset-owning pensioners or pensioners with savings as substantial as £8,000 in the bank.

It is crucial, when we talk about old-age pensioners, that we should be aware that we are talking not about a homogeneous economic group but about a group of people among whom there are wide divisions of income, comfort and provision, as there are in the rest of the population. Over 85 per cent. of our old-age pensioners enjoy some form of second income.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe , Maidstone

I imagine that one does enjoy a second income. Even when we say that, we have to distinguish between the nature and extent of the second income—[Interruption.] I am told that I have something in common with the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). Perhaps if he had been present throughout the debate, as I have been, he would have heard this point answered before.

Those pensioners who enjoy a second income also fall into various categories. There are those who may have substantial occupational pensions, there are those who will have the state earnings-related pension scheme addition and there are those who will have only a few pounds in interest from savings. I join my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) in his plea for some attention to be given to those pensioners who are just above the line below which they might have received various supports and benefits that we have so rightly targeted on the most needy and poor. In any system of benefits there will be some sort of trap so that people who are just above the line below which they are entitled to support are not as well off as people below the line who receive support and whose incomes are considerably enhanced. In our future targeting, we should pay particular attention to those people.

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Shadow Minister (Social Security)

I think that this is the first time that I have had the pleasure of listening to the hon. Lady address the House. I feel sure, therefore, that it is uncharacteristic that she did little less than justice to my observations. I drew attention to the fact that there are those among pensioners who are losing out, some who have some assets. The flavour of the hon. Lady's observations is that many of those pensioners have substantial assets, but most of those who lost out from the Government's recent housing benefit cuts have small occupational pensions or war pensions, for example. It is not those with substantial assets who are losing out especially. I think that I am correct in saying that only 100,000 benefited from the change in the capital allowance while 7 million lost out. That implies that the vast bulk of the 7 million were at the bottom end of the scale, not at the top.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe , Maidstone

The hon. Lady does less than justice to the analysis that she has made. She makes the rather sweeping statement that most of those who have lost out are in the narrow trap that I have been talking about, where there is real need, but I think that the hon. Lady and I would be able to find some common ground. The thrust of our targeting was to ensure that those with a property in which neither they nor a dependent relative live, or with, in my view, substantial savings in the bank, to the tune of £8,000, lost the most significantly.

We have targeted, I think admirably, on the care of the elderly in the National Health Service. We have 22 per cent. more nurses engaged in geriatric care now than there were in 1979. There are 34 per cent. more consultant geriatricians now than there were in 1979. This is an area in which we could concentrate specific targeting. The number of home helps has been increased by about 20 per cent., while day-care places have increased by about 25 per cent. As various sedentary Opposition Members have suggested during the debate, there are far more old-age pensioners now. It is right, therefore, that we target NHS care on the elderly.

We must continue our policy of targeting NHS care and social services care on old-age pensioners who are still able to live at home, given the right levels of support. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on the significant successes that have been achieved in targeting care, especially care in the community, which has often been deeply misrepresented.

I hope that Opposition Members will not continue to talk in blanket terms about substantial increases in the old-age pension and in benefits for the elderly, such as the abolition of standing charges on fuel.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe , Maidstone

I am coming to that. I hope also that they will not talk generally about the abolition of the television licence fee. Old-age pensioners do not form a homogeneous income group. Not all of them need to be exempt from standing charges on fuel and the television licence fee, for example. These are benefits, if these charges are abolished, that will have to be paid for by others who are earning substantially less than the income of many old-age pensioners. There is an argument for targeting and for supporting what the Government have so far done in their targeting.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe , Maidstone

I would have been delighted to allow the hon. Gentleman to intervene had he been present throughout the debate. I might then have thought that he had a contribution to make that would be relevant.

I support what the Government are doing. I hope that we shall hear more from them about specific targeting. I believe that it is what old-age pensioners want. My pensioner constituents always ask, "Why not concentrate on those of us who do not have an income over and above the state pension?" That is the road along which we are proceeding and the road along which I hope we shall continue. I ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to address himself, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester and I have urged, to those who are just above the line, as it were.

Photo of Mr Tom Pendry Mr Tom Pendry , Stalybridge and Hyde 9:10 pm, 6th July 1988

.The hon. Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) amazed one or two of us in many ways, particularly when she said that she had something in common with my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). The mind boggles at that and my hon. Friend has a lot of explaining to do when the debate is over. It is a pity that the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) is leaving the Chamber—[Interruption.] I see that he has returned with his usual athleticism. His speech, fascinating as it was, revealed the different worlds in which we live and the north-south divide. He talked about an extra £450 and £500 that many of his constituents have to find on occasion. Many of the pensioners in my constituency worry about whether they can have margarine or butter. The hon. Gentleman is living in a different world. He said that there are few senior citizens who would prefer to live under a Labour Government than a Conservative one. He is living in cloud-cuckoo-land. I invite him to come to my constituency of Stalybridge and Hyde in Tameside so that he can see for himself the difference between the constituency that he represents and those represented by Opposition Members.

We receive long-winded letters from the Minister. As my hon. Friends know, I am a charitable guy. I know that he is a young Minister, but I had hoped that somebody was twisting his arm and that he did not believe what he was writing. However, when we see him at the Dispatch Box, it is clear that he believes every word and any sympathy that I ever had for him drains away.

I welcome the opportunity to make a short contribution to the debate, because it gives us the opportunity to speak up for a section of our constituents who are grossly disadvantaged by the Government's so-called reform of the social security system. I do not often get an opportunity to give my examples at Prime Minister's Question Time, so I shall take this chance to place on record some specific examples from my constituency.

When the Government introduced the new social security system they said that their objective was to "target resources" on those in "greatest need." Their aim is a bit out, since they are miles from the target. I have six surgeries every month, as do many other hon. Members, and if those who come to my surgery are not those at whom the Government wish to target the resources, there is something drastically wrong with our society. We know that there is no justice in our society under this Government.

I agree that some pensioners have been misguided up to now, because they have supported the Government. If a Labour Government had been elected in June last year, a single pensioner would by now have received an extra £275, and a pensioner couple would have received an extra £440. Even in Chichester—I see that the hon. Member for Chichester has again left the Chamber—the pensioners would have done much better.

It is so odd that the generation which fought so hard in the second world war and helped to found the Health Service—we are celebrating the 40th anniversary of the National Health Service—is being treated with such contempt by the Government. Our pensioners deserve a much better deal. They need to be treated with honour and respect things that the Government know nothing about.

Each week I and other hon. Members receive hundreds of letters—certainly tens of letters—from pensioners who are in a desperate plight. Some plead for financial help. I know that many hon. Members think that the question of the television licence is peripheral to the debate—although the hon. Member for Chichester did raise the subject—but to many of our pensioners a television is a lifeline. My old mum, who will be 95 next Thursday, relies greatly on her television set. She told me the other day that she wanted the set taken away because the Prime Minister appears on it rather too much for her liking.

I had a letter from a 76-year-old gentleman who lives in Dukinfield in my constituency. He was worried about his television licence. I know that the Prime Minister is greatly interested in television and in satellite techniques and new stations.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party

The Prime Minister is bound to be interested in television and in all these satellite channels. She has 13 television sets in 10 Downing street and does not have to buy a licence for any of them. She gets free heat, free lighting and does not pay rates or rent on 10 Downing street or on Chequers. Our 9·5 million pensioners should receive the same treatment. Then there are all the people with ministerial cars stuck outside to carry them from one panelled room to the next.

Photo of Mrs Elaine Kellett Mrs Elaine Kellett , Lancaster

The hon. Gentleman should address the House.

Photo of Mr Tom Pendry Mr Tom Pendry , Stalybridge and Hyde

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) was looking at me during his intervention. I hope he does not think that I am a pensioner. In his characteristic style, my hon. Friend has spelt it out far better than I could.

The Prime Minister is engaged in a great deal of activity on the television satellite front. Why can she not give our pensioners free television licences? My 76-year-old constituent was told by Tameside council, quite rightly at that time, that as he was linked to a mobile warden scheme he could get a concessionary television licence. Now the Government have changed the rules. The hon. Member for Maidstone said that she hoped that certain things would not happen, but things are getting worse because people who had concessions will no longer get them.

Photo of Mr Tom Pendry Mr Tom Pendry , Stalybridge and Hyde

No, I shall not give way, because other hon. Members wish to take part in the debate. The hon. Lady knows that what I say is true and that people no longer qualify.

Another clawback from these people is to be deprecated. The 76-year-old gentleman whom I mentioned lives in an old-age pensioner's flat. In my area of Tameside the demand for social services grows each year, but the financial constraints upon the council are more severe. I can tell the House that 4,930 people in my borough are aged 75 or over and that 40 per cent. of them live alone. Of the 85-year-olds, 20 per cent. are bedfast, 20 per cent. are mentally confused and 50 per cent. are unable to bathe themselves. The Government's respeonse is increasingly to shunt people over to carers in my area.

Every step that penalises pensioners, such as cuts in housing benefit, makes more emotional and physical demands on the 11 per cent. of adults in Tameside whom the local authority has identified as carers. Many of those 18,000 carers end up in part-time employment, with low pay and few prospects. It is a vicious circle and tire Government should address themselves to the problem.

The cases that my pensioner constituents have been bringing to me since the benefit changes are heartbreaking. There is a single woman of 69 who has been retired for 12 years because of polio arthritis. She lives on her own in a one-bedroom flat. In 1987 she received £57·96 a week and had to pay £12·95 a week in rent. [Interruption.] Conservative Members do not want to hear this. The hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell) does not live a million miles from me and must have constituents with similar problems. I am trying to get through to Treasury Ministers to bring to their attention the problems affecting the people whom we represent. After that woman had paid her rent she was left with £45·01 to live on. Now her pension has been increased by £1·49 a week, but she has to pay £17 in rent and is more than £2 a week worse off. Last week she told me that a mistake had been made and that she would now be £5·61 a week worse off.

The attack upon pensioners is nothing short of barbaric. In the 1980s it is a disgrace that their living standards should be worsened. Thankfully, the pensioners are fighting back. In my constituency the Thameside Pensioners Action Committee, along with many hundreds of thousands of other pensioners, will be going to various conventions, including the national pensioners' convention, which will be held soon in Manchester. They will be fighting for a better deal.

The Government must not be complacent. We accept that they won the election, but they will not be returned again unless they adopt a more concerned approach to pensioners. I hope that, as a result of this debate and debates in other arenas, pensioners will begin to realise that the Government do not really care for them, their future or their living standards, and that they will increasingly turn to the Labour party, so that the smugness will go out of Tory Members at the next election.

Photo of Mr Anthony Favell Mr Anthony Favell , Stockport 9:21 pm, 6th July 1988

I was glad to hear the Minister emphasise the duty of those in work to care for those unable to care for themselves, not only through their taxes by supporting the Government in their attack on inflation—that sure enemy of pensioners' savings. He also emphasised the need for people to give time—that valuable commodity—to help the elderly combat their worst enemy, loneliness.

I was disappointed to hear the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) and other Opposition Members imply that anyone who retires is more interested in dependency than independence. The Labour party often gives the impression that when somebody reaches retirement his or her useful life comes to an end. Many hon. Members, and the Prime Minister herself, are entitled to a retirement pension. Many leaders of pensionable age, not only in political circles but in industry and trade unions, continue to work.

The vast majority of pensioners continue to lead full and useful lives. It is pure nonsense to suggest that life begins at 40 and ends at 60 or 65. Many people over that age continue to work full time and those who do not give valuable service elsewhere. They serve in the voluntary sector; many voluntary bodies would collapse were it not for those of pensionable age who work hard for their fellow citizens, many of whom are older than themselves. Many pensioners give time to their families and friends and give the benefit of their wisdom to local authorities and other public bodies.

Of course, as they get older, many pensioners become frail and dependent. Society must ensure that they do not want for care, but we should never refer to older people en masse as a problem. They are not. For that reason, I am extremely cautious about the possible implementation of the recommendations of the Griffiths report on community care, to which several Opposition Members referred.

I find it an unedifying prospect that local authority social workers should set up systems to identify and assess people who may need care and support and then, as the report suggests—taking account of the views and wishes of the person to be cared for—informal carers would decide what packages of care, whether provided directly or indirectly, would best suit their needs. I do not suggest that social workers are not well-meaning, but I can think of nothing more certain to accelerate old age than to smother an elderly person with care, to make him dependent and destroy his self-esteem.

An aunt of mine died recently at the age of 93. She was known to us as Auntie Connie, as she was to everyone, certainly for the last 20 years of her life. She had a very difficult life. She worked hard to provide for herself and when she retired, having bought her own home, she took enormous pleasure in looking after herself. She was entitled only to a basic pension, but, having saved, she did not need any other help. She was proud of that. There are millions like her.

When looking after the house became too much for her—and she decided when the time came: no one else did—she made the decision to go into sheltered accommodation. She was fortunate enough to be able to go into an Anchor housing association sheltered home. She lived there for 15 years, for the last six or seven of which she was totally blind. She considered that she lived a self-sufficient, decent life. She had a bedsit, with a small kitchen, WC and bathroom. There was a warden on call, who was sensible enough to allow those living in that accommodation to help each other. They organised functions, trips out, bingo and lectures and looked after each other, and, in particular, the younger ones looked after the more elderly. I understand from a recent Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy report that the rent for a single pensioner living in housing association accommodation of that kind—it is a new unit—is between £40 and £50 a week.

I am delighted to see that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is here. I urge him to consider whether it is better to put increased resources into sheltered accommodation than into elderly people's homes. Like many hon. Members, I have visited such homes and I think that they destroy people's independence and finally lead them to become old before their time. At the age of 92, my aunt went into a residential nursing home. Everyone there was kind and everything was done for her, but within three months, having lost her independence, she decided to die—and that is what she did.

When we speak of the needs of the elderly, it is my firm belief that, first and foremost, we should do them the courtesy of allowing them to lead useful lives, with the absolute minimum of interference, care packages or needs reviews—call it what you like. Only when that elderly person or his or her family, friends, neighbours, family doctor or community nurse decides—and only then—should the state or local authority step in, and it should be done readily, quickly and unobtrusively.

That has been the main thrust of the Government's policies. Some 95 per cent. of people aged over 65 live in their own homes. A flexible range of services for those in genuine need is being developed. The number of district nurses has risen by one fifth since 1979, and the number of elderly people treated has risen by 28 per cent. The financial position of pensioners has improved. Under this Government, pensioners' incomes have increased more than twice as fast as those of the rest of the population and four times as fast as they did under Labour. Now, 85 per cent. of pensioners have second incomes apart from their basic pension, 70 per cent. have savings and 50 per cent. now receive an occupational pension.

In terms of provision for the elderly, Britain is the third highest in the EEC, and I am glad that there are new incentives to come. I believe that under this Government—certainly with the new NHS review and their thrust to help personal and occupational pensions—the wherewithal for improving the independence of pensioners will be increased. Pensioners wish to have their independence, and it is only this Government who will give them the wherewithal to achieve it.

Photo of Mrs Mildred Gordon Mrs Mildred Gordon , Bow and Poplar 9:29 pm, 6th July 1988

I retired from teaching two years before I became a Member of the House. I had three small pensions besides my state pension, but nevertheless I found living on a pension a frightening experience. When something goes wrong with a piece of equipment, one's income bears no relation to the amount of money that one is charged for a repair. Now that the Government have so drastically reduced single payments to pensioners and other claimants who are on supplementary benefit, and offer loans that must be repaid out of their meagre income, any failure of equipment becomes a real disaster that frightens pensioners, because they have no way of coping with it.

Perhaps because I have been a pensioner I get many invitations to talk to pensioner groups. I like to speak to pensioners in my constituency, which is in the borough of Tower Hamlets. They are mostly very poor and, although some have small pensions from their job, as has already been said, those pensioners are no better off than those who have not. They are people who have worked hard and long hours for little pay, and who have had no way of saving money. They lived through the depression and the blitz, and this country owes them a lot. Throughout their lives they have had to learn how to manage well on a small amount of money.

If one goes to Tower Hamlets, one will discover that however good the women are at managing money—and the majority of pensioners are women—they hover outside the butchers' shops wondering if they can afford to buy anything except liver. Although the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie), would probably say that liver is good for pensioners, one gets fed up with eating liver. They wonder whether they can afford to buy a chop. It is shocking that women who have been proud housewives, and who have reared their families, now stand outside the shops dithering and wondering whether they can afford some meat. If one goes into many of their homes in winter, one finds that they are in the kitchen, with the door of the gas oven open, the oven alight and that they are sitting over it because that is the cheapest way of heating and that is the only room that they can afford to heat. That is the reality.

Two Methodist ministers in the east end recently protested that the DHSS had told pensioners who applied for single payments to go to the churches. Pensioners have been going to the churches for money for food. One minister has been keeping plastic bags of food to give to them.Those ministers have now said, "We cannot do this any more. Our funds do not permit it. Please do not keep telling pensioners to come to us."

The reality is that when pensioners go to doctors for treatment, hard-pressed doctors often say, "You have to expect some aches and pains at your age." I do not think that pensioners of any age should expect to be ill, without getting proper treatment in the same way as anyone else.

Pensioners have asked me to say that they are well aware that during the past 10 years many items have been harmonised with those in other countries in the EEC. They want to know when pensions in this country will be harmonised. They say that pensions in Belgium are nearly double those in England. They would like some harmonisation to come their way.

The pensioners say that the cuts in spending weigh heavily on them, and that the agencies that help them are losing their funds because local authorities have less money to give and are being shut down or cut to the bone. Furthermore, the poll tax will penalise the carers of elderly parents and relatives.

Pensioners have also asked me to say that they would like the Government to do away with standing charges on utilities. That is a sore point with pensioners. They try to save money by switching off electric lights and cutting down on heating, but often the standing charges come to more than the rest of the bill. Standing charges take away a huge slice of their incomes. Pensioners feel that they should not have to pay these standing charges at all.

Another issue that pensioners have raised with me many times is that they would like free television licences, because television is so important to them.

Pensioners would like their pensions to be increased in line with incomes. That was something that they had before, but the Government have taken that away, and pensioners would like that provision restored.

London pensioners fear that, following the abolition of the Greater London council, 1990 will see the end of their cherished free bus and Underground travel passes. Many pensioners say that the only thing that stops people becoming depressed on reaching the pensionable age of 60 or 65 is that they get their free bus pass. They believe that the free bus pass should be safeguarded and that that system should spread to the rest of the country. It gives pensioners the chance to travel and see their friends, and stops them from being tied to their homes. Dial-a-Ride, which pensioners would like guaranteed to continue, helps those who are not able-bodied to get out of the house and have a better quality of life.

Pensioners live in fear of reaching the age when they can no longer take care of themselves. It is not just a made-up story that often pensioners who cannot walk to the toilet or get out of a chair on their own are dumped in an empty flat by hard-pressed hospital authorities which need their beds. Those pensioners are left to sink or swim and many die before their time. Many pensioners who still have their mental faculties end up in the geriatric wards of mental hospitals because there is no other place for them. We need better provision for people at home, and that cannot be done with rate capping and cuts in local authority spending. We need more homes for pensioners who cannot cope with living on their own.

There should be more research into the degenerative illnesses of old age and dementia, and that requires much more money. Pensioners have asked me to say that they are sick and tired of increasingly being presented as a burden to the country. When they are presented as a burden, it invites violent attacks on them, degrades them, lowers their status and makes it seem as though they are useless. If pensioners are given enough money, correct: medical treatment and are properly looked after, they have a great deal to contribute, just as they have always done Pensioners want to be respected and valued.

Photo of Matthew Taylor Matthew Taylor Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy) 9:36 pm, 6th July 1988

We have been talking about the difficulties of the old and the cold in our society. I welcome the fact that the debate was opened by one of the youngest Members—my hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy)—and is being closed by another of the youngest Members. Conservative Members often tell us that those earning cannot afford to support our elderly people as we should support them. Not all people in Britain take that view.

Elderly people deserve independence and respect in society; not to be condemned to wait out the rest of their lives without friends, families or local communities around them. That is why the Social and Liberal Democrats believe that there should be a coherent approach to treatment of the elderly—adequate primary health care and support for the many carers who dedicate their lives, often voluntarily, to look after elderly relatives.

During the general election I talked about making care in the community a reality. We are not prepared to see patients turned out of the old institutional hospitals without adequate facilities to care for them in the community. We want to support the carers and believe that the Government should and could have made giant strides towards doing that. They could and should have introduced a proper carer's benefit. They should give carers more opportunities to take a break from their responsibilities. We have heard the rhetoric of care in the community but had precious little of the reality.

The Association of Carers tells us that over 40 per cent. of carers whose elderly dependants had severe memory impairment had not had a week's holiday in five years and only 10 per cent. had ever received respite care. We need to start from the individual and to ensure that, regardless of where he or she lives, an individual has access as of right to care appropriate and adequate to his or her needs, just as Age Concern tells us. That in turn means proper assessment procedures, a definition of minimum standards to which an individual is entitled, the development of the concept of advocacy for those people and the mechanism of independent inspection made a reality. In Cornwall, all too frequently that does not happen.

Underpinning everything, there must be proper resources, yet what do we get from the Government? We get the poll tax for a start. The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) spoke about abolishing the rates. In itself, that would be an advantage, but by replacing them with the poll tax, which will place appalling increased financial pressure on households which include dependent elderly relatives, the Government are ignoring the reality facing many people. If a married couple have an elderly parent living with them, all three will be liable to the charge. The Department of the Environment has produced figures showing that more than 80 per cent. of households will be worse off under the community charge.

The House of Lords has forced the Government into accepting an amendment, but there is no sign that the Government will allow it to remain in the Bill.

Photo of Mrs Elaine Kellett Mrs Elaine Kellett , Lancaster

What the hon. Gentleman is saying about elderly persons living in a household is totally misleading. He should know that an elderly person living with another will not be assessed for the community service charge on the income of the head of the household. Elderly people will be assessed on their own incomes, and if they are entitled to pay the lowest possible rate of 20 per cent. that will be allowed for in their pension, so the elderly person will not be adversely affected.

Photo of Matthew Taylor Matthew Taylor Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy)

The hon. Lady would do better to show her support for elderly people by voting for the amendment when the Bill comes back from the Lords.

We do not have to wait for the poll tax, nor do we have to wait for the one announcement that the Minister made tonight about the concessions that the Government are giving to pensioners on housing benefit and social security. What they mean by concessions is that they are bringing in advertising executives to tell us how wonderful the Government have been for giving back a small proportion of what they have already taken away. We do not have to wait for that. The difficulty for those on the low-level basic state pension and the continued presence of large numbers of elderly people suffering great hardship in the very lowest income groups is evidence enough. We have heard some apparently convincing arguments and statistics from the Government. I wonder why statisticians rather than politicians are not at the bottom of public opinion popularity polls. It seems that they connive together.

Constituents across the country are not convinced. In my constituency there are large numbers of elderly people, many of them in considerable hardship. Every day I receive letters from pensioners saying that they can no longer cope and that they are frightened by the changes that the Government have made.

Miss Cocks, who has paid her stamp since she was 16, wrote: I am writing this to you and will you please read it out to the Tories … I will not be able to pay for any of these things"— that is, rent and rates— on my pension unless I get help from Social Security and there are lots of others besides me. She wrote that letter as she saw that help disappearing.

Mr. Long wrote: Out of our miserable pension increase in April … we have to meet extra water rates, 10 per cent. extra television fees, dearer electricity charges". Mr. Porter wrote: How Mrs. Thatcher thinks that a married couple can live these days on £65·47 per week when they pay rent, rates, water rates, electric—what has one got to live on? One of the most heartrending letters I received recently was from Mr. Lamb, who was receiving severe disablement allowance and invalidity benefit. He wrote: My wife and I are registered blind … I have a small Occupational Pension (non index linked) which precludes me from receiving any benefit. Because I worked for this for many years, I am now being penalised in that I am having to pay for prescriptions, dental care, new spectacles (which in my case are essential), fares to hospital and rates. It seems ludicrous". No wonder I am getting those letters. Just look at the figures for the recent housing benefit changes, not just for this year, but year by year as the Government, with stealth and guile, have been penalising the poor to fund tax cuts for the rich. In April 1983, 1,150,000 pensioners suffered losses and 120,000 lost all housing benefit. In November 1984, 1,200,000 pensioners lost further entitlement and another 213,000 lost all housing benefit. In November 1985, a further 1,470,000 pensioners lost benefit and an additional 270,000 pensioners lost all entitlement. In April 1987, 2,600,000 pensioners lost some housing benefit entitlement and a further 60,000 pensioners lost all entitlement.

The result is the gradual erosion of the independence of the elderly and of the meagre living standards that so many elderly people already had. It is no wonder, therefore, that many elderly people feel embittered by the bad hand that they have been dealt. As one wrote: The whole country is in a bad state … the price is being paid by the old people. I worked for the County Council for 39 years, for many years money was taken from my pay packet and some added by the Council for retirement, and taxed, and now delivered to me every month and taxed again which is robbery. The Government believe that the best course of action is tax concessions for those who can afford private insurance. That is not necessarily bad. I welcome help being given to people to earn additional pensions, but it does nothing at all for those for whom such luxuries will never be seen.

Again, the eloquence of my constituents spells out what the Minister did not like to say: we were all born too soon … The next generation of pensioners will have a works pension scheme for them and they will need it, too! I have requested a surrender value on our death policies and that will be £1 per week towards our rent. That is what these people are having to go through. Letter after letter landing on my desk says the same. If they were honest, I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House would say that they receive the same kind of correspondence. They could not deny it. Comment after comment shows clearly that they know where the blame lies.

In today's post I received this letter: How can the Prime Minister say no poor pensioners are worse off under the new benefit rules? Again: I did not realise the situation myself until I received my rates demand, and I have the feeling that the whole benefits structure is deliberately confused, why there has not already been an outcry I cannot understand. Most telling of all, and we all receive this complaint in thousands of slightly different ways, with the use of different phrases, but they all say the same thing: She is a terrible woman on us pensioners. That is why we have had this debate. That is why we campaigned for an increase in the basic state retirement pension and that is why we say that the bulk of the extra expenditure should be concentrated on helping the poorest pensioners.

Conservative Members talk about the Christmas bonus, but £10 goes nowhere today. We should be talking about a Christmas bonus of double the weekly pension at the beginning of December. We should abolish standing charges for gas, electricity and telephones, all of which are vital for the elderly, instead of privatising those industries to give a little extra cash to those who already have a lot.

It is a far cry tonight from the day, 80 years ago, when a Liberal Government introduced the pension that Lloyd George saw as a "great experiment." He said: It is made in an old country for the first time. We put it forward as an incomplete one; we say it is a beginning and only a beginning, but a real beginning. I wonder what Lloyd George would say today about the gradual reductions in benefits and the degrading poverty of so many of our pensioners. Many pensioners saw the introduction of that pension. Many of them have told me that they owe a debt of gratitude to Lloyd George for what he did. It was his dream. to make provision for undeserved poverty and destitution in all its branches", whereas the Government provide for undeserved financial gain from investment in state industries that they sell off.

The Prime Minister tells us that there is no such thing as society. By contrast, Lloyd George summed it up like this: These problems of the sick, of the infirm, of the men who cannot find means of earning a livelihood, though they seek it as if they were seeking for alms, who are out of work through no fault of their own, and who cannot even guess the reason why, are problems with which it is the business of the State to deal; they are problems which the State has neglected too long. The Government do not believe that. They do not believe that there is such a thing as society. The Government do not believe that they have an obligation to our old-age pensioners and to those who live in poverty, cold and squalor. We do. I commend the motion to the House.

Photo of Mr Michael Portillo Mr Michael Portillo , Enfield, Southgate 9:49 pm, 6th July 1988

As the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) has just referred to Lloyd George, I trust that he will not object if I go less far back in history and allow the occasional reference to the Lib-Lab pact to creep into my speech. There can certainly be no complaint that I am raking up the past unnecessarily.

The subject of community care was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell), and the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Jones) referred to it extensively. I was pleased that my hon. Friend placed such emphasis on the importance of the voluntary sector and on the role that pensioners themselves can play, because many of them are still able-bodied and relatively young in that voluntary sector. He will recognise with me that state agencies cannot do everything for our elderly and that there will always be a need for comfort and company to be provided by friends, neighbours and family. I appreciate his remarks on that point.

Both the hon. Members for Ynys Môn and for Truro seemed to find fault with the Government over a supposed lack of urgency in relation to community care. I am surprised at that suggestion, because the hon. Member for Ynys Môn himself referred to the variety of reports that have been produced on the subject. He clearly recognises that it is an enormously complex question. He believes that too much money is being spent through supplementary benefit, and now through income support, and that some people are inappropriately placed.

In my opening remarks, I referred to some of the fears that we ourselves could have on those scores. However, I cannot understand how the hon. Member for Ynys Môn can believe that we are reluctant to address those issues, when we commissioned the Griffiths, Firth and Wagner reports. The hon. Member would be extremely surprised if we did not then give due consideration to the Griffiths report, which raised very complex issues, and I am certain that when we present our recommendation that will give the House an opportunity to consider how to debate them. The hon. Member for Ynys Môn should bear with us in that respect.

My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone ( Miss Widdecombe) expressed concern about the level of provision for people in the community. She made her point very well about National Health Service extra expenditure on the elderly. That increased by 22 per cent. between 1978 and 1986, and my hon. Friend will know that during the same period the elderly population increased by 5·9 per cent. Funding has not only kept pace with the growing number of elderly people, but has also led to real improvements in services for them.

The number of elderly people treated by the community nursing service increased by one fifth between 1978 and 1986, and the number of home helps shows a similar improvement. The number of day hospital and day centre attendances has also increased, as have the number of meals on wheels provided.

Turning from the subject of community care, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) placed great emphasis on inflation, and he was right to do so. He also referred to the need for a larger gap at the point where pensioners reach the age of 80. His remarks concentrated on the 25p addition to the retirement pension, but I remind him that in the case of income support the gap at age 80 is £2·35. I shall certainly refer his suggestion concerning the provision of advice and assistance about Barlow Clowes to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Although I was delighted with my hon. Friend's emphasis on inflation, I was disappointed with the comments of the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) who—I apologise for boring her—has heard through all our debates the explanation of how important is the amount of money that pensioners have to live on and what happens to their living standards. Yet, after all this time, the hon. Lady resolutely sticks to discussing the way in which the retirement pension increased under the Labour Government, albeit at a time when inflation was roaring away and therefore the net result was a minimal increase in the living standards of the elderly, which is of course what really matters to them.

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Shadow Minister (Social Security)

The Minister makes this point over and over again. He is right: he does bore me, because it is an extremely boring point. How on earth he can try to convey to the House that a 5 per cent. real-terms improvement in basic pensions is somehow on a par with the 20 per cent. improvement under a Labour Government I am at a loss to understand.

It is a very simple point. Pensioners were four times better off under the Labour Government than they have been under the present Government.

Photo of Mr Michael Portillo Mr Michael Portillo , Enfield, Southgate

Now I understand. The hon. Lady obviously fails to see the complete illogicality of what she has said. Because pensioners do not live only on retirement pensions paid by the state but on other things as well—because they have savings—what she says does not follow. Their living standards result from a combination of savings, occupational pensions and state retirement pensions, and not from one element in isolation. That is why the hon. Lady is misguided in what she says, and it is possibly why the Government of which she was a member were misguided in what they did.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) referred to the housing benefit capital limit, and the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) seemed to imply in his opening remarks that the capital limit was the only concession that the Government had made on 27 April. That is absolutely untrue. We recognised a series of vulnerable groups who needed help, and we provided it. Although the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) churlishly believes that we should not now advertise that help, we strongly intend to advertise its availability.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester, however, put his finger on a dilemma. If we provide a safety net so that people will receive support whether or not they have been provident and whether or not they have had the opportunity to save, to some extent we will discourage thrift: we cannot escape that. We do not discourage thrift by having a capital limit, but it is discouraged from the moment that a safety net is provided. No hon. Member, however, would say that that safety net should be swept away. We are therefore left with difficult decisions about the point at which we should apply a cut-off on both income and capital, because all those benefits should be related to both.

Having said that, however, let me say how interesting I found my hon. Friend's suggestions about a tax allowance, which I shall certainly pass on to my right hon. Friends at the Treasury.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Dunnachie)—whom I do not see in the Chamber—gave four examples, all involving people whose incomes were well above the income support level and would still be above that level after payment of rent and rates. They all seemed to be people who should apply for transitional protection and I suspect that the same applies to the case raised by the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry).

In my opening remarks I mentioned the obligation that the working population has towards the retired. It is a substantial obligation, and it carries a substantial price. The elderly account for more than half our social security budget—for about £24 billion. They also account for over two fifths of health care spending—over £9 billion—and consume about half of personal social services spending—about £1·5 billion. I mention that not because the working population should begrudge the money, but because they should be aware of it.

First, I think that it represents a fair discharge of that part of the obligation that should be discharged through state agencies. Secondly, anyone working today must be concerned at the way that the numbers will grow by the time we reach retirement. That dictates that we should ourselves make provision where we can, alongside state provision. Thirdly, it emphasises that the well-being of the elderly is critically tied up with economic success.

During the election campaign, the alliance promised pensioners more money. The Labour party saw that bid, and raised it. Yet neither party can be said to have done well out of its grandiose promises. I do not know whether either of the two parties has contemplated why. The reason is that pensioners are not stupid. By definition, they are people of experience. They know when they are being conned. They know that the rate of pensions relies upon continuing economic growth, and they remember inflation, and the Lib-Lab pact, and Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection, Mrs. Williams.

I end with a friendly word of advice to both the SLD and the Labour parties. They will never get elected by underestimating the intelligence of the British pensioner.

I commend the amendment.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 58, Noes 171.

Division No. 400][10.00 pm
AYES
Alton, DavidKirkwood, Archy
Ashton, JoeLivsey, Richard
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)Loyden, Eddie
Beckett, MargaretMcAvoy, Thomas
Boateng, PaulMaclennan, Robert
Boyes, RolandMahon, Mrs Alice
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)Martlew, Eric
Caborn, RichardMaxton, John
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Cartwright, JohnMullin, Chris
Clwyd, Mrs AnnOwen, Rt Hon Dr David
Cohen, HarryPatchett, Terry
Cunliffe, LawrencePendry, Tom
Dewar, DonaldPowell, Ray (Ogmore)
Dixon, DonPrescott, John
Duffy, A. E. P.Salmond, Alex
Dunnachie, JimmyShort, Clare
Eadie, AlexanderSkinner, Dennis
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Faulds, AndrewSteel, Rt Hon David
Flynn, PaulStott, Roger
Galbraith, SamTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
Gordon, MildredVaz, Keith
Haynes, FrankWareing, Robert N.
Hinchliffe, DavidWelsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Home Robertson, JohnWilliams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Howells, Geraint
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)Tellers for the Ayes:
Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn)Mr. James Wallace and Mr. Ronnie Fearn.
Kennedy, Charles
NOES
Alexander, RichardCoombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Alison, Rt Hon MichaelCouchman, James
Allason, RupertCran, James
Amess, DavidDavies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
Amos, AlanDavis, David (Boothferry)
Arbuthnot, JamesDay, Stephen
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Devlin, Tim
Ashby, DavidDouglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Atkinson, DavidDover, Den
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Durant, Tony
Batiste, SpencerEmery, Sir Peter
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyEvennett, David
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)Fallon, Michael
Benyon, W.Favell, Tony
Biggs-Davison, Sir JohnFenner, Dame Peggy
Blackburn, Dr John G.Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Boscawen, Hon RobertFookes, Miss Janet
Boswell, TimForman, Nigel
Bottomley, PeterForsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Bottomley, Mrs VirginiaForth, Eric
Braine, Rt Hon Sir BernardFowler, Rt Hon Norman
Brandon-Bravo, MartinFranks, Cecil
Brazier, JulianFreeman, Roger
Bright, GrahamFrench, Douglas
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)Gale, Roger
Browne, John (Winchester)Gardiner, George
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)Garel-Jones, Tristan
Budgen, NicholasGill, Christopher
Burns, SimonGilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Burt, AlistairGoodhart, Sir Philip
Butcher, JohnGow, Ian
Butler, ChrisGreenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Butterfill, JohnGreenway, John (Ryedale)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Carttiss, MichaelGround, Patrick
Cash, WilliamHanley, Jeremy
Chope, ChristopherHargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Churchill, MrHargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)Harris, David
Colvin, MichaelHawkins, Christopher
Hayward, RobertMoore, Rt Hon John
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)Morris, M (N'hampton S)
Hordern, Sir PeterMoss, Malcolm
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)Moynihan, Hon Colin
Hunt, David (Wirral W)Neale, Gerrard
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)Nelson, Anthony
Hunter, AndrewNeubert, Michael
Irvine, MichaelNewton, Rt Hon Tony
Jack, MichaelPortillo, Michael
Janman, TimRifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Jessel, TobyRyder, Richard
Johnson Smith, Sir GeoffreyShaw, David (Dover)
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Skeet, Sir Trevor
Jones, Robert B (Herts W)Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Kellett-Bowman, Dame ElaineStanbrook, Ivor
Kilfedder, JamesStern, Michael
King, Roger (B'ham N'thlield)Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Knapman, RogerStewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Knowles, MichaelSummerson, Hugo
Knox, DavidTaylor, Ian (Esher)
Lang, IanTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Latham, MichaelTaylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Lawrence, IvanTebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Lennox-Boyd, Hon MarkTemple-Morris, Peter
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Lightbown, DavidThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Lilley, PeterThome, Neil
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)Thurnham, Peter
Lord, MichaelTownend, John (Bridlington)
Macfarlane, Sir NeilTrippier, David
MacGregor, Rt Hon JohnTwinn, Dr Ian
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)Wakeham, Rt Hon John
McNair-Wilson, Sir MichaelWaller, Gary
Mans, KeithWardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Marland, PaulWatts, John
Marlow, TonyWheeler, John
Marshall, Michael (Arundel)Widdecombe, Ann
Martin, David (Portsmouth S)Wilshire, David
Mawhinney, Dr BrianWinterton, Mrs Ann
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir PatrickWinterton, Nicholas
Mellor, DavidWood, Timothy
Meyer, Sir AnthonyYeo, Tim
Miller, Sir Hal
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)Tellers for the Noes:
Moate, RogerMr. David Maclean and Mr. Stephen Dorrell.
Monro, Sir Hector
Montgomery, Sir Fergus

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments):

The House divided: Ayes 152, Noes 54.

Division No. 401][10.13 pm
AYES
Alexander, RichardBrowne, John (Winchester)
Amess, DavidBudgen, Nicholas
Amos, AlanBurns, Simon
Arbuthnot, JamesBurt, Alistair
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Butcher, John
Ashby, DavidButler, Chris
Atkinson, DavidButterfill, John
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Batiste, SpencerCarttiss, Michael
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyCash, William
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)Chope, Christopher
Bevan, David GilroyChurchill, Mr
Blackburn, Dr John G.Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)
Boscawen, Hon RobertCoombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Boswell, TimCouchman, James
Bottomley, PeterCran, James
Bottomley, Mrs VirginiaDavies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
Bowis, JohnDavis, David (Boothferry)
Braine, Rt Hon Sir BernardDay, Stephen
Brandon-Bravo, MartinDevlin, Tim
Brazier, JulianDouglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)Dover, Den
Durant, TonyMacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Emery, Sir PeterMcNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
Evennett, DavidMans, Keith
Fallon, MichaelMarland, Paul
Favell, TonyMarshall, Michael (Arundel)
Fenner, Dame PeggyMartin, David (Portsmouth S)
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Fookes, Miss JanetMayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Forman, NigelMellor, David
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Meyer, Sir Anthony
Forth, EricMiller, Sir Hal
Franks, CecilMitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
French, DouglasMoate, Roger
Gale, RogerMonro, Sir Hector
Gardiner, GeorgeMontgomery, Sir Fergus
Garel-Jones, TristanMoore, Rt Hon John
Gill, ChristopherMorris, M (N'hampton S)
Goodhart, Sir PhilipMoss, Malcolm
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)Neale, Gerrard
Greenway, John (Ryedale)Nelson, Anthony
Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')Neubert, Michael
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)Portillo, Michael
Ground, PatrickRyder, Richard
Hanley, JeremyShaw, David (Dover)
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)Stanbrook, Ivor
Harris, DavidStern, Michael
Hawkins, ChristopherStewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Hayward, RobertStewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)Summerson, Hugo
Hunt, David (Wirral W)Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Hunter, AndrewTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Irvine, MichaelTaylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Jack, MichaelTebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Janman, TimThompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Jessel, TobyThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Johnson Smith, Sir GeoffreyThorne, Neil
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Thurnham, Peter
Jones, Robert B (Herts W)Townend, John (Bridlington)
Kellett-Bowman, Dame ElaineTwinn, Dr Ian
Kilfedder, JamesWakeham, Rt Hon John
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)Waller, Gary
Knapman, RogerWardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Knowles, MichaelWatts, John
Knox, DavidWheeler, John
Lang, IanWiddecombe, Ann
Lawrence, IvanWilshire, David
Lennox-Boyd, Hon MarkWinterton, Mrs Ann
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)Winterton, Nicholas
Lightbown, DavidWood, Timothy
Lilley, PeterYeo, Tim
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Lord, MichaelTellers for the Ayes:
Macfarlane, Sir NeilMr. David Maclean and Mr. Stephen Dorrell.
MacGregor, Rt Hon John
NOES
Alton, DavidEwing, Harry (Falkirk E)
Ashton, JoeEwing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)
Beckett, MargaretFaulds, Andrew
Benn, Rt Hon TonyFearn, Ronald
Bidwell, SydneyGalbraith, Sam
Boateng, PaulGeorge, Bruce
Boyes, RolandGordon, Mildred
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)Haynes, Frank
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Heffer, Eric S.
Cohen, HarryHome Robertson, John
Corbyn, JeremyHowells, Geraint
Cunliffe, LawrenceHughes, Simon (Southwark)
Dewar, DonaldJones, leuan (Ynys Môn)
Dixon, DonKirkwood, Archy
Duffy, A. E. P.Livsey, Richard
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs GwynethLoyden, Eddie
Eadie, AlexanderMcAvoy, Thomas
Evans, John (St Helens N)McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Maclennan, RobertSteel, Rt Hon David
Mahon, Mrs AliceTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
Martlew, EricWallace, James
Maxton, JohnWareing, Robert N
Molyneaux, Rt Hon JamesWelsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Mullin, ChrisWilliams, Alan W (Carm'then)
Patchett, TerryWise, Mrs Audrey
Pendry, Tom
Powell, Ray (Ogmore)Tellers for the Noes:
Salmond, AlexMr. Dennis Skinner and Mr Jimmy Dunnachie
Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)

Question accordingly agreed to.

MR. SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved,That this House congratulates the Government on the success of its policies for pensioners, in particular the control of inflation and the stimulation of the economy, which together have dramatically improved pensioners' total incomes; commends the Government for the increased resources now available to the National Health Service; concurs in the Government's determination to ensure that the considerable resources committed to community care are put to the best possible use; and endorses the recent reforms of social security, not least because they increase the choice of future pension provision.