To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will consider establishing intermediate supplementary assistance on a short-term basis to assist older employees suffering unexpected redundancies; and what information he has on the practice in other countries in respect of short-run social security help to complement conventional unemployment payments made from public funds for older members of the work force.
A range of social security payments may be claimed by older workers who are made redundant in addition to redundancy payments from their employer, which are based on age and length of service.
The Department regularly collects information about social security provisions in other countries. However, international comparisons are often misleading because of the wide range of factors, including provisions outside the social security system, which need to be taken into account.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that comprehensive reply. We all hope that the recession is beginning to abate and that there will soon be an upturn in the economy. However, there will be a time lag, which is particularly hard on the growing number of redundancies of people who are 50-plus, because such people experience difficulty getting other jobs. We all know of such cases in our constituencies. Will my right hon. Friend consider some additional mechanism, bearing in mind the fact that it is Government policy to try to tailor some benefits to individual needs?
The latest figures, which I think reflect the latest analysis in detail, show that the number of unemployed over the age of 50 fell by about 45,000 between April 1989 and April 1991. I do not intend to build too much on that, but it is an interesting point. Those who become unemployed and entitled to income support after the age of 60 are entitled to what in other circumstances would be called the pensioner premium. That may assuage some of my hon. Friend's concern.
Does the Secretary of State accept that they are the very people who are facing an ever-diminishing state pension? They read about the massive profits announced by the electricity companies over the last week or so and hear of fat salaries being paid to the chairman and directors of British Gas. Will the Secretary of State give those people some hope for the future by restoring pensions to the levels at which they would have been if they had been index-linked in the way that they were under the last Labour Government?
The hon. Gentleman would not wish to mislead anybody. The retirement pension has been index-linked to the retail prices index and its value has been fully and faithfully protected. The social reality reflected in the earlier answers from my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) is that this age group includes a growing number of people benefiting from the development of occupational and personal pensions.