The latest figures available show that in 1988, 50 per cent. of pensioners were owner-occupiers, of whom 46 per cent. owned their homes outright. That compares well with 1979, when only 38 per cent. owned their homes outright.
With more and more pensioners owing their homes outright, and with eight out of 10 recently retired pensioners having an income from investment and savings, is it not reasonable to recognise a measure of prosperity among pensioners? If resources are to be used to increase pensions, should they not be used to target those in greatest need, rather than spreading across the board and benefiting both rich and poor? Does not the idea of giving out a blanket provision look like political bribery in an election year?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It not only looks like political bribery—it probably is. It is perhaps worth pointing out that in the past three years we have spent some £350 million on the poorer pensioners. Whereas it is right to make sure that the value of the basic state pension is preserved for all income brackets we believe that any extra resources should be directed to the poorer end. The Labour party may well find that by the time it has spent billions of pounds on all income levels it will not have the extra money to spend on those who need it most. That is the price that Labour will have to pay for its policy, in the unlikely event of its ever being able to implement it.
Is the Minister not aware that a significant number of pensioners who own their own homes are among the poorest in the country? Many have all their capital tied up in their homes and have to use the meagre resources of the basic state retirement pension to repair and restore their homes and to pay their heating bills? Is not that situation made even worse by the massive Government cuts in renovation grants for elderly people? Will the Government recognise that the only way that many of those pensioners will have a happy and healthy retirement is through a substantial increase in the basic rate of income of at least £5 for a single person and £8 per couple, which is the commitment of the Labour party and which is supported by pensioner groups throughout the country as was shown by a recent lobby of Parliament by pensioners from the north-west which was supported by many Conservative Members?
When those same pensioners understand that blanket commitments of that type will erode the extra money available to help the poorer end, they may take rather a different view. When they also understand that housing costs play a proportionately lower part in pensioners' expenditure in England than in the rest of Europe, they may be grateful for the way in which we have promoted home ownership. If 50 per cent. of those retiring now own their own homes, they do so thanks almost solely to the policies pursued and enacted by the Government. We have made a major contribution to the overall income of pensioners, while all that the Labour party has to offer is inflationary erosion of savings, a failure in home ownership and many other schemes that Labour has offered; although such proposals make it seem that pensioners are better off, because they are offered with other features, in reality it is a small percentage rise. Labour has nothing new to offer. We saw the effects of those policies and, in the unlikely event of the Labour party taking power, we shall see them again.