Two million pensioners are now £15 a week better off as a direct result of what the Government have done since 1997. The minimum income guarantee take-up campaign has encouraged thousands to claim, and resulted in significant improvements to the service delivered to pensioners.
No, I do not. As my right hon. Friend the Minister of State said, just over 900,000 people have responded as a result of our advertising campaign. If stigma or a reluctance to claim were the problem, 900,000 people would not have responded. The facts rather contradict the argument of the hon. Gentleman. The big problem that the Conservatives have is not that they are somehow concerned about means-tested benefits, but that they do not like paying more money to people who need help and would take it away if they got back in.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that around 50 per cent. of women pensioners do not get the full pension because they could not or did not pay full national insurance contributions and that the minimum income guarantee for pensioners—far from being a gimmick or window-dressing—is an important way of redressing the disadvantages that women have experienced from the social security system and the labour market?
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to one of the problems of the present pension system. The basic state pension has many strengths and attractions, but one of its weaknesses is that someone without the required number of contributions will not get a full pension. Many women—particularly those who did not pay the full contributions up until 1977—are retiring with pensions that are below even the basic state pension. We introduced the minimum income guarantee to make sure that all pensioners were guaranteed just that, a minimum, from next week, of more than £92 a week. The pension credit will be of great help to women who have some savings. As it will increase in line with earnings, it will benefit women significantly. All those measures are, of course, opposed by the Conservative party.
Can the Secretary of State now give us an answer to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) by saying what proportion of pensioners are on means-tested benefits now, and that proportion will be on such benefits in 2003?
The answer is about 9 per cent. I make no apology for the fact that we are paying more money than ever before to pensioners whose incomes were so low that they had to depend on income support. Unlike the Conservative party, we are determined to spend more on helping the pensioners who need help most, as well as making the long-term reforms to the pension system that were long overdue. We will change the social security system so that the pension credit ensures that people who have saved or put a little money by are rewarded for their thrift. Every one of those measures has been opposed by the Conservative party.