I am extremely grateful to the Minister; as usual one must wait for a public announcement, rather than a response to a private letter. None the less, I am grateful for an answer for which the pensioners to whom I referred have been waiting for a year and a half or two years.
The Minister will be aware of the grey power of these pensioner conventions and forums. They are getting increasingly fed up with not being listened to and, as they see it, with being preached at. They are no longer happy to remain a silent minority.
At the end of the conference on better government for older people, the Prime Minister said:
"We can make a real difference to the lives of older people by engaging them in strategic planning and policy making. We can ensure that our services are delivered in the right way by consulting with and listening to them."
Those are Empty words to the tens of thousands of pensioners who now live in a state of heightened anxiety.
Help the Aged has said that the Government's approach to pensioners reflected widespread discrimination against older people in public policy. Research has shown that one in two Britons believe that older people are treated as if they were on the scrap heap. That is not exactly a ringing endorsement of the Prime Minister's approach and I suspect that that is a sentiment shared by his father-in-law, who is active in these matters.
Another worrying factor is the crisis of confidence that the Government have now created. There was the derisory 75p rise in the pension and, as we have heard this afternoon, the £5 billion a year raid on pensions resulting from the reforms to advance corporation tax. We have also seen the acceleration in closures of final salary pension schemes resulting from that short-sighted act. The Prime Minister has argued that the market has compensated because the stock market is now doing so well. My belief is that the stock market has come off another 130 points today, so that argument now rings rather hollow.
Yesterday, we had the most recent admission: that the Government have been working on grossly over-estimated figures for the level of contribution to funded pension arrangements. All these factors are making the savers of today—the pensioners of tomorrow—deeply cynical about the idea of a pension at all.
When that is combined with the worrying drop in the savings ratio—which is at its lowest since records began in 1963—we begin to get some idea of the scale of the problem. There is a very real possibility that millions of people will retire without enough money to live on.
It is not just the pensioners whom the Government must now seek to convince. It is all those people in work who are thinking about their retirement and do not wish to be dependent on the state, which, to my way of thinking, is always an unreliable source of largesse.
It is perhaps timely to remember what the last great Liberal, David Lloyd George—