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Fairness and Security in Old Age

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:14 pm on 10th September 2003.

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Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister for pensions, Department for Work and Pensions 1:14 pm, 10th September 2003

I recognise that issue, and discussions with banks are proceeding.

Given that I am the Minister for Pensions, I have understandably focused on pensions issues, but it is important for us to recognise, as the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam did, that there is a wider agenda. A specific issue that is close to my heart is the need to attack fuel poverty. As a young researcher, I worked on the appalling problem of hypothermia, which became known as the "old and cold" problem. It is a scandal that people die in the winter simply because they are too cold to live.

I am proud of the way in which we are tackling the problem. There is still some way to go, but the UK fuel poverty strategy, published in November 2001, was the first of its kind in the world. It set out a coherent programme to end the blight of fuel poverty for vulnerable households by 2010. What have we done so far? In England, the home energy efficiency scheme—now marketed as warm front—has assisted more than 600,000 households, and more than 30,000 new gas central heating systems have been installed. Grants have been increased to £2,500 for the over-60s. I am sure that all hon. Members who have visited elderly people benefiting from the scheme and seen the joy on their faces as they realised that they could now live in a warm home will back the project. The scandal of fuel poverty must be eradicated; it is a 19th century problem that should not have lingered on into the 21st century.

In terms of a healthier old age—which will be dealt with by the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet—the extra resources that we are putting into the national health service are absolutely vital, as are the extra resources that we are putting into social services. My hon. Friend will also deal with some of the issues raised by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam in that regard.

We have set out programmes to improve the health and well-being of older people in the national service framework, which was published in March 2001. The framework delivers the commitments to older people made in the NHS plan. It tackles the differing levels of access to services and is rooting out age discrimination in the national health service. The framework will raise the quality and standards of health and social care for older people.