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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

It is, rightly, not the job of central Government to set the level of local council taxes. We all want to see more localism. It is, however, the task of central Government to fund local government adequately. In real terms, we have put in an extra £9 billion since 1997, and this year's expenditure settlement was above the level of inflation. These are issues that citizens have to talk to their local councillors about. That is why we have local government. Our job is to fund local government as best we can—I believe that we are doing that—and, in terms of old people's incomes, to pursue the programmes that I outlined earlier.

When I ask the many elderly people I know about the issues that count, they talk about safety, antisocial behaviour and the fear of crime. I talked to many people in my constituency over the summer about what was on their mind. It is always salutary to talk to people in the real world, as opposed to the world that some of us inhabit for too many months of the year here in Westminster. The issues out there are not always the same as those we discuss here; indeed, they are often very different. I have been struck by people's concern about crime and antisocial behaviour. We know that, among old people, the fear of crime is a major issue.

We are doing many things to address the problem. Eighty-five neighbourhood warden schemes have been developed or extended, working in communities to tackle the fear of crime. There are more police officers across the country. Schemes such as "locks for pensioners" have provided security upgrades for pensioners on low incomes who live in areas where the burglary rate is above average. We are investing £170 million in 683 closed-circuit television schemes across England and Wales to make our towns safer. These things are important. Transport is important, too. Access to public transport is absolutely vital, as are the half-fare discounts that we have introduced since June 2001, which have helped some 7 million older and disabled people in England.

In regard to adopting a positive approach to ageing, I would place an emphasis on education and lifelong learning opportunities. I once had the honour of being the Minister for Lifelong Learning, and I always recognised, as many elderly people do, that retirement is the new learning zone. Education is not just about younger people.