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Fairness and Security in Old Age

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:50 pm on 10th September 2003.

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Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Conservative, Eastbourne 2:50 pm, 10th September 2003

Well, the hon. Lady has a good degree from a good university, but not everybody is as privileged—[Interruption.] She suggests that I might be able to understand it, but whether everyone will is another matter.

I said that there were two issues. The second is means-testing. My party believes that the entire system is moving in the wrong direction. In 1997, only 37 per cent. of claimants were on means-tested benefits. This year, with the introduction of the pension credit, that figure could reach almost 60 per cent., and it is projected to grow to 73 per cent. by 2025. There are thus two extremely worrying aspects: take-up and means-testing, which promote a cap-in-hand approach for poorer pensioners.

I shall touch on some of the other issues, especially those raised by the Liberal Democrat spokesman. We can all testify to the fact that big council tax rises are extremely regressive, especially for older people. In my constituency, the local council—sadly, it is controlled by the Liberal Democrats—put up its share by 38 per cent. this year, a staggering amount. No wonder the Liberal Democrats are dusting off their old proposals for local income tax, on the basis of "Please stop me before I do it again". If a local council, such as Eastbourne, can make such an increase under the current system, imagine what it could do if it could charge a local income tax, quite apart from the Liberal proposals for an energy tax, which would be even more regressive because utility bills are often painful for pensioners, for regional taxes, more taxes through the European Union and the Liberal version of a new inheritance tax.