Pensioners and Winter Fuel Payments

Part of Opposition Day — [12th Allotted Day – Second Part (Half Day)] – in the House of Commons at 5:09 pm on 22nd November 2011.

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Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions 5:09 pm, 22nd November 2011

My hon. Friend is quite right. In Northern Ireland, dependence on heating oil is substantially greater than it is on the mainland and even in a semi-rural constituency such as my own, oil prices, oil supply and so on are big issues. I am grateful for her kind words about our ministerial colleagues as these are important matters.

Let me go back to the issue of fuel poverty. Clearly, it has a number of components and one is income. We focused on a change from last year’s rate to this year’s of less than £1 a week in the winter fuel payment and that is what we are talking about today. Instead, we have taken the basic state pension, which for 30 years has been declining relative to wages, and put a triple lock on it so that every year from now on, pensioners in Great Britain and Northern Ireland will see their pensions rise by the highest number of inflation measured by the consumer prices index, earnings and 2.5%. We are in a strange period in which inflation is greater than earnings, but in most years, earnings have grown faster. That will mean that as we return to more normal times, pensioners will enjoy above inflation standard of living increases year after year.

The cost of that commitment—I hope that the Chancellor is not listening at this point—will add a total of £45 billion to the amount we spend on pensions by the mid-2020s, which gives a sense of the magnitude of what we have announced. That is rather invisible at the moment, because prices are higher than earnings. When I signed the legislation into law last year, I expected bells to peal and for there to be confetti on the floor and so on. That has not quite happened yet, because people have not seen the impact. In the longer term, it will give a sustained boost to the real incomes of pensioners in Northern Ireland and Great Britain.