Pensioners and Winter Fuel Payments

Part of Opposition Day — [12th Allotted Day – Second Part (Half Day)] – in the House of Commons at 6:23 pm on 22nd November 2011.

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Photo of Jackie Doyle-Price Jackie Doyle-Price Conservative, Thurrock 6:23 pm, 22nd November 2011

It is always a challenge for the Government and the public sector to deliver such schemes in a user-friendly way that makes them available to people and does not dissuade them. We need to continue our principle of using all organisations in society and making them approachable. As my hon. Friend Sarah Newton mentioned, we need to use voluntary groups and the other groups that are closest to pensioners, to encourage them to engage. We can see elements of that starting already in welfare reform. The Government are looking to local authorities to be stronger delivery partners, because they tend to be the organisations with which pensioners have the closest day-to-day contact. We need to think carefully about making support people-friendly and easy to access.

I wish to set the winter fuel payment against the broader context of what the Government are doing for pensioners. They have confirmed that they will be keeping other benefits, such as free TV licences, prescriptions and eye tests, and they have set aside £650 million to help local authorities freeze council tax. We should all recognise that council tax has been a real problem and has contributed to pensioners’ financial difficulties. As we know, if local authorities can limit their budget increases to 2.5%, the Government will meet the cost of the freeze. In recent years the average increase in council tax has been quite significant, and it has been a pernicious bill for many households.

I particularly wish to congratulate the Government on restoring the earnings link to pensions and introducing the triple lock to guarantee an increase in the basic state pension of the highest of earnings, prices or 2.5%. That measure will go further than any other in addressing pensioner poverty. It will give pensioners a firm financial foundation from the state and guarantee a more generous state pension. That is the essential goal of what we are trying to do—we want to ensure that everyone is guaranteed an income that will prevent them from being in poverty.