Senior Citizens (Poverty)

First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:00 pm on 25th January 2007.

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Photo of John Swinburne John Swinburne SSCUP 12:00 pm, 25th January 2007

To ask the First Minister what further action the Scottish Executive will take to address the essential needs of senior citizens who are currently living below Government-defined poverty levels despite previous initiatives which provided free bus travel, free central heating and free personal care. (S2F-2670)

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

As John Swinburne recognises, we have taken significant steps to address pensioner poverty, lifting 120,000 pensioners from relative poverty since 1997. The work will continue, as is evidenced by the recent expansion of the free central heating programme.

Photo of John Swinburne John Swinburne SSCUP

Does the First Minister agree that fuel poverty among the elderly is a national disgrace? Fuel bills have doubled over the past three years. Since June 2006, wholesale prices of gas have dropped by more than 60 per cent, but no reduction has been offered to the consumer. Fuel suppliers in Scotland have diverse schemes whereby senior citizens can obtain rebates or deductions if they meet certain criteria. Senior citizens call that "the well-concealed kindly face" of the fuel companies. Will the First Minister consider calling an urgent meeting of the chairmen and chief executives of the main fuel suppliers in Scotland with a view to getting an across-the-board collective agreement for a 20 per cent reduction in the tariff charges to every pensioner household in Scotland, effective immediately, in return for doing away with their "well-concealed kindly face" schemes? Such an agreement could save countless lives this winter.

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

When fuel prices at source go down, the fuel and energy companies should reflect that in their prices—not only because of the positive impact it would have on pensioners but because of the positive impact it would have on hard-working families too.

I will reiterate something I said to the chamber before Christmas. The previous Minister for Communities met the energy companies about this issue. I will be happy to ensure that the new Minister for Communities supplies Mr Swinburne with information on the outcome of those meetings and on the actions that the companies have promised to undertake.

I am sure that discussions with the companies will continue, as will our efforts, in our own right and under our own responsibilities—yes—to put pressure on private companies to get their pricing systems right and to ensure through our public responsibilities that we provide the sorts of services for elderly people that not only ensure they are looked after well, but ensure that they are able to look after themselves well.

Photo of John Swinburne John Swinburne SSCUP

My final question is on a positive note. Will the First Minister consider fast-tracking a bill to means test prisoners? Senior citizens are currently means tested and regularly lose their homes to pay for residential care. If prisoners were means tested and they were awarded £1,000 for losing the right to vote or £3,000 for having to slop out, it could be pointed out to them that it costs more than £30,000 a year to have them incarcerated and that the sums awarded to them could simply be deducted from the £30,000, reducing their debt to society. Let the no win, no fee lawyers handle that one.

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

John Swinburne perhaps speaks for many of us in the sentiments behind his question.

I believe in the principle of ensuring that we can pursue those who are responsible for the most serious crimes in our society. That is precisely why there are new provisions, for example on the proceeds of crime, whereby we can ensure that the profits that drug barons and others have made from their crimes are recovered for the public purse and invested in communities, to ensure that the communities that have been damaged are assisted in being repaired.

Although the member's suggested scheme might not be conventional—it might not be legal—in expressing the principles that lie behind it and his emotional reaction to what seems to be an exceptionally unfair ruling that is bemusing victims and witnesses across the country, perhaps John Swinburne speaks for the whole land.