I congratulate Jo Swinson on securing this debate. I thank her for the information that she shared and the Minister for her interventions. It shows the value of having intelligent debates in Westminster Hall about issues such as pensioner poverty.
It is worth recording that the state pension came about just over 100 years ago after enormous campaigning and pressure by Radical organisations, trade unions and Churches and was finally forced into being through Lloyd George's Budget. The pension had a mixed history for a long time. Although it was designed to alleviate the most appalling poverty, it never succeeded totally in doing so, as it tended to rise and fall depending on how successful or otherwise the economy was. During the deep recession of the 1930s, the pension did not go anywhere near meeting the needs of the poorest. It has always been a sticking plaster rather than a solution to the issue of pensioner poverty, as I am sure my professor colleague Steve Webb would agree.
The great step forward in pensions came in 1975, with the late Barbara Castle's heroic legislation. In the teeth of an economic problem, massive inflation rates and huge demands on public spending, she managed through force of personality to persuade the Cabinet to pass groundbreaking pensions legislation that recognised pensioner poverty as well as discrimination against women and those not in any of the then big occupational industrial pension schemes. It introduced the state earnings-related pension scheme to accommodate those who were not in any other supplementary scheme and ensured that the state pension rose year on year in line with inflation or earnings, whichever was larger.
The state pension as a proportion of average earnings rose considerably during the next five years while that link was maintained, despite all the economic problems that this country faced during that period. We should pause for a moment to recognise Barbara Castle's great work and the heroism surrounding it. It must have been extremely difficult to get such legislation through the Cabinet at the time.