I hope that they will not compromise the provision of the freedom pass. There is no threat to the freedom pass in London as long as the local authorities ensure it is provided. Under the Conservative Government of the 1980s, we saved the pass in London only through a consortium of local authorities and last minute changes in the legislation. The freedom pass is important.
We must also look at caring and nursing costs. The provision of care arrangements is often inadequate. The use of agency staff by local authorities for the care of frail elderly people in the home means that there is often a lack of continuity in care. We must look at the quality of care that is provided because it is patchy. There is nothing better than a publicly employed person with a secure job whose responsibility is to look after an elderly person in their home. The same person should go everyday so that a good relationship is built up. That is good support for the community. If that work is done by contractors and agencies with different people going in everyday, it is distressing and disturbing for the elderly people and we end up with a less harmonious and less happy society.
I will conclude with the suggestions put forward by the National Pensioners Convention to the Work and Pensions Committee on tackling pensioner poverty in Britain. It outlined many issues concerning the level of the state pension. We should recognise the great work of the National Pensioners Convention, which is an effective campaigning body, in not only mobilising large numbers of elderly people across the country, but bringing to the attention of younger and middle-aged people in work that it is their responsibility to campaign for decent pension provision and to ensure the elimination of poverty in retirement.
I will quote two points made by the National Pensioners Convention:
"The National Insurance Fund remains the most secure way of funding decent pensions in retirement, but its status is being undermined by the government's policy of using the excessive balance held in the Fund for public expenditure other than that of pensions and benefits for which it is intended".
There is a serious debate to be had about that. The next point states:
"The basic state pension provides the most obvious and effective method of tackling pensioner poverty, both now and in the future. It should be set above the officially recognised poverty level and paid universally to all pensioners. This could be easily afforded by introducing a number of changes to the national insurance and taxation systems".
Essentially, the point is that it is the responsibility of us all, through national insurance and taxation systems, to ensure that pensioners receive enough money to live on decently and safely in retirement. It is simply not right that people go through the disfigurements of poverty, borrowing from children or just trying to scrape by. As I said, the welfare state should apply to pensioner income as much as it applies to health and education.