[Mr. Roger Gale in the Chair] — Pensioner Poverty

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:19 am on 23rd February 2010.

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Photo of John Mason John Mason Spokesperson (Work and Pensions) 10:19 am, 23rd February 2010

I will try to be reasonably brief and not raise points made already. I congratulate Jo Swinson on obtaining the debate and on being brief in her opening speech. As we are the only two non-Labour MPs in the Greater Glasgow area, I think we have a certain affinity.

The complexity of the benefits system and people not claiming has already been covered, so I shall not spend time on that. However, I wish to underline that it is a huge problem. I recognise-as all hon. Members who have spoken have-that if the system is too complex and uptake is significantly short of where it should be, something is wrong and we need to consider the need to have a much more universal provision, whether that is a citizen's pension or whatever.

Another area on which I would like to touch is the gap between the rich and poor in our society generally. Clearly that issue does not affect only pensioners, but it certainly includes them. When people reach pension age, how much they have, how much they owe and what their wealth is are key factors. A recent report said that the top 10 per cent. in our society have at least £853,000 of wealth and the bottom 10 per cent. have a maximum of £8,800. So the top 10 per cent. have at least 96 times as much as the bottom 10 per cent. I accept that we cannot all be exactly the same, but it seems that 96 times as much is rather too large a figure. Another comparison on the income side is that since 2000, the ratio of FTSE top 100 bosses' income compared with that of an employee has risen from 47:1 to 128:1. That has happened under the Government's regime and shows that there is something seriously wrong. Income during working life clearly has a major impact on one's income as a pensioner.

That leads me to my next point about company pension schemes, which has already been mentioned, particularly by Mr. Pelling. Almost every day, we hear about the closure of final salary schemes and, as he suggested, such a situation is surely storing up problems for the future. It might be cheaper for people not to save in the short term-that is obviously the case for employers-but, in the longer term, we will be left with more of a problem.

We read complaints in the press and from the private sector that the public sector is far too generous in its pension provision, but the reality is that many ordinary public sector workers get a very modest pension when they retire. It is very much the exception rather than the rule that there are huge pensions either in the public or private sector.