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Volume 927: debated on Tuesday 8 March 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services when he last met representatives of pensioners' organisations.

I met a deputation from the National Federation of Old-age Pensions Associations on 2nd February.

Did the right hon. Gentleman tell them that, like the Financial Treasury to the Treasury, he is heartily ashamed of the fact that personal allowances on earnings and pensions are as low as they are? Did he explain that the increased cost of living has not been matched by a more generous death grant—indeed, that the Government have not increased the grant at all? Has not the time come, in this period of inflation, to deal with this hard-pressed section of the community far more generously than the Government have dealt with them so far?

I did not say what the hon. Gentleman suggested. The hon. Gentleman knows, and the deputation recognised, that pensions and other long-term and short-term benefits have been totally excluded from the public expenditure cuts. Therefore, we have fulfilled our commitment to the electorate to protect the elderly, the sick, the unemployed and the disabled against the effects of the economic situation. I pointed out to the deputation that in December 1976, immediately following the uprating in November, the single person's pension rate represented 33 per cent. of the average net earnings of a male industrial manual worker and the married couple's rate was 51 per cent. It is the first time ever that we have achieved those targets—

I shall come to the death grant. It is the first time that we have achieved those targets in relation to earnings, and that is a considerable achievement. It is not possible to increase the death grant at present.

What excuse does the right hon. Gentleman now give for last year's pension fiddle? What do the Government intend to do to bring the real purchasing value of the pension back to what it was in April 1975?

A matter concerning this has been brought before the High Court, and it would be improper for me to comment. I do not for a moment accept what the hon. Gentleman says about a pensions fiddle. When we raised pensions in November, we rightly fully covered pensioners against the effects of inflation over the previous 12 months.

Does not my right hon. Friend appreciate that old-age pensioners in some areas—perhaps in all areas—are not being sheltered from the public spending cuts? Does he not read the newspapers as I do and notice that several county councils and other councils are withdrawing various benefits from pensioners and that the bus tokens which had a face value of £5 five years ago are almost worthless today? Are not these things the effects of spending cuts which local councils are having to impose? Will he not give an instruction to local authorities to do as my local council, Bolsover District Council, does and issue free television licences to all old-age pensioners?

I welcome what my hon. Friend says about his own council, but I cannot give such an instruction as he requests. What I have clearly said is that we give high priority in the social service work of local authorities to the care and help of aged people. They take a high priority in terms of community services and the provision of nurses, home helps and meals on wheels. These are the services which are being given the highest priority. In the anouncement that I made last week about the £21 million of new money which is available for joint financing, I said that this also will be concentrated on providing services—residential and day care services—within the community for elderly people.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give the House and the pensioners an assurance that, in the next pensions uprating, he will consider the full period over which they should be uprated so that, unlike what happened last year, the pensioners get genuine compensation for the inflation which they are bearing?

I can give an assurance to the House and the country, as I did to the National Federation of Old-age Pensions Associations, that there will be an uprating. It will be in November, and I gave a guarantee that it will cover the change in the value of money in terms of the retail price index between the time when the uprating is made and the last uprating in November last year.