asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement on his intentions concerning the payment of a Christmas bonus to pensioners.
As my right hon. Friend announced on 17th October, we propose that a Christmas bonus of £10 will be paid in the week beginning 4th December to more than 10 million retirement pensioners, widows and the chronically sick and disabled. A Bill for this purpose was introduced on 2nd November. I shall publish in the Official Report details of the categories who will receive the bonus.
The whole House will welcome this decision by the Government, but is the Minister aware that the bonus is now worth less than half what it was when it was first introduced by the Conservative Government in 1972? Bearing in mind that pensioners, of all people, are those hardest hit by inflation, why have not the Government done something to upgrade the bonus to compensate for the fall in the value of money?
Pensions will be increased substantially this year because they are kept in line with earnings as opposed to prices. Since this Government came to office, pensions have increased in real terms by more than 20 per cent.With regard to the £10 bonus, of course the Government would have liked to do more. Quite frankly, we virtually emptied the contingency reserve to meet the £10 bonus this year.
Will the Minister and the Government consider extending this bonus to one-parent families, for whom Christmas can be a very trying time, both emotionally and financially?
We considered those people along with other categories, such as the long-term unemployed. Again, it was a matter of finance. The bonus itself will cost £106 million, and including other categories would have meant more public expenditure, but I certainly take note of what the hon. Gentleman said.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that for pensioners this Christmas bonus is now here to stay? Therefore, instead of having to pass a separate Act of Parliament every year, would it not be a good idea to pass one now in perpetuity? If we do not do that, we are in the position of being accused of "pensioneering" when we leave the announcement until the end of each year.
As my hon. Friend knows, the Government reintroduced the bonus last year, and we are paying it again this year. What happens in future years will be a matter for Parliament.
Following are the details:
Categories who will receive the Christmas bonus
A Christmas bonus of £10 will be paid in the week beginning 4th December to those who, in that week, are entitled to—
- Retirement pension;
- Supplementary pension;
- Widow's pension under the national insurance, war pension or industrial injuries schemes;
- Invalidity pension, including non-contributory invalidity pension;
- Attendance allowance;
- Invalid care allowance;
- Unemployability supplement or allowance payable under the industrial injuries or war pension schemes.
It will also be paid to any war pensioners over pension age who are retired but not receiving one of these benefits.
The cost, which will be borne on the contingency reserve,will be about £106 million.
National insurance retirement and widow pensioners paid by order book will get their bonus automatically when they go to the post office for their pension for the week beginning 4th December. Others who qualify will be paid by Giro cheque or payable order issued by offices of the Department of Health and Social Security.