asked the Prime Minister what improvements the Government have made in the circumstances of retirement pensioners since 1979.
The Government's pledge to protect the value of retirement pensions has been fully honoured. When the new rates announced on 18 June by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services come into force in November 1985, the pension will have risen by 96·4 per cent. since November 1978, some ten percentage points more than the expected rise in prices over the same period.The method of uprating pensions has been changed so that increases are now based on the actual rate of inflation rather than on uncertain forecasts of price changes.The pensioners' earnings rule has been increased to £70 a week and will be further increased to £75 a week in November.The capital limit for supplementary benefit was raised to £3,000 in November 1983, the capital limit for single payments was raised to £500 and the first £1,500 of the surrender valie of life assurance policies is now disregarded in relation to supplementary benefit entitlement: all of which help pensioners with savings.Help with heating costs reached an estimated level of £400 million in 1984–85, about £140 million more in real terms than under the last Labour Government. Over 90 per cent. of supplementary pensioners now receive a heating addition.The Christmas bonus has been made a permanent statutory entitlement.In November 1984 the residence test for the non-contributory over-80's pension was relaxed so that the 10 years' residence test could be completed after age 80, enabling people who returned to this country from abroad after age 70 to qualify for the pension.We have taken steps to ensure that from November 1985 married women over 80 who qualify for the non-contributory pension will receive it at the full rate instead of a reduced rate.We have abolished the residual effects of the married women's half-test with effect from December 1984, enabling 25,000 married women who reached age 60 before April 1979 to receive a pension on their own contributions.Finally, the Government's most important achievement for pensioners — and for all those living on fixed incomes—has been to bring down the rate of inflation and to keep it in single figures for four succesive years.