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Mr. Flynn: Does my hon. Friend recall that there was a substantial sum known as the Treasury supplement which was paid into the national insurance fund from 1911 to the mid-1980s, to which all those who are pensioners today have contributed? Therefore, one cannot measure the pension only using national insurance contributions; one has to take into account the sums paid through the Treasury supplement, which was interrupted in the late 1980s by the Conservatives.
Mr. Foster: I accept my hon. Friend's point that pensioners have made a contribution greater than their national insurance contributions alone. My point is that, often, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives imply that national insurance contributions alone could pay for a pension greater than that which pensioners now receive. That is far from the truth. If the sums involved in national insurance contributions were paid into a private scheme, as the Conservatives would have us do, the resulting pension would be far smaller than the one that is currently paid. Their calculations are invalid. Whether or not they have been able to contribute through taxation, people's broader contribution to society should be taken into account.
I strongly support the Government's desire to improve the lot of all pensioners while simultaneously targeting the greatest benefits on those in greatest need. However, I believe that there is a weakness in the way we attract claims from those who are deserving of extra help. The problem is that we have mixed up supplementary pensions with the income support system: there is a significant difference between those who require temporary assistance while awaiting employment opportunities, for example, and those who have completed their years of toil and now look forward to security in retirement.
The supplementary pension that is sometimes necessary to produce a minimum guaranteed income should not be referred to as "income support". It is a supplementary pension for which people have worked and which they deserve. The perceived degradation of older people claiming an income support payment could easily be alleviated by changing the name of the payment--perhaps by using the term "supplementary pension" to refer to that special payment applied only to older people who require extra help.
I do not accept, as is sometimes suggested by the Government in answer to questions, that legislation is required to change the terminology on a form. That could be done without a great deal of effort. When the next version of the form is printed, perhaps the heading could be something other than "Income Support".
I commend the Government for their work in targeting groups that may be eligible, but while the term "income support" persists, there will be those who refuse to claim it. Many pensioners, rightly or wrongly, associate income support with folk sitting outside McDonald's with their dogs and their begging bowls. That is not an image that pensioners are prepared to accept.
I plead with the Government to look again at the administrative apparatus for delivering the minimum income pension. That should refer to a minimum retirement income, and the difference between other incomes and that level should be made up by a retirement supplement.
Terminology is important. To some extent pensioners have been aided by the introduction of telephone claims, but they will not fill in forms that warn of the dire consequences of fraud. More work needs to be done on that. However well-meaning Department of Social Security staff are, specially trained staff are needed to work with the claims of elderly people. Pensioner applicants are not skivers and must not be made to feel uncomfortable when they make their claims.
Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam): The hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Mr. Foster) referred to the Liberal Democrats' commitment to additional investment in public services early in the life of the present Parliament. Hon. Members on both sides will recall that on a number of occasions we highlighted what we believed to be weaknesses in public services that needed early investment. It is only recently that the Prime Minister has acknowledged those weaknesses and the fact that the Government failed to invest in the early days of their Administration to address them. For that reason, we continue to have NHS winter crisis after winter crisis.
Mr. Corbyn: I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman's point about investment in the public services. In a spare moment, will he ask Islington Liberal Democrats why they are closing day centres for the elderly, other day centres and luncheon clubs?
Mr. Burstow: One of the reasons, I suspect, is that the Government have decided that the data changes that would lead to an increase in standard spending assessments for London this year will not come through. Consequently, London will lose substantial resources. I imagine that that causes concern to the hon. Gentleman as well. I shall bear in mind what he said and find out whether that is, indeed, the case.
I return to the subject on which I intended to speak--long-term care. At the last Labour party conference before the 1997 general election, the then Leader of the Opposition, now the Prime Minister, gave this pledge:
Three years on and one royal commission later, what is left of the Prime Minister's promise? Nothing but bitter disappointment and a sense of betrayal among many people outside. What do the Government propose to put in place of the Prime Minister's pledge to the Labour party conference in 1997? The sop offered by Government is that nursing care will be free in future. Legislation will be needed to bring that about, and it will not start until 2003 at the earliest.
Everyone in the country, and many of my constituents to whom I have spoken directly about the matter, thought that nursing care was free anyway. They are puzzled about why the Government intend to give them the great gift of free nursing care.
The message about the Government's views on long-term care is plain. Care is free for those who have a medical condition from which they can recover. That applies to every aspect of the care: hotel accommodation, food, personal care and nursing care costs. Everything is free, and so it should be. That is part of our commitment to a universal, free health-care system. However, care for those who suffer from a chronic medical condition such as Parkinson's disease or dementia comes with a bill attached. Liberal Democrats are clear and unequivocal about our commitment to making personal care free on the basis of an assessment of need.
Mr. Burstow: If the hon. Gentleman had read on, he would have realised that we are also committed to funding all personal care. It is clearly stated in the same document. During our previous debate on the subject, the hon. Gentleman did not have a copy of the alternative Budget. I am glad that he now has it. He can read that it goes on to refer to a first step towards implementing the royal commission's proposals for free personal care.
Mr. Burstow: I shall not give way because I have answered the hon. Gentleman's point. The royal commission's recommendations are also clear. It was right to recommend that personal care should be free.
With chronic health conditions, it is difficult to predict or anticipate the way in which the risk will fall on an individual, and whether someone will need long-term care. Consequently, the costs fall disproportionately on a few people. We believe that the costs of long-term care should be spread across the whole community and ultimately met through taxation. The royal commission also took that view after undertaking the inquiry that the Government requested to ascertain the way in which we can construct a fair, effective and sustainable system for financing long-term care. Unfortunately, the Government chose to miss the opportunity of accepting the royal commission's proposals. Instead, they plumped for short-term fix. We have had what could be described as an adjournment of the debate on long-term care. The Government will return to it because they must do that.