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The Paymaster General (Dawn Primarolo): The Government are committed to tackling pensioner poverty and helping those in greatest need. The Government introduced the minimum income guarantee and are committed to raising that in line with earnings throughout this Parliament. From 2003, the pension credit will ensure that those with a modest amount of savings stand to gain on average just over £400 a year.
Dr. Kumar: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Last week, I met the Cleveland pensioners convention forum. Pensioners told me that they support the Government strongly for all they are doing to tackle poverty among pensioners, but that they are concerned about one issue:
Dawn Primarolo: I share, as I am sure do all hon. Members, the concern felt by my hon. Friend about the care of elderly people in our society. In England, the Government's key priority is to improve services for older people by promoting independence and minimising the need for institutional care. Overall, the Government will be making available an extra £1.4 billion a year for older people's services. That will emphasise the importance of maintaining the health and independence of older people, preventing unnecessary ill health, ensuring that health and social services are working in partnership and that older people have fair access to services, and making the funding fairer. The Government have decided that that is the best and quickest way to restore to older people the independence and the care that they say they so desperately want to be re-established.
Dawn Primarolo: I am proud that the Government have introduced the minimum income guarantee, raised pensions and established the £200 fuel allowance for pensioners. We are now spending around £6 billion a year extra on pensioners, which includes £2.5 billion more being spent on the poorest third of pensioners in our society. As I said, the pension credit to be introduced in 2003 will further increase the resources going to the very poorest. That is the way to tackle the poverty among pensioners that we inherited from the Conservative Government.
Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington): The Government's strategy to tackle pensioner poverty rests on the minimum income guarantee, which is a means-tested benefit. The widening use of such benefits is dubious enough anyway, but their use in relation to pensioners is especially doubtful. Successive Governments have found that, however much is spent on the take-up campaign, there will always be a substantial proportion of pensioners who are too proud to claim means-tested benefits. Does my hon. Friend agree that a strategy to counter pensioner poverty that rests on means-tested benefits always risks leaving a substantial number of pensioners in poverty?
Dawn Primarolo: As my hon. Friend will know, the Government are doing far more for pensioners in addition to the minimum income guarantee. The full state pension for a single pensioner will rise by £3 in April. That is on top of last year's increase of £5, £4.55 more than the normal inflation rise, and £2.10 more than the earnings link would have produced over those two years. In 2003, the annual basic state pension will rise by £100 for single pensioners. In the future, it will always increase by at least 2.5 per cent., even if the retail prices index is lower. I think that my hon. Friend would agree that, alongside the minimum income guarantee, the increase in the basic
Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): The Minister's final statistics will not wash with pensioners because the Government are busy increasing pensioner poverty by pushing up council tax by three times the rate of inflation. Does the Minister realise that more than 1 million pensioners now have to pay more than 10 per cent. of their disposable income in council tax? I hope that the Minister believes that fuel poverty is unacceptable, so why are the Government creating council tax poverty?
Dawn Primarolo: That is truly breathtaking from a member of a party that introduced the poll tax, forcing millions of pensioners into long-term poverty to pay it, put VAT on fuel for pensioners and denied decent rises in the basic state pension to every pensioner in the country. Pensioners are better off under the policies that the Government are pursuing and it is about time that the hon. Gentleman recognised that.
John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland): The Minister will be aware that my constituency has one of the highest concentrations of people over 60 not only in the United Kingdom but in Europe. Nearly a third of the electorate is over the age of 60. Although we have the minimum income guarantee, pensions are going up and we are helping small pension holders, a great many elderly people in Glasgow, Anniesland do not have any pension other than the state pension. Is it not time for the Government to look forward and put in place a 21st century plan for pensioners?
Dawn Primarolo: I assure my hon. Friend that the Government have exactly that plan. In addition to the state pension, the minimum income guarantee and the pension credit, the introduction of the stakeholder pension will ensure that future pensioners have an income that will protect them. The Government are also supporting pensioners in a number of other ways.
The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Paul Boateng): The Government's latest assessment of developments in the manufacturing sector, based on all relevant factors, was published in November's pre-Budget report. The world economy slowed significantly last year, and this has clearly affected manufacturing in all parts of the United Kingdom and throughout the rest of the G7.
John Barrett: Yesterday, Scottish manufacturers reported that they had suffered the sharpest drop in exports for three years, with output and employment falling. What more can the Chancellor do to help Scottish manufacturers? How long will we have to wait for action, especially when further falls in output, productivity and employment are predicted?
Mr. Boateng: Scotland, of course, cannot be insulated from the global downturn. Scottish manufacturersand I was up in Scotland last Friday talking to one section of industry thereappreciate that not only have they been assisted by the sound public finances that now benefit the United Kingdom, the action that has been taken in terms of the Scottish Executive and the RDA but, importantly, the cuts in corporation tax and capital gains tax as well as research and development tax credits. All those measures contribute to a sound basis for manufacturing industry. That, rather than anything else, is likely to bring benefits in the medium term.
Mr. Mark Field: In view of the relatively rosy picture of the UK economy that the right hon. Gentleman has painted, will he go into some detail as to why he believes that the manufacturing sector, compared with others, is doing so badly?
Mr. Boateng: I do not think that there is any question of painting a rosy picture or of any complacency. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the words yesterday of Mr. Martin Temple, the director general of the Engineering Employers Federation. He referred specifically to the incredibly powerful base of our manufacturing industry. What he also called forsomething that the Government are providingis joint action to encourage investment in research and development and in plant and to ensure that we have the skills available in our economy to promote manufacturing. All those things have been addressed by the Government. They are judged in the pre-Budget report to be important and they are being delivered.
Mr. Iain Luke (Dundee, East): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his recent visit to Scotland. Does he agree that the measures introduced in the pre-Budget report will be of specific relevance and importance to small businesses in Scotland, creating more productivity and competitiveness and increasing investment in enterprise, which will, in the long term, mean more jobs in the Scottish economy?
Mr. Boateng: My hon. Friend takes a particular interest in small and medium-sized enterprises in Scotland. His analysis is absolutely right. It is significant that there has been a greater number of business start-ups in Scotland and that those businesses are more likely to succeed and endure as a result of this Government's policies and actions than ever was the case under the last Government.
Mr. Boateng: No, I do not agree with my hon. Friend, although I respect his views. The issue is not the strength of the pound, but the weakness of the euro. The Government's objective is to make sure that exchange rates remain stable and that we have a competitive pound in the medium term. The best contribution that the Government can make is to ensure that we maintain sound public finances and low inflation. This Government, unlike our predecessors, have delivered and will continue to deliver that.
Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton): Does the Minister think it right for the Government unilaterally to seek to redefine national statistics classifications in order artificially to boost manufacturing output figures?
Mr. Boateng: We have done no such thing. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has rightly pointed out the contribution that the services sector makes to industrial output. That is a perfectly proper reflection for her to make and one that the hon. Gentleman would do well to consider himself.
Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley): My right hon. Friend will know that many of my constituents work in the steel industry. Does he agree that while a more favourable exchange rate would be important, equally important is the stability that the Government are delivering in the economy, which enables the steel industry to plan for the future?
Mr. Boateng: My hon. Friend takes a particular interest in the steel industry for understandable reasons. I am grateful to her for the representations she makes on its behalf. Her analysis is absolutely right and the steel sector recognises that.
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Given that manufacturing output has slumped by 5.5 per cent. in the past 12 months, that the Engineering Employers Federation, to which the Financial Secretary has just referred, says that the climate change levy punishes competitiveness and initiative by world-class manufacturing companies and that the Director General of the CBI says, "I have members in south Wales and the midlands who are laying off people in order to write cheques to the Government to pay the energy tax", is it not time that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and the Minister for Europe stopped blaming the exchange rate for the problems of British manufacturing industry and started to do something to arrest and reverse the tide of regulation that is drowning British businesses the length and breadth of the land?
Mr. Boateng: The reality is far from that. Under this Government we have taken steps to make sure that manufacturing is put on a sound basis. Under this Government when we have taken steps to deliver on our Kyoto obligations we have involved industry, including the manufacturing sector, in order to help us design the effective tools to do that. That is why we invited Lord Marshall, whose leadership of the CBI was without
Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West): Is it not the case that the long-term interests of manufacturing industry in Scotland, Wales and rest of the United Kingdom are served by an economic policy that pursues low inflation, high growth and productivity, and that those things have been achieved by the present Government's economic policy? The only manufacturing that we get from Conservative Members is manufactured synthetic anger. Is it not the case that a policy of devaluation would fail because it is short-termist and short-sighted?