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Mr. Willetts: There are two ways in which our policy does help the over-75s more. As I have said, there are a significant number of pensioners over 75 who are not paying for their television licences, whereas they would all get the pension. Secondly, we have tried to direct the extra £320 million that we would gain from savings elsewhere in the social security system to the over-75s in particular. I think that the philosophy that lies behind the original higher rate for the over-80s, like that in respect of the over-75s, is correct.

Mr. Darling: If we are to have an academic seminar--and as there are only a few of us in the Chamber, we might as well go down that route--let us take a pensioner over 75 who currently receives no pension, or even a part pension. The hon. Gentleman admitted a short while ago that that pensioner will not get a penny from what the Tories propose, because they will take away the winter fuel payment, the free television licence and the Christmas bonus. I suspect that quite a few over-75s do not get a pension for historical reasons, and they will lose out. What the hon. Gentleman has said is not true.

Mr. Willetts: Our package applies to all pensioners, including those with only a partial pension.

Mr. Darling: What about pensioners with no pension?

Mr. Willetts: The right hon. Gentleman talks about those with no pension. I might as well ask about those who do not pay for their television licences. What about those who are not benefiting from the winter fuel payment? Our package puts all the money into the basic state pension, and there is also the minimum income guarantee--that is the old income support, which was renamed--for pensioners regardless of whether they have a basic pension.

Mr. Darling: There are about 500,000 pensioners who do not get a pension, and the hon. Gentleman will take seven quid a week from them. That is the logic of what he is saying.

Mr. Willetts: The right hon. Gentleman is talking as if his package will somehow help every pensioner. He should remember the shambles of the early years of the implementation of the winter fuel payment. The

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Government had to track down a pensioner unit--a concept hitherto unknown to the social security system--so that each of them could have a winter fuel payment. There are problems for pensioners in nursing homes, and, as I have said, for pensioners who are not paying for their television licence.

The right hon. Gentleman's proposals are not universal, but he is talking as if they were. Our proposals cover every pensioner in receipt of the basic state pension. The right hon. Gentleman talks all the time as if the Government had put a great deal of money into helping the poorest pensioners, but the vast majority of their expenditure has not gone into the minimum income guarantee. Instead, it has gone into a variety of schemes, whose distribution impact is, to say the least, difficult to assess, because they do not amount to a straightforward package for every pensioner in receipt of the basic pension.

I shall finish with some other quick points. I am taking the opportunity of the debate--the attendance is less than massive--to try to tease out from the Secretary of State what he is trying to do with social security. I have talked about means-testing and about what will happen in 2003. It is frustrating that we do not seem to be able to persuade the right hon. Gentleman to offer a statement on the position in 2003. It is ironic that the best explanation that he can find of the case for tax benefit integration and tax credit is the Green Paper written by my distinguished colleague Lord Higgins, who is the Opposition's spokesman on these matters. He wrote the Heath Government's Green Paper in 1971, and it still remains a more articulate, better argued, more coherent and wider-ranging account of the case for tax credits and tax-benefit integration than anything that we have had from the Government. Such is the irony of political debate.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to poverty several times. I draw his attention to what I am sure many people are talking about in connection with the Government's initiatives. There is a problem in social security, and more widely; in fact, it is to be found in the Government's social policy initiatives as a whole. That is the extraordinary number of new schemes and special schemes that are introduced, supposedly with the aim of helping the most deprived parts of the country.

I do not doubt the sincerity of Ministers' motives when they say that they are trying to help the most deprived areas. However, the right hon. Gentleman knows that we have an extraordinary variety of such schemes--I am aware that they are not all DSS schemes. We have employment zones, education action zones and health action zones--and I believe that there are other zones. The previous Government needed a cone line, and the present Government should have a zone line, so that we can make a telephone call if we spot another zone.

The problem with all these zones is that there is no consistency between them. There is no correlation between area-based initiatives in different areas and how they score in terms of any objective measure of deprivation. In August 1997, the present Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), announced the setting up of the social exclusion unit. It was probably a bid to get on

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to Labour's National Executive Committee, and I think that he failed--but he said that the case for the unit was as follows:

That was the critique with which the right hon. Gentleman launched the social exclusion unit in the summer of 1997.

However, two years later, when the Cabinet Office performance and innovation unit reported, it said:

Labour Members should reflect on the experience of those who are doing their best in the most deprived areas. These people tell us over and over again that there is initiative fatigue. They say that they are spending all their time bidding for penny packets under a variety of initiatives that are often not coherently put together. Instead of the competent delivery of core programmes, people are spending too much time chasing individual schemes that have been launched to get 48 hours of media coverage. Insufficient attention is paid to how they can be competently delivered.

Mr. Darling: This will be my final intervention, because we seem to have left benefit uprating way behind. I assume that Conservative Members find themselves in complete agreement with everything that the Government are doing. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees with me that what matters is the outcome of policies. We will take 1 million children out of poverty as a result of what we are doing. Education standards are improving, and 1 million more people are in work. That is all the result both of our general policies and of some of the particular policies to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. His problem is that he is committed to cutting public expenditure and investment by £16 billion. Were he to return to office, we would face exactly the same problems that we inherited, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland described in 1997.

Mr. Willetts: Before the right hon. Gentleman speaks so complacently about the Government's record, he should read, if he has not yet done so, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation publication of only a week or so ago. It assesses the Government's record on social exclusion. [Interruption.] That document is an assessment of the Government's record, based on the fullest information that the foundation had. The right hon. Gentleman has no extra information that was not available to those who produced the report. It covers everything, from help from social services for pensioners living at home, and the number of pensioners with no income other than state benefits, to the position of children, including the poorest children in our society.

In many instances, the foundation identified either no change or a worsening trend. The trend of low-birthweight babies is worsening. Before the right hon. Gentleman becomes complacent about what is going on, he should take account of the best external independent audit of the Government's record on poverty and social exclusion,

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because poverty and social exclusion are an important benchmark of the effectiveness of all the Government's special schemes. The fact that I make these criticisms of the Government's approach--the flurry of initiatives within the DSS, and more widely across Government, getting in the way of what matters--should not be taken by the Secretary of State as evidence that I think that everything in the benefit uprating is marvellous or brilliant.

Like the troops fraternising as they emerged from the trenches on Christmas day in 1914, I was trying to take the opportunity of the privacy of this debate, before the House rises for Christmas, to raise one or two wider questions about social policy and the Government's approach.

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