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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, today's publication of the Rowntree report suggests that pensioners are doing precisely what my noble friend suggests. They are the new rich and are deciding to spend their money. As regards my noble friend's substantive point, there was no leak; I was giving my noble friend the best information I had. As I have more information, I shall be happy to share it with her in the House.
The number of people who we believed might be entitled to income support is somewhat lower in part because many have substantial savings. Half of those disqualified from income support because their incomes are below income support level have capital of more than £20,000, and 200,000 have capital of more than £50,000. It is questionable whether we should ask taxpayers to support people in boosting their incomes if they have capital on which they can draw.
The other reason we overestimated the number of pensioners who may be entitled to income support, which may be fresh to my noble friend, is that since the early 1990s surveys have incorrectly disregarded the
Lord Higgins: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the limits on capital are low--£3,000 is sufficient to receive a reduced level of income support, but nothing over £7,000? Will the pilot studies give us a precise assessment of the extent to which people do not claim because they have levels of capital of that order?
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, we have those statistics on a national basis. However, I recognise the problem raised by my noble friend and the noble Lord. The Government are seriously considering the situation of capital limits.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, no, except in so far as there is the usual backdating, which is a month or up to three months, depending on whether it is an income-related benefit or a contributory benefit. My noble friend raises the key question of how we ensure that people receive the benefits to which they are entitled. That is the point about the pilot schemes. We estimate that 500,000--perhaps 700,000--mainly older, single women who have become widowed are failing to claim on average £15 a week.
Those people are entitled to claim. They do not have capital, and they are failing to claim. Our research shows that that is due to a mixture of ignorance about the benefits system, worries about what may happen to them, the fact that, on claiming for benefit in the past, they were not eligible and therefore refused to claim again, and that their memories are at fault. However, a good piece of news from the findings is that, among those who are eligible but are failing to claim, two years on 25 per cent have gone on to claim. Obviously, we must build on that and ensure that people receive the money to which they are entitled; they cannot afford to go without that money, and we should not let them.
Lord Elton: My Lords, will the Minister give an undertaking that the Government will immediately review the capital limits to which she referred, which have not been reviewed for 11 years, and uprate them?
Lord Islwyn: My Lords, whatever the merits of the pilot schemes, will the Minister agree that an immediate increase in the basic pension to £75 a week will be a far more effective way of dealing with pensioners' poverty?
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I am afraid that I do not agree with my noble friend. It would cost more than £3.5 billion. Some of it would go to the very rich, as the Rowntree report indicated, and the poorest--those on income support--would see not a penny. Frankly, I do not support a policy which would spend a considerable sum of money--£3.5 billion--on aiding the better off and doing nothing at all for the poorest off.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, we already have a minimum pension guarantee in so far as we have a minimum income guarantee. In that sense, the noble Lord's question is misdirected. However, we are seeking to ensure that pensioners are claiming the money to which they are entitled and it forms a minimum income guarantee for pensioners. It may be that, as a result of the findings of the pilot schemes, we shall need to repackage it, relaunch it, rename it in order, so to speak, to dissociate it from its income support background. In that respect there is a real issue for us to address.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, the treaty has not yet come into force because a number of key states have yet to ratify it. I can confirm to my noble friend that the Government will indeed exercise their right, as one of the countries which have ratified the treaty, to call a special conference this autumn to consider ways
Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, I am pleased to receive so affirmative a response from my noble friend the Minister. However, may I suggest that if the Government want to accelerate the process still further towards their aim of the elimination of nuclear weapons, they should consult the noble and gallant Field Marshal, Lord Carver, who will show them a better way?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am sure that he deserves the congratulations of the whole House on reaching the splendid age of 91. My noble friend, even in his 92nd year, is as assiduous as ever in pursuing these issues. I am delighted to talk to whoever in your Lordships' House is able to offer help, guidance and advice on how to get the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty into force as quickly as possible. We cannot formally call the conference until September, but we are organising for it. It will take place in Vienna on 6th to 8th October. Its importance lies in the political message which we hope it will send to those who have not yet signed the treaty and to those who have signed the treaty but not yet ratified it.
Lord Moynihan: My Lords, what indication does the Minister have that India and Pakistan will sign the treaty before the third anniversary of the treaty's opening for signature, particularly in the light of the statement of India's foreign minister that India will not sign the treaty before the general election there? Furthermore, will the Minister kindly inform the House what initiatives the Government have taken to urge the Indian Government to fulfil their commitment made last year? Can she confirm that it remains the Government's policy that India must sign the treaty without conditionality?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, it remains our policy that everyone must sign the treaty without conditionality. Of course, we have received welcome assurances from both India and Pakistan that they intend to sign the treaty. India has said that it will not test again before such signing takes place. It is very important that that is done on an unconditional basis. We have welcomed opportunities to reaffirm with the Indian and Pakistani Governments that these are their intentions.
Lord Monkswell: My Lords, bearing in mind that the conference to which my noble friend refers will take place during the Recess and the spillover period, and bearing in mind also the reputations in this field of my
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