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Pensioner Poverty

Volume 487: debated on Monday 2 February 2009

We have made significant progress in reducing the incidence of poverty among pensioners. Through targeted support and £13 billion of extra spending, the proportion of pensioners in relative low income has fallen from 29 per cent. in 1998 to 19 per cent. in 2006-07, with 900,000 pensioners lifted out of relative poverty.

I congratulate the Government on the various initiatives that they have brought forward to help hard-pressed pensioners. One of the best is of course pension credit: the problem is that many elderly people do not take it up for some reason. What will the Minister do to increase take-up to help hard-pressed pensioners by hundreds—and sometimes even a couple of thousand—pounds a year?

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we must be vigilant in ensuring that pensioners know about pension credit. I am happy to say that in his constituency the number of households in receipt of pension credit has increased from 2,680 in November 2003 to 4,150 in May 2008. We are continuing to make changes—for example, housing benefit, council tax benefit and pension credit can be claimed over the phone in one phone call. We are also simplifying processes and making home visits to people who want them.

Many pensioners rely on interest from savings to supplement their state pension. They have seen that income drop considerably as interest rates have fallen. Will my right hon. Friend look again at the way in which the amount of savings held impacts on the range of benefits that a pensioner is entitled to receive?

As my hon. Friend knows, the Government have not had a cut-off point for savings above £6,000. The amount that people are expected to contribute from their own resources used to be based on £1 for every £250 of savings, and we have increased that amount to £500. There is now no upper limit on the amount of savings that pensioners can have before they are entitled to some help through pension credit.

The Minister will be aware that there are a significant number of expatriate pensioners living in France and other European countries who are suffering considerable poverty as a result of the Government’s inability to honour the European Court’s findings and to pay to them the disability living allowance and other benefits to which they are entitled. When are the Government going to make a decision on that issue?[Official Report, 9 February 2009, Vol. 487, c. 10MC.]

We have been clear that if people claimed the benefit before they moved abroad, they are entitled to continue to claim it. For people who are eligible for it, it is frozen at the limit at which they received it before they left.

There is an increasing prevalence of one-stop shops in local authorities. I visited one last week in Halewood in Knowsley where constituents can access all sorts of services, including health services, social services, housing services and so on. One of the problems, of course, is identifying and making contact with those older people. Have the Government given thought to offering older people benefit health checks when they visit that sort of facility? That is a way of contacting the people who would otherwise not be claiming the benefits that they are entitled to and deserve.

My hon. Friend raises an important point. We have been looking through some of the Link-Age pilots at how we can ensure that people have a one-stop shop approach to accessing services. He is quite right to say that that can be used as a way of ensuring that people have a benefits check at the same time.

One of the gravest charges against this Government after a decade is that 60 per cent. of pensioners in deepest poverty are still not receiving income support, minimum income guarantee or pension credit entitlement. Given the Government’s sustained attack on savers and the fact that there are now a number of proud pensioners in this country who have never claimed anything from the state and who shy from doing so, which leads to disguised poverty among pensioners, when will the Government wake up and present to those people that they, too, are entitled to some kind of support?

I set out earlier the measures that we intend to take to ensure that people know their entitlement. We have made a number of changes to that. Of course, the hon. Gentleman might not be aware of some of the recommendations of the Turner commission about automatic enrolment and automaticity, which will make a difference.