Pensioner households are currently £600 a year better off on average as a result of increases in income provided by pension credit and its predecessors since 1997. The poorest third of pensioner households are around £1,100 a year better off.
Does my hon. Friend agree that another measure that would help to reduce pension poverty is the restoration of the link between earnings and the basic state pension? Will she reaffirm that it is the Government’s policy to do that in the next Parliament—in line with the Pensions Act 2007—and also to ensure that the retirement age is not raised until 2024-26?
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that that is the Government’s policy. Indeed, we have legislated to restore the earnings link within the lifetime of the next Parliament. What we have not done is announce, in an “age of austerity” speech, that we will arbitrarily and suddenly increase the retirement age so that every man over 54 sees his retirement plans ripped up at a cost of £8,000 a year, and every woman is charged an extra £5,000 a year, because they are being forced to work for an extra year.
The Minister will know that pensioners can boost their incomes by paying voluntary class 3 contributions and that the special scheme for women born between April 1938 and October 1944 expires on 5 April. With the deadline coming, there has been a surge of applications. Can she offer me the assurance either today in the House or in writing urgently that people who contact Newcastle to get the detailed and complex information that they need to make the right judgment will be able to pay the money after 6 April, provided they make contact by the deadline?