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Older Pensioners

Volume 656: debated on Monday 18 March 2019

11. What steps she is taking to increase the income of older pensioners; and if she will make a statement. (909839)

This country spends £121 billion on pensioners every year, with an increasing budget. My hon. Friend will be aware that the state pension is up well over £1,000 per annum in cash terms since 2010. In addition, there are 12 million winter fuel payments, at a cost of about £2 billion, specifically for the over-80s, with a payment of £300 a year to the individual.

I thank the Minister for delivering that good news to the House. While automatic pension enrolment will certainly help people as they move into retirement, can we make sure that we do not take our eye off the ball with older pensioners, with particular reference to fuel poverty, because there is still a problem?

My hon. Friend makes two points. The first is that auto-enrolment is a massive success in Tewkesbury, with 23,000 men and women now saving up to 5%—going up to 8% in April—for their long-term retirement. In addition, on fuel poverty, he will be pleased with the warm home discount scheme, which supports over 2 million low-income and vulnerable customers each year with direct assistance with their costs. However, I accept that there is always more that we can do.

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, one in six pensioners now live in poverty. Last year, 46,000 pensioners died prematurely, and the winter fuel allowance has not been increased for 15 years, so what is the Minister doing about that? The Government are cutting pension credit for couples at the same time.

The reality is that pensioner poverty is at an historically low level. The hon. Lady will be aware of the 12 million winter fuel payments, at a cost of £2 billion, with £200 for households with someone who has reached state pension age and £300 for households with someone who is over 80. In addition, there is the warm home discount support I just outlined.

I welcome the Government’s response this morning to the collective defined-contribution scheme consultation. What does it mean for posties in East Renfrewshire, a number of whom are looking forward to meeting the Minister when he comes up to Barrhead on Friday?

We believe that collective defined-contribution schemes are a positive step and a welcome innovation to help postmen and women up and down the country to have a sustainable long-term retirement. I welcome the support of the Communication Workers Union and Royal Mail, and the role my hon. Friend has played in the House of Commons. I look forward to meeting some of his posties early—very early, I believe—on Friday morning.

My constituent Christine Paris is a vulnerable 60-year-old women, who has a rare birth defect causing severe learning disability. She has never been able to work and she cannot even travel alone, yet she is being placed in the work-related activity group and forced to face yet another humiliating fit for work assessment. Will the Minister look into her case personally? Does he agree with the Centre for Health and Disability Assessments, which says that the assessment process is unfit for people with learning difficulties, and will he conduct an urgent review?

If the hon. Lady sends that case to the Department, I and the Minister concerned will look into it specifically.

In legislating to allow 140,000 Royal Mail workers to benefit from the CDC scheme, will the Government also legislate as soon as possible to compel employer contribution with the pensions dashboard and to strengthen powers and criminal penalties available to the regulator, to provide a better pension for tens of thousands of workers, to help all workers to plan for their retirement, to protect workers and to send an unmistakeable message to the Philip Greens of this world that those who rob workers of their pension security will end up in the dock?

The hon. Gentleman and I are united in our desire for a Bill that addresses collective defined-contribution, compulsion on dashboards and the defined-benefit reforms that we all agree are both required and necessary. I am confident that with a constructive, cross-party approach, over the next few months, with the hon. Gentleman and other political parties, we can introduce those measures very soon.