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Pensioners on Fixed Incomes

Volume 660: debated on Monday 13 May 2019

We spend more than £120 billion on benefits for pensioners, including the state pension, which is now worth £1,600 more than in 2010. Means-tested benefits are adjusted according to changes in circumstances, and it is not possible to say how many pensioners have had an increase or reduction, but it is the case that this Government spend more on pensioners than any Government have ever done before.

More than 750,000 pensioners are in receipt of disability living allowance, and those who turned 65 after April 2013 are being kicked off DLA and are forced to apply for personal independence payments. Many of them are not applying, and of those who do, some are not receiving PIP. Why are we not transferring these pensioners across automatically?

It is right to say that 75% of all reassessed claimants receive a PIP award, and nearly 67,000 more people aged 65 or over are on either DLA or PIP than when PIP was first introduced in 2013. I take my hon. Friend’s point, though, and the Minister for Disabled People will be happy to meet my hon. Friend. I am sure he would make the point that the Government spend more than £20 billion on DLA and PIP, which is up from £15 billion in 2012.

The inquest for my constituent Joy Worrall took place last Thursday. Joy was 82 years old. It was confirmed that she had committed suicide after the DWP wrongly stopped her benefits and her winter fuel allowance for a period of 15 months before her death. At the time of her death, Joy had £5 in her account. Will the Minister and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State undertake, for the family, who have asked me to do this for them, an urgent inquiry into why Joy was not paid her pension or her winter fuel allowance for that period? Will he ensure that nobody will ever again commit suicide because of poverty?

The right hon. Gentleman rightly raises his constituent’s case; I have already spoken to him on two occasions. Our thoughts are with Mrs Worrall’s family and friends. The Government apologise unreservedly for the clerical error—it was a clerical error—that led to Mrs Worrall’s pensions payment being stopped. We have urgently reviewed our processes and acted so that benefits are no longer linked on our systems, to try to ensure that this does not happen again. There is an internal process review; I undertake to write to the right hon. Gentleman in the short term with what we know and with more detail when the urgent process review has taken place. I am including Mr Worrall in that process.

It would be helpful if every member of DWP staff were able to get to a Minister if something absurd was happening, rather than getting stuck in bureaucracy.

May I take the Minister back to his £1,600 extra? Will he review House of Commons briefing paper 01457, on the history of frozen overseas pensions for half our overseas pensioners? It is absurd that an agreement with New Zealand in 1948 and a written parliamentary answer in July 1955 should determine that people who leave this country to retire abroad do not get pension increases in half the countries around the world but do so in the other half. It is time that we had a proper debate and a proper decision, and got past the legalistic approach taken by this Government and previous ones.

My hon. Friend raises several points, but unquestionably the situation in relation to overseas pensions has been consistently enforced by every Government of every persuasion since the second world war, and there is no anticipation of changing that.

Of course, we will ensure that individual members of DWP staff up and down the country are able to go to their line managers and then to Members of Parliament or individual members of the Government on an ongoing basis.

Pensioner poverty halved under the most recent Labour Government; it has increased by 400,000 under this Government, with one in six pensioners living in poverty. Having broken one manifesto pledge on TV licences, Ministers are now breaking a second one, as mixed-aged couples are no longer being paid pension credit if one of them is under retirement age. How can the Government begin to justify the breaking of a solemn promise, particularly in circumstances where it will cost the couple concerned a staggering £7,320 a year?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the overall trend in the percentage of pensioners in poverty is a dramatic fall over several decades. The rates of material deprivation for pensioners are at a record low at this stage.

On the hon. Gentleman’s second point, couples who currently receive pension credit or housing benefit will not be affected by the change, as long as they remain entitled to either benefit. Claimants who would be eligible for pension credit or housing benefit for pensioners under the current rules but have not claimed before 15 May have until 13 August to make a backdated claim.

From Carillion to BHS, workers’ pensions are being put at risk by bad bosses, sloppy practices and poor enforcement. We have campaigned against that injustice. The defined benefit White Paper has proposed stronger powers and penalties. Ministers have promised to introduce such legislation, which we would support. Will the Government keep at least this promise so that we can send out a joint message that says, “Never again a Philip Green”?

We are agreed across the House that there must be action on defined benefits so that we stop what took place with Philip Green, and to address that the Secretary of State has brought forward proposals in the defined benefit White Paper. We propose to bring forward a Bill, when parliamentary time allows, to address the DB White Paper, collective defined contributions, Dashboard and a number of other matters, and I look forward to working with the hon. Gentleman on a cross-party basis to make that happen.