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Pensioner Poverty

Volume 662: debated on Monday 1 July 2019

The overall trend in the percentage of pensioners living in poverty has fallen dramatically over recent decades. Relative pensioner poverty rates before housing costs have halved since 1990 and rates of material deprivation for pensioners are also at record lows. We want to maintain this achievement.

On Friday, I met constituents and campaigners from Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign Scotland. Those women told me that they are suffering poverty, distress and significant inequality as a result of a pension decision taken in the name of equality. At a time when the Tory leadership candidates are promising billions of pounds of public spending, those women would like to know why the Government cannot find the cash to right the wrong done to the WASPI women.

It is not the Government’s intention to change the Pensions Act 1995, the Pensions Act 2007 or the Pensions Act 2011. There was a £1.1 billion concession in 2011. The policy was conceived in 1993, continued under the Labour Government for 13 years, continued under the coalition and will continue under this Government. I should also point out that a judicial review is pending. I cannot comment any further than that.

Does the Minister think it right that the UK has the lowest state pension in the developed world?

The reality of the state pension in this country is that it has risen by £1,600 in real terms through the triple lock. It also needs to be looked at in the context of the significant high private pensions that, thanks to automatic enrolment and other reforms, show that this is comparable to many other European countries.[Official Report, 9 July 2019, Vol. 663, c. 2MC.]

Free TV licences for older pensioners used to be a proud part of DWP policy. Ministers were warned that they would go under the Government’s TV licence plans, so please do not tell us that pension credits are the answer when thousands of pensioners in our area have small occupational or widows’ pensions, which mean that they are just above the threshold but are still on tight budgets. They will be hit by the free TV licence being taken away. What are the Government going to do to support those pensioners and to reverse this unfair plan?

The right hon. Lady will be aware that this is a matter for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. In the 2015 funding settlement the Government agreed with the BBC that responsibility for the concession would transfer to the BBC after June 2020. I reassure the House that the Government recognise the importance of this, but we are very disappointed with the BBC and we expect it to continue the concession.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey), who is a keen young pup in the House, is perched as though he is about to expatiate. However, I had him down as coming in on the next question. [Interruption.] He wishes to expatiate now. Well, our delight is unanimous.

The pensioners who built Britain deserve nothing but the best in retirement, yet there are 1 million households in poverty because, according to research conducted by Independent Age, the Government have held on to a staggering £7 billion since the general election in unclaimed pension credit, increasing to over £17 billion by 2022— £10 million a day. What has been the Government’s response? An online toolkit used by 2,000 people last year. How do the Government begin to justify plunging 1 million pensioners into poverty? What will they do to ensure that all pensioners get the security and dignity they deserve?

The hon. Gentleman will know that, actually, pension credit applications are up significantly. It is also the case that successive Governments have attempted to promote pension credit. I share the frustration of colleagues that it is not higher than it presently is, but I want to emphasise that the DWP uses a variety of means to communicate and we urge all pensioners to apply for pension credit through the usual manner, whether through trusted third parties, jobcentres, local authorities or the like.