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Cost of Living: Pensioners

Volume 711: debated on Monday 21 March 2022

9. What steps her Department is taking to support pensioners to manage the increase in the cost of living. (906177)

10. What steps her Department is taking to support pensioners to manage the increase in the cost of living. (906178)

This year, we will spend more than £129 billion on the state pension and benefits for pensioners in Great Britain, including, as I said, £5 billion on pension credit for the vulnerable. Pensioners can also benefit from wider Government support with energy costs on top of the warm home discount, the winter fuel payment and cold weather support.

I thank the Secretary of State for visiting Blackpool last week and for opening our brand-new, Government-funded youth hub, which will help young people to find work. Many pensioners will be extremely concerned about the recent increases in the cost of living. Alongside the measures that the Minister mentioned, what steps is he taking to ensure that those eligible for pension credit and the expanded warm home discount are able to apply and do so?

I know that the Secretary of State loved her trip to Blackpool and I congratulate my hon. Friend on his jobs fair, which I gather was a great success. He is a great champion for Blackpool and for the elderly residents in his community, and he is a big improvement on his predecessor. I am delighted to say that I wrote to the Blackpool Gazette this morning to set out in more detail how we are trying to get more people to take up pension credit, and it is definitely the case that we are doing that.

Order. I do not think it is becoming of anybody to condemn a Member of Parliament who has not been here for a long, long time. I do not really want to get into that, so we should think about what we say in future.

The Minister will know that, in my constituency, 88% of people will see their energy bills go up next week, more than 50% of whom are over the age of 64. What more will the Department do to ensure that older people in my constituency get more support with their energy bills? Simply ignoring the issue, or giving pensioners a loan to pay back, penalises people who do not have enough money to survive—it is heating or eating under this Tory Government.

I have—I have written to all local papers in the country.

The bottom line is that there is a £200 discount on energy bills from this autumn for domestic electricity customers in Great Britain. There is also the £150 non-repayable council tax rebate and the £144 million of discretionary funding for local authorities to support households who need support but are not eligible for the council tax rebate.

We know that the Government have already abandoned their promises on keeping the pensions triple lock and free TV licences for the over-75s. Now, before the soaring inflation and the soaring energy bills have even kicked in, thanks to the Government’s policies, almost a fifth of all pensioners in the UK are living in poverty. One million households are missing out on pension credits and thousands of pensioners, including in my Slough constituency, are bothered by delays, underpayments and other issues. When will the Government finally get a grip and resolve these problems?

With respect, there are 200,000 fewer pensioners in absolute poverty, both before and after housing costs, than in 2009-10. [Interruption.] With respect, the statistics are correct. The hon. Gentleman will recall, as a Labour Member of Parliament, that when the Government changed in 2010, the state pension was barely £100; the new state pension will be over £185 this coming year. It has risen by £2,300 in cash terms over the last eight years.

Claiming pension credit is a passport to a variety of other benefits for elderly residents in Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, so could my hon. Friend advise local people what support becomes available to them if they submit a valid claim for pension credit?

I have. Literally hundreds of pounds a month can become available in the form of support for housing, council tax, the TV licence for the over-75s, NHS dental, warm home discounts and many other things—as I am setting out in my hon. Friend’s local paper. I am delighted to say that in so many different ways we are making the case that pension credit and the support is out there for our local residents.

What success has my hon. Friend had in ensuring there is greater take-up of pension credit in the Crawley constituency, and will he consider joining me at the older persons fair that I am planning to hold later this year?

Again, all roads lead to Crawley, and quite right too. I would be delighted to attend my hon. Friend’s older persons fair in the summer or the autumn. It is definitely the case that there is a larger take-up of pension credits on an ongoing basis, and that is something we want to see going forward.

Pensioners who have worked hard and paid in all their lives face an absolutely enormous increase in the cost of living. Food prices are up, the cost of heating is going up and the cost of living as a whole is going up. This huge increase in inflation was clear before the invasion of Ukraine and it is crystal clear now, yet so far the Government have only come up with a buy-now-pay-later scheme for heating bills, so I would like to ask the Minister: just when will the Government start listening to pensioners and when exactly will they show even a shred of understanding of the dreadful situation facing our pensioners at this time?

The hon. Member will be aware that we raised state pension by 2.5% this year, when we did not need to do so, and it is going up by 3.1% in April, on top of which there is the support from the Chancellor with the £9 billion scheme set out only a few weeks ago. He will also be aware that huge efforts are being made to ensure there is take-up of the support benefits, which definitely assist. There is over £5 billion of them, but we want much more to be taken up.

Despite what the Minister says, the Government’s last-published figures show that there are 200,000 more pensioners in poverty compared with 2018-19, and it is going to get worse. Next month, pensioners will face an increase in their heating bills of over £800 a year compared with this time last year, and at the same time, due to breaking their triple lock promise, the Government will have taken £500 a year out of the pockets of pensioners. It is shameful. Does he agree that Wednesday represents the one opportunity the Chancellor has to reverse the breaking of the triple lock and to do something to help pensioners?

I wish the hon. Gentleman a swift recovery from the trip or fall that caused his injury.

It is definitely the case that pensioner poverty is declining. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman’s statistic is manifestly wrong on that: pensioner poverty is down in relation to 2009-10. Of course, there are conversations with the Chancellor, but it is absolutely the case that state pension has increased year on year on year, and we have never paid a higher state pension than we presently do.