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Pensioners: Cost of Living

Volume 715: debated on Monday 6 June 2022

The Government have provided a generous package for those most in need with a one-off cost of living payment of £650, including to those in receipt of pension credit. In addition, all pensioner households will receive an extra £300 to help cover the rising cost of energy this winter.

I welcome the measures the Government have taken to support pensioners with the rising cost of living. Many pensioners in Carshalton and Wallington who are eligible for pension credit still do not know that they are entitled to it, so they are not claiming. Will my hon. Friend set out what steps the Government are taking to increase the uptake of pension credit? Will he join me at an older persons fair in my constituency later in the year to promote it?

I will be delighted to join my hon. Friend at his older persons fair, which is one example of how we want to promote the take-up of pension credit. I was pleased today to meet a group of stakeholders, ranging from Citizens Advice to Independent Age, the BBC, ITV, local authorities and utility companies, all of which are trying to work collectively to promote pension credit take-up. As we know, pension credit is a £3,000-plus benefit to the most venerable in our society, and it is particularly important that they claim it this winter.

I call Sir Stephen Timms, Chairman of the Select Committee, whom I congratulate on his knighthood.

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I welcome the efforts on pension credit take-up. The Chancellor’s additional payments are very welcome, but the need for them highlights the failings of the current pensions and benefits uprating system. The Select Committee will be looking at this, but does the Minister agree that now is the time to review how we uprate pensions and benefits each year and the level at which they are set?

You got there first, Mr Speaker, but I also congratulate the former Pensions Minister, the Chair of the Select Committee, on his knighthood, which is genuinely deserved. The whole House wishes him well when he goes to meet the Queen for his investiture.

The right hon. Gentleman is a former Pensions Minister and will recall that the present uprating policy started in April 1987 and has continued under successive Governments, including the 13 years of Labour Government. I will, of course, come to the Select Committee to listen to its suggestions, but the same process has been in place for the best part of 35 years. The level is set between September and November, and the uprating takes place thereafter.

Pension credit is important, and I have been pushing take-up in my North West Durham constituency. The Minister will understand that ensuring better pension savings is the most important thing in the long term. I backed the 2019 manifesto, and I back the Prime Minister who delivered it. Will my hon. Friend the Minister implement the auto-enrolment review, and will he back my private Member’s Bill to deliver it as soon as possible?

Answer that one! The truth is that, in respect of the 2017 auto-enrolment review and the changes that my hon. Friend sought in his outstanding ten-minute rule Bill and the private Member’s Bill we did not get to debate before the close of the last parliamentary Session, he knows he has my full support. The matter will be brought before the House as soon as possible.

The cost of living crisis is leaving families and pensioners wondering how on earth they will make ends meet. Inflation is running at 11% for everyday goods, and petrol is now nearly £2 a litre, yet the Government’s response has favoured the wealthier while failing those in greatest need. Will the Minister explain why second home owners were offered extra help while at the very same time the Government have yet to drive up the take-up of pension credit? Will he also now publish the advice he received from his own civil servants that warned of the effect of this deeply unfair policy?

I do not believe that £37 billion of support should be sneered at. The Chancellor set out £22 billion of support in the spring and a further £15 billion of support last month; that includes £650 on top of the pension credit from July, and the winter fuel payment of £300 going to 8.2 million households. I strongly believe that shows that the Government are taking serious action to support the most vulnerable.

The removal of the triple lock is costing pensioners £500 this year alone, and come October energy bills will have risen by £1,700 compared with April 2021. The £300 winter fuel payment does not come close to plugging that gap, let alone addressing the other inflationary pressures that pensioners are dealing with. Then we have the WASPI women, who have been struggling for years. Following the findings of the parliamentary and health service ombudsman, surely now—this time of crisis—is the time for the Government to agree fair and fast compensation for the WASPI women.

There was a lot in that question. In respect of the full package of support, most pensioner households will receive £850 via the additional winter fuel payment, the council tax rebate and the energy bills support scheme. Pensioners who receive means-tested benefits and are most in need of support will receive £1,500, including payments in July and September.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the matter of the WASPI women is a subject of and decision for the Court of Appeal, where the matter was decided in favour of successive Governments—this and the previous Labour Government—and that the ombudsman process is an ongoing one, on which we do not comment.