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Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Bill

Volume 807: debated on Tuesday 17 November 2020

Report (and remaining stages)

Relevant document: 25th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee

Report received. Standing Order 46 having been dispensed with, the Bill was read a third time.


Moved by

My Lords, in moving this Motion, I would like to confirm how pleased I am to have introduced the Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Bill into this House. I thank all noble Lords for their positive engagement and the feedback that they have provided thus far. I thank in particular the noble Lords, Lord Addington, Lord Randall and Lord Shipley¸ and the noble Baronesses, Lady Sherlock and Lady Janke, for their constructive contributions. I also thank the officials on the Bill team for their tireless work in helping all of us see the Bill proceed in a proper manner and to have the information needed.

The Bill reflects the Government’s commitment to maintaining the income of pensioners in these difficult times. It allows for the uprating of the safety net in pension credit and of widows’ and widowers’ benefits in industrial death benefit. I am grateful, too, to noble Lords for ensuring that the Bill will be passed in time to receive Royal Assent before the Work and Pensions Secretary must conclude her uprating review of benefits and pensions. In doing so, the state pension and pension credit standard minimum guarantee can and will be uprated next year. I beg to move.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her remarks. As I made clear at the outset, we support the Bill, while deeply regretting the economic circumstances that have made it necessary. During its brief passage, some important issues have been raised. I hope the Government have taken note of those issues and will apply themselves to them in the near future. During our consideration of the Bill many noble Lords raised the question of support for those of working age. I keep hoping that we will hear some good news on that—especially on universal credit and other working-age benefits—soon.

We have had some really interesting discussions about the difficult and growing issue of pensioner poverty. We now have 1.9 million pensioners living in relative poverty and the Government need to develop and implement a strategy for tackling pensioner poverty. That will require a proactive plan to boost take-up of pension credit. I regret that I was unable to attend the rearranged meeting with the Pensions Minister on this matter but I look forward to hearing what went on there. At the moment, four out of 10 eligible pensioners do not claim it, so they are missing out on that and on other benefits, including, increasingly, free TV licences for the over-75s.

Then there is the fact that the triple lock does not apply to pension credit. The Minister said in her opening remarks that there will be an uprating to the standard minimum guarantee in pension credit but I did not catch whether she said by how much. In Committee she told my noble friend Lady Drake that she would write to her to tell her whether the Government intend to pass through the triple-lock payment to pensioners on pension credit—which is of course crucial, because if they do not, the richest pensioners will get the full benefit of the triple lock but the poorest will not because it will be clawed back from pension credit. Can she clarify the position on that? If she has written to my noble friend Lady Drake, I apologise; I have missed the letter.

I am very glad that we were able to get the Bill through the House in good time. It was a pleasure to welcome two maiden speakers in Committee: the noble Lord, Lord Field of Birkenhead, and the noble Baroness, Lady Stuart of Edgbaston. I would like to express my thanks to the Minister and her officials who have met us and answered questions; it is a very co-operative department and I am very grateful. I thank colleagues across the House for their thoughtful contributions; Dan Stevens of our staff team for his support with the Bill; and the House officials and the broadcast team.

Pensioners deserve to spend their retirement in financial security. This Bill will enable the Government to fulfil their manifesto commitment to apply the triple lock to the state pension and we have been pleased to support it.

My Lords, I, too, thank noble Lords for their contributions to our deliberations on the Bill, and I thank the Minister and her team for providing us with advice and information to help us understand the issues raised by the Bill. We very much welcome the Government’s commitment to the triple lock and hope that it will not be abandoned as a short-term political fix in the face of the economic difficulties that are no doubt ahead of us. I am sure that the Government have listened to the issues raised in the debate, and I hope they will look again at the position of overseas pensioners whose pensions are worth so little despite how much they have contributed over the years. It seems that the Government have committed to consider the numbers of pensioners living in poverty. I draw attention particularly to the plight of many women who have received very unfair treatment and unfair settlements on their pensions.

I welcome the work that is being started on pension credit and I believe that the Government are committed to ensuring that those who need it most are, in fact, able and willing to claim it. I thank the Minister again for the meeting yesterday, which I thought was extremely positive, and I look forward to working with her on that project. I also thank my colleagues for supporting the Bill and Sarah Pughe in the Liberal Democrats office, who supported us so ably. So saying, I give my support to the Bill.

My Lords, it is a privilege to have been asked to make the Cross-Bench concluding contribution at the end of our consideration of the Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Bill.

In Committee a number of noble Lords raised concerns about the level of pensioner poverty, most notably the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, and I very much support their comments; but others of us wanted some reassurance that while working people are experiencing job losses on a massive scale and abject poverty—often facing homelessness—many pensioners, including me I suppose, are in a much more secure position and should not be given disproportionate support. Those sentiments certainly do not apply at all to people on pension credit. I was delighted to hear—the Minister might be able to give us some figures—about the increase in the take-up of pension credit. That is at least a start. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, I would certainly like to hear an assurance that pension credit will in fact be protected by the triple lock. I think that these pensioners and other subgroups mentioned by the Minister are in a very particular position and that any support that can be given should be given.

The other issue referred to by a number of noble Lords is the number of pensioners living in what I shall call unprotected countries abroad who have had their pensions frozen, often for many years, and find themselves in 2020 still living off something like £5 a week—serious, abject poverty. I hope the Government will give attention to that issue and also the other issues that noble Lords raised in Committee.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, as always, made a number of very powerful points. Importantly, she sought reports on current levels of pensioner poverty. I hope we will perhaps have a report on pensioner poverty shortly. She was also looking for an impact assessment of the Government’s policy options. I am not sure whether we have had a commitment on that or not.

In conclusion, there was general acceptance of the thrust of this Bill, and no amendments were pressed to a vote. I want to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott, for her cheerful and always courteous responses to our pleas and questions, which she always gives with a smile, which is quite disarming at times. Also, a big thank you to the Bill team, which, as always, makes sure our deliberations and debates are meaningful.

First, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions, which were valid and important. On the working-age benefits, as raised by all contributors, as soon as the Secretary of State has completed the review, Parliament will be advised of the outcome. I am glad the noble Baroness, Lady Janke, was with us yesterday for our pension credit meeting and our robust and creative discussion about increasing take-up. It was probably one of the best meetings I have been in since becoming a Minister. I am sorry the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, could not be with us, but my office did advise me prior to coming to the Chamber that it is finalising the read-out; I think she will be pleased with the actions we have agreed.

In respect of the letter to the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, I was sure that had been sent, but let me go back to my department, double-check and confirm that to the noble Baroness.

Regarding the potential for uprating the standard minimum guarantee, it is right that we protect the incomes of the poorest pensioner households in receipt of it. A decision on how to uprate it next April will be made in the review the Secretary of State is carrying out. It will be announced this month, and we will wait to see what the outcome is and report it to Parliament, as I have already said.

The Government are committed to action to alleviate levels of pensioner poverty. For current pensioners, this includes the contributions of the triple lock, the new state pension and pension credit.

As I have already said, the Bill reflects the Government’s commitment to maintaining the income of pensioners in these difficult times. I am grateful to noble Lords for ensuring that it will be passed in time to receive Royal Assent before the Work and Pensions Secretary must conclude her uprating review of benefits and pensions. In doing so, the state pension and pension credit standard minimum guarantee can and will be uprated next year.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Bill passed.

Sitting suspended.