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Fairness and Security in Old Age

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:28 pm on 10th September 2003.

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Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 3:28 pm, 10th September 2003

I am sure that everyone in the House would like the Pension Service to succeed and provide a higher standard of service than that which is currently provided. However, its employees would not have to make home visits to deal with applications for means-tested benefits if people got a decent pension in the first place—that would be a better way of operating the system.

Hywel Williams expressed concern about the centralisation of the Pension Service in Wales, and drew the attention of the House to the case of a constituent who had had her pension stopped because she had been told that she was dead. It is understandable that those who write the computer programmes do not normally allow them to reverse such transitions, but it illustrates a problem. When the IT systems of a Government Department are as ropey as those of the Department for Work and Pensions, such things will happen. We are concerned that when the pension credit is introduced next month many pensioners will have experiences similar to that constituent.

The Minister began with a social policy analysis of the issues affecting older people, which we all enjoyed and took us back to his days as an academic. I was intrigued that he attacked Sarah Teather, our excellent colleague who is fighting the Brent, East by-election and who we hope, next week, will be an even more excellent addition to the House of Commons, for encouraging people to claim the pension credit. A few moments before, he had exhorted us all to encourage people to claim the credit. Am I missing something? One minute, the Minister says that he hopes everybody will encourage people to claim the pension credit, but when the Liberal Democrat candidate for Brent, East does so, that is apparently outrageous behaviour.