The Government are committed to ensuring that pensioners receive all the support they are entitled to. The latest estimate for 2007-08 is that the level of pension credit take-up by caseload is between 61 per cent. and 70 per cent. Take-up of the guarantee credit only, which is paid to the poorest pensioners, is higher, at between 72 per cent. and 81 per cent.
The House must recognise that the Labour Government have helped the poorest pensioners, particularly with the pension credit and in promising to re-index the basic pension to earnings. I hope that whoever forms the next Government will get on and do that quickly. But the take-up for pension credit is still too low, particularly for the poorest group; about a quarter do not take it up. Can whoever is in government after the election make sure that we automate that payment?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for acknowledging the work that has been done to date with regard to pensioner poverty. We have taken 900,000 pensioners out of relative poverty and 1.9 million out of absolute poverty. The figure of 29 per cent. of pensioners in poverty that we inherited when we came into government is now 18 per cent. That is still too many, which is why we have to look at things such as automatic payment. Draft regulations before the House will look at automating pension credit payments on a pilot basis to see whether we can improve the take-up of pension credit, especially by the most vulnerable.
People over 80 are in particular danger of falling into poverty. What further steps can the Government take to ensure that these people have the help that they need?
We try to contact those who are older and may not be taking up their entitlement to pension credit. I am proud to say that we make 13,000 home visits to the most vulnerable pensioners every week. We also ensure that there are higher winter fuel payments for those over 80 and free television licences, not to mention the bus passes and free swimming. I wonder how much of that would survive a change of government.