[Mr. Roger Gale in the Chair] — Pensioner Poverty

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:50 am on 23rd February 2010.

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Photo of Andrew Pelling Andrew Pelling Independent, Croydon Central 9:50 am, 23rd February 2010

I am very grateful to the Minister for that intervention, and I think that that is a very good example of joined-up government. That approach, as long as we are in the happy situation of having that capacity and making it known to potential recipients, is a very cost-effective, caring and compassionate way of operating Government activity.

Nevertheless, I sometimes feel a sense of frustration-perhaps on behalf of the Minister-at the way in which British politics has progressed. In many ways, the Pensions Minister is not responsible for many pension issues, because of the arms-length approach that has been adopted. I went to see one of the Minister's predecessors to discuss my concern about how particular private sector pensioners have suffered as a result of the demise of Allders, the company for which they worked. The response that I received then was very much, "Well, these are not responsibilities for the Minister any longer-they are at arm's length and they are with the regulator". Going through that process can be very frustrating.

I wish to declare an interest, as my father recently turned 75, and faced the very difficult situation of having to deal with an annuity, particularly at a time when the financial markets were in serious difficulties. The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire emphasised the interaction of benefits and the fact that that many pensioners just turn their minds against claiming benefits, because they feel that there is a stigma involved in doing so. I am concerned about constituents who have had to deal with the fact that the interaction of bereavement benefits-obviously that is something that very much affects pensioners-sometimes has an adverse impact on other benefits to which they are entitled.

Several Select Committees have emphasised the good practice demonstrated by Service Canada, which provides a single point for Canadian people to gain advice, and operates in a non-stigmatising way. We can take encouragement from that example. It is extremely difficult to provide such a service, but it is something to which we should aspire.

I mentioned at the outset Croydon's performance in this area. I am very concerned that a lot of provision for the elderly has been cut back. For example, the Foyer, which is in north Croydon, did a lot of work with senior citizens, but funding for that centre has unfortunately been cut. I suppose that that is a prospect that we will face generally, as public expenditure is reduced. Nevertheless, I congratulate Croydon council particularly for providing disabled pensioners with the AskSARA system, which does a great deal of good internet-based work-admittedly, it is only available in that medium, and I will make a point about that in a moment-that tries to offer a good understanding of their problems. The system is easy to use, and helps pensioners to identify the appropriate services and equipment that Croydon council provides for the frail and disabled. Of course, the internet is not available to all pensioners, so take-up is lower than it is in other groups. I was disquieted by the approach of Southern Railway, whose consultation on rail services is now built wholly around the internet. That is unfair to many pensioners, who are thus excluded.

I am mindful that other Members want to speak. I appreciate that the country faces significant financial difficulties in the coming months. However, in considering macro-economic policy, we must remember that pensioners are likely to spend 100 per cent. of their resources-or perhaps more, making it a dissaving. Money pumped into the economy through pension increases is likely to have a stimulating effect. We need seriously to consider increasing the basic state pension, so that it at least approaches the official poverty level, to £150 a week.