I beg to move,
That this House
has considered access to pension credit.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Buck. I am grateful that this important issue has been selected for debate before the parliamentary recess, and pleased to see so many hon. Members present from many political parties to discuss this crucial issue. Their presence, along with the large number of colleagues who have voiced real concern about the problem in recent weeks, clearly illustrates that it is by no means constituency-specific; it affects people in every constituency in the UK and in all parts of the communities that we represent. My argument is a simple one, but the solutions to the problem are far from straightforward.
Pension credit is failing. It is failing the ballooning number of pensioners who are living in poverty across our communities, and the Government’s broken promise on free TV licences could be about to make things much, much worse. It is perhaps fitting that on the day the Prime Minister leaves office, we are here discussing just one of the numerous “burning injustices” that she failed to tackle—and that actually got worse on her watch. More of the same will not cut it. We must end this moral emergency.
The backdrop to our debate is simple but shocking. After nearly a decade of Tory austerity, almost 2 million pensioners are now living in poverty—a statistic that should not only shock us, but utterly shame us. In the now sixth-richest economy in the world, I am truly saddened and alarmed that the UK Government have allowed pensioner poverty to soar to such an extent. Indeed, I now believe that the situation is a moral emergency. To any Government Member who seeks to counter that claim, I simply ask: how can it be right that by this time tomorrow another 226 older people will have fallen into poverty? That is more than 80,000 pensioners per year—more than the number of people in most of our constituencies.
The frankly staggering rises that we are seeing will be difficult to reverse, but the Government’s continuing paralysis over Brexit must not mean that the issue is allowed to slip further down the new Prime Minister’s in-tray. If we do not address this moral emergency—if we allow this deeply damaging trend to continue—we have to ask ourselves what we got into politics for.
The issue does not affect just older people. The decisions that we take today to support older generations will have a real and marked impact on the future of young people across our country and on people of working age. If the Government continue to turn a blind eye to pensioner poverty, they will be sending one message, and one message only: “You can work hard all your life, pay into the system and try your best to get on and do well. But even if you do, there will still be a real risk that you will not be able to enjoy a dignified and comfortable retirement.”
No responsible Government should allow the situation to continue. One thing we could do to address it over the summer recess is take real steps, rather than just speaking warm words, towards making people properly aware of their pension credit entitlement. The Government’s appalling decision to break their 2017 manifesto commitment to protect pensioner benefits has, rightly, caused hon. Members across the country to shine a light on the low uptake of pension credit across the UK.
Under the new BBC licence fee rules, as hon. Members will be aware, only households with someone over the age of 75 who is in receipt of pension credit will be eligible to continue having their licence fee waived.