Access to Pension Credit

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:25 pm on 24th July 2019.

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Photo of Chris Elmore Chris Elmore Opposition Whip (Commons) 4:25 pm, 24th July 2019

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that intervention. As I will set out later in my speech, the parliamentary service here has been able to have some interaction with constituents from across the UK, and I have some examples that will almost confirm her view that the Department for Work and Pensions is being deliberately unhelpful when it comes to allowing pensioners to claim pension credit. I will refer to those examples later.

The Government’s flagship policy to lift pensioners out of poverty—pension credit—is failing, and it has been for some time. Pension credit is not working for up to 1.3 million pensioner households that are eligible for this vital support, which could be the catalyst they need to lift them out of poverty, but they do not receive it. In my constituency, I find it completely staggering that there is £5.1 million of pension credit going unclaimed each year, and I know that there are many, many constituencies across the UK where the situation is even bleaker.

By the time the new TV licence rules come into force in 2020, pensioners across the UK will have endured 10 long years of Tory austerity—10 long years of austerity that none of them caused; 10 long years of austerity that many of these pensioners did not vote for. Indeed, 10 long years of austerity have had a devastating impact on the living standards and quality of life of hundreds of thousands of pensioners across the United Kingdom.

In 2003, pension credit was introduced under the new Labour Government. It was created to ensure that all older people received a minimum amount of income and has played a major role in previous reductions in poverty. Indeed, the last Labour Government lifted 2 million pensioners out of poverty as a result of policies such as pension credit.

What have we seen since? Over 400,000 more pensioners have been plunged into poverty, and two in five of the pensioner households that are entitled to pension credit currently do not claim it. That shows that it is not that the policy itself is not working; instead, it is that people who might need this money are not accessing it. The Government have to change that.

Parliament’s brilliant digital engagement team asked people on social media and on the MoneySavingExpert.com forum over the weekend about their experiences with pension credit. It was clear from that research that although many respondents were aware of pension credit, there was much more confusion about what the benefit actually was, who is eligible to it and how it can be accessed. Several of the respondents criticised the way that the DWP promotes pension credit to those who are eligible for it. For example,

Joanne Stannard said that

“there are some over-75s who don’t even own a computer…make their lives easier”.

Susan Brady said:

“I worked for the DWP for over 30 years in operational delivery, so I am well aware how unfair our welfare system is. We seem to despise our older people in the UK. It’s wrong, totally wrong.”

I could go on, but what was clear from the responses is that the system is not fit for purpose. People do not know whether they are eligible for pension credit and many are struggling to get by, despite working hard throughout their lives.

I thank everyone who responded to the questions posted online or shared their views about them, and I pay tribute to the digital engagement team for again helping us to have as informed a debate as possible.