It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Buck. I congratulate my hon. Friend Chris Elmore on securing this afternoon’s debate, and thank him for the case that he has outlined.
As we have heard, pension credit is not working. Over £200 million of pension credit is not reaching older people in Wales each year, including almost £6 million that is not reaching people in my constituency. As many as 80,000 people in Wales, and over 1 million in total across the UK, are currently missing out. The financial support that pension credit provides would be a life-changing event to a great number of those people, who are finding it harder and harder to get by due to years of Tory austerity. That is certainly the case in constituencies such as mine in the south Wales valleys, where it can often be easy for geographic isolation to cause older people to suffer from loneliness and poor mental health. Pension credit can enable people suffering from loneliness or isolation to take part in a range of social activities they would not otherwise be able to, not to mention make shopping and other bills affordable.
I also want to mention free TV licences for the over-75s. Following the Government’s cruel decision to offload responsibility for that concession to the BBC, there is a policy to means-test pensioners’ eligibility for free TV licences through pension credit. That is not a suitable test, since the current take-up of that benefit is so low. Not only will about 3,220 pensioner households in my constituency and many thousands more across the UK continue to miss out on that essential benefit, but they will now be hit by a bill of over £150 for a TV licence.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore said, almost 2 million older people in the UK are living in poverty. It is shocking that more than two in five pensioner households are not receiving the pension credit to which they are entitled, an average of £49 per week. That money would make a huge difference to some of the poorest people in my constituency, across Wales and across the UK. Those pensioners have paid into the system their entire working life, but that very system is now letting them down.
The Government must now act to improve the take-up of pension credit and launch a campaign to create wider awareness of it, in order to lift pensioners out of poverty and give them the quality of life that they deserve. I plead with the Minister to consider the real and grave concerns that have been raised during today’s debate, and come forward with answers, not words, to address an injustice that is causing hardship to those who can least afford it.