I will speak briefly, because I know a lot of Members want to speak. I thank Chris Elmore for having secured this important debate.
It is a disgrace that pension credit—the support in place to help our poorest pensioners—has been under-claimed by £7 billion since June 2017 across the UK. In my constituency, that figure stands at £7.4 million. While many pensioners often have to choose between eating and heating, they are unaware that other support has been set aside for them. I have raised this issue on the Floor of the House, and asked what the Government were going to do to publicise that support and ensure that our poorest older people were aware of it. Predictably and disappointingly, the answer I received was rather dismissive.
It seems to me that unacceptable obstacles have been placed in the path of those who might claim and benefit from this support. In my constituency, as I said earlier, I have been told by old people that when they call the pension credit claim line, it is not properly staffed. After being kept on hold, sometimes for up to a full hour, the would-be claimant gives up and hangs up. On hearing that, I advised my constituents to apply for pension credit via post, but guess what? Only those living in Northern Ireland can do so. I wonder why that is; perhaps the Minister can explain why there is more concern for constituents in Northern Ireland than for those in North Ayrshire and Arran.
Why does this matter? It seems to me that by not informing older people that pension credit exists, and then making it as hard as possible for them to claim, the less it costs and the more can be clawed back by the Treasury. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of pensioners in my constituency and across the UK are robbed of vital support that could make a material difference to their circumstances. That is before we talk about those who may miss out on pension credit and, as a further blow, will lose their right to a free TV licence when those are cut by the Government, not to mention the fact that pension credit is often a gateway benefit to other support.
The cuts in pension credit for mixed-age couples were sneaked out under the cover of the Brexit chaos. Add to that the betrayal of women born in the 1950s, who have been robbed of their state pension, and we have a UK Government breaking their manifesto pledge to protect pensioner benefits.