It is a pleasure to speak briefly in this debate under your chairmanship, Ms Buck. I commend my hon. Friend Chris Elmore, and congratulate him and his new wife on their wedding last weekend. I wish them many happy years together; hopefully they can draw their pensions together in years to come. I will say a word about the level of pension credit take-up in Wales, and I commend my hon. Friend for raising the issue. I know that a couple of other things are happening in this city today, but although minds will be focused on the new resident in Downing Street, I hope the debate gets the focus and attention that it deserves.
As all colleagues will know, and as my hon. Friend indicated, pension credit is the main means-tested benefit for pensioners. For those people reaching state pension age before April 2016, pension credit has two parts—guarantee credit and savings credit. Guarantee credit provides financial help for people aged over the qualifying age for pension credit whose income is below a set amount. Savings credit is an extra amount for people aged 65 or over, who have made some provision for their retirement.
As we have heard, in 2016-17 up to 1.3 million families who were entitled to receive pension credit did not claim the benefit. That equates to about £3.5 billion of available pension credit going unclaimed. On average, that amounted to about £2,500 per year for each family, and in Wales in 2016-17 more than £170 million went unclaimed by some of the poorest older people in our part of the United Kingdom.
I have been an MP for only a few months, but before my election to this House I worked in the NHS for more than 30 years. It was clear to me then, as it is clear to me now in my new role as the Member for Newport West, that food poverty and fuel poverty are on the rise, and that there is a homelessness crisis. In this House, and in all four parts of the UK, we need to do more to assist those eligible to apply and we need to ensure that people know that they are eligible.
There is a communication issue here. We need to do more, go further and be clearer about the fact that pension credit is there to help those who need it. The Government’s welfare policies leave a lot to be desired. Frankly, the Government should be ashamed of much of the last nine years. However, for all that shame there is support and we should encourage our constituents to seek it. I will use my role as the Member for Newport West to champion the issue, and will continue to work with and support my hon. Friend to raise these issues.
I do not know whether the Minister has been notified, but I would like him to address two questions. First, the take-up of pension credit by couples continues to be lower than that of single people. What steps will the Minister take to ensure that the rate at which couples claim pension credit increases? Secondly, according to the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, £170 million of pension credit went unclaimed in 2016-17. What steps are the Government, alongside other Departments, taking to increase pension credit take-up rates in Wales?