Access to Pension Credit

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:58 pm on 24th July 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment) 4:58 pm, 24th July 2019

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Ms Buck. I congratulate Chris Elmore on an excellent speech. It is noticeable that the Celtic nations have dominated the debate so far, with one honourable exception in Stephanie Peacock. I have noticed something else in the debate, and we should show sympathy and solidarity with our Conservative colleagues, who are all nervously watching their telephones as the reshuffle begins. If social media is to be believed, we are looking at an episode of “Game of Thrones”—“The Red Wedding 2”—but we will see what happens in the next few hours.

As I said, the hon. Member for Ogmore made an excellent speech on access to pension credit and pressed home the statistics that he read out. The Independent Age charity informed me that there is an unclaimed £9,664,000 in the Glasgow South West constituency on a yearly basis. Frankly, that is an astonishing figure. It is outrageous that the Department for Work and Pensions is allowing billions in benefits to go unclaimed by poor pensioners. As the hon. Member for Ogmore said, four in 10 pensioner households that are entitled to pension credit are not receiving it. When we add that to the TV licence proposals, which I will come to, it looks very much look like poorer pensioners are missing out on many aspects of state support that they should receive.

Mr Sweeney and others have rightly invited DWP to try to sort out the situation, but some of us feel that, as Members of Parliament, we have to address it as well. I am organising a pension credit event for pensioner clubs and other organisations—bowling clubs, for example—during the summer recess, to show their members what they are entitled to and highlight that they will have friends and neighbours who are entitled to pension credit but are not receiving it.

We have other decisions on pension credit. The outrageous decision to cut pension credit for mixed-age couples could cost some couples £7,000 a year. It really is not good enough for the Government to say that a decision was made in 2012. There have been two general elections since then, and the make-up of Parliament is a lot different. There really should have been parliamentary scrutiny before 15 May, when the Government decided to put that forward. It is unacceptable, and just another addition to the long list of policies that are hurting older people.

I want to touch briefly on TV licences, because I think a number of hon. Members have suggested, and I agree, that it could end up being a false economy for the Government—[Interruption.]—I am obviously getting agreement from outside, as I am being cheered. It is a false economy because what could end up happening is that we will have people claiming pension credit to try to keep their free TV licence, which will cost the DWP a lot more than if it had kept TV licences under its domain. There is also the issue of the 1950s-born women, many of whom were not properly informed of the changes. Some have been affected by the mixed-age couple rules, and some single 1950s-born women could be eligible for pension credit, but they will have to wait longer to claim it because of the increase in pension age.

I want to close by emphasising that any suggestion that austerity is over is absolutely farcical. The Government have continued to target austerity at the most disadvantaged. The changes they are making to pension credit, and the fact that they are not proactive in ensuring that poorer pensioners know they are entitled to it, emphasises the point very well indeed.