Access to Pension Credit

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:12 pm on 24th July 2019.

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Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 5:12 pm, 24th July 2019

Much though I am urged to do so by the hon. Gentleman. Chris Stephens asked if my phone was turned on, but it is most definitely turned off—with respect and due deference to the Chair—and it is not for me to make new tax or incentives policy.

A perfectly legitimate point, however, can be made in two ways in answer to my hon. Friend Alex Chalk and several other speakers. Voluntary organisations do a fantastic job of explaining to our older community—some of whom are digitally challenged and some fully up to speed online—the opportunities to claim and the things out there that the Government will provide, and that applies to any Government down the years. Basically, those organisations should have all our support, and anything that individual Members of Parliament, local authorities and local organisations can do to assist their efforts is entirely right. In my constituency, I have visited the Men’s Shed in Hexham and various support organisations, such as Age Concern in Corbridge. I fully accept that they do a fantastic job, as similar organisations do in Cheltenham and as does my hon. Friend. If we have the ability to use them more, I am happy to take any suggestions on board.

I accept that Government actions are criticised and I understand that it is for us to make our case, but I make a further point that the pension credit toolkit that we reissued in April, with two versions this year, provides copious advice not only to the individual who wishes to claim but to the voluntary organisations out there. I urge any voluntary organisations without access to the pension credit toolkit—which gives guidance, advice, assistance and recommendations of how to disseminate vital information to our constituents—to take it up, because it is of great importance.

All those things having been said, I want to make it clear that part of our case is that we would love pension credit take-up levels to be higher. The benefit is specifically intended to provide support to some of the poorest and most vulnerable pensioners in our community, and there is no question but that we are already committed to ensuring economic security for people at every stage of their life, especially when they reach retirement.

We are forecast to spend more than £120 billion on benefits for pensioners in 2019-20, which includes £99 billion on the state pension. As a result of the triple lock, from April 2019 the full yearly amount of the basic state pension is about £675 higher than if it had been uprated just by earnings since April 2010. That is a rise of more than £1,600 in cash terms.

In respect of pension credit, the value of the standard minimum guarantee this year is the equivalent of more than £1,800 per year higher in cash terms for single people, and more than £2,700 for couples, than it was in 2010. As a Government, we also spend £2 billion a year on winter fuel payments, which are payable to all pensioners, including those on pension credit.

The overall trend in the percentage of pensioners living in poverty has been a dramatic fall over recent decades. Rates of material deprivation for pensioners are at a record low. In fact, between 2009-10 and 2017-18, material deprivation for pensioners has fallen from 10% to 7%, and rates of relative pensioner poverty before housing costs have halved since 1990. We want to maintain that achievement. It is important that hon. Members understand that more than 1.6 million people already claim pension credit. That equates to £5.4 billion of claims. Indeed, as of November 2018, there were 2,450 pension credit claimants in the constituency of the hon. Member for Ogmore, and over 100,000 in Wales as a whole.

Moving on to the point about the BBC