HC Deb 28 July 1997 vol 299 cc10-1
9. Kali Mountford

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what assessment she has made of the reasons why pensioners do not claim income support. [9036]

Mr. Denham

Our review of pensions is looking at the central areas of pensions insecurity for elderly people. Pensions are of key importance to people's lives and it is vital to build a sustainable consensus on the way forward so that everyone can look forward to a secure and dignified retirement.

We are committed to examining ways of helping up to 1 million pensioners who are entitled to income support but do not claim it. We are commissioning research to establish why they do not take up their benefit entitlement.

Kali Mountford

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware that an estimated 1,150 pensioners in my constituency do not take up pensions? When I contacted my local DSS office, I was told that it had no strategy to encourage the take-up of pensions. Is it not the case that pensioners have no choice, contrary to what the Conservatives claimed when they were in power, and that we need a strategy to ensure that people who feel that a stigma is attached to means-tested benefits are encouraged to take up their entitlement?

Mr. Denham

My hon. Friend is right. The previous Administration took the view that the only explanation for non-take-up was choice by poor elderly pensioners. The figures that she has given from her constituency show why it is so important that we understand the obstacles that those pensioners face in claiming the benefit so that we can examine ways forward.

Mr. Yeo

Does the Minister understand that the main reason why pensioners do not claim income support is that they are not eligible for it because they receive a second pension? Therefore, will he confirm, as a matter of simple fact, that the value of the pensions—which millions of personal pension plan holders looked forward to receiving—were substantially devalued by the Chancellor's smash-and-grab raid on 2 July?

Mr. Denham

The hon. Gentleman is wrong in both assertions. Pensioners who are entitled to income support but who do not claim it do not have a second pension or, if they do, it is not enough to take them above income support level. The hon. Gentleman would do better to express some concern about why that situation exists, as we are doing.

Mr. Coaker

Does my hon. Friend agree that some pensioners do not claim the benefits to which they are entitled because the Conservative party created a culture in which people believe that anyone who claims benefit is a scrounger? What we need to do is to persuade pensioners that, far from scrounging, they are claiming something for which they have paid all their lives and on which they have a legitimate claim.

Mr. Denham

My hon. Friend is right. One of the problems that we have to overcome is the legacy of 18 years in which everybody who claimed any benefit was labelled a scrounger. That is one of the reasons why proud elderly people are reluctant to claim the benefits to which they are entitled.

Mr. Burns

The Government's aim is to encourage pensioners to claim the benefits to which they are entitled. How does that square with the nasty and vindictive clause 70 in the Social Security Bill which will reduce the back-dating claim time from three months to one month? If more pensions are claimed, what assessment has been made by his Department of the amount of public money available and how much has been set aside to meet those claims?

Mr. Denham

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already set out, in last week's debate on social security, why we intend to have a social security system that operates efficiently and effectively in the interests of those who use it. That is what we shall do.