HC Deb 02 June 1997 vol 295 c11
9. Mr. Watts

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what estimate she has made of the number of pensioners dependent on income support in retirement. [883]

Mr. Denham

In August 1996, a total of 1,768,000 pensioners were in receipt of income support. We are concerned that up to 1 million pensioners do not receive the income support to which they are entitled. We are commissioning research so that we can more o fully understand why they do not claim or receive benefit.

Mr. Watts

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his appointment. Does he agree that the poor take-up of income support by pensioners is not just a matter of personal choice, as the previous Government claimed, but that many pensioners feel that a stigma is attached to claiming means-tested benefits?

Mr. Denham

I welcome my hon. Friend to the House and thank him for his question. It is clear from what we already know that a range of barriers prevents pensioners from claiming income support, and the stigma associated with claiming benefit may be one. We should understand all the barriers facing pensioners who do not claim income support so that we can move forward.

Mr. Fallon

Is it not precisely that group of pensioners who are entitled to a clear answer on the question of the pensioners' Christmas bonus, to which the Secretary of State alluded a few moments ago? Will the Minister confirm that, under the review, that bonus could be scrapped?

Mr. Denham

Pensioners need to know clearly why, year after year, the Conservative Government showed such disinterest in the plight of the poorest pensioners. We raised the issue in opposition, but were told that pensioners went without income support because they chose to live in poverty. I doubt that that is true, which is why we need to understand the barriers to their claiming income support.