HC Deb 29 November 1999 vol 340 cc16-7
13. Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling)

What estimate he has made of the number of pensioners benefiting from the minimum income guarantee. [99074]

The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Mr. Jeff Rooker)

In May 1999, 1.4 million pensioners were benefiting from the minimum income guarantee.

Mr. Coaker

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. That figure means that a huge number of pensioners throughout the country, including in my constituency of Gedling in Nottingham, have benefited from the Government's policy. However, as he is aware, there is a problem with take-up. Will he investigate whether we can introduce imaginative measures to get pensioners who are not claiming the minimum income guarantee to claim it?

Mr. Rooker

Yes, I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. There is a problem with take-up—which, before anyone says anything, is inevitable with a means-tested benefit. However, there are also problems with take-up of attendance allowance, which is not means-tested. Too many pensioners are missing out. We estimate that take-up is about 40. per cent., so there are opportunities to increase take-up of that allowance. Millions of pensioners receive council tax benefit and housing benefit, as do millions of other people, and no stigma is attached to those benefits. We shall run a Government-sponsored take-up campaign for the minimum income guarantee early next year.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

Has the Minister taken any notice of the results of the focus groups that insurance companies have been running on the minimum pension guarantee, and is he not concerned that the message has obviously got across to generations of people whose retirement is some time away that they will gain no advantage from investing and saving for their future if their income is low?

Mr. Rooker

I hate to admit this, but the answer is yes. I have taken account of the focus groups because, along with some of my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb), I recently attended one of those groups, which was illuminating. The reaction was exactly the same as that of some of my constituents.

Nevertheless, the central issue that emerged was the need to save and prepare for a pension many years in advance, and the thought that, if it is left too late, it becomes more expensive. That has got across to people, as has the point that I made earlier—that anyone who relies solely on the basic state retirement pension and makes no other provision will, as has always been the case, retire in abject poverty.

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