HC Deb 10 January 2000 vol 342 cc14-5
12. Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North)

What proposals he has to address the financial needs of women pensioners. [102940]

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

We are committed to ensuring that our pension reforms improve women's pension rights. Our plans to reform the state earnings-related pension scheme through the introduction of the state second pension will dramatically enhance state pension provision and will be of particular benefit to women, many of whom work part time or as carers. The state second pension will give a dramatic boost to the additional pension entitlement of low earners and, for the first time, will help carers and some long-term disabled people with broken work records, to build up a second pension.

For today's pensioners, the minimum income guarantee is available to provide a basic income in retirement for the poorest women pensioners, as it is to all who qualify.

Ms Keeble

In my constituency, some 8,000 women—about a quarter of all the people in employment—work part time. Almost all of them are in the income bracket that qualifies for the second state pension. Is my right hon. Friend aware of the pressures that many women face when they have to give up work to look after disabled relatives, so that raises the possibility of a break in their pension entitlement? Does he agree that, for future generations of pensioners, a carers pension linked to the state second pension would ensure that people have a decent and independent pension entitlement? Would it not also ease the pressures that women face by rewarding them, through the pension provision, for staying at home and looking after families and disabled relatives?

Mr. Rooker

Yes. Figures show that some 2 million carers—at least 1.5 million of whom are women—would benefit under the second state pension, for which, for the first time, people are beginning to build up entitlement. There are 4.5 million low earners in this country, of whom 70 per cent. are women, and 6 million moderate earners. All those people—more than 10 million of them, the majority of whom will be women—will gain under the state second pension.

Mr. Michael Trend (Windsor)

The Minister told us some weeks ago that he was looking with urgency at the position of war widows, in whose circumstances I know that he is deeply interested. Does he now agree with us that war widows should be allowed to retain their husbands' occupational pensions, or will that possibility be lost from sight again?

Mr. Rooker

It will not be lost from sight, as there is at least one clause on war pensions in the Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Bill that we are to debate tomorrow. However, the matter is under active consideration in the Ministry of Defence, where the decision will be taken. In due course, the appropriate Ministers will come to the House and account for their decisions.

Mr. Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there remain significant numbers of pensioners, mainly older women, who refuse to apply for the minimum income guarantee because of the income support label that it carries? Will he urgently consider how the benefit is labelled? Might it not be better to call it a supplementary pension, or something similar, so that what is sometimes wrongly considered to be a stigma could help those pensioners who need it?

Mr. Rooker

Yes. Our research shows that the largest group of people missing out on the minimum income guarantee are older women. We are to initiate a Government-sponsored take-up campaign for the minimum income guarantee, which will include a partial rebranding of the benefit to meet the point that my hon. Friend makes about the stigma attached to it.

As I have told the House before, applications for the minimum income guarantee can be made in writing or over the telephone. It is not necessary to go to the local benefit office to make an application.