HC Deb 19 June 2000 vol 352 cc14-5
9. Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury)

If he will make a statement on the take-up of income support by pensioners. [124953]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Hugh Bayley)

We estimate that around 500,000 pensioners are missing out on their entitlement, and we are concerned about those in real need because they do not take up the minimum income guarantee. At the end of May, we launched an ambitious minimum income guarantee take-up campaign, and there is intense activity on a number of fronts to encourage those who may be entitled to the minimum income guarantee to claim it.

Mr. Robertson

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. However, is it not true that the poorest pensioners are in fact the oldest pensioners? Is it not also true that the oldest pensioners are probably less likely to take up income support or the minimum income guarantee? Given the Government's stated objective of helping the poorest pensioners, would it not be a failure of the minimum income guarantee if that were the case? Would the problem not be alleviated if pensioners—or at least today's pensioners and older pensioners—received a better state pension?

Mr. Bayley

It is the intention of the take-up campaign to ensure that all pensioners who are entitled to a minimum income guarantee but are not claiming it get it. That includes a lot of older pensioners—precisely those to whom we are giving the additional help of the free television licence.

In the first two weeks of the campaign, we have received 40,000 calls on the MIG helpline, and an additional 30,000 requests have been received through the post from people returning the tear-off slips in the mail shots that we have sent out so far. We are getting a good response, and we know that it will provide the additional support of a minimum income guarantee for a lot of pensioners who have not have had it hitherto, although they were entitled to it.

Helen Jones (Warrington, North)

I welcome what my hon. Friend has said about the number of those calling the helpline. However, even when people receive the partially completed form, many pensioners who live alone, and some with disabilities, will find it very difficult to complete the other relevant parts of the form, particularly people who are blind or partially sighted. Will my hon. Friend consider the possibility of a link-up between the telephone helpline and local social security offices or welfare rights advisers in an area, so that pensioners who still need help with completing the forms can receive it?

Mr. Bayley

I can reassure my hon. Friend that the way we have structured the MIG take-up campaign is intended to deal with precisely that problem. When people telephone the helpline, they can fill in the form over the telephone there and then.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)

Is not the Government's minimum income guarantee for pensioners a complete con, because it depends on some of our poorest pensioners having to go cap in hand to the Government to claim income support? Is it not high time all our pensioners had a decent minimum pension?

Mr. Bayley

I am just astounded by that question. Let me take the House back to May 1997, when the basic state pension was £62.45. Those getting the MIG now are getting £16 more. If the hon. Gentleman tells the people who are getting £16 more as a result of a Labour policy that the MIG is a bad thing, they will laugh in his face.