HC Deb 06 March 2000 vol 345 cc754-5
7. Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South)

What progress has been made in the last six months in persuading those of pensionable age to take up the minimum income guarantee and other age?related benefits in the north?west region of England. [111835]

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

We are committed to taking action to find more effective ways of encouraging eligible pensioners to claim their entitlement to the minimum income guarantee. That is why we have been incredibly busy in recent weeks developing a programme to encourage pensioners to take up their benefit entitlement. We will announce our plans for implementation shortly.

Mr. Marsden

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Is he aware that about 4,900 pensioners in my constituency currently claim the minimum income guarantee but, on the Department's own estimates, between 2,000 and 2,500 do not? I say "do not", but we do not have regionally broken down figures. Would it not be a good idea to provide such figures? My local newspaper, The Evening Gazette in Blackpool is running a campaign to make pensioners aware of their entitlements and Age Concern has a similar campaign coming forward. However, the original promise about entitlement was made in the middle of 1999. My right hon. Friend bows to no one in his forcefulness, so will he use some of that forcefulness to get his officials off their bottoms and on to the issues before us?

Mr. Rooker

I take my hon. Friend's point about the figures. The numbers that we use for the individuals who are not claiming come from information in the general household survey, so it is not possible to provide the detailed figures on the regional or local authority basis that he would like.

The campaign that we shall announce shortly involves, as I have said before, a mailshot in three tranches to a targeted 2 million households, a telephone helpline and television advertising. It will be the biggest single operation by any Government to get more money to the poorest pensioners. If we rush and get it wrong, all that we will do is build up aspirations and hopes that will be shattered. We must get it right. I sincerely regret the delay—we had hoped to have made an announcement by now—but that announcement is imminent.

Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham)

How long will it be before we get the announcement? How short is shortly? How is the right hon. Gentleman planning to persuade people on low incomes in the north-west to save under stakeholder or state second pensions when the minimum income guarantee will give them more money in their pockets with council tax and housing benefits when they come to retire?

Mr. Rooker

I cannot go beyond the word "shortly". We are working as quickly as we can, but it is a multi-million pound Government operation. It is not a cheapskate scheme with just one press advertisement to do the job. We have got to get things right because we are dealing with hundreds of thousands of people.

I would have hoped that the hon. Lady had learned upstairs in Committee that it is wholly wrong and misleading to compare an individual's right to a pension—whether stakeholder, second or occupational pension—with a couple's right to a means-tested benefit, and that that erroneous comparison will cause people to lose their rights. The hon. Lady is wrong to make that assertion.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that there are many pensioners in the north-west and elsewhere who are quite poor but who are not entitled to the minimum income guarantee and other benefits because they have a small occupational pension or a small amount of savings in the bank? Those people feel that they are missing out because they have saved. What can be done to help such pensioners?

Mr. Rooker

The more quickly capital limits are reviewed, the better, and we are committed to doing that during this Parliament. We need to make the point that people can have up to £8,000 in savings; there is not a cut-off at £3,000, as some people think, although it is true that there is a sliding scale. The minimum income guarantee figures that we always quote are for a single person at retirement age, but the guarantee goes up at age 75 and again at 80, and can run about £6 or £7 a week ahead of the figure for the basic retirement pension. It is worth people's inquiring about the guarantee and applying for it even if they think that they may not be eligible, because they could be on the margin and hence eligible.

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