HC Deb 06 March 2000 vol 345 cc759-60
13. Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

What proposals he has to improve the income of the poorest pensioners. [111843]

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

The minimum income guarantee has already increased the incomes of our poorest pensioners. This year, it will increase in line with earnings, by £3.45 per week for a single pensioner and £5.35 per week for a couple. We have also given an undertaking that the minimum income guarantee will continue to rise annually in line with earnings throughout this Parliament.

Mr. Flynn

While I acknowledge the Government's beneficial actions to help pensioners, according to Government figures, 700,000 of the poorest pensioners are losing an average of £18 per week. Our main reason for not restoring the link between earnings and pensions was that we wanted to concentrate on the poorest pensioners. We promised to introduce the take-up scheme nearly a year ago, and it was promised again last month, in a debate in the House on 9 February. Will Ministers now give a guarantee that when we, belatedly, introduce the scheme, it will be backdated to cover those pensioners who are now losing an average £18 a week?

Mr. Bayley

I know that my hon. Friend takes a close interest in such matters. During the first three years of this Parliament, pensioners will have received more than £800 million more through winter fuel payments and the minimum income guarantee than they would have received had we merely restored the uprating link to earnings.

On the minimum income guarantee, we do not know the number of people who would be eligible but are not claiming. It is probably between 400,000 and 700,000. I hope that my hon. Friend will agree that the very fact that there is a need to run a take-up campaign shows that take-up campaigns in the past have not succeeded. That is why we need to make sure that we have got it right, and that when we introduce our take-up campaign shortly, it works.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

In supporting the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn), may I suggest to the Minister that there is a particular problem for many of the poorest pensioners in rural areas? They have cultural problems that prevent them from seeking assistance, they have problems in gaining access to the advice that they should receive, and they are often isolated. Will he look particularly at ways of getting to those poor pensioners, so that they take up the benefits to which they are entitled?

Mr. Bayley

I acknowledge that there are special problems facing poor people in rural areas. They tend to live in smaller groups of poorer people, often side by side with people on higher incomes, which means that those responsible for politics in poorer areas have often overlooked their needs. I can give the hon. Gentleman an assurance that when we launch a take-up campaign, it will seek to address the needs of people who ought to be claiming a minimum income guarantee, wherever they live—in rural areas, just as in urban areas.

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