HC Deb 25 June 2001 vol 370 cc374-5
9. Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale, East)

If he will make a statement on the level of the minimum income guarantee. [450]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Maria Eagle)

The level of the MIG was increased significantly in April. Single pensioners are now £15 a week better off in real terms than in 1997 owing to that increase and to other measures.

Paul Goggins

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer and join hon. Members in welcoming her to her new post.

I welcome the impressive increases in the level of the minimum income guarantee that have been initiated by the Government, but a retired pensioner whom I met recently was living on £72 a week, unaware that she was entitled to an extra £20. I am pleased to say that she is now receiving that extra amount, but will my hon. Friend's Department redouble its efforts to identify all pensioners who are eligible and encourage them to make a claim?

Maria Eagle

I am pleased to hear the example that my hon. Friend has related. It is one of many. Of course, we will ensure that as many people as possible who are entitled to the minimum income guarantee claim it. That is the purpose of our take-up campaign. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said, over 100,000 people are now an average £20 a week better off as a result of taking up the MIG.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)

I welcome the Minister to her post. Hard work and perceptiveness on the Public Accounts Committee have been duly rewarded.

What does the Minister intend to do about the 40-page form that one has to fill up to apply for the minimum income guarantee? It includes such gobbledegook questions as: Are you involved in a trade dispute? Please tell us in part 14 of this form if you want to claim for more than 7 children. Are you or your partner pregnant? Are you or your partner on parental leave from your employment? Is it not high time that we did away with such gobbledegook, gave some of the poorest pensioners in the land a decent minimum income, abolished the minimum income guarantee and had a proper basic pension instead?

Maria Eagle

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words at the beginning of his remarks, which turned into a bit of a rant. I remind him that it was his Government who invented those questions. I assure him that, from October this year, the 40-page form will be down to 10 pages and all those questions will have gone.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)

I warmly welcome my hon. Friend to her new responsibilities. What progress has been made on eliminating that complicated form? Many pensioners are still unable to face the complication of filling in an application form and may be ignorant of the benefits that filling it in would bring. If we could give them the minimum income guarantee without the need for an application form, many more people would benefit.

Maria Eagle

I thank my hon. Friend for her kind remarks. I assure her that we want to minimise the inconvenience and difficulty that people have to go through to receive the minimum income guarantee. We have to ask some questions to determine whether people are eligible, but those will be kept to the minimum. My hon. Friend will no doubt be pleased to hear that those who are trying to claim can receive help on the telephone from those who know how to fill in the forms. We are trying to ensure that those forms are as simple as possible and that there is as much help as possible for those who need to fill them in.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

May I add my congratulations to the hon. Lady on assuming her new position? Does she share my anxiety, and that expressed by Age Concern, about the forecast that the percentage of households eligible for benefits which fail to take them up because they are means-tested will increase to more than 50 per cent under this Government? What assurance can she give the House that that will not happen over the lifetime of this Parliament?

Maria Eagle

The hon. Lady calls it means testing, but I call it ensuring that those who have never had a decent pension have a chance to receive one. There may be a different perspective on the matter, but the fact is that we are ensuring that those who have always had too little money to live on in their old age will now have proper provision. That is to be welcomed.