HC Deb 15 October 2001 vol 372 cc918-20
12. Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South)

What discussions he has had with pensioner organisations about initiatives to inform older people ov their eligibility for pensions and benefits. [3587]

The Minister for Pensions (Mr. Ian McCartney)

My Department, in partnership with organisations working with older people, is developing a series of initiatives designed to encourage take-up of the minimum income guarantee, yncluding an information leaflet about the guarantee which has been available since the beginning of September. From today, when people claim their retirement punsion, we will qsk them questio~s to seu whether they are entitled to the minimum income guarantee as well.

Mr. Tynan

I thank my right hon. Friend for the information that he has given, particularly about people going into retirement. I am sure that many hon. Members, like myself, have pensioners in their constituency who are failing to receive their entitlement, especially the minimum income guarantee. I suggest that additional resources are made available for a benefits check to target existing pensioners. That would assist in identifying those who are entitled to the minimum income guarantee and ensuring that they receive it.

As part of his campaign, will my right hon. Friend visit Hamilton, South so that we can make sure that my constituents are exposed to the best possible publicity and receive the benefits to which they are entitled?

Mr. McCartney

Following a request by my hon. Friend and his local council leader, I have agreed to go to his constituency on 8 November to discuss the pensions strategy and our wider plans for older people. [Laughter.] I do not know why hon. Members are laughing. Is that not what Ministers are supposed to do—go out and meet our fellow citizens? The hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) used to jeer when 2 million pensioners could not get a penny out of the last Government and were living in absolute poverty. This Government are going out to find those 2 million pensioners and give them their entitlement, which they were denied by the hon. Gentleman's party when it was in power.

I can tell my hon. Friend that we are improving uptake and increasing the resources devoted to that. Secondly, when the pensioner credit becomes available, all pensioners aged 65 and over will, through a new pension service, be invited to participate in a discussion so that we can ascertain immediately whether they are entitled to the pensioner credit. Some 5.5 million pensioner households will benefit from that policy.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

A little while ago, the Secretary of State spoke, quite rightly, about employers' prejudice against people with disabilities. Does the Minister agree that there is also employer prejudice against people who are older but below pension age? What steps is he taking to ensure that businesses employ people under 65, who have something very valuable to offer, thus taking them off benefits?

Mr. McCartney

If that is the hon. Gentleman's job application to the new leader of his party, I will take it up on his behalf.

The Government are very committed to working with employers to eradicate age discrimination. We will legislate by 2006 to prevent such discrimination in the workplace. In the meantime, through our code of practice and the national "Age Positive" campaign, which works with employers, significant numbers of older workers are returning to the work force for the first time in many years. A range of employers who would normally make workers redundant because of their age are changing their practice. In addition, advertisements that discriminate on the basis of age have almost disappeared. We have given employers a warning that there is only a short time before such adverts cannot be used.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman does find a place on the Conservative Front Bench before he reaches the age of 75. If he has not done so by 2006, he will be able to use legislation introduced by this Government to do something about it.

James Purnell (Stalybridge and Hyde)

One of my constituents recently lost her partner in a car crash. He had two pensions: an occupational pension, which will pay my constituent a pension, and a pension from the Teachers Pensions Agency, which does not recognise unmarried partners. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to encourage the TPA and other public sector pension organisations to recognise unmarried partners?

Mr. McCartney

This is a tragic case. There is a meeting today to discuss such issues with the Department. There has been a Government strategy across the public sector in order to try to improve pension arrangements. Changes could include the potential for additional contributions from those in the scheme. However, areas of discrimination are being addressed, and I shall write to my hon. Friend about the matter following the discussions.

Mr. David Willetts (Havant)

Will the Minister confirm that pension organisations are very worried that older people will not receive their benefits if they cannot cash giro cheques at their local post offices? There is much uncertainty about the Government's plans for a universal bank. I hope that the Minister will today end that uncertainty by answering three specific questions. First, is the universal bank proposal still on track? Secondly, has the Department been asked to take the lead in a review of the universal bank proposal? Thirdly, how many benefit claimants do the Government expect to open universal bank accounts? Following his rather cavalier answer to the question asked by the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr. Roy), it would be helpful to receive real answers and not be referred to a chart.

Mr. McCartney

First, the universal bank is going to happen. Secondly, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is overseeing the programme. Thirdly, thank goodness we are a Labour Government. If the Tory Government had still been in office, there would not only be no universal bank but no post office for people to go to.

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