HC Deb 17 March 2003 vol 401 cc623-4
14. Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell)

What percentage of pensioners are dependent on means-tested support. [102958]

The Minister for Pensions (Mr. Ian McCartney):

About 30 per cent. of pensioner families are in receipt of income-related benefits. Our priority has always been to focus help on those who need it most, which is why we introduced the minimum income guarantee. Almost 2 million people are benefiting from the guarantee, and the take-up campaign has put an extra £20 a week on average in the pockets of 149,000 people who would not have received it otherwise. In the hon. Gentleman's constituency, around 1,500 people are in receipt of the minimum income guarantee. We are now going a step further and introducing pension credit, which will reward—not penalise—saving. As a consequence of that change, the poorest pensioners will receive an average extra income of £400 a year.

Chris Grayling

Does the Minister not realise the disservice that the Government are doing to pensioners in my constituency and elsewhere? Through their new credits they are creating a complicated mechanism for pensioners to get some money back from the Government, but extra taxation, particularly the council tax, is taking much more out of pensioners' pockets. Will the Government adjust means-tested benefits to make them simpler to access and to make them reflect the huge extra cost of living that pensioners are absorbing this year because of the tax rises?

Mr. McCartney

The Government have swept away the Tories' means-tested, mean-minded approach to pensioners' income. Consequently, come October this year, a pensioner in the hon. Gentleman's constituency can make one phone call, complete an application with a civil servant trained to act as their advocate, sign a commitment that the information given is correct, and receive pension credit. In addition, we have changed the rules with regard to council tax and housing benefit, so unlike the situation under the Conservatives, who gave benefit with one hand and took it away with the other, pensioners will qualify for housing benefit and council tax benefit as well.

Mr. George Mudie (Leeds, East)

Will my right hon. Friend pay no attention to Opposition Members' hypocrisy in respect of targeted benefits? Can he confirm that as a result of the targeted benefits and the minimum income guarantee, the poorest pensioners have received weekly increases of up to £30 a week? Can he also confirm that the poorest pensioners are on average 30 per cent. per year better off?

Mr. McCartney

My hon. Friend is correct. Opposition Members, both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, must explain in the next few months why the Conservatives have a secret plan to privatise the basic state pension, and why the hon. Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb) has a Mickey Mouse Budget under which the youngest pensioners, who he says are the poorest, will lose about £30 a week in benefit to pay for his mad-cap idea of simply increasing pensions for people over the age of 75.