HC Deb 20 October 2003 vol 411 cc356-8
4. Phil Sawford (Kettering)

How many pensioners in the Kettering constituency are in receipt of the minimum income guarantee. [132604]

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

About 3,100 pensioners in the Kettering constituency were receiving the minimum income guarantee. I can confirm that all my hon. Friend's constituents on the minimum income guarantee are now receiving pension credit.

Phil Sawford

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Thousands of my constituents have benefited from the minimum income guarantee and welcomed the fact that they were all transferred to the new pension credit. What action does my hon. Friend propose to ensure more take-up so that more people who may be entitled to the new tax credit claim it?

Maria Eagle

My hon. Friend will be aware that we have undertaken to write to all pensioners to encourage them to apply for their entitlement. There has also been a lot of publicity from the Department. Obviously, there is a certain amount of controversy about the policy and that, too, might raise people's awareness that there is an entitlement for which they can claim. I hope that, despite the controversy about the policy from the Opposition, all Members will urge their constituents, many of whom could be up to £400 a year better off on average, to claim the pension credit.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire)

Of course we would urge constituents in all constituencies, particularly Kettering, to claim the pension credit, but has not the Minister estimated that 1.4 million of the poorest pensioners in the country will still not be claiming pension credit in 2006? Is Kettering a typical constituency? If it is, does that not mean that 2,000 of the poorest pensioners in Kettering will not be receiving the pension credit in 2006?

Maria Eagle

The hon. Gentleman is being a little disingenuous. He knows as well as we do that the 2006 figure that he quotes is a target, not a ceiling. My hon. Friend the Minister for Pensions has made it clear that we want everyone who is entitled to pension credit to claim, and the truth is that the Conservative party does not want them to claim because it does not want the policy to be the great success that it is going to be.

Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South)

My hon. Friend and the Government are to be commended for introducing the pension credit. When I have gone around Blackpool to talk to some of my older pensioner constituents in the past two to three years, one issue that has been raised with me concerns those people with very small savings who have not been getting benefits. Will my hon. Friend assure me that, in the process of rolling out the pension credit to an increasingly broad group of people—[HON. MEMBERS: "Kettering?"]—as in Kettering.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Maria Eagle


Mr. Marsden

Will my hon. Friend ensure that her officials give full attention to the need to be clear and concise in the language that they use on the hotlines and elsewhere?

Maria Eagle

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. I mistook the great cheer as meaning that my hon. Friend had finished, seemingly on a high.

Kettering is like many other constituencies in the sense that any of us who knock on doors regularly and talk to pensioners—whether in Kettering or elsewhere round the country—know very well that pensioners were greatly concerned that they were just missing out on help if they had been prudent enough to save during their working lives. The pension credit is the first policy adopted that rewards saving, rather than penalises it, and it should be supported throughout the House.