HC Deb 20 October 2003 vol 411 cc372-4
15. Mr. John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland)

What assessment he has made of the impact of the pension credit on (a) poorer pensioners and (b) women pensioners. [132615]

The Minister for Pensions (Malcolm Wicks)

The new pension credit proposals are a major weapon in our attack on pensioner poverty. Pension credit, however, is not just for the poorest; it is also for those who might be described as being on modest incomes, or as hard-pressed£such as the couple in Glasgow who were not eligible for minimum income guarantee, but who, following a visit from the Pension Service, are now receiving £24 a week in pension credit. My hon. Friend will welcome that news, as he is himself a mighty champion of pensioners in his constituency.

As for the benefits for women, it is very significant that two out of three pension credit beneficiaries are expected to be women.

John Robertson

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer, and congratulate him and his colleagues on all the work that they have done on pension credit.

Like many other Members, I am worried about uptake. I do not just mean telephone uptake. Some people do not like talking on the telephone, and the forms, letters and other correspondence issued to pensioners are difficult to understand. Will the Minister try to simplify the system?

Malcolm Wicks

We will always look for improvements on what is a very new policy, but the important thing is that we are making access to the new credit as easy as possible by not requiring people to fill out forms if they do not want to. They can deal with the matter on the telephone, and there will be advice surgeries in my hon. Friend's and all our constituencies, as well as home visits.

I hope that all Members will get behind pension credit. There are people out there who deserve extra support, and it is our duty to ensure that they receive it.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

Is the Minister aware of the difficulties being experienced by care homes during the current delay in processing information on whether a poorer or female pensioner is eligible? Will he ask the Department to review the position so that care homes do not lose out?

Malcolm Wicks

It is obviously important for people throughout the community to have their entitlement, including often frail and elderly people living in care homes. I was not aware of this difficulty; perhaps I could discuss it with the hon. Lady.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney)

Are not those who try to dissuade pensioners from claiming the credit by trying to make out that it is the same as the horrible means tests of decades ago, introduced by the Tories, doing those pensioners a disservice? Although some pensioners in my constituency are finding the performance of the Pension Service in processing their claims a bit patchy, they do not find the questions demeaning, because they are similar to questions that they have often had to answer when signing hire purchase agreements to buy cars and the like.

Malcolm Wicks

We are not complacent. We need to learn from the roll-out of pension credit: that is why we did not introduce it for every pensioner in one week, or one month. My hon. Friend makes an important point, however. Whatever one's views on the important question of selectivity versus universality, this form of income testing is very different from the old weekly means test over which the last Government presided, and a million miles away from what we had in the 1930s. I hope that when people make public comments on the subject they will avoid using absurd terminology such as "stigma" and "demeaning", because that puts off people who are entitled to the money, many of whom live in poverty. We want to ensure that they have that money, as I hope the whole House does.