HC Deb 05 July 2004 vol 423 cc542-3
13. Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend) (Lab)

What percentage of eligible pensioners are claiming pension credit in (a) Bridgend, (b) Wales and (c) the UK. [181900]

The Minister for Pensions (Malcolm Wicks)

We cannot estimate eligibility with precision at the regional or constituency level. Up to 31 May, 2.5 million pensioner households, including more than 3 million individuals, were receiving pension credit in Great Britain. Of those, nearly 180,000 people are in Wales. I am also pleased to inform my hon. Friend that 4,405 individuals in Bridgend now receive pension credit, with an average award of £42.62 a week.

Mr. Griffiths

I thank my hon. Friend for that response. I am sure that the statisticians scattered about the United Kingdom could put together a programme to enable us to make the estimates, but can he tell me what further steps the Department will take to encourage more people to apply for the credit? From my experience, I know that a number of pensioners who have applied lately were amazed at how easy it was and at how helpful the phone line was in enabling them to get their forms filled in and benefit received.

Malcolm Wicks

We are increasingly going local with the take-up campaign's local advice surgeries and the excellent work of our local Pension Service, and people are pleasantly surprised when they realise that they can apply for pension credit over the telephone. Indeed, I read of a case study in The Daily Telegraph—so it must be true—where a man who had applied on behalf of his elderly mother-in-law said: I found the phone form-filling service to be first class, sent all the information requested, and my mother-in-law quickly received her extra per sion … Again, everybody was most helpful. Certainly, in Porthcawl, I know of case studies where people thought that they might be not eligible for pension credit, but £93 a week was awarded in one case. They said: To say we are pleased would be an understatement. We need to go local, and we will.

Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne) (Con)

Can the Minister confirm that the figures that his Department produced only today show that, between now and 2014, the projection of individuals eligible for pension credit will rise from 4,850,000 to 6,550,000—an increase of 35 per cent.? Should his own assumption that 1.4 million of the poorest pensioners never claim pension credit be increased proportionally to show an extra 500,000 people by 2014 not claiming what they are entitled to?

Malcolm Wicks

The crucial thing is that the pension credit has been a success. More than 3 million individuals now receive it and the older elderly particularly benefit—the very group who were neglected by the last Tory Administration. In terms of gender, it is important to note that, of those 3 million individuals, 2 million are women, who often have the poorest pension record and whom we are now targeting. I only wish that the hon. Gentleman, instead of being cynical about the pension credit, would get out into the community and help to make it an even greater success.

Mr. Waterson

Do not those figures show the inexorable rise in means-testing projected under this Government? Is it any wonder that a recent survey conducted for Age Concern England showed that nine out of 10 pensioners receiving pension credit were not happy with the pension credit process and that they wanted the Government to provide a higher basic state pension? Will the Minister now look seriously at the Conservative policy of restoring the link with average earnings?

Malcolm Wicks

I will look seriously at Conservative policy when I see a serious policy, rather than the absurd apocalyptic vision that the hon. Gentleman is presenting, according to the national prints today: a ridiculous idea that what he calls a pension crisis—we call it a pension challenge—can be equated with the threat to this country from international terrorism. I think that he should grow up in his analysis.