HC Deb 05 July 2004 vol 423 cc545-6
15. Laura Moffatt (Crawley) (Lab)

What measures he has taken to eradicate pensioner poverty. [181902]

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Andrew Smith)

We have taken many steps to tackle pensioner poverty, including the introduction of pension credit and winter fuel payments and a 7 per cent. real rise in the level of the state pension. As a result, we will be spending nearly £10 billion more a year on pensioners, including £5 billion more on the poorest third. That means that the poorest pensioners are on average £33 a week better off than they would have been under the 1997 system. Relative pensioner poverty is down by 500,000, with absolute poverty down by 1.8 million.

Laura Moffatt

Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to organisations such as the Crawley pensioners action group that continually draw attention to issues relating to our poorest pensioners. Does he agree that those community groups help to raise such issues and ensure that pensioners know about all the new benefits available to them through their campaigning activities and that they play an essential part in improving pensioner incomes?

Mr. Smith

Yes. I am pleased to join my hon. Friend in praising the work of the Crawley pensioners action group, with which I know she works closely. Such groups—in Crawley and up and down the country—not only make an invaluable contribution to the debate about pensions and future pensions policy, but enrich our democracy in many other ways. The active engagement of senior citizens in assessing and working with services locally, and in helping us to formulate policy, is invaluable. We are developing closer partnership working between the Pension Service and such groups and there is funding available through the new partnerships fund, of which I will send her details.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con)

Will the right hon. Gentleman have a word with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with whom he worked for many years, to see whether, to reduce pensioner poverty rather than increase bureaucracy, the Chancellor will entirely exempt from taxation the state retirement pension for all, and reduce the rate of taxation on all pensions and annuities for those who are responsible enough to save for their retirement years? Is that not the way to encourage a reduction in pensioner poverty without increasing bureaucracy?

Mr. Smith

It is not increasing bureaucracy to operate the pension credit in the effective way that we are, given the example cited in Saturday's edition of The Daily Telegraph, to which my hon. Friend the Minister for Pensions referred. More than 3 million individuals are getting that money, and it is much needed by them. I would hope that the hon. Gentleman would welcome the progress that we are making on that and join us in pressing for higher take-up.

On the hon. Gentleman's points about taxation, of course I speak to the Chancellor about those matters. The problem with the hon. Gentleman's proposal is that it would involve a redistribution of income from poorer working people to more affluent pensioners. On reflection, I think that he will see that that would not necessarily be the fairest thing to do or the best use of available resources to ensure that they reach the pensioners who need them most.