It is crucial that the fundamental rights of people continue to be respected throughout their lives and that the specific needs of older people are recognised.
The Government has previously considered the merits of introducing an older person’s commissioner but believes that the duties that would be covered by such a role are already covered by work elsewhere in the system.
Establishing an older person’s commissioners would also incur significant costs. Net expenditure in the first year that Northern Ireland’s Older People’s Commissioner was set up was around £101,674 in 2011/12, rising to £876,272 in 2017/18. Recent estimates indicate that there are around 33 per cent more over-65s in England than in Northern Ireland, suggesting such a body would create significant annual costs.
I know the Government is always looking at ways to maximise the number of people claiming Pension Credit. I support their commitment to ensuring that everybody claims their full entitlement. I am encouraged by the latest Pension Credit take-up estimates (for the financial year ending 2020), which show the take-up of Pension Credit at its highest level since 2010. To further raise awareness of Pension Credit and increase uptake, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) launched a £1.2m nationwide communications campaign in April 2022.
The Government has confirmed that it will honour its manifesto commitment to keep the Triple Lock in place. This means that the State Pension was increased by 10.1 per cent - in line with the inflation figures for September 2022 - from April 2023. This is the biggest cash increase in the State Pension ever. Benefits, including Pension Credit, were also increased by the same amount.
There are a number of other pensioner benefits, including Winter Fuel Payments, free bus passes, and free prescriptions. Cold Weather Payments are also available, and the Warm Home Discount is payable to pensioners in receipt of Pension Credit Guarantee Credit and provides a £150 rebate on their energy bills.
Although I appreciate this is not the response you had hoped for, I want to reassure you that the Government is wholeheartedly committed to making this country one of the best places in the world to grow old.
Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the event in relation to this issue on 17 April 2023 due to prior Parliamentary commitments. However, please be assured that I will read any briefing provided by the organisers.