By Patricia Gibson, MP for North Ayrshire and Arran
Amid the Brexit chaos, as Tory MPs fight each other tooth and nail and Labour MPs struggle to find a coherent position, one might be forgiven for not noticing the UK Government’s latest stealth attack on pensioners.
In fact, some have suggested that the decision to remove Pensions Credit from thousands of pensioners was released quietly on the eve of Theresa May’s disastrous Brexit vote as a deliberate ploy by the troubled UK Government to bury bad news. However, I have lodged an Early Day Motion condemning these changes and raised the issue on the floor of the House.
This decision will leave thousands of pensioners out of pocket by £7,320 each year.
Pensions Credit is means-tested and was introduced specifically to tackle pensioner poverty. It provides a guaranteed minimum income to those over state pension age. If a single pensioner’s’ weekly income is less than £163 or their joint weekly income is less than £248.80 as a couple (£255.25 from May), Pensions Credit tops it up accordingly.
Currently, people who reach retirement age can claim Pensions Credit regardless of their partner’s age. However, from May, changes mean that pensioners with younger partners will have to claim Universal Credit of £114.81 instead. Pensioners will have to wait until their partner also reaches 65, increasing to 66 in October 2020, as the state pension age rises. Couples with a partner under state pension age already in receipt of Pensions Credit will be unaffected, but they will be moved onto the new system if their circumstances alter; even if they just change address, or if the pensioner partner goes abroad for over a month.
Universal Credit desperately needs to be halted and fixed. I have repeatedly called for this at Westminster, but the UK Government has only tinkered around the edges of this failing system. That it will be foisted on pensioners’ partners, simply because of their age, is appalling.
Unless born on the same day, one partner will always be older than the other. The average difference is 2.6 years, meaning the cash loss incurred before the youngest partner becomes old enough to claim Pensions Credit could be £19,000. The bigger the age gap, the more long-lasting the adverse impact of this change will be. Many pensioners may find they are financially better off if they split up and live apart and older people’s charities say it could have a devastating impact on health and wellbeing and increase the number of pensioners in poverty.
The news will come as a double blow to women born in the 1950s who have already had their state pension age delayed with little or no notice. These are the women waiting up to an extra six years for their state pension – at a potential loss of tens of thousands of pounds – because the UK Government accelerated the process of pension age equalisation for men and women.
The UK Government is no friend to our pensioners and should reverse these changes prior to May’s planned implementation.