Karen Lee: Don’t get distracted – austerity must end

The last few months in Westminster have been dominated by the Conservative Party Leadership election which has ground important business in the Commons to halt.

But we must not allow the dramatic Tory infighting to distract from the damage that nine years of austerity has inflicted on the lives of normal people. That’s why I’m launching a campaign to end the Pension Credit crisis in Lincoln.

More than a million pensioners in the UK are not getting the Pension Credit they are entitled to. The poorest older people each year in Lincoln are missing out on an estimated £5,368,000. This is completely unacceptable

Pension Credit is a vital lifeline to many. It is a financial top-up to some of the pensioners who need it most and helps ensure that older people do not have to choose between eating or heating their home. Pension Credit can also open entitlement to other benefits, including Housing Benefit, help with Council Tax, free NHS dental treatment, fuel bills and the costs of a loved one’s funeral.

I want to help make sure that every vulnerable pensioner in Lincoln is getting the benefits they are entitled to. I’ve launched an awareness campaign and will be writing to all over 65s encouraging them to check if they are eligible.

The Government admits that every year £3.5 billion earmarked for the poorest pensioners doesn’t reach them. There are 1.3 million Pensioner Households missing out on an average of £58 per week. This means there is an estimated 1,780 pensioners in Lincoln who are not receiving the benefits they need.

Only 58% of eligible households receive their Pension Credit, by comparison, the take-up of Housing Benefit is 80%, Employment Support Allowance is 84% and Child Benefit is 93%. The government clearly must do more to raise awareness about pension credit, especially as older people often face barriers to access information online.

This is also a matter of equality. The likelihood of missing out on pension credit rises with age, and single females are more at risk. Older people who rent, are single and are of non-white ethnicity are at the highest risk of poverty.

I am also greatly concerned that the government have recently decided to link free TV licences for over-75s to Pension Credit. It is unacceptable that over 4,400 households in Lincoln could lose their free TV licence under the government’s plans. Nationally, it is estimated that over 1.6 million pensioners living alone will lose their free licence in a means tested system. A further 1.3 million poorer over-75s, who are eligible for Pension Credit but do not claim the benefit, are projected to lose out. A recent survey found that 40% of older people say the television is their main source of company, but the Conservatives seem determined to means-test loneliness and isolation.

It says a lot about this government that they choose to target their spending cuts on vulnerable older people who are struggling to make ends meet. Rather than promising more tax cuts for the rich, the new Prime Minister must repair Theresa May’s broken promise to end austerity.