Midlothian MSP slams pension changes

Colin Beattie MSP for Midlothian North and Musselburgh.
Colin Beattie MSP for Midlothian North and Musselburgh.

Midlothian North MSP Colin Beattie has slammed the UK Government for “sneaking out” changes to state pensions, which could cost older local couples £7000 per year.

Changes to benefits for mixed-age couples – which will be introduced from May 15, 2019 – were released by UK ministers on the eve of Theresa May’s Brexit deal defeat last week.

Currently, couples can claim Pension Credit – an income-related benefit meant to top-up the state pension as long as one partner is of pension age. Universal Credit will reverse this, meaning a mixed-age couple will be defined by the working-age person, not the pensioner.

Age Scotland claims that the changes could leave some pensioners almost £7,000 worse off per year, and Age UK warned that it could leave “some of the poorest pensioners paying a hefty price for having a younger partner”.

Mr Beattie (SNP) said: “It’s concerning that the Westminster Government tried to quietly bury the news that pensioners with younger partners are set to lose out on hundreds of pounds each month. People on low incomes and receiving pension credit should not be forced to pay the price for the Tories’ welfare cuts and chaotic Universal Credit.

“Amid the chaos and distraction of Brexit, those who may be affected by this change in Midlothian deserve to know about it, and have been let down by UK government attempts to ‘sneak out’ the news at 7.20pm on the night of the Brexit vote – when attentions were directed elsewhere.

“Serious concerns over the Tory government’s welfare policies have already been raised by my SNP colleagues at Westminster and, at Holyrood, the SNP will continue to tackle poverty and create a social security system based on equality, fairness and dignity.

“I will be writing to the DWP to ask for a reverse to this appalling cut which will hit those on the lowest incomes.”

Guy Opperman Minister for Pensions and Financial Inclusion, defended the reforms and the Government’s record in supporting pensioners. He said: “The Government’s reforms to the welfare system are designed to support those who need it and help people into work. We have reduced pensioner poverty to close to historically low levels and the triple lock on the State Pension has helped lift the incomes of millions of pensioners.

“Since 2010, we have increased the annual level of the basic State Pension by £1,450. In 2018/19 we will spend £121.5 billion on benefits for pensioners and by 2023/24 this rises to £143.5bn.

“In 2012, Parliament voted to modernise the welfare system to ensure that couples, where one person is of working age and the other person is over state pension age, access support, where it is needed, through the working age benefit regime. This replaces the previous system whereby the household could access either Pension Credit and pension age Housing Benefit, or working-age benefits.

“Pension Credit is designed to provide long-term support for pensioner households who are no longer economically active. It is not designed to support working age claimants.

“This change will ensure that the same work incentives apply to the younger partner as apply to other people of the same age, and taxpayer support is directed where it is needed most.

“Couples with one partner under State Pension age, who are already in receipt of Pension Credit or pension-age Housing Benefit at the point of change, will be unaffected while they remain entitled to either benefit.”