Navigating the maze

Neil Bateman explains how to find out who
qualifies for the minimum income guarantee for pensioners.

The minimum income guarantee (MIG) for
pensioners is nothing more or less than income support for people
aged 60 or over. The government’s insistence on using the MIG word
has added to the confusion about entitlement and bearing in mind
that people usually have only a very hazy idea about benefit
entitlement, even a minor change in benefit titles erects yet
another barrier to maximising take-up.

And, of course, more change is in the pipeline
with pension credit coming of age in April 2003. Pension credit is
going to be a very different benefit and not just another name for
income support. Indeed, about double the number receiving MIG are
expected to qualify for pension credit. This means that the
challenge to maximise take-up will be greater than ever and local
authorities’ track record in improving take-up of benefits by older
people stands them in good stead to make real inroads into
pensioner poverty as a result.

In terms of getting to grips with MIG at the
moment, the Department for Work and Pensions recently published a
short leaflet that explains MIG. This leaflet is very different to
most it produces because there was extensive input by welfare
rights workers to it – including myself and Gary Vaux, my other
half on this column.

The leaflet is designed to be used as part of
take-up work (for example, piggy-backing with housing benefit
letters or as part of a computer scan to identify under-claimers)
as well as giving general information about entitlement.

However, MIG is as complicated as any other
part of income support and to give any advice you do need more
information – the Child Poverty Action Group’s Welfare Benefits
and the Disability Alliance’s Disability Rights
being the recommended sources.

The number of people entitled to MIG increased
by about 50,000 last April when the capital limit for people living
in the community was raised to £12,000 and we also saw very
significant increases in the rates payable. Together with increases
during previous years, the poorest pensioners have seen their
incomes rise by about 25 per cent in real terms, the best
improvement in living memory.

Paradoxically, as the levels rise and the
number entitled rises alongside this, the number who are missing
out also rises. So tackling pensioner poverty through increasing
means-tested benefits results in even more effort having to be put
into take-up activity.

As social care practitioners are seeing people
who live in poverty every day of their working lives, the chances
are that a significant proportion of your customers are among those
missing out.

But the incentive to maximise take-up is even
stronger than just some evangelistic notion of tackling poverty.
The social services Standard Spending Assessment includes a
weighting for the number of pensioners on income support – even
just getting someone a pound or two a week will pay dividends to
your council’s financial position. And as most councils are now
doing work on pensioner take-up, the laggards miss out even more
because of the way the Standard Spending Assessment affects
government grants to councils.

– You can get the leaflet by ringing 0845
6065065. Child Poverty Action Grouphandbooks can be found at and the Disability Rights Handbook at

Neil Bateman is performance management
manager for Connexions Suffolk. If you have a question to be
answered in Welfare Rights please write to him c/o Community

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