Practical winter help for the elderly (Supplementary) [1]

Session date: 
November 18, 2009
Question By: 
Richard Barnbrook
Organisation: 
British National Party
Asked Of: 
The Mayor

Question

Right. Can I slip in here? It is quite interesting. Such a full house. We have chatted about the humorous elements of the Arts Council. We have gone on about the Olympic Games. We have heard about press coverage. We all had a good laugh. I think that is not, absolutely, enough, what you are putting forward here. This is one serious matter.

Let me put some statistics to you. In 2007 in London 2,693 people died during winter time. Let us look at other statistics regards giving out the opportunity to elderly people when they can, if they wish, apply for grants. 2007. £4.5 billion in winter fuel benefits were not claimed because the applications were too difficult. Other figures from 2007: 2.5 million elderly people lived in one room, did not get out of their bed, or had to choose between eating or heating their homes. 2008. The statistics get even worse. 4.5 million elderly people live in one room, in a three bedroom house, simply because they do not have the finances to actually heat and eat. That is double from 2007. Unfortunately I do not have the figures for 2008.

It is all quite honourable, Mayor, that you actually do put this programme forward but I personally feel it is absolutely a waste of time. Maybe you should follow the lines of Mr Brown. £670 million - it is obviously election year - is going to go towards trying to help the elderly. Maybe, Mayor Boris, you should take the lead and forget this idea of allowing people to apply for these grants when you know damn well that elderly people, beyond the age of 60, find it too humbling, or they are too proud, to go cap in hand to Government with the idea of getting something for nothing.

We have the mechanism in place - and this is where the question comes - Mayor Boris. I would like you to take the initiative. We have the mechanism in place care of the London borough councils and also care of Help the Aged, also surveys done with Help the Aged and with the British Gas Board, to go directly to these elderly people and give them the money, rather than asking them to come towards you, or to this council, or to London borough councils, begging for it. We know who they are. We have agencies out there who can tell us who needs the money most. They can also tell us how much they need over the period of the winter period.

So I would like to ask you, Mayor, if you will take the initiative to go beyond whatever work Mr Barnes has done and make a statement to London, primarily the elderly, that you will give them directly the money they need, without them having to go through the process of applying for it?

Answer

Answer for Practical winter help for the elderly (Supplementary) [1]

Answer for Practical winter help for the elderly (Supplementary) [1]

Answered By: 
The Mayor

What we are doing at the moment is we are, of course, as I say, proceeding with the Know Your Rights benefits take up campaign. It was very successful last year. It involves, principally, talking to people, leafleting, getting the information across in places that you are likely to find potential recipients; supermarkets and other places like that. We are, in fact, greatly increasing our programme this year. We are investing £25,000 this year - I am right in thinking that, Richard [Barnes] - on a poster campaign.

We have to think very, very carefully though about how we allocate very scarce taxpayers' resources to deliver this outcome. We are seeing a substantial increase in take up. We believe there are between £1.2 billion and £2 billion worth of benefits that are not being taken up by elderly people who do deserve and need them, but you have to encourage that take up in a cost efficient way, and we think that the Know Your Rights campaign is a very good way of doing it.

Richard Barnbrook (AM): Sorry, Mayor, I have to come back at you on this. It is not sufficient. Councils are fully aware of who needs this financial aid. Why spend the £25,000 when each council, knowing their people, can actually take the funds that you have put forward to these councils and give it directly to the people, without, again, asking them to come cap in hand? Elderly people will not do this. You know yourself, Mayor, they will not do this, because of pride or some foolish belief that they are not able or willing to take money that they do not believe they have earned. Yet they have spent all their lives paying into the tax system. It is about time now that we gave back their dues.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): As I say, we have a very ambitious programme to encourage elderly people to take up the benefits to which they are entitled without any compunction and without any embarrassment. These are benefits they need and deserve and we want to encourage London's boroughs to work with us to drive take up.

Darren Johnson (Chair): Thank you. Mr Barnbrook is out of time so Richard Barnes.

Richard Barnes (AM): Mr Mayor, I am saddened that Mr Barnbrook is using this as a political issue rather than actually resolving the matter for the elderly people. He seems to forget that, by law, we are not allowed to give money on supporting social services. He also seems to ignore the fact that this is not our money that he is asking to be given away, but Government money. What we can do is to educate people and help people, by face to face interview, to apply for that money to which they are entitled. It is beyond our abilities to go round with a sack of money handing it out.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Absolutely right.

Richard Barnes (AM): Mr Mayor, will you join all of the Assembly Members here in actually supporting our campaign to ensure that this winter the elderly people in this city do claim that to which they are entitled and they recognise that it is an entitlement and it is not charity?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Absolutely right, Richard. Actually, I think what you just suggested is a very good idea. I know that many of you have columns in local newspapers where you tend to bash me. Quite right too; I do not mind. But it might be a good thing, since these papers are widely read, particularly by elderly people, to draw attention to the Know Your Rights campaign and urge them to take up the benefits to which they are entitled.

Richard Barnes (AM): Thank you.

Darren Johnson (Chair): Thank you. From the Chair I was going to point out the GLA's legal restrictions that we operate under but Richard [Barnes] has done that job for me so, I think, we are very clear on that.