THIS week was Pension Credit Action Week, but you could be forgiven for having been totally unaware. What shouldn’t be forgiven though is the fact that £1.7 billion of pension credit goes unclaimed every year in the UK. That’s £1.7bn that should be in the pockets of pensioners rather than Westminster’s coffers, helping elderly residents pay their extortionate heating and electricity bills, putting food on their tables and giving them the dignity in retirement they deserve.

If this money is there and owed to pensioners, then why does the UK Government make it so complicated to apply for it – and why do so few people know about it?

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To try and get to the bottom of that I will be launching an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Pension Credit on June 27 that will focus on addressing the low uptake of Pension Credit and associated benefits across all four nations.

Since 2019, I have consistently battled the low uptake of Pension Credit, with up to £8 million per year going unclaimed in my own constituency of Glasgow North East alone. I recently campaigned to extend the eligibility period of a cost of living grant for pensioners who signed up for Pension Credit but this was rejected by the Tory government, despite my presenting a petition on the floor of the House of Commons, publishing an Early Day Motion, holding a debate in Westminster Hall and writing repeatedly to DWP ministers.

The other big piece of work that I have been concentrating on is the Energy Bill currently going through Parliament. Right now the bill is being scrutinised in committee and I have proposed an amendment that would introduce a social tariff for prepayment meter customers, a mechanism to automatically apply credit if a prepayment meter runs out of credit and the option to automatically transfer a prepayment meter customer to “credit mode” if they run out.

My other amendment looks to restrict the use of prepayment meters for vulnerable customers, building on my campaign to ban so-called self-disconnection and stop the forced installation of prepayment meters. I would encourage everyone to contact their MP asking them to support these two amendments that will make huge improvements to people’s fuel security for this winter.

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Westminster can often seem like a pointless place to spend our time when there is so much need in our constituencies, but I always look at what practical benefit I can achieve in London. Showing the Tories up for their callous behaviour and Labour for their pathetic indifference can at times be enjoyable (they make it so easy) but the theatre of Westminster won’t keep people warm in the winter and it won’t keep a roof over people’s heads. But what will do those things is making sure that people get the money they are owed and that they are not being fleeced by big energy companies.

So while the SNP MPs in Westminster are using every parliamentary tool to change Tory policies and make small but significant differences to the lives of our constituents, the SNP government in Holyrood are using their limited powers to the best of their ability too.

While the UK Government impoverishes the least well-off pensioners, the Scottish Government’s Child Payments are now reaching approximately 300,000 children in Scotland. This lifeline payment to low-income families is predicted to result in 60,000 fewer children living in relative poverty in 2023 compared to 2017.

The National: Image for Scottish Child payment

Of course, there is still much more to do around poverty in general but to be making improvements like this despite 13 years of austerity, a pandemic, Brexit, rampant inflation and the criminal handling of the economy by the Tories, is something that should give us encouragement.

If this can be done despite the most trying circumstances, then just imagine what could be done with the powers of independence and an economy built around citizens’ wellbeing rather than corporate greed.

We don’t have to look too far to imagine it either, as most of our nearest neighbours are small independent countries and are all navigating these difficult times much more successfully. Norway didn’t squander its wealth or have someone else spend it for them, Ireland has so much surplus cash, it is starting its own sovereign wealth fund and Denmark regularly features at the top of the table for happiest and healthiest populations.

Some might think Scotland is uniquely incapable of emulating this but really, their biggest fear isn’t that we would fail, it’s that we would succeed. To have fought tooth and nail to hold Scotland back only to be proven that not only were you wrong but that you actively hindered the bettering of people’s lives must be a terrifying prospect.