Any answers?

The way ministers flout their obligation to answer MPs' questions ("They may listen, but they won't tell", 4 December) is well illustrated by the denial of readily available information about the progress of the campaign to persuade an estimated half a million pensioners to claim income support. Since the failure of the campaign would fatally undermine the government's strategy of relying on means-tested benefits to help the poorest pensioners, the refusal to reveal the facts is understandable - but indefensible.

The £15m take-up campaign, as TV watchers will recall, began at the end of May. On 31 October, a Department of Social Security minister, Hugh Bayley, in answer to a question tabled by Gordon Prentice MP, admitted that there had been only 24,746 successful claims - one in 20 of the missing pensioners. More recently, several MPs have asked for an updated figure, but DSS ministers have apparently decided that it would be too embarrassing to give it. The standard answer now is: "The effect of the take-up campaign will not be known until it comes to a conclusion. We will provide further details of the campaign in due course."

This is not a case where information is unavailable or would cost too much to obtain - the usual excuses for refusing to answer parliamentary questions. It is a straightforward case of freedom of information being sacrificed to political convenience.

Tony Lynes
Secretary, Southwark Pensioners Action Group
London SE5