Delegates to the national Pensioners Parliament in Blackpool heckled pensions minister Steve Webb yesterday, Wednesday.
Delegates to the 1,200 strong event organised by the National Pensioners Convention (NPC) exploded in anger. They repeatedly cried “rubbish” as Webb tried to speak.
Bill, a retired member of the Unite union and elected member of the NPC executive, told Socialist Worker, “It’s all codswallop. The minister wasn’t honest with us—and we want honesty.”
Others were angry that Webb had tried to deceive pensioners and tried to pass the buck on to the last Labour government.
Andy Benson from Hackney in London described the minister as a “slippery customer” who “used smoke and mirrors to try and confuse people”.
Pensioners worried about future attacks.
Cerene, from the Southwark Pensioners Action Group in south London, added, “There was nothing concrete on offer. I worry that the freedom passes on the buses and the winter fuel allowance could soon be withdrawn altogether.”
Pat Clifford, a retired engineer from London, added, “We won’t get anything out of Webb. What pensioners are demanding is a basic pension that is above the poverty level—we don’t have that now and that’s unacceptable.”
An affordable pension has been a central issue throughout the event, which started with a mass protest of around 1,000 through Blackpool on Tuesday.
Peter Smith, a retired Aslef union member, said the inequity of the current system was at the heart of pensioners’ concerns.
He told Socialist Worker, “We have paid into the system all our working lives. It’s our money. If the government hadn’t cut the link between pensions and earnings in the 1980s then we would have a pension that had kept up with inflation. Now we are struggling to survive.”
In an earlier session, a delegate spoke about supporting workers striking over pensions on 30 June. In response the executive agreed to put out a call to all pensioners to back the strikes—and join picket lines and protests on the day.
Mary Brodbin, an NUJ delegate, told the parliament, “The strikes on 30 June are about pensions—and a victory to those workers will help our cause. We have to do everything we can to publicise the strike and build solidarity.”
Mary told Socialist Worker about why it is vital to fight back now.
She said, “Delegates here are angry about the attacks we are under. In one meeting a delegate said ‘We’ve been coming here year after year but what are we going to do?’.
“I think we have to start by joining with workers on 30 June. We can force the government to back down if we stand united.”
Large numbers of pensioners, angry at Tory cuts and the rising cost of living, have joined protests across Britain recently.
A report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies last week shows that poorer pensioners face bigger increases in their cost of living due to energy and food price hikes.
It also found that the poorest pensioners cut their food spending during winter to cover the cost of heating bills.
Dot Gibson general secretary of the NPC, described the British state pension as “one of the least adequate state pensions in Europe.” She pointed out that one in four pensioners in Britain still live below the poverty line.
No wonder pensioners are angry and want to fight back.