Pensioners speak out
'Time for direct action'
By Theresa Bennett and Charlie Kimber
TWO POUNDS 25p a week extra next year. That's what pensioners will get if the government continues with its present pensions formula, it was announced this week. The National Pensioners Convention has called a mass lobby of parliament on Tuesday 7 November. Millions of pensioners want the link between pensions and earnings restored. That would mean a basic state pension of about �100 a week if the link was backdated to 1980 when the Tories abolished it. The Labour Party conference voted to consider restoring the link, against the leadership.
But Tony Blair and Gordon Brown say they will ignore that vote. The Tories and Liberal Democrats are also against restoring the link. "We cannot continue to just plead with New Labour," says Muriel Hirsch, a pensioner from Crawley in Sussex. Last year Crawley pensioners packed a minibus and came to lobby parliament. We have done it all before. It is time to do more than lobby and that excites us."
"I personally am in favour of direct action," said Bartley Willcock from Manchester. The New Labour message is do not expect to be able to live on the state retirement pension.
Workers are told to take out private pensions or make their own arrangements. Brown says a big increase in the basic state pension will waste money on the rich, rather than targeting the poorest. He could deal with that problem by taxing the rich. But he prefers humiliating means tests for the poor instead.
"So many pensioners don't claim means-tested benefits because they don't know about them, or are too proud. I remember the 1930s means test," says one 67 year old pensioner.
Conned by main parties
MURIEL HIRSCH is angry at the way the way the government treats pensioners. "A group of us from Crawley went to a fringe meeting organised by the National Pensioners Convention at the Labour Party conference. Pensions minister Jeff Rooker was there. He brushed aside the real poverty that pensioners face. He just didn't seem to realise that because the basic state pension is so low people have to be incredibly resourceful to survive-not to live, but just to survive. He suggested that nobody has to get by on �67.50 a week, the basic, because there is the Minimum Income Guarantee and so on. But there are up to a million people who don't get the benefits they are entitled to. Others take little jobs to add to their pension. They get more than �67.50-but only by working when they are 70 or 75. They get work out the back at McDonald's, or helping out in a shop. That's not the dignified old age people are entitled to after a lifetime's work. Retirement ought to be an opportunity to enjoy life. In some places pensioners get a free bus pass. For some that's all they have in their lives. Their whole existence is centred on the company and enjoyment of being on a bus. Of course the Tories have tried to say they are more sympathetic than Labour. But that's disgusting hypocrisy. It was the Tories who first broke the link between pension increases and earnings. It was the Tories who have robbed us of �30 a week. Now they just take the limited money Labour is offering and redistribute it in a different way. They'd get rid of Labour's �150 fuel allowance and give us �3 a week extra on the basic, that sort of trick. On 7 November the National Pensioners Convention has organised a lobby of parliament. I hope it becomes a focus for students, trade unionists and everybody who agrees with a big rise in the state pension and restoring the link with earnings. It ought to be much more than a tame lobby. It should be as angry as pensioners are-and that means very angry and very militant indeed."
Worrying over bills
ALICE WHITTY from Camden in north west London says bluntly that "many pensioners feel they are treated as a burden by society." "We are going the way of the US where services that should be provided by the state are all done by private firms-private health, private pensions, an end to council housing. The basic pension is already incredibly low. I find it harder every week to get by. If you have any savings they are quickly eaten away, and you have to worry about every bill and every pound you spend. But the future will be even worse unless we get active and change things. The press and the television will ignore us unless we become much more ready to make a fuss."
A Europe-wide attack
NORA RUSHTON from Merseyside is part of a pensioners' group. "There are always 15 at our weekly meetings, and sometimes 30. It is obvious there is huge public support for the pensioners' case. Recently eight of us petitioned in Liverpool for an hour and a half. We got 1,500 signatures on our petition to restore the link. Another group in Huyton got 1,200 signatures in just over an hour. Now we plan a demonstration and rally in the city centre on 31 October. I was very impressed by the Bury pensioners who walked back and forward across a zebra crossing stopping the traffic. It really is time for us to shift tactics. The consensus of governments that follow the market-driven International Monetary Fund line is towards welfare cuts and away form taxing the rich. Across Europe there is a looming battle to defend a decent state pension against privatisation and cuts. Some countries have beaten back attacks by strikes and big demonstrations. That's the spirit we need now."
MARY PHILLIPS and Dennis Martin are members of a pensioners' action group in Southwark, south London. Their group has organised a march on 21 October and is also mobilising for 7 November. "We want to campaign alongside people who are defending council housing, fighting for free education and everyone who is fed up with this government letting down ordinary people," said Mary.