Socialist Worker

Don't trust Blair and Brown... Pensions-the facts

Issue No. 1716

Don't trust Blair and Brown... Pensions-the facts

It's a con

GORDON BROWN says his Minimum Income Guarantee helps pensioners. This "guarantee" is a con and degrading. The Minimum Income Guarantee is a repackaging of Income Support.

It is means tested and set at a pathetic level. A single pensioner who qualifies gets just 78.45 a week. That is set to rise to 82 a week next year, and to 90 for those over 80 years old. Brown says he will increase the standard level to 90 a week sometime in the future.

Credit GORDON Brown's alternative to a decent basic pension is a "pensioner credit". This is NOT an increase in pensions.

The credit increases the amount people are allowed to have before they pay tax. At best it might help some pensioners with second pensions or savings a little. It is means tested and will not come in until 2003.

Poverty stalks 'New' Britain

PENSIONERS ARE not alone in suffering from poverty. A report by the reputable Joseph Rowntree Foundation this week showed that poverty is killing people across all age groups in New Labour's Britain.

It says 10,000 people die early every year because they are poor. Among those early deaths are 1,400 children. The report was based on detailed research by academics at Bristol and Leeds universities.

  • THE government's Office for National Statistics says 2 million children, more than one in six, are living in "absolute poverty".

The report released earlier this month found:

  • Around 9.5 million people cannot afford to keep their home adequately heated.
  • Some 8 million people cannot afford essential household goods such as a fridge or carpets.
  • Around 4 million people are malnourished.
  • Over 10 million adults cannot afford to save 10 a month.

The report found that between 1983 and 1990 the number of households living in poverty grew from one in seven to one in five.

Under Labour the figure has now risen to one in four.

Fact File

  • MANY PENSIONERS do not claim Income Support and other means tested benefits they could get, to the tune of 1 billion a year.

This is because the procedures are complex and offputting. It is also because many older people refuse to undergo means testing.

  • AT THE moment pensioner couples get just 107.90 between them instead of the 135 two single pensioners would get.

Why shouldn't every individual get a decent pension as a right?

  • OFFICIAL FIGURES show that every winter around 40,000 more pensioners die than in the summer.

Age Concern says these people are dying because they can't afford to keep warm.

  • THE GOVERNMENT'S poverty report this month said that in the last year 100,000 more pensioners had slid below the official poverty line-bringing the total number to over 2 million.

"MEANS testing is wrong. It cannot be humanised. We do not want to see old age mean a descent into a black hole where kind people dangle food into the pit to keep us alive. We want the abolition of the mentality of the means test."

  • Pensioners' leader and ex Labour minister BARBARA CASTLE

New Labour's crime

Elderly robbed of 30 a week

PENSIONS BECAME the key issue in British politics this week. At Labour conference on Monday chancellor Gordon Brown claimed pensioners were to get real benefits. But he made no concession on the key issue of giving the elderly a decent basic pension linked to earnings. Socialist Worker takes apart the chancellor's claims.

PENSIONERS have been systematically robbed for the last 20 years-by the Tories and New Labour. Until 1980 the basic state pension was increased every year by the same percentage as average wages.

This "link" meant that pensioners' living standards at least grew at the same rate as the rest of the population. But in 1980 Margaret Thatcher broke the link. She decreed that the basic state pension would only increase each year in line with the increase in average prices, the annual inflation figure.

Over the last 20 years wages have grown on average faster than prices. Pensioners have fallen behind. Today a single pensioner gets 67.50 a week. If the link with earnings had not been broken it would be 97.45 a week. That's 30 a week stolen from pensioners.

New Labour promised to help pensioners when it was elected in 1997. Instead pensioners got this year's insulting 75p a week rise. Pensioners are right to be furious.

The state pension should immediately be lifted to 100 for every pensioner and increased every year in line with the rise in earnings.

  • The National Pensioners' Convention has called a lobby of parliament for Tuesday 7 November.

Rooker gets roasted

HUNDREDS of pensioners travelled to Brighton on Monday for a meeting organised by the National Pensioners' Convention. They were determined to give the government a roasting.

Pensioners cheered former Labour cabinet minister Barbara Castle when she said, "Means testing is wrong." Jack Jones, former leader of the TGWU and now a pensioners' leader, said, "Do you have to be a pauper to get anything?"

In reply, Labour's pensions minister Jeff Rooker insultingly claimed that things were not so bad. Rooker was almost driven from the platform by shouts of, "Give us our pension," "If there's money for corporation tax cuts then why not pensions?" "You're bloody useless and New Labour is useless," and, again and again, "Restore the link!"

Lobbyist's dream

NEW LABOUR'S conference is a feast of corporate lobbying. Conference stalls were dominated by businesses and bosses' pressure groups who have paid up to 25,000 to peddle their message.

They include Nestl, Camelot, British Nuclear Fuels, Arriva buses, Pfizer chemicals, Connex rail, Virgin Trains, Railtrack, the British Bankers' Association, Merck pharmaceuticals, Severn Trent Water, Biffa Waste, the Police Federation and the Countryside Alliance.

Some 80 companies opted for a two-day corporate package at 1,351 which included briefings by aides to Gordon Brown and ministers. The fundraising dinner on Tuesday night saw 600 executives pay 350 each to dine with Blair.

Business organisations sponsored fringe meetings addressed by top Labour figures. One of the grossest examples was the Kids Club Network meeting sponsored by Nestl, notorious for its inappropriate sales of baby milk in the Third World.

Plenty of cash around

NEW LABOUR ministers claim it would be too expensive to restore the link with earnings. That is a lie.

The extra cost each year would be the difference between the increase in wages and prices. That is at best 1 or 2 percent each year, and often less. There is no problem in funding that. What would cost money is to backdate the restored link, giving pensioners back the 30 a week robbed from them.

It would cost some 16 billion extra over the next year to do that and to give every pensioner a 100 a week basic pension. The government is sitting on a good chunk of that already. The national insurance fund is set to be 10.5 billion in surplus next year.

Any extra money needed could easily be raised. The rich don't pay national insurance contributions on any income over 575 a week (see centre pages). If that handout were stopped it would bring in an extra 5 billion every year.

That would not only create enough to immediately give all pensioners 100 a week. It would also mean that in future pensioners could be guaranteed an extra 10 a week rise in the basic state pension.

The oil companies are making an extra 16 billion profit this year compared to last. Why can't those "excess profits" be seized and given to pensioners? And if all companies were taxed at the same rate as when Thatcher broke the pensions link with earnings there would be an extra 25 billion a year in the government's coffers.

That would immediately give the elderly a 100 a week basic pension. It would also leave almost 10 billion for other measures like an emergency public transport programme.

Brown has a long way to go

BROWN REFUSED to give any definite commitment to raise the basic state pension for all pensioners. Many commentators believe he will be forced to announce some future increase when he makes his pre-budget statement to parliament in November.

The pension would rise by between 2 and 3 a week anyway under the existing link to inflation. Commentators suggest Brown may go further, and give a 5 a week rise for single pensioners and 8 a week for couples.

That would still leave single pensioners on just 72.50 a week and couples on 115.90.

Socialist Alliance National Conference This Saturday, 30 September, 11.30am-4pm Central Methodist Hall, Warwick Road, Coventry Entrance fee 5/2. Membership 6/3. Phone 01788 569 766

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Sat 30 Sep 2000, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1716
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