HEAT OR EAT! – the choice Blair gives to pensioners

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HUNDREDS of angry pensioners from all over Britain descended on parliament on Wednesday to demand an immediate increase in the basic state pension to £114 a week and a restoration of the link between the state pension and earnings.

The National Pensioners Convention said that over 2.5 million pensioners are now living below the official poverty line, with millions more struggling to pay rising council tax and fuel bills.

Means-tested benefits have also failed to reach around 1.8 million pensioners.

Margaret Murdoch, chair of the Scottish Pensioners Forum, and Phyllis Herriot, assistant secretary, told News Line: ‘We’re demanding an immediate increase in the state pension to £114 a week.

‘It is only £84.25 at present. That’s disgusting and disgraceful.

‘It means that the elderly have to watch what they eat, when they eat, and how they can heat their homes.’

Margaret said: ‘What real life can they have after all these years of toil and putting in – and pensions are still means tested.

‘We need the basic pension raised so all these people don’t fall through the loop.

‘The government’s White Paper was going to restore the link with earnings in 2012 or 2015 – if it is “affordable’’.’

Phyllis said: ‘We think it’s disgusting. They can afford an illegal war in Iraq.

‘How many more billions will Brown spend on that?

‘He said he will spend as much as it takes for the war on Iraq, but he won’t say that to the pensioners.

‘That’s why we’ve got all these skeletons here.

‘The Labour government has broken its promises.

‘All the other parties have promised to restore the link. It seems very strange a Labour government won’t do this.’

Fred Drane from Poole in Dorset, a Liberal Democrat councillor, said: ‘The government’s attitude to pensioners is still not good enough.

‘We want the pension put up to £114 a week immediately and then to relate pensions to earnings.

‘When are they going to restore the link?

‘There are pensioners going to prison today because they won’t pay Council Tax.

‘There are other pensioners doing without food in order to pay it and that is a fact.’

Diane Andrewes, from Eastleigh Southern Parishes Old People’s Forum, said: ‘We’ve been in existence for 10 years and are consulted on all matters that affect older people in Hampshire.

‘We’re facing the same as pensioners everywhere.

‘We have pensioners in Hampshire having to decide whether they’re going to eat or heat this year.

‘It’s the uncertainty of not knowing how much bills are going to be this year.

‘My friend Evelyn says she has turned off her central heating because she doesn’t know how much it’s going to be – and she’s 88!

‘We want a minimum state pension of £114 a week.

‘We want things for pensioners today and we’re disturbed because the government White Paper has not addressed the plight of pensioners now.

‘We are receiving £44 below the government’s own poverty line.’

In a letter to MPs, Evelyn West, from Southampton, said: ‘I am very worried about the cost of fuel.

‘I have given up using my gas heated hot water tank.

‘I have instead been heating small quantities of water as and when needed.

‘My tank is also in my linen cupboard. Will it get damp? I don’t know.

‘In order to keep costs down I am asked to do things that other people were once paid to do.

‘I now need an office with a computer and other office equipment. Things I can’t have in my small bungalow even if I could afford to own them.

‘At the age of 88 years, living gets progressively more difficult.

‘My gas meter will be checked once a year, in the meantime I will pay an estimated sum of money, right or wrong, unless I send a regular reading to the gas company. The same applies to the electricity.

‘I now have a water meter to worry about.

‘My house is in need of decorating but the cost is too great to think about.

‘And so it goes on and on. I am in fear of becoming a burden to my children who are a great comfort to me since I lost my husband last year.’

Pensioners told MPs: ‘It has been stated that £10 billion of the National Insurance Fund surplus has been retained in the Fund with the rest being invested in government gilts.

‘The government is said to be using these gilts to fund other spending.’

The pensioners demanded to know:

• ‘When are these gilts redeemable?

• ‘Do these gilts attract interest?

• ‘Why is the NI Fund surplus not being used to increase pensions and other benefits that are funded by the NI Fund?’

Willie Riggans, one of the 1,400 UEF (United Engineering Forgings) pensioners, demanding compensation from the government, was also at the lobby.

He told News Line that altogether ‘there are 120,000 of us who have lost our pensions.

‘When our pension fund went bust, some people were left with nothing and we’ve been campaigning now for five years.

‘The government set up a financial assistance scheme for us, but it’s only halfway to where it needs to go to fully compensate all those who have lost their pension.

‘Five billion pounds is needed over the next 50 to 60 years or all those people who paid into the funds will not be fully compensated.

‘Yet we were told that all these pensions were safe and guaranteed when we joined their scheme. Nobody warned us of the risk.

‘Nobody said: look, you’re gambling your life savings here, you could lose all or part of that.’

Reacting to the government’s recent White Paper, the National Pensioners Convention said that – even if the government restores the link between average earnings and the state pension some time between 2012 and 2015 – three million of today’s existing pensioners will have died and the pension will have fallen to around 12 per cent of average earnings.

Demanding an immediate rise in the state pension, the NPC said: ‘Restoring the link to such a low pension will therefore only give around £1.40 a week more that year than pensioners would get anyway under the present system.’

Joe Harris, NPC general secretary, said: ‘The government’s White Paper on pensions contains nothing of immediate benefit to pensioners.

‘Already one in five older people live below the poverty line and millions more are being forced into poverty by rising fuel and council tax bills.

‘Yet the government has been breathtakingly complacent on the issue, by delaying the restoration of the link between pensions and earnings until at least 2012.

‘By that time, three million of today’s pensioners will have died.

‘Pensioners cannot afford to wait any longer – we need a decent state pension now.’