Pensioners wary over Brown's handout
By Rebecca SheppardA PRIME opportunity to reverse pensioner poverty was missed in the Budget, campaigners said.Gordon Brown's promises of a lump sum to pensioners to them help cope with the swingeing effect of council taxes on their fixed incomes was welcomed, but only up to a point.
By Rebecca Sheppard
A PRIME opportunity to reverse pensioner poverty was missed in the Budget, campaigners said.
Gordon Brown's promises of a lump sum to pensioners to them help cope with the swingeing effect of council taxes on their fixed incomes was welcomed, but only up to a point.
This year the over-70s are to get an extra £100. This means that together with the winter fuel payment, pensioners over 70 will get £300 and those over 80 will get £400.
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Announcing the £100 payment, which is set to cost £475 million, Mr Brown said: “The evidence shows that their council tax bills take a higher share of their incomes than the rest of the population.”
Reg Hartles, chairman of Protest Against Council Tax Suffolk, said anything that helped pensioners was good news, but he warned: “It will not make a big difference.
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“It sounds like a sweetener in view of the national feeling on the council tax. They have got to do something more dramatic and be seen to be looking to do something about it.”
Jack Thain, chairman of the Suffolk Pensioners' Association, added: “You think of the cost of changing all these bills to reduce them by another £100 and the cost of working that out. It must run into millions.
“We do not particularly want all these handouts. We want things that last through the years. It would be much better if we had a permanent pension increase.”
Age Concern's director general, Gordon Lishman, said: “It's a disgrace that the state pension is so inadequate that people have to rely on one-off payments to cover daily living costs.”
He called on the Government to turn its back on means-testing and to increase the basic state pension to a minimum of £105 a week to lift pensioners out of poverty.
Campaigners felt Mr Brown should also have tackled council tax benefit, which up to a third of pensioners were not claiming, and the means-tested pension credit, which was being claimed by only about half of those entitled to it.
They added the Budget offered no incentive to support the Government's policy that working longer and saving more would avert a pensions crisis.
There was also frustration that no significant retraining and education package was announced that would encourage employers to recruit and retain older workers.
Mervyn Kohler, head of public affairs at Help the Aged, said: “The productivity and revenue gained from encouraging more older people to work would make a significant difference to the limitations that the Chancellor will face in future spending reviews and Budgets. This was an opportunity to be bold and is an opportunity missed.”