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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 July, 2003, 18:32 GMT 19:32 UK
'No minister' say pensioners

By Andrew Verity
BBC Personal Finance Reporter at the pensioners parliament

Malcolm Wicks MP
The new pensions minister was given rough ride
It took the government four months to find someone willing and able to be the new pension minister

The new man in the job, Malcolm Wicks MP, has just found out why.

As he rose to speak at the 11th annual National Pensioners Convention Parliament, he opened with valiant efforts to win over the crowd.

"Our attitude on all this isn't really different to yours" he ventured.

The crowd sat silently giving nothing away

Forearmed by civil servants with details of government initiatives, Mr Wicks pointed out that state pensions had gone up since 1997 by much more than inflation.

Again the silence from the crowd was deafening.

Poor profit

Undeterred Mr Wicks said that the government had guaranteed everyone an income of at least 102 a week, targeting help to the poorest.

You sir are a liar
Conference delegate

He added it was spending 9bn extra on pensioners in real terms than in 1997.

That was more than if government back in 1997 had caved into demands from pensioner pressure groups to restore the link between rises in the state pension and average earnings.

The crowd glowered back at him.

And if you took all form of income into account pensioners were now better off in real terms by 50% since Labour took office.

Jeers of disbelief filled the hall

Home help charge

Then it was the pensioners turn.

"The government boasted in the last green paper but one that the amount it spent on pensions as a share of GDP would go down from 5.4% to 4.5% and that was condemned by the OECD," said Harry Dean from the pensioners association in Bristol.

Well you have disagreed with almost everything I said and you have been in good voice.
Malcolm Wicks, Pensions Minister

"You sir are a liar," another delegate fulminated.

Other delegates demanded to know if the government was planning to introduce charging for home help.

Mr Wicks refused to rule out such a step.

Birthday wish

By now Mr Wicks was realising just how brave he had been in giving his first ministerial public speech to this audience.

A few questions more and he made to leave.

"Well you have disagreed with almost everything I said and you have been in good voice," he said.

"Can I just say how I can't think of a better way to have spent my birthday than with the National Pensioners Convention."

Pension concern grows
26 Jun 03  |  Business


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