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The BBC's Paul Lewis reports
"Harrow council says it has no choice..."
 real 28k

Tuesday, 10 April, 2001, 13:22 GMT 14:22 UK
Harrow targets war pensioners
Harrow war widow with her late husband
Harrow Council's planned rebate cuts will mean a rise in rent and council tax payments for 53 war widows and pensioners.
By BBC Radio 4's Money Box programme

The Royal British Legion is warning that concessions on rent and council tax which help thousands of war pensioners and widows could be under threat.

That follows a decision by the London Borough of Harrow decided to stop the rebates from May.

War pensioners in the borough will lose nearly 1,700 a year each.

At the moment the council takes no account of their war pensions when it works out entitlement to help with rent and council tax.

Almost every council in Britain does the same but councillors in Harrow in North London have decided to withdraw this help, leading to large rises in the rent and council tax for the 53 war widows and pensioners in the borough.

One pensioner, whose husband was killed in 1944 is unhappy about the council's plans.

War widows and pensioners may see an increase in rent and council tax.
War pensioners in the borough of Harrow will lose on average nearly 1700 a year each.

"I felt very angry because I feel that a lot of these people that are sitting behind the desks, I maybe wrong, but I feel that most of them probably weren't even born during the war so they don't know what we suffered and how we had to struggle.

"They haven't a clue what us older war widows went through."

Her husband was killed on 9 July 1944 and she has been living alone ever since.

If the cuts are made it will mean that she will have to pay 58.79 a week plus the council tax out of her pension - an increase she can ill afford.

"Well , it would mean going without food and what have you, because there's nothing left - there will be nothing left."

Harrow: no choice

But Harrow council says it had no choice. Keith Toms is deputy leader at the Labour controlled council. He has voted twice to cut the benefits paid to the 53 war widows and war pensioners.

"It is not an economy that we look at with a great deal of pleasure.

"On the other hand, when you come to consider that there are 53 people in receipt of 88,000 from the borough, and then you consider that this might mean we can employ four school teachers or four social workers," explains Keith Toms.

"You can put up your list of priorities and say what you think, but we've had to make some harsh decisions."

Of 353 councils in England and Wales only six penalise war pensioners in the way that Harrow is planning to do.

Harrow councillors will have one more chance to vote on this decision at the full council meeting on 1 May.

If they go ahead with the cuts the Royal British Legion is warning that other councils may follow suite, reversing a trend of recent years which has seen this concession become almost universal.

Tom House, the Legion's head of pensions, says this is not just about the war pensioners in Harrow and is unsympathetic over the council's financial dilemma.

"If we let down these 53 people it will snowball and we would have let down thousands.

"I think this is the thin end of the wedge, and I believe that if we let this go then other councils will follow suit and we've let everybody down who served us and defended this country from the last war onwards."

Money Box is on Radio 4, on Saturdays at noon British summer time (1100 GMT), and repeated Sundays at 2100 BST and on its website all week.

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See also:

02 Mar 01 | Moneybox
Money Box Homepage
30 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Pensioners' forms to be simplified
07 Mar 01 | Budget 2001
Brown's boost for prudent pensioners
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