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Last Updated: Monday, 26 September 2005, 16:20 GMT 17:20 UK
Women's low pensions a 'scandal'
David Blunkett
David Blunkett has pledged welfare reform
Pensions Secretary David Blunkett has told the Labour party conference that a solution is needed for the "scandal" of low pension provision for women.

Mr Blunkett said the government's Pension Commission would recommend on how women's pensions could be improved.

Many women miss out on a full state pension because they have time off work to look after children or relatives.

Separately, help for those who lost their pensions when their company scheme collapsed will also be reviewed.

The Financial Assistance Scheme (FAS), worth 400m over 20 years, has been roundly criticised for not being large enough to pay the pensions of an estimated 60,000 scheme members.

Today's welfare state has more sticking plaster than Boots the chemist
David Blunkett, Work and Pensions Secretary

On Monday, members of the Pension Action Group protested by stripping off their clothes on Brighton beach to draw attention to their claims that they have had little help from the government after they lost most or all of their pensions when their company schemes failed.

Mr Blunkett told the conference that the Pension Commission had to "find ways...of reaching out to those who gave their life savings in their pension scheme and were scandalously let down by employers".

Peter Humphreys, spokesman for the Pension Action Group, reacted positively to the news that the plight of those people who had lost their pensions would be looked at again.

"If this is genuine then it is good news...The FAS is totally inadequate and if they can put more money into it then that will help," Mr Humphreys told BBC News.

The commission is due to outline its recommendations on the looming crisis in the UK pension system in November.

Welfare reform agenda

In his first speech to Labour's conference as Work and Pensions Secretary, Mr Blunkett said he aimed to "reshape" the UK welfare state and pension system.

"Today's welfare state has more sticking plasters than Boots the Chemist," Mr Blunkett said.

Mr Blunkett said he wanted to "empower" people and end the "absurdity" of "billions of pounds going to people to help them to survive rather than flourish".

The government will make its plans for reform of the welfare state clear in a few weeks time, Mr Blunkett said.

We really have to start looking at some very strong medicine to cure the UK pension problem
Miles Templeman, IoD director general

But Mr Blunkett told conference that from April the amount of money people could save before it counted against them in benefit calculations would double from 3,000 to 6,000.

'Strong medicine'

Earlier, business leaders called on the government to raise the UK retirement age in a bid to ease the deepening pensions crisis.

The Institute of Directors (IoD) and business leaders group the CBI have said people need to work beyond the age of 60 to solve the problem. The IoD called for the state pension age to rise to 70.

"We really have to start looking at some very strong medicine to cure the UK pension problem," IoD director general Miles Templeman said.

Meanwhile, CBI boss Sir Digby Jones demanded that the retirement age for public sector workers be raised from 60 to 65.

The government has proposed raising the standard age of retirement for the local government pension scheme to 65 and increasing staff contributions.

However, unions representing public sector workers have issued a stern warning that an attempt to increase the retirement age could prompt the biggest wave of industrial unrest since the 1926 General Strike.

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