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banner Sunday, 24 September, 2000, 19:29 GMT 20:29 UK
Rooker defends pension reform
"It pays to save," Pensions Minister Jeff Rooker told a fringe meeting at the Labour Party conference on Sunday.

But Mr Rooker admitted that the government had "got to change attitudes" and persuade young people to begin saving now for their old age.

His remarks were made at a Fabian Society meeting entitled "What are we counting on? Pensions and the future of welfare."

Sharing a platform with Prof Jay Ginn of the University of Surrey, Mr Rooker said that schemes such as the stakeholder pension and the introduction of pension credit - where the government pays people to save - were the only way to improve pension provision long-term.

SWP protest

On the streets outside the meeting, however, the Socialist Worker's Party had other ideas about welfare reform.

Waving placards emblazoned with "restore the link," members staged a vocal protest aimed at persuading the government to link pensions to earnings. They climbed on bus shelters and cheered as motorists beeped their support.

Unaware of the disturbance outside, Mr Rooker dismissed calls to "restore the link" between pensions and earnings.

Pension reform was more complicated than that, he said, and "a slogan is not the be all and end all - it does nothing for pensioners".

'No golden age'

Pausing to consider the history of state welfare, Mr Rooker said that there had never been a "golden age of the basic state pension".

The link between pensions and earnings was only an interim measure during the 1970s, he added.

But it wasn't just from outside the meeting hall that Mr Rooker faced criticism. Prof Jay Ginn said that the government's pension reforms failed to meet the needs of women.

Sixty-two percent of working women have no private pension provision, she said, and the government's stakeholder pension was of little value to those who left work for lengthy periods to bring up children.

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