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Last Updated: Monday, 15 September, 2003, 22:38 GMT 23:38 UK
War pension increase 'insensitive'
British soldier in Iraq
The widows of British soldiers in Iraq will not benefit
Increases to war widows' pensions have been described as "insensitive" by the Royal British Legion.

The forces' charity says changes announced by the Ministry of Defence on Monday will not benefit the families of servicemen killed in the current Iraq conflict.

Other widows' support groups welcomed increases for widows in the future, but said the changes would do nothing to help existing widows who are struggling to make ends meet.

The MoD announced a raft of changes including extending benefits to unmarried partners and widening cover to all deaths in service, not just those in conflict.

The basic widow's pension will increase by a quarter.

Widow's pension to increase 25%
Unmarried, including same sex, partners of soldiers killed in action will receive benefit
Death in service benefit increased from one-and-a-half times pensionable pay to four times

But the legion said the savings being made to pay for the increase would end up penalising more widows than it helped.

In particular, it was concerned about a new time limit of five years to make a claim and a change from a policy of "reasonable doubt" to "balance of probabilities".

The legion said that at present, unless the MoD can prove beyond reasonable doubt that an injury or illness was not caused as a result of time in service, a claimant receives a war pension.

The new policy, it said, would mean compensation could be denied if officials can show that on the "balance of probabilities" an injury or illness was not service-related.

What assurance have troops in Iraq that their government will look after them if they're injured or killed?
Tom House
Royal British Legion

Tom House, head of pensions, said: "If this new scheme is put into effect there may be thousands of cases of members of the services who served in the last Gulf War conflict that are now out of time to claim for injuries sustained.

"We believe it's incredibly insensitive of the Ministry of Defence to make this announcement just one week after sending another 1,200 of our troops off to war in Iraq.

"What assurance have they that their government will look after them if they're injured or killed?"

Existing widows

The War Widows Association welcomed the increases which will come into effect in 2005.

However it said the changes would mean nothing to the "oldest and frailest" of the 48,000 war widows, mostly of World War II.

"This doesn't address the failings of the existing system," said Debbie Bowls.

The Forces Pension Society, while welcoming broadly the changes, said in a statement: "It is deeply concerning that existing widow(er)s have not been included in this change."

"Whilst the government has seen fit to engage in responsible and constructive consultation on behalf of the service pensioner of tomorrow, they continue to neglect the historical injustices of previous generations of service personnel and their spouses, who remain victims of loose legislation in the past."

Ministers say the changes are the result of a two-year review and not a reaction to high-profile cases challenging the MoD pension rules.

Announcing the plans, defence minister Ivor Caplin said: "The new schemes are designed to be fairer, to reflect modern practice and to meet the needs of the armed forces in the 21st century, and offer a high level of assurance for service personnel."

Paul Keetch, Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, said the announced changes "will not have allayed all of the concerns of our servicemen and women, but some progress is better than none".

The pensions shake-up is expected to form part of an Armed Services Bill, to be included in the Queen's Speech in November or December.

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