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Social Security Secretary Alastair Darling
"You cannot possibly justify the high number of pensioners living in poverty"
 real 56k

The BBC's Navdip Dhariwal
"Around a quarter of all pensioners were still living in poverty last year"
 real 56k

Jack Jones, National Pensioners Convention
"We want our pensions as of right"
 real 56k

Thursday, 21 September, 2000, 08:57 GMT 09:57 UK
Poverty spreads among UK's elderly
2 pensioners in their lounge
Maintaining a decent lifestyle is harder than ever
The number of pensioners living in poverty in the UK has increased by up to 100,000 between 1998-99, according to figures due out on Thursday.

The rise will be disclosed in the Department of Social Security's annual report on poverty.

But the report will also say fewer children are now living in poverty.

Conservative Party spokesman David Willetts has called the numbers "devastating", adding that they destroyed Labour's claims to be helping Britain's elderly.

The charity Age Concern said it was now crunch time for pensioners, and the basic state pension needed to be improved urgently.

Social Security Secretary Alistair Darling, however, stressed that the rise referred to a time before the introduction of the Minimum Income Guarantee, which is aimed at giving extra help to Britain's poorest pensioners.

'Restore the link'

Receiving a pension
Picking up the pension
A total of 1.4 million elderly people have benefited from MIG, with single pensioners aged 60-74 seeing their weekly income rise from 67.50 a week to 78.45.

Labour has also introduced free eye tests and TV licences, and upgraded winter fuel payments.

However, Chancellor Gordon Brown has faced repeated pressure to restore the link between pensions and earnings - scrapped by the Tories in 1980 - in an attempt to prevent the elderly slipping into poverty.

He will face the same call at Labour's conference which starts in Brighton next week.

Mr Darling refused to be drawn on whether he favoured restoring the link.

Which priority?

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The real problem in this country is that an across-the-board increase doesn't solve the problem of too many pensioners retiring into poverty."

He said it made sense that the first priority should be to help those pensioners on the lowest incomes.

"We have to take account of the fact that most people also have a second pension and the pension credit will make sure they get a top up," he said.

"The right thing to do is to make sure we don't lose sight of the real problem we inherited - too many pensioners living in poverty. That is something I want to stop in the short term and the long term as well."

'Special gimmicks'

Demonstration, 1996
The elderly have taken to the streets to make their point
Mr Willetts said the various Labour schemes were just too complicated, and promised that the Conservatives would sweep away these "special gimmicks", putting the money into a substantial increase in the basic pension of up to 10 a week instead.

Baroness Castle, who has run a long campaign to restore the link between pensions and earnings, said she had told Chancellor Gordon Brown that doing so was the "only way to upstage" the Tories.

"He smiles, but he is never going to commit himself, he is silly and I shall keep at him," she told the BBC.

"What is so wrong is [the government] have conceded the principle for the minimum income guarantee but they are refusing to do it for the basic state pension."

The cause of the elderly also received strong support at the Liberal Democrats' conference this week.

Delegates backed leadership plans for a rise of at least 5 in the basic pension, rising to 15 for the oldest pensioners.

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