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Tuesday, 7 November, 2000, 15:46 GMT
Pensioners claim partial victory
Rodney Bickerstaffe, Baroness Castle, Jack Jones
Defiant: Rodney Bickerstaffe, Baroness Castle and Jack Jones
Campaigners were out in force on Tuesday to lobby Parliament for an increase in pensions and for the link between average earnings and the basic state pension to be restored.

More than 1,000 people gathered in Westminster's Central Hall - including Baroness Castle and Tony Blair's father-in-law Tony Booth - after their leaders had held talks with the prime minister and chancellor Gordon Brown in Downing Street.

Make no mistake, our campaign has been successful

Pensioners leader Jack Jones

National Pensioners Convention president Jack Jones told the audience the government was getting the message and there would be no repeat of the "miserable" 75p increase last year.

We are winning," he told the audience.

Actor Tony Booth
Tony Booth delivers the pensioners' petition
"Make no mistake, our campaign has been successful, it has had an impact on the government and we should see that on Wednesday in substantial increases."

However, he also called for the campaign to continue after the pre-Budget statement due to be presented by Mr Brown on Wednesday.

"We want the restoration of the link with earnings in the future," he said.

Help for poorer pensions

Following the demonstration, social security minister Alistair Darling re-stated the government's opposition to a restoration of the earnings link.

I paid in my National Insurance all those years and they are not paying me back my money. By rights, I should have it

Zelda Curtis, 77
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's World at One, Mr Darling said the government wanted to give extra help to those pensioners who needed it most.

"You can either give an across the board increase to everybody, rich and poor alike, or you can give more than an earnings link to those people who are on very low pensions."

Mr Darling also denied claims by former welfare minister Frank Field that by promising a one-off increase this year, the government was setting itself up for an annual clash with pensioners.

But Mr Darling's words seemed unlikely to cut any ice with Tuesday's protesters.

Only a noisy minority believe the chancellor's top priority should be cutting fuel prices

John Monks
Zelda Curtis, 77, who was at the Methodist Hall, said: "I paid in my National Insurance all those years and they are not paying me back my money. By rights, I should have it."

The chancellor is expected to give single pensioners an above inflation rise of 5 a week and an 8 a week rise for couples in his pre-Budget statement.

A substantial rise in the minimum income guarantee is also being predicted.

Survey puts pensions ahead of fuel

A survey for the TUC survey that 58% believe Mr Brown should increase the state pension, with 37% preferring lower fuel prices.

TUC general secretary John Monks said the survey showed that pensions, not petrol, were the "people's will".

"It reveals that only a noisy minority believe the chancellor's top priority should be cutting fuel prices. A clear majority rightly believes that boosting pensions should be at the top of the chancellor's list," he said.

Derisory increase

Chancellor Gordon Brown
Gordon Brown is facing political pressure to raise pensions

Rodney Bickerstaffe, general secretary of the public service union Unison, said: "We have a very simple message for the chancellor: pensioners deserve a decent state pension.

"A 5 increase may offer a short-term boost to pensions, but unless a regular uprating such as the link with earnings is restored, the basic state pension will continue to wither on the vine."

The chancellor has come under increasing pressure to offer pensioners a substantial increase following a rise of 75p a week earlier this year, dismissed by many pensioners as derisory.

The 75p rise was in line with inflation but soon became a political disaster for the government.

Pensions minister Jeff Rooker has said Britain's elderly would not be disappointed by Mr Brown's statement on Wednesday.

Higher tax to pay for pensions

The Liberal Democrats have called for top earners to pay more income tax to fund increases in the state pension.

The Conservatives have promised to scrap special payments like the Winter Fuel Allowance and free TV licences for the over 75s, and use the money saved to pay for across-the-board increases in pensions.

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See also:

06 Nov 00 | Business
Brown: I won't squander prosperity
10 Oct 00 | Business
Inflation rise set to boost pensions
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