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Tuesday, 7 November, 2000, 14:13 GMT
Pensioners top Brown's budget plans

Pension campaigners Rodney Bickerstaffe, Baroness Castle and Jack Jones
By BBC News Online political correspondent Nick Assinder

Whatever else Gordon Brown does in his pre-budget statement one thing is certain: pensioners will be the biggest winners.

The chancellor can happily take on the fuel protesters and ignore their demands for cuts in petrol tax, safe in his belief that their campaign is flimsy and will be short-lived.

Pensioners are another matter all together.

Demographic changes mean the over-60s are becoming one of the biggest and most powerful groups in society

Chancellor Gordon Brown: Playing off protesters against pensioners
They claim, with some justification, that they have been ignored or taken for granted by successive governments.

Many pensioner groups believed things would change under New Labour and that the old policy of linking their income to average earnings would be re-introduced.

Their hopes were swiftly dashed once Tony Blair came to power.

Labour came up against the same problem faced by all previous governments: that the only way to fund a substantially greater state pension would be to massively increase taxes.

There were even suggestions that the government believed there were no votes in pensioners and, as a result, was resistant to demands for change.

Bitter backlash

Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party Clive Soley recently sparked controversy by appearing to suggest pensioner were mostly right wingers who would probably never vote Labour.

It was a tremendous gaffe and ministers quickly disassociated themselves from his remarks.

But there was a lingering suspicion among pensioners that Mr Soley had only voiced what most ministers believed.

Gordon Brown made matters worse earlier this year when, by sticking rigidly to the uprating formula, he gave a meagre 75p a week increase in the basic state pension.

That sparked a bitter backlash and shifted the political landscape. Suddenly, all political parties appeared to wake up to the reality of "grey power".

It all came to a head with the revolt at Labour's party conference in September which saw union leaders and former minister Barbara (now Baroness) Castle - who introduced the earnings link in the 1970s - defeating the leadership.

It was one of the most embarrassing defeats yet suffered by Tony Blair and there was never any doubt that, as a result, Gordon Brown would put pensioners top of his budget priorities.

That has seen ministers playing off the fuel protesters against pensioners, but there has never been any doubt about who the winners would be.

Mr Brown's challenge is to reassure the likes of Lady Castle and leader of the National Pensioners Convention Jack Jones that, while still refusing to restore the earnings link, he has done more than enough to compensate.

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See also:

07 Nov 00 | UK Politics
Pensioners pressure Brown
06 Nov 00 | Business
Brown: I won't squander prosperity
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