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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 October, 2004, 10:32 GMT 11:32 UK
Tories make pitch for grey vote
The Conservatives are writing to every pensioner in a target seat pledging to give them a "better basic state pension than ever before".

Shadow work and pensions secretary David Willetts outlined the plan in a speech at the party's annual rally.

Mr Willetts said he would end means-testing and restore the link between pensions and earnings.

And he repeated his pledge to scrap Labour's New Deal and contract out job centre work to voluntary groups.

Benefit 'mess'

Restoring the earnings link would mean 7 a week extra for single pensioners and 11 for couples, Mr Willetts said,

But, he added, it would not initially increase the income of those currently claiming means-tested benefits to top up the basic pension.

Mr Willetts also pledged to:

  • Sort out the "mess" of the state benefit system

  • Help the victims of company pension scheme wind-ups, by using the unclaimed assets of banks and building societies to "rebuild pension funds"

  • Provide better rewards for saving, with a new Lifetime Savings Account
.

With Britons "living longer, healthier lives, retirement should be a chance to do the things they did not have time for during their working lives," Mr Willetts told representatives.

But he said Labour was "stuck in the past" in its attitude to the elderly.

"They don't think older people can be independent. They do want to help pensioners, but they want pensioners to depend on them for that help.

"That is why they have got more pensioners on means-tested benefits than ever before."

'Lost generation'

Mr Willetts said he would get more money into pensions by scrapping Labour's New Deal programme, "which hasn't worked".

Only a third of people leaving the New Deal go into sustained, unsubsidised jobs, he said.

More than a million young people were not studying, training or working last month - "a lost generation of young people, in hostels for the homeless or out on the streets".

"There will be no place for so-called training schemes which play such a cruel trick on the young unemployed by raising their hopes of a job, only then to dash them again," he said.

"And we will sweep away the cumbersome bureaucracy of traditional Job Centres. Instead, we will work with charities and commercial providers to transform the opportunities facing our young people."




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