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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 March, 2005, 16:24 GMT
Brown Budget chases 'grey vote'
Pensioner couple
All parties are after the grey vote
Pensioners will get 200 council tax refunds and free off-peak bus travel as the Budget intensified the battle for the "grey vote".

The move follows the pensioner protests over council tax rises in recent years.

The Tories said Mr Brown's help offer did not match their plans and the Lib Dems called it a "sticking plaster".

Help The Aged said older people were only getting the "usual cash bribe" but some other pensioner groups were more positive in their reaction.

Bus promise

All the parties are particularly eager to win the votes of older people, who are the group most likely to vote in the election.

Mr Brown had already promised a 50 council tax refund for households of people over-65 in December's pre-Budget report.

On the question of the council tax Mr Brown has listened to the lobbying of the grey power people
Rodney Bickerstaffe
National Pensioners Convention

He increased his offer on Wednesday in a measure he argued was "worth more to more pensioners than all other proposed schemes". It will cost the Treasury 800m.

Pensioners already get free travel in Wales and London - and Scotland is soon to introduce the move too. Most other areas of the UK offer only half-price fares.

Now Mr Brown wants it rolled out to all over-60s nationwide - it will also be available to all disabled people.

The move, which will cost the Department for Transport 420m a year, only applies to off-peak journeys.

The Transport 2000 group welcomed the move but said pensioners may find their could not travel free outside their local areas.

A government spokesman said many councils were doing deals with their neighbours to allow this to happen.

NHS payments

The chancellor also announced that pensioners who face an extended stay in hospital would no longer have to pay for their stay.

And he said pension credit to rise by 13% by 2008, in line with earnings.

The plans were attacked by Conservative leader Michael Howard, whose party promises pensioners an automatic 50% discount on council tax up to a 500 limit.

He said: "When you offer help to pensioners to pay their council tax bills, why didn't you admit that while you offer them 200 off their council tax bills, we offer a discount of up to 500."

And Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy said: "This increase will be welcomed by pensioners but the chancellor still has done nothing to fundamentally fix this tax.

"Under Liberal Democrat plans, 6 million pensioners will not pay local income tax and an average single pensioner will benefit by 209 a year."

'Grand gesture'

Mervyn Kohler, head of public affairs at Help the Aged, called free bus travel a "welcome surprise" to end a "postcode lottery".

He said one-off payments, such as the council tax refund, were valuable as pain-relieving measures but did not build self-esteem among older people, he argued.

"Older people will recognise this for what it is: a grand gesture to an increasingly restive older electorate," added Mr Kohler.

Rodney Bickerstaffe, president of the National Pensioners' Convention, said pensioners had really wanted a big increase in the basic state pension, which should be linked to earnings.

"But you have to say on the question of the council tax Mr Brown has listened to the lobbying of the grey power people," he said.


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