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Wednesday, 24 May, 2000, 15:12 GMT 16:12 UK
Hague pledges pensions rise
A state pension book
Pensions: Labout has been attacked over this year's 75p rise
Tory leader William Hague has unveiled his plan to win back the votes of the UK's 11 million pensioners by promising increases in the basic state pension of up to 10 a week.

Speaking on Wednesday, Mr Hague committed a future Conservative government to an across the board pension boost to be funded by scrapping 2bn worth of benefits which Labour has targeted at the poorest pensioners.

In an attack on Labour's policies and attitudes towards the elderly, Mr Hague said the government treated them as "unwanted guests at the New Labour banquet".

In recent weeks the battle to win "grey votes" has intensified as the Tories have moved to exploit disappointment with this year's 75p pension rise.

Labour has hit back, saying the Tories are using "smoke and mirrors" to promise pensioners money they already receive in different forms.

William Hague: In election mode
But Mr Hague said the Tories would ditch Labour "gimmicks" such as the winter fuel allowance, the free TV licence for the over 75s and the pensioners' Christmas bonus.

The rest of the 2bn will be made up from efficiency savings and the axing of the New Deal back-to-work scheme for lone parents, as well as cuts to the social fund which provides emergency payments for bedding and furniture.

Mr Hague said: "What pensioners say over and over again is that they would rather have a reliable weekly income which is theirs by right, to spend as they think best, than a series of handouts and gimmicks."

Explaining how the Tories rises would work, he said the 2bn would be added to Labour's expected rise for next year of 2-3 a week.

And he criticised the government further, saying pensioners were angered by, "the way it treats pensioners as unfortunate misfits in their dreams of Cool Britannia ... the way it patronises pensioners with handouts and treats them almost like charity cases."

Pension increases

Mr Hague pledged pension rises of 5.50-a-week for single pensioners; 7-a-week for couples over 65; 7.50-a-week for single pensioners over 75; and 10-a-week for couples over 75.

Conservative Social Security Shadow David Willetts rejected Labour claims that poorer pensioners would suffer.

He said scrapping benefits targetted at the worse off would be cushioned by both increasing the pension and making more money available in income support.

Where the 2bn comes from
Axing winter fuel payment, 1160m
Ending free TV licence, 370m
Efficiency savings, 40m
Ending lone parent's new deal, 90m
Cutting 90m from the social fund
Ending Christmas bonus, 120m
100m saved by avoiding EU rules on fuel payments

But Social Security Secretary Alistair Darling said the Tory plans were a "con".

"All he is promising is what pensioners are going to get anyway from the Labour government," said Mr Darling.

"It is a one off gimmick. It is another example of William Hague's opportunism and everybody knows that with [the Conservatives'] tax guarantee, pensioners will have to pay for this."

"We are helping the poorest pensioners, we're clearing up the Tory mess."

For the Liberal Democrats, Steve Webb said the Tory plans only amounted to an extra 70p above Labour's standing commitments.

He said: "No one trusts the Tories on pensions. These figures are breathtakingly dishonest."

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See also:

24 May 00 | UK Politics
Parties electioneer over grey vote
17 May 00 | UK Politics
Darling launches pensioners' conference
28 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Pension rise confirmed
29 Mar 00 | UK Politics
Elderly 'missing out' on benefits
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