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The BBC's Nicholas Jones
"Pensioner power is firmly on the political agenda"
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Sunday, 28 May, 2000, 14:59 GMT 15:59 UK
Elderly focus of policy battle
Pensioner walking
Tories say Labour is too focused on youth
The Conservatives have outlined how they propose to afford 60m plans to improve life for the UK's elderly, saying they would minimise bureaucracy.

Shadow Social Secretary David Willetts said his party's "carefully costed package" sought to redress what he called the government's disregard for the elderly.

He also told BBC One's On The Record programme that problems with the UK's treatment of cancer could be explained "almost entirely" by the way older patients are treated in hospitals.

Latest proposals
War widow pensions restored
Invalid care allowance extended
Income support raised
Breast cancer screening extended
Mixed-sex hospital wards ended
The 60m plans include restoring the war widows' pension to women who have remarried and widening entitlement to invalid care allowance.

His comments come as part of the latest shot fired by the Conservatives in their policy battle with the government.

Mr Willetts said money could immediately be saved by reducing the 40m used to administer the free television licence and winter fuel payment schemes.

He accused the government of being too focused on youth affairs and what he called "cool Britannia", adding that Labour "does not understand or respect what concerns older people".

He also said the government could easily restore the war widows' pension to women who have remarried by introducing a welfare bill to parliament.

David Willetts
David Willetts: Scoffed at "Cool Britannia" focus

But he declined to commit his party to restoring a link between state pensions and earnings, saying this was not party policy because "it is not affordable and would not be well targeted".

Mr Willetts' claim about a government obsession with "Cool Britannia" followed an earlier statement on Sunday that Labour was "institutionally ageist - they are preoccupied with the agenda of Islington trendies and have forgotten about the older generation".

He added: "We promise older carers the same rights to carers' benefits as everyone else. We promise war widows that they will not lose their war pension if they remarry. We are listening to pensioners - Labour are not."

But Labour hit back at the proposals, and Social Security Secretary, Alistair Darling, said: "The Tories had 18 years of government in which they could have done something about this."

"Today's announcement is another example of Hague's opportunism which was criticised by Michael Portillo only yesterday.

"Labour has done a lot for pensioners - such as restoring free eye tests - but we realise there is still much more to do."

Labour 'fears' outlined

As the battle to strike a chord among voters on popular issues intensifies, a secret memo leaked to a newspaper is said to show Labour's "fear" that the Tories are winning back mainstream support.

The Tories say if they won the next general election they would spend 40m each year on restoring the war widows' pensions, lost by 2,500 widows who have remarried.

Another 20m would go on extending entitlement to the invalid care allowance and increasing income support, helping 55,000 of the poorest pensioners.

Last week, Tory leader William Hague capitalised on public scorn for the government's rise of 75p in the weekly basic state pension by announcing the Tories would raise it by at least 5.50.

But Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott will hit back in speeches on Tuesday and Thursday, insisting that people are better off and that the gap between the haves and the have nots is narrowing.

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