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Wednesday, 30 May, 2001, 13:34 GMT 14:34 UK

Parties chase pension power

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are chasing the "grey vote" - saying they would help people grow old with dignity.

Shadow social security secretary David Willetts said the Tories would increase the basic pension and take a million elderly people out of income tax.

The Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy - backed by former Bond girl Honor Blackman - promised free nursing and personal care for all pensioners who needed it.

Both parties accused Labour of failing to live up to the pledges it made to the elderly before the 1997 election.

Means test

For the Tories, Mr Willetts said that Labour would leave more than half of pensioners on means-tested benefits by 2003.

He quoted Tony Blair as saying the Labour government would have failed if it had not raised the living standards of the poorest people by the end of its term.

"But the number of pensioners living in poverty has increased by 400,000 since 1997," Mr Willetts told the party's morning news conference.

The Tories would increase the basic state pension above inflation in 2002, reduce taxes on savings and boost the age-related personal allowance by 2,000 - taking a million pensioners out of paying income tax.

The party is also pledging to divert 30m from Labour's waiting list initiative to provide free digital hearing aids.

"We offer pensioners a better deal," said Mr Willetts.

"Conservatives respect and support pensioners and want to see them treated with dignity."

Dignity

For the Lib Dems, Charles Kennedy told his campaign news conference that free personal and nursing care for the elderly, already available in Scotland, would be extended to England and Wales.

"Everyone in society deserves dignity in old age," he said.

The proposals for free care would mean that "people will not have to plunder their savings or even to sell their homes to get the care they need", according to Mr Kennedy.


" Conservatives respect and support pensioners and want to see them treated with dignity "
David Willetts

The number of pensioners forced to sell their homes to pay for personal care each year had dramatically increased to 70,000 over the last year, he said.

Lib Dem pension plans were endorsed by former Bond girl Honor Blackman, who accompanied Mr Kennedy on a walkabout in south west London.

Miss Blackman, 75, said: "Senior citizens have been treated badly until now.

"I think it is time they were given a little more money to live on. As you get older you need more services.

"You must have more money to cope with problems such as mobility," she added.

'Inaccurate'

Paul Burstow, Lib Dem spokesman for older people, said Tony Blair had accused the Conservatives of "betraying" Britain's pensioners - but Labour had done a worse job.

But a spokesman for Labour said the figures used by the Liberal Democrats were "inaccurate, unreliable and meaningless."

"They are based on only 25% of local authorities.

And the Lib Dems have misleadingly extrapolated that 16% going in to care and 'had a charge put on their house' meant therefore that 70,000 people had to sell their homes".



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