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Willetts: Labour have let pensioners down

During a press conference at Conservative Central Office, David Willetts, Shadow Social Security Secretary:

"Before the election Gordon Brown told the Labour Party Conference that he wanted 'the end of the means test for our elderly people'. Yet the number of pensioners on means-tested benefits, which fell to 39 per cent in 1996/7, is rising again. Under Labour's plans, it would reach 57 per cent by 2003.

"In their last manifesto Labour promised pensioners would 'share fairly in the increasing prosperity of the nation'. Labour has spent an average of 5.25 per cent of Britain's wealth on pensioners, compared with an average of 5.45 per cent during the previous Parliament.

"Before he came to office, Tony Blair said 'if the next Labour government has not raised the living standards of the poorest by the end of the its time in office, it will have failed'. But the number of pensioners living in poverty has increased by 400,000 since 1997.

"We offer pensioners a better deal. Conservatives respect and support pensioners and want to see them treated with dignity.

"We are offering:

· An above-inflation pension increase in April 2002 for all pensioners;

· A £2,000 increase in the age-related personal allowances for income tax, to take a million pensioners out of tax;

· Abolition of taxes on savings and dividends;

· Reform of the rules on the compulsory purchase of annuities at age 75. This will tackle a long-standing grievance of many pensioners.

"The Institute for Fiscal Studies has shown how, on average, single pensioners will gain £4.32 a week and married couples will gain £8.77, This is substantially above their forecasts for how much pensioners will gain under both Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

"Some pensioners will do even better.

"We are releasing figures today which show how a newly-retired married couple could gain up to

£1, 420 - over £27 a week - from our proposals.

"We are also showing how a single pensioner over 75 could gain £874 a year - nearly £17 a week.

"These examples are based on realistic assumptions of income and savings.

"We are showing how we can boost the incomes of pensioners without ever more complicated and intrusive means-tests. We will boost the value of the basic state pension and take pensioners out of tax. That is the route to real financial security for pensioners.

"Pensioners will be better off under the Conservatives."

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