Friday, February 25, 2005

Time for your medication, Mr Howard

Amazing, eh? Michael Howard launched the Tory policy on pensioners with this phrase:

'If you want to know about a family, look at how they treat their older relatives. And if you want to know about a country, look how it cares for older people.'

From that point on, Mike loses whatever tenuous grip he had on reality.

'The older generation don't appear to feature in Mr Blair's New Britain'

Which is why Labour have delivered (takes breath):
  • Guaranteed minimum income of £109.45 a week for single pensioners and £167.05 for couples (Apr 2005 onwards)
  • Basic state pension up to £82.05 for single pensioners and £131.20 (that's up £20 and £30 per week since 1997).
  • £200 Winter Fuel payment
  • £300 Winter Fuel payment for the over 75s (not dependent on some obscure weather-based formula set by the Tory government)
  • 2 million pensioners lifted off the poverty line
  • Millions of pensioners £40 a week better off thanks to the Pension Credit
  • Pensioner households are, on average, £1350 better off each year. The poorest households are £1750 a year better off.
  • Free eye tests
  • Free TV licences for the over 75s
  • Free passports for the over 75s

'And millions of pensioners have been pushed onto means tested benefits - forced to go cap in hand to the State'

I don't like the term means testing. That brings to mind the days when an inspector would call and could tell you that you weren't entitled to help from the state because you had an extra chair or two that you could sell to raise some money. 'Means testing' today ensures that the money goes to those who need it most. Universal entitlement ensures that that even the richest benefit, although it has the advantage of being easy to administer. The process for getting many of these entitlements or benefits is being simplified - pensioners apply for Pension Credit with a free phone call. There is a problem with take-up of these benefits, but this can be addressed with imaginative policies at a local level - Kent councils are working together to increase take up and this is having a significant effect.

'Many pensioners have become prisoners in their own homes - too frightened of yobs and muggers to go out even during the day'

That's it Michael - keep 'em scared. Get that fear rising. Never mind that crime is falling and that pensioners are amongst the groups least likely to fall victim to crime.

'Thousands of elderly patients - people who have worked hard all their lives - have to wait in pain for operations'

Whereas under the Tories, there were no waiting lists? Well, there weren't at the private hospitals he can afford. In 1997, eighteen month waiting lists were common - by October 2004, fewer than fifty people in England were waiting more than nine months. In 2000, over a quarter of a million people had to wait six months for their operation, now it is down to under 70,000. That's still too high and Labour are committed to a new target - by 2008, you will have your operation within 18 weeks of seeing your GP. Whatever else you remember, take that away with you - the NHS is working harder than ever and it is delivering.

I am proud to have served in a government that did more for pensioners than any other since the War

He can't spell 'less' can he? This is the government that gave us the Poll Tax, that cut police numbers, that removed the earnings indexation on pensions and tried to destroy the NHS.

Michael knows that pensioners can be relied upon to vote, but perhaps he's also hoping that advancing years will have dulled their memories of the 80s and 90s.

He's wrong.

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