Thursday, 5 March 2015

Labour and Lib Dem Candidates respond to pensioners' petition

Since our previous article reported that not one single parliamentary candidate had bothered to respond to a request from Lancaster and District Pensioners' Campaign (LDPCG) that they commit to supporting the Pensioners' Manifesto (see previous report for more about this), the group has now received two replies, from Lancaster & Fleetwood Candidates Cat Smith (Labour) and Robin Long (Lib Dem).

They have given their views on the Manifesto's core demands, and here they are, in the order in which they were received.

Cat Smith, Labour candidate

Cat Smith
Dear Eric Jones and the Lancaster District Pensioners Campaign,

Thank you for writing to me and alerting me to your petition, I did actually go along to the session you had in Lancaster city centre and met with some members of your group there. It was very cold and I think you did admirably to collect so many signatures.

With regards to your petition;

A basic state pension for all, set above the poverty level of £175 a week
I am sorry I cannot commit a future Labour government to fully meeting this demand; all of our policies are fully costed going into the election, it is important we only promise what we can deliver. The full new State Pension for those reaching state pension age from next year will be no less than £148.40 per week. The actual amount will be set in autumn 2015.

Increases in pensions to be linked to the best of RPI, CPI, earnings or 2.5%
Labour is absolutely committed to the triple-lock on pensions throughout the next parliament, inflation, average earnings, or 2.5%.

Universal pensioner benefits (bus pass, winter fuel allowance, free TV licences for the over75s and free prescriptions) to be maintained without means-testing
Labour has no plans to change current arrangements for bus passes, free TV Licenses for the over-75s or free prescriptions.  The Winter Fuel Allowance will go for those pensioners who are higher rate tax payers earning over £41,866 p.a. - about 5% of all pensioners, but there would be no complex means test as it would be linked to HMRC records.

A National Health and Care Service which is free at the point of use and funded through taxation
Yes, Labour has committed to bringing together health, social care and mental health in order to provide ‘whole person care’, free at the point of use and funded through taxation.

A legally binding Dignity Code to improve the quality and standards of care for older people
I think that sounds like a good idea, I’d be interested in knowing more as that develops.

There are other issues which you don’t mention in the manifesto which I also think are important and I will work towards if I was elected as your MP. I would work to help less wealthy pensioners (millions of whom do not claim their entitlements) by increasing awareness of pensioner entitlements and campaign to make access to benefits such as pension credit and council tax assistance simpler.

I hope you find my response honest and realistic about what I hope to achieve as your MP.

Regards,  Cat Smith
Labour Parliamentary Candidate for Lancaster and Fleetwood

                                                                                                                          

Robin Long, Liberal Democrat candidate

Robin Long
Dear Eric Jones and the LDPCG,

Thank you very much for your email. Sorry that I have taken a while to reply, but I have been away and I wanted to to take the time to research as much of this as I could instead of providing you with a generic response.

Firstly I wish to reply to the main points highlighted in your manifesto:

A basic state pension for all, set above the poverty level of £175 a week.
I think all pensioners should be provided with a basic state pension that covers their living costs. The poverty level is set at 60% of the median income of the UK. This means that it is more a measure of the difference in incomes between the lowest and the highest earners, rather than a measure of what people need to survive. Instead of using and arbitrary level, I will be fighting for a living wage to be introduced instead of a minimum wage - I believe this could and should be expanded to include a living pensions so that pensioners receive a basic income that allows them to live - not just to survive at the poverty line.

Increases in pensions to be linked to the best of RPI, CPI, earnings or 2.5%.
I understand why pensions should increase by: an estimate on the price increase of certain goods (RPI or CPI) or average earning. I cannot find the rational behind the 2.5%, I assume the intention is to increase pensions to a reasonable level when earning and CPI are low - this means that once pensions reach that level there would be no further need for it. I assume the key point in your statement is the triple-lock (that pensions rise by the higher of CPI, earnings or 2.5%) using RPI instead of CPI. The Vice-President of the Royal Statistical Society (RSS)  stated: "There are good arguments for the CPI as a macroeconomic indicator (particularly once some indicator of owner occupier costs has been included) but, as you know, we do not feel that it currently serves the purpose of being a sufficiently good measure of price inflation as experienced by households to be used in uprating pensions and benefits"[download RSS letter here]. I think any government needs to work with the RSS and Office of National Statistics to find a method of indexing that accurately reflects the price increases that affect pensions, especially as there are arguments that neither CPI nor RPI do this.

Universal pensioner benefits (bus pass, winter fuel allowance, free TV licences for the over75s and free prescriptions) to be maintained without means-testing.
I want to see the NHS returned to being free at the point of use, and this includes free prescriptions for everyone that needs them.  I also see that bus passes are an extension of this - as people get older it is harder to get around, and most cannot or do not feel safe driving themselves, so a free bus pass makes perfect sense.  The winter fuel allowance exists to ensure that pensioners can afford to heat their homes - whether this should be a universal benefit depends on whether it is necessary as an effect of old age to increase heating to higher levels, or whether some pensioners incomes are so low that they need extra help with this particularly high cost - I am not sure on the answer to this but will endeavour to find it.  I do not see the need to provide free TV licence to the wealthiest, and as such I cannot support maintaining it as universal benefit.

A few of the points I have discussed above, do not just affect pensioners - after all, the affects of aging and illness do not just kick in once you start drawing your pension. I think we need to look at reforming benefits further. The NHS was established so that the state provided health care free at the point of use and that no-one was forced into poverty by things they cannot avoid such as illness or injury. In my opinion it is time we expanded this definition to include old age.

A National Health and Care Service which is free at the point of use and funded through taxation.
Yes,  agreed. I will always fight for this.

A legally binding Dignity Code to improve the quality and standards of care for older people.
I think this makes perfect sense, and should be expanded to include the standards of care for all people.

Secondly, I think it is great that you have managed to get so many signatures in such a short time; however it is not clear from the number of signatures that a majority of those affected (I am using your supplied estimate of 40,000) are in favour of your manifesto,so I cannot agree with the line in your letter that states: "We respectfully ask you to agree to the request from your potential constituents to adopt and endorse the Manifesto and pledge to promote its demands.". If elected as MP, my job is to represent the view and needs of my constituents. As such if the number of signatures increases to show that a majority support this, then I will do so.

My closing comment is that I am a scientist. I analyse facts, draw conclusions and seek expert help where needed.  I am not an expert in pensions or health and welfare but have provided you with the best information I can. If you wish to discuss anything further, or point out where I have made mistakes, please do.

I look forward to your reply,

Robin Long,
Liberal Democrat Candidate for Lancaster and Fleetwood.



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