Alf Garnett would not have stood for this pension shortfall

The actor Tony Booth, who starred in the 1960s sitcom Till Death Us Do Part, and has become more famous in recent years for being Cherie Blair's father, makes an unlikely ally for Bill Morris, leader of the Transport and General Workers' Union.

The actor Tony Booth, who starred in the 1960s sitcom Till Death Us Do Part, and has become more famous in recent years for being Cherie Blair's father, makes an unlikely ally for Bill Morris, leader of the Transport and General Workers' Union.

Yet when Mr Booth told his son-in-law, who just happens to be the Prime Minister, that pensioners are getting a raw deal, he was echoing the thoughts of a number of key trade union chiefs. His argument that pensions should once again be linked to earnings rather than prices is well-supported in trade union circles. And while Tony (Blair, not Booth) can turn a blind eye to his father-in-law, just as Mr Booth's sitcom character tried to with the garrulous Alf Garnett, it's not that easy to ignore critics with enough influence to cause a party revolt.

In fact, so concerned has the Government become that it is taking action. It is not going to link pensions to earnings rather than prices again, as used to be the case before Baroness Thatcher abolished this practice in 1980. Instead, at the Labour Party's conference in Brighton in a couple of weeks' time, the Chancellor Gordon Brown is expected to announce that pensioners will receive a minimum of £100 a week.

This is encouraging news. Age Concern calculates that pensioners need £90 a week to meet their basic requirements so at last they will get a realistic sum - significantly higher than the current £67.50 a week for a single person. But the damage has been done. For a government so obsessed with spin, it is incredible that Mr Brown and co couldn't have foreseen what sort of message they were sending out by increasing the basic state pension by only 75p-a-week back in April. Pensioners were outraged, and rightly so.

That bleak message is far more significant than the latest increase: it proves that the state pension is no guarantee for long-term future security. If the Government is having problems with making enough money available to pensioners now, how much worse is the situation going to be in say 20 or 30 years' time when the number of pensioners will have increased dramatically?

It is more important than ever to save for our own retirement, through an occupational or personal pension and additional investments, such as individual savings accounts. For this latest increase is merely a short-lived recovery in the demise of the state pension, rather than a reversal of the trend, and no amount of trade union pressure will alleviate that.

m.bien@independent.co.uk

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