Pensioners groups reacted angrily last night to what they see as the Chancellor's lack of fresh support for older people in yesterday's Budget. The key announcements included the extension of the temporary increase to the winter fuel allowance of £250 for the under-80s and £400 for the over-80s for another year. Mr Darling also reduced the number of working hours the over-60s need to do to qualify for working-tax credit. He also said that the freezing in the inheritance tax threshold at £325,000 for the next four years will help raise the cash to pay for the care of elderly people.
Dot Gibson, the general secretary of the National Pensioners Convention, said pensioners were getting a 2.5 per cent state pension increase to £132.60 from 6 April but that was not enough, especially as, for the first time, it does not apply to Serps or graduated pension payments, said "One in four pensioners still live in poverty and the fact that the Chancellor didn't grasp some of the big issues such as the funding of care, the inadequate state pension and the rising costs of living will leave a very bitter taste in the mouths of older people," she said.
But Mr Darling's announcement that there is to be further consultation on the default retirement age prompted most scorn. "The Chancellor has missed another opportunity to address the needs of pensioners and older workers," said the independent policy adviser Ros Altman. "The default retirement age needs scrapping, not consulting on. It should have been scrapped long ago to enable people to keep working if they want or need to, to make up for the inadequacy of pension incomes and to recognise longer life expectancies."
Michelle Mitchell, the charity director for Age Concern and Help the Aged, agreed. "This is an acutely ageist and counter-intuitive policy which has stamped an expiry date on hundreds of thousands of older workers," she said.