Tory pensions plan would encourage private schemes

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The Independent Online

Young people would be encouraged to opt out of the basic state pension scheme under radical Tory plans to reform the welfare state announced yesterday.

Young people would be encouraged to opt out of the basic state pension scheme under radical Tory plans to reform the welfare state announced yesterday.

The party's new policy blueprint included a promise of a pensions shake-up aimed at ensuring that future generations build up private pensions so that they do not have to rely on the state scheme.

David Willetts, the Conservative social security spokesman, insisted that today's pensioners would not be affected. The mini-manifesto said: "No one would be forced to change. The basic state pension would continue to be paid as now, not merely to current pensioners but to people of working age and new entrants who want it in the future."

But Labour immediately accused William Hague of planning to privatise the state pension, reviving an allegation which damaged the Tories at the 1997 general election after they made similar proposals.

Unveiling the draft programme, "Believing in Britain", Mr Hague issued a stark warning that Labour would squander the nation's current wealth and destroy many of its greatest qualities within 10 years.

"By a combination of deliberate act and complacent failure to act, within a decade, perhaps less, many of the things that make... Britain 'Britain,' could have disappeared," the Tory leader said. "There we would all stand, the generation that threw away the rights and independence that so many of our countrymen lived for, sweated for and died for. Say what you like about a Conservative Britain, but at least [it] will still be Britain," he said.

Although he promised a radical agenda on social policies aimed at widening the Tories' appeal, Mr Hague's pitch suggested that his election campaign will have a strongly nationalist tone. He promised that efforts to resist a European "superstate" would be at the heart of the Tory strategy. The mini-manifesto included a plan to "ring-fence" Britain's right to control issues such as defence, taxation, health and education.

The document abandoned the "tax-cuts guarantee" promised last October. After admitting that taxes might not be cut in a recession, when government revenues fall, the Tories now say they would form "a tax-cutting government in all normal circumstances."

Mr Hague was thrown on the defensive by renewed Labour claims that the Tory plans would mean cutting public spending by £16bn a year below Labour's proposals. He promised that details of his tax and spending plans would be issued in the run-up to the election.

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