Pensions bail-out plan 'will help BNP'

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The Independent Online

Frank Field, the Labour MP and the Government's former Welfare minister, yesterday claimed that the Government proposals to help out pensioners whose companies had collapsed were insufficient and would help the rise of the British National Party in the North-west.

Mr Field, speaking in a Commons debate on the pensions issue, called on the Government to drop the 1997 cut-off point for those entitled to claim on the £400m bail-out fund. He pointed to one high-profile company failure in Burnley before 1997, warning that if nothing was done to help its workers, the far-right BNP could make further progress in the town.

"The first scheme that attracted the attention of this House was the closure of the Belling scheme in Burnley. Are we so naïve, so idiotic, so proud, so boastful that we are going to allow a measure to go through under which those workers will be excluded?" Mr Field asked. "These are workers who are largely working-class, male, and disenfranchised. Is that the message this House thinks it should send to Burnley in the middle of fighting elections against some of the nastiest people in the business?"

While last week's Government U-turn on helping thousands of workers whose pension entitlements disappeared when their company went bust earned widespread approval, many MPs said the £400m it has pledged over the next 20 years would not be enough to restore hopes.

Steve Webb, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on Work and Pensions, and David Willetts, the shadow Works and Pensions spokesman, joined the calls to increase the funds made available. They also want the Government to help workers who have lost their pensions but whose companies have stayed solvent.

Malcolm Wicks, the Pensions minister, told MPs there was no "blank cheque" and the Government could not help everyone.