Field to challenge Darling

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The Independent Online
FRANK FIELD, the former miinister for welfare reform, will this week challenge the Government over its proposals to shake-up the social security system, in a head-to-head debate with the new Secretary of State.

Mr Field will challenge Alistair Darling not to abandon his plans for pension reform. The two politicians will share a platform at a fringe meeting at this week's party conference, organised by one of Labour's favourite think-tanks, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).

"It's not going to be a punch-up," said Mr Field. "It will be a debate to try to win agreement of delegates on the right strategy. I left government so I could say things about government policy."

Mr Field, whose brief when he was appointed as a minister was to "think the unthinkable" about welfare reform, quit the Government after the Prime Minister made it clear that he would not elevate him to the Cabinet in his July reshuffle.

While in office, Mr Field framed plans for a universal stakeholder pension scheme which he now fears the Government may be on the verge of abandoning. The Field pension "would offer a guarantee of twice today's retirement pension". In the latest edition of Tribune, the left-wing newspaper, Mr Field makes the case for a stakeholder pension scheme which "brings in the poor and the self-employed".

During the debate, Mr Field will also try to persuade Mr Darling to extend an information campaign he started to encourage thousands of pensioners who do not claim the benefits they are entitled to, to apply for extra cash.

Up to pounds 1bn of benefit is unclaimed and Mr Field wants a pilot information scheme he launched about the extra money to be extended nationally.

Mr Field also intends to urge Mr Darling to restore the earnings link between pensions for older retired people and to continue the winter fuel bonuses scheme which the Chancellor announced would run for two years.