Parties warned of ignoring the grey avengers

THE PENSIONS REVOLUTION A lobby 10 million strong is set to pose a serious electoral challenge
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The Independent Online
Pensioners will account for 10 million voters in this year's election and they are warning politicians that they ignore them at their peril.

Pensioners have shown their power in the past over issues such as the backdown over VAT on fuel, and the privatisation of the Post Office. And for the past two years more than 2,000 have converged on the annual Pensioners' Parliament, representing millions more. "When pensioners get sufficiently annoyed they can exercise quite a bit of power," said Tony Maughan, general secretary of the Greater London Pensioners' Association (GLPA).

In a Gallup survey for Age Concern, more than three-quarters of pensioners said the state pension was too low and 61 per cent said it should be raised even if it meant increasing taxes. The GLPA has sent out its own version of the "demon- eyes" poster with the slogan "Beware - Pensioners have the vote" with three demands on it - increased pensions, the links with wages restored and no standing charges.

Mr Maughan said older people will also be listening with interest to what parties have to say on health care, long-term care and cold-weather payments. Age Concern has launched its own roadshow, which is touring the country urging pensioners to use their votes to get what they want. Its director-general, Sally Greengross, said: "All the political parties must grasp the nettle of the key issues affecting many older people - low income, paying for care, discrimination in health services to name but a few - and help ensure a dignified and enjoyable retirement."

Help The Aged is also sending out two leaflets to every pensioner group in the next 10 days - A New Deal, which will debate pensions, health and social care and A Message for the Incoming Government, which will look at the policy and service changes required to improve the lives of the over-60s.

"At present older people feel angry, betrayed and unwanted," said Tessa Harding, head of planning and development at the charity. "They are disappointed about the loss of security afforded by the welfare state. They have contributed to the welfare state all their lives but now when they need it, it is evaporating."

Mr Maughan agreed: "Some of us are certainly very angry. I think it is absolutely disgraceful. A couple of years ago it was all how wonderful pensioners were, how they saved the country in the war, how much they owed us. But now when we say how about giving some of that debt you owe we become 'bed-blockers' and 'expensive'. It is utterly hypocritical."