'Cruel anomaly' of hotel charges for elderly patients in hospital scrapped

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Charges imposed on elderly hospital patients for their bed and board were scrapped after a campaign from pressure groups representing the elderly.

Charges imposed on elderly hospital patients for their bed and board were scrapped after a campaign from pressure groups representing the elderly.

Until yesterday, those who stayed for more than six weeks in hospital had their pensions reduced by £28.60 a week to recoup some of the cost of their meals and accommodation.

But Gordon Brown announced that the "hotel charges" were being scrapped with immediate effect for the elderly. The Chancellor said there was no section of society which had contributed more to the National Health Service, and who now depended more on it.

"For everyone else in our country, other than those on pensions and benefits, hospital care is offered entirely free of charge," he said.

"And it is wrong that the elderly, who have saved all their working lives for their retirement through their national insurance contributions, should now suffer the reduction of their pension entitlement to pay for hospital care."

Gordon Lishman, director general of Age Concern England, said: "This will be a huge relief to tens of thousands of older people who would otherwise suffer reductions in their pensions and benefits when they are at their most vulnerable."

Mervyn Kohler, spokesman for Help the Aged, said: "The cruel anomaly of pensioners who remained in hospital for more than six weeks being penalised by having to pay 'hotel charges' out of their pensions and benefits was long overdue for abolition."

The Chancellor admitted the 25p-a-week bonus that pensioners receive when they reach their 80th birthday had "rightly been criticised as inadequate".

He said: "To double or quadruple such a small allowance would not be a sufficient recognition of the needs of the very elderly over 80, or of the contribution they have made to our country's life and success." He opted instead to announce that pensioners aged 80 and above would now receive an extra £100 winter allowance – bringing the total allowance to £300 for almost two million people.

The Chancellor said the Government would write to all single pensioners with incomes below £139 per week and pensioner couples with total income below £203 a week to tell them they would benefit from the new pension credit from October.

He said couples could benefit by up to £19.20 a week and single people by up to £14.79 a week. The average extra payment would be £9 for couples and £7 for single pensioners.

Case study

The elderly

Vanessa and Richard Gregory

Vanessa is a district and town councillor and owns a small business. Richard, who used to be in the RAF, is retired.

Home: Diss, Norfolk

Family: Vanessa has a daughter from previous marriage.

Ages: Vanessa is 59, Richard 80.

Income: Salary of £3,000 a year from the district council, £2,500 from investments.

Hopes from Budget: Would like to see cigarettes taxed so heavily as to become almost unaffordable, and would prefer tax on dividends cancelled.

Actual effect of Budget: They are £4.80 better off each year due to the increase in the starting rate of taxation on Mr Gregory's income.

Reaction: "It hasn't made too much of a difference to usas my pensions are both notionally index-linked," Mr Gregory said. "But I'll be spending my £4.80 on a couple of pints of Abbot's."