Labour spreads net with broad appeal

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Indy Politics
Nurses were yesterday offered a new Labour package to improve job security, working flexibility, and pay bargaining.

But Chris Smith, Labour's health spokesman, told a Nursing Times conference in Westminster that the party's commitment to the 350,000 NHS nurses was also a commitment to patients.

That broadened appeal was also underlined by Tony Blair, when he was asked about a new Age Concern campaign to help the country's 10 million pensioners.

Launching the campaign, Sally Greengross, director general of Age Concern England, 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."

The message of the campaign is: "Age counts. Ten million older voters could make the difference."

But the Labour leader commented later: "It is not a question of pensioners being an important part of the electorate. They are an important part of the country, and we intend to govern for the benefit of the whole country.

He added: "We have put forward proposals to protect the basic pension, to offer greater protection to people with private pensions, to cut VAT on fuel, which is enormously important to pensioners. But you must also remember pensioners are ordinary citizens living in our community.

"They care deeply about keeping inflation down, which we will do, about rebuilding our NHS as an NHS, which we will do, and about dealing with crime."

Echoing that theme, Mr Smith said: "By listening to the needs of nurses, by offering them the support and encouragement they deserve, and by allowing them to carry out the job for which they are trained, we will restore their morale and ensure that patients have the best care available."

Mr Smith's "new deal" for nurses included: a replacement of the "current shambles" of enforced local pay negotiation with a national system of bargaining that linked fairness and local flexibility; and action to tackle the high turnover rate of nurses - up from 13 per cent to 22 per cent in the three years to 1995-96.

Gerald Malone, the Health Minister, responded: "Mr Smith is long on concern, but short on commitment. He still refuses to match the Government's pledge of real increases in health spending throughout the next five years."