So much for Labour's generosity

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The Independent Online

The Government's strenuous efforts to appeal to pensioners this week were entirely predictable. Women over 60 and men over 55 make up almost half of the British electorate. And, as is often pointed out, they are much more likely to vote than other age groups. This week's Budget was bound to contain some form of inducement for them to back Labour in the forthcoming general election - especially with the Tories promising to reduce council tax for the over 65s.

The Government's strenuous efforts to appeal to pensioners this week were entirely predictable. Women over 60 and men over 55 make up almost half of the British electorate. And, as is often pointed out, they are much more likely to vote than other age groups. This week's Budget was bound to contain some form of inducement for them to back Labour in the forthcoming general election - especially with the Tories promising to reduce council tax for the over 65s.

It is, of course, entirely proper for the Government to concern itself with the plight of the elderly. Some two million pensioners still live in poverty and the situation is going to get far worse in coming years. On present trends, the income of pensioners will fall by 30 per cent over the next three decades. Without major reforms to our pension system, old age for a huge number is going to be a miserable, undignified experience.

But this week, the Government showed that it is more concerned with short-term electoral advantage than tackling the real problems that afflict elderly people. Labour MPs cheered when Gordon Brown announced free bus journeys and a £200 council tax rebate for pensioners. But there was no mention in the Chancellor's speech of how our hopelessly inadequate pensions system will be reformed. This has all been deferred until after the election. All that the Chancellor offered was a quick fix. And its inadequacy soon became even more obvious. It turns out that "free bus travel" will be limited to off-peak hours only. And the council tax rebate will last only one solitary year. So much for Labour's largesse towards the elderly.

There was more manipulation of the electorate in evidence when Tony Blair unveiled a new campaign poster on Thursday. The Prime Minister ludicrously insinuated that the Conservatives' spending plans would mean firing every GP, nurse and teacher in the country. There is no reason why the Government should not fight the Tories on the battleground of public spending, but this sort of scaremongering is bad for the political process. What chance is there of persuading young people to involve themselves in politics - to vote, even - when this is what is on offer?

If Mr Blair is genuinely concerned about the levels of distrust towards politicians, he should examine his own government's record. While it persists in distorting the truth, the mood of disaffection will only continue to spread.

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