Pensions

All too often I receive correspondence from constituents who have seen the value of their pensions fall and whose incomes cannot keep pace with the rising cost of living and in particular above-inflation council tax rises.

This is perhaps not surprising when an above-average number of retired people live in my constituency. But a letter last month particularly struck home. Why, it asked, did the Chancellor discriminate against the elderly?

This was a strong charge, but for the millions who have seen the value of their pensions eroded there is clearly a case to answer.

Ten years ago, in a five star London hotel, Gordon Brown met with his advisers and decided that if Labour won the election the first budget would help to fund a lavish "new deal" for young people by abolishing a tax break on pension funds.

We now know, from Treasury documents whose publication has been suppressed by the Chancellor for all this time, that officials warned that the change "would make a big hole in pension finances" and "lead to a reduction in pension benefits for the lower paid". The advice was ignored.

At first the impact of what was in effect a stealth tax was concealed by a rising stock market. But the cumulative effect of the change was to take £100 million from pensions funds.

Most advisers agree that the raid contributed to the collapse in final salary pension schemes, which had 11 million people in them a decade ago, but just 4 million today.

The Prime Minister's former pensions adviser went rather further, saying that the Chancellor will go down in history as the one who destroyed our pensions system.

Far from apologising in Tuesday's Commons debate on the issue, Gordon seemed rather to enjoy himself. As the song goes, sorry seems to be the hardest word.

Michelle Taylor