A Fair Deal for Pensioners

Can any pensioner believe what the Conservatives and Lib Dems say, now they’ve cut the Winter Fuel Payment? They promised to keep it during the election- but now they have cut the £50 supplement (£100 for older pensioners), leaving every pensioner worse off next winter.

With so many pensioners in Barnet and Camden- and Barnet has the highest proportion of older pensioners in the whole of London –  I believe the needs of pensioners are of real importance to the Greater London Assembly.

And what about the Freedom Pass, on which so many pensioners depend? When I’ve gone round pensioner groups over the years, I’ve lost count of the number of people who have raised their fears for the future of the Freedom Pass with me.  It is such a lifeline to them,  especially when we see that some Conservative London boroughs are already refusing to underwrite their share of the scheme.

The Freedom Pass is only as good as the transport system it supports – and I write about transport elsewhere on the website. In outer London Barnet in particular the buses are vital. I was really pleased to have won arguments with Transport for London over the need for more reliability and frequency, and for new routes too.

Safety and security on transport is really important to pensioners, so the introduction of Labour’s Safer Transport Teams to patrol the bus routes and stations was really important: but the Conservative GLA member called them a “gimmick”, and he has done nothing to stop the cuts in these teams or the Safer Neighbourhood Police teams for that matter, either. The SNTs did a really good job in reassuring local people, especially pensioners. I remember when we got one of the first teams in Burnt Oak: anti-social crime was cut by a third in just 6 weeks. The Conservative cuts in front line policing will inevitably prove a false economy both financially, as the cost of vandalism and graffiti inevitably rises, but more importantly socially, as elderly people feel less secure.

Many pensioners can face a real risk of isolation. As the Conservatives cut day centres and lunch clubs, so this risk rises. Of course pensioners can protest: I well remember the sit in we helped organise at a day centre the Conservatives cut in Edgware:  it was great to see 90 year olds refusing to go home and “sitting in” for their rights!

Housing, and the design of pensioners’ housing, should also concern us, to ensure that as people get older their home is suitable for their needs. Sheltered housing in Barnet has been a major issue. The Conservatives, including GLA member Brian Coleman, decided to axe the sheltered housing wardens, even though they previously lost a legal battle over the cut. This will be yet another false economy as pensioners in sheltered homes will need to move to higher dependency accommodation for want of a warden. Pensioners may also be especially hard hit by the Tories’ housing benefit cuts, particularly if their long standing family home is now considered too large for them. Pensioners may be forced to either subsidise their rent from their other income or move away from friends or family in a search for somewhere smaller and cheaper.

Pensioners need to know they have a reliable health service, and the GLA has an important scrutiny role over London’s NHS.  The Conservative cuts, wholesale reorganisation and privatisation of the NHS are deeply worrying to pensioners, who are seeing long established services under threat. The battle for the new Edgware Hospital was led in the main by pensioners, and I was pleased Labour was able to deliver the new flagship hospital 6 years ago . But as services are under threat from the Tories, we must ensure through GLA oversight that pensioners are able to access the medical care they need without  any age discrimination.

I was part of the Labour Parliament that outlawed age discrimination, but it still remains an issue as too often the rights of pensioners to equal treatment are not respected. The GLA must insist on equal treatment on age grounds from all its contractors and suppliers as well as in its own direct services.

So what can the GLA do? The GLA must use its scrutiny role to look after the interests of pensioners, to establish the facts and to challenge those who would give our older citizens a raw deal.  As your GLA member, I will campaign to ensure that pensioners’ interests are at the forefront of our decisions.