Sheffield pensioners rally to demand a fair deal

Having their say: Sheffield Pension Action Group march and rally at Sheffield City Hall.                                                   PICTURE: DEAN ATKINS.
Having their say: Sheffield Pension Action Group march and rally at Sheffield City Hall. PICTURE: DEAN ATKINS.
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SENIOR citizens calling for increased state pensions and protesting against Government cuts took to the streets of Sheffield to demand a fair deal.

Around 150 older people, ranging from retired professionals to placard-waving, flag-bearing members of the political and trade union scene, joined the event, marching from Castle Markets to City Hall for an outdoor rally in Barker’s Pool.

The demonstration was organised by Sheffield Pensioners’ Action Group, Sheffield Anti-Cuts Alliance and Sheffield Trades Union Council.

The protesters were joined by politicians including veteran Labour councillor Peter Price, who is a member of the pensioners’ action group, and members of the Green Party.

But some speakers expressed disappointment about the lack of presence from the Labour leadership at the Town Hall, or any of the party’s MPs - and a no-show by Lib Dems, with jeers when leader Nick Clegg’s name was mentioned.

“The problem is the three main political parties all have broadly the same view, that cuts are necessary,” said Nick Howard, one of the organisers of Sheffield Pensioners’ Action Group.

“The state pension of £96 is not enough to live on. The Government has pledged to raise it to £140 a week but that’s not until 2016 and will apply only for new pensioners from that date. We want it raised to £176 a week.

“We are not saying the Government should make no cuts at all - they should look at whether spending billions on replacing the Trident nuclear deterrent and building a new aircraft carrier is necessary.”

Mr Howard said pensioners are unhappy about the impact of public sector cuts on services they have ‘paid taxes all their lives to support’.

“Councils like Sheffield are subcontracting to private companies to save money, but these firms charge lower prices and make a profit only by cutting jobs and the level of service.

“There are also not enough private jobs being created to replace the public ones lost.

“The partially public-owned banks should be making it easier for companies to borrow money to create jobs, meaning there would be more money from taxes, so less need for cuts.”

Bill Ronksley, secretary of Sheffield Trades Union Council, stressed the need to campaign for improvements to pensions and services for older people now - because, if not, the prospects for pensioners in the future will be bleak.

“Many workers cannot afford to be in company or private pension schemes at all these days,” he said. “We are going to face very big problems in the future unless there are improvements to the state pension.”

Green Party central ward councillor, Rob Murphy, said his party had an alternative to cuts.

“The coalition government’s austerity measures are damaging the lives of the most vulnerable people in Sheffield,” he said. “It’s Green policy to follow Scotland and phase in free social care to the elderly which could create 120,000 jobs.

“That was in our General Election manifesto and would be funded by increased taxation for those on very high incomes.

“Sheffield pensioners clearly feel they have to take to the streets to get their message across and I support their fight to maintain public sector funding for the services they need and rely on.”

Work and Pensions Secretary Ian Duncan Smith said the Government is working to improve state pensions despite the economic crisis - by planning not only to increase the basic state pension to £140 but also to simplify complex regulations affecting entitlement to a state pension.

Protesters tell their stories:

Brenda Holmes, aged 76, High Green, retired NHS accounts worker:

“I’m still paying income tax on my private pension - yet there are fewer services. Pensioners need to stick together to campaign for a better deal.

“Pensioners who have paid money into the state all their working lives seem to get nothing in return.”

Sue Thurston, aged 66, of Meersbrook, a retired health service manager:

“My husband and I have been paying in since we were 16, but if it wasn’t for our work pensions, we wouldn’t be able to manage.

“In the UK we have the third worst pensions in Europe. The basic state pension is disgusting - and the plan to increase it to £140 a week is for new claimants only.”

Nick Howard, aged 78, of Norfolk Park, retired Sheffield University adult education lecturer:

“It’s not just the basic state pension. Public service pensions have not been increased for two years when inflation has been increasing by five per cent.

“In real terms we’ve experienced a cut in pensions over the last two years.”