Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Chelsea and Fulham, Greg Hands, has spoken at a pre-election public question and answer session, or hustings, organised by the Hammersmith and Fulham branch of Age UK.
At the public meeting, hosted in St Paul’s Church, Hammersmith, on Tuesday 7th April, Greg laid out what the Conservative Government has done to support older people since 2010 and what further measures they would to bring in, if elected to a second term in office.
Questions from the audience covered a range of topics including reforms to the pension system, protecting universal benefits for pensioners, and securing the future of Charing Cross Hospital.
Responding to questions from the audience on the pension system, Greg said “I recognise the contribution pensioners have made, and continue to make, to British society and believe that we must ensure that everyone has security and dignity in their retirement. The Conservatives are backing pensioners who have worked hard, saved and done the right thing.
“A number of steps have been taken to protect existing pensioners. A triple lock on the State Pension has been introduced, which will ensure that the basic State Pension increases every year by the highest of earnings, prices or 2.5 per cent. As a result of this, the State Pension has increased by £950 since 2010 under the Conservative led Government, the biggest ever increase in the State Pension.”
The basic state pension is now £115.95 per week. The state pension increased by £950 per year under the Conservatives, so that older people can enjoy a more dignified retirement.
Greg also explained the changes introduced to giving pensioners more freedom over their money when they retire. He said: “We are giving people more freedom, rather than telling them they do not know how to spend their own money. We can do this because we are securing a basic income for pensioners through the triple lock, auto-enrolment and bringing in a single-tier pension that will lift most people above the means test.”
Previously, people with defined contribution schemes faced a punitive 55 per cent tax to draw down on their pension pot when they retired. From April 2015, it will still be possible to take 25 per cent of a pension pot tax free on retirement, but what you take above the tax free lump sum will be taxed at normal marginal tax rates.
Greg added that the Conservatives have abolished the Default Retirement Age, so employers are generally no longer able to force workers to retire once they reach retirement age, adding “This means that people who wish to work past retirement age now can.”
Another topic that was of key interest to members of the audience was NHS services and in particular the local Charing Cross hospital.
Greg told the members of Age UK that the next Conservative Government will ensure that everyone will have access to a GP seven days a week by 2020. He added that “By restoring the role of the family doctor we [Conservatives] are making sure elderly people get properly looked after. We’re bringing back named GPs for the vulnerable elderly. They can focus on giving them the care they need and preventing unnecessary trips to hospital.”
One audience member said she had hear that the Conservatives were allowing the demolition of Charing Cross Hospital, Greg told those present that “The Trust is in fact proposing a brand-new hospital with Accident & Emergency. And whilst it is true that the concrete tower block which is no longer fit for purpose will be demolished, this will be only after the new and improved hospital is up and running. The rebuilding will leave it capable of providing even better services in the future, becoming a leading centre of excellence for elective surgery.”
The meeting was also attended by former MP for Hammersmith Andrew Slaughter, who has been spreading misinformation and scaremongering about the fate of the hospital. Mr Slaughter and Labour have repeatedly told residents, wrongly, that the hospital and its A&E department is to close and has put leaflets through resident’s doors clamming that ‘Charing Cross Hospital remains under threat of demolition’, without any reference to the rebuilding. Addressing Mr Slaughter in the debate, Greg said “He [Slaughter] has been told directly by both the Health Secretary and the Prime Minister that this is not the case, and now he has it from the doctors of the hospital, and no less than the hospital’s Chief Executive. I hope now that Mr Slaughter will stop his misleading campaign, and start to behave responsibly, instead of continuing to try and spread fear and score points out of an issue on which he is plainly wrong.”
Responding to a question on the protection of universal benefits including winter fuel payments, Greg answered “The Prime Minister has committed a future Conservative Government to protect universal benefits, including Winter Fuel Payments, bus passes and TV licences for the duration of the next, supporting people who work hard and do the right thing. Cold Weather Payments have also been increased and the Warm Home Discount introduced to provide vulnerable pensioners with an £140 rebate on their energy bills.”
Following the event, H&F Age UK posted on Facebook “A big thank you to candidates…who addressed our election forum this morning. No matter what they stand for, we should always be in awe of people who put themselves before an electorate seeking office. Many, many thanks.”