YOUR Money: Be a Darling, Alistair; LOOK AFTER NEEDY IN NEXT WEEK'S BUDGET
Byline: By JOHN HUSBAND
ALISTAIR Darling should make pensioners, poor families and small savers the top priority in his first Budget next week.
Rocketing energy bills and soaring food prices have hit pensioners and poor families hardest because they swallow so much of their incomes.
It has increased their living costs by seven per cent in the past year - three times higher than inflation.
The best thing the Chancellor could do for pensioners would be to increase the yearly winter fuel payment by pounds 100 to pounds 300 for every pensioner household and to pounds 400 for those over 80.
Five years ago, the payment met half of average fuel bills - now it covers just a quarter.
To help fund it, he could scrap the farcical extra 25p a week that pensioners get when they hit 80. That alone would meet a third of the cost.
It's a national shame that more than 22,000 elderly people die from the cold each year.
One reason is because many live in old homes that are costly to heat.
Mr Darling should give more to help pensioners insulate their homes.
It could make a big contribution to saving energy and help to combat global warming.
Simplifying income tax by scrapping the lower 10p tax band may make sense. But it will also increase tax for many on low incomes.
Pensioners will be compensated by an increase in their personal allowances. But that won't protect women who are over 60 but not yet 65. He could remedy that by bringing personal tax allowances in line with the pensionable age for men and women.
The Chancellor should also help 420,000 pensioners who owe an average of pounds 600 back-tax on small private pensions that the Revenue failed to collect.
Writing that off would cost Mr Darling pounds 135million - a drop in the ocean in Budget terms.
Families in poverty find it a real struggle to cope with soaring bills. …