PAUL LEWIS: Hello. In the next few weeks we will go to the polls to elect the next government of the United Kingdom. It has every sign of being a close contest: certainly no party can assume they are going to win. One thing is for sure, though: people over 50 will be crucial in making that decision. Nationally they are likely to account for a majority of the votes cast, and in many marginal constituencies the votes of older people will make the difference between being elected and not.
Earlier this year Saga produced its own manifesto for the Saga generation, calling for change, and with demands on six key topics: fairer finances, abolishing ageism, supporting carers, an intelligent approach to retirement, safer and better streets, and number six, a Parliament with a better balance of age and experience
This is the first in a series of live webcasts where you get your chance to put your questions to the leaders of the three largest parties in Parliament. Saga members have already responded in their thousands, and thank you for that.
Each leader hopes to be Prime Minister and to form or help form the next government. David Cameron has been leader of the Conservative Party since December 2005. It is ahead in the polls, but is it enough ahead to achieve that vital majority to put David Cameron into No. 10 Downing Street? Your votes may help him or prevent him achieve that ambition.
Ladies and gentlemen, the leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron.
DAVID CAMERON: Thank you very much.
PAUL LEWIS: David, thank you. Now we have got a question right at the start which has come in. We will go to the audience next. We have got a question and this is it. It's a summary of many people who have been in touch with us:
How do you expect pensioners to live? The cost of things we have to pay for, like electricity, gas, water and council tax keeps going up, not to mention petrol, yet our pensions go up by pennies while those of us lucky enough to have some savings have got no interest worth speaking of for the past couple of years.
Many emails say that. How do you respond?
DAVID CAMERON: Well, first of all, can I thank you very much for hosting this evening. Can I thank Saga and everyone who has come along tonight, and also I gather you have had thousands and thousands of questions on line, so thank you for that.
Perhaps the first thing to say is that I understand many many pensioners live on incredibly tight budgets, and so increases in electricity prices or gas prices or council tax put incredible pressure on. What I want to see is the ability to give people the chance to have dignity and security in old age.
Now, we are facing a very difficult situation in this country: a huge budget deficit, massive problems with the country's finances, so we have to be very careful about the promises that we make, but I believe there are some things that we can do to help.
First of all, we should link the state pension back with earnings so it rises by a decent amount each year, so that pensioners don't lose touch with what is happening with earnings in the economy more broadly.
I am confident that we can make that pledge because we have, unlike the other parties, also made a difficult pledge to go with it, which is that we are going to say from 2016 the process of men retiring on a state retirement pension a year later should start, and that saves a huge amount of money. That actually means that we can be confident in making the pledge about relinking the pension back to earnings.
I think that is the first thing I would say that I think really will help.
The second thing and I'm not going to give long answers to all these questions. I know we have many to get through, but the second thing is Council Tax. the pensioners I meet, the thing that worries them the most is actually that increase in Council Tax that happens year after year after year. in many parts of our country Council Tax has doubled over a decade. I don't think any of us feel our services are twice as good. we have said we want a two year freeze in Council Tax. we will arrange that by saying to councils that if they limit their increase to 2.5 per cent, we will give them the money to make it a freeze so it's a freeze that should be available right across the country.
I think those two things to start with, linking the pension back to earnings, freezing the Council Tax, would be a good start. I am sure we will cover many other topics as well tonight.
PAUL LEWIS: Of course, other parties would also say they were going to increase the pension in line with earnings in the future?
DAVID CAMERON: Yes, absolutely. we have all been saying this now, we have had it as our policy in the 2005 election, the government then had the Turner Review. Everyone is saying it, but the key thing is today, in the straightened circumstances that we live in, is that it is only believable if you have a way of funding it. By breaking with the consensus about lifting the state pension age from 65 to 66 in 2016, which is a lot earlier than what Turner first suggested, I think we have credibility in making that pledge.
I think it is a fair thing to say. I know there will be 58 year old men who will be a bit disappointed but I think it's a fair thing to say, because since Turner reported actually life expectancy has gone up by another five years, so I think it's a fair thing to do.
PAUL LEWIS: Okay, a question from the audience. who has a question? Valerie Grove, I think, has a question.
VALERIE GROVE: You have really answered part of it. I only want to say that to remember when Tony Blair turned 50 and Saga was interviewing him, we did ask him and expecting him to say, to address something directly to our readership and this constituency which is represented here, and I'm afraid he didn't seem to have any single idea that these were the people who had worked hard, paid taxes, observed all the laws of the land all their lives, and who had run charities and PTAs and community services and done good works, often voluntarily. He didn't seem to recognise that at all. He seem only to think about attracting the youth vote. In fact he went onto MTV, disastrously.
DAVID CAMERON: I remember that. It was a 'young country', apparently. in fact we have got, you know, thousands of years of history. But we were a 'young country', I remember that.
VALERIE GROVE: We were the voters, and even to remind him that we were the people who voted seemed to be quite
DAVID CAMERON: I am acutely aware of not only the fact that we are not a young country, we are a very old country, but we are a country with an aging population, I'm very aware of that, and also acutely aware that actually people over the age of 55 are the most likely to vote of all. So you have a great power. And as Paul was saying in the introduction, an election is the moment you should be exercising your power.
So I hope we can talk tonight about all of the things we can do to try and give that, the key aim, dignity and security in old age.
Can I pick up on one of the things you said about this point about trying to help people who have done the right thing.
I think the issue of paying for residential care is a very good example here. There is a real unfairness which we all find in our own constituencies. You will find two families living next door to each other, one where they have worked hard and they have saved and they have paid off the mortgage and they have got some savings, they want to pass it onto their children. If they go into residential care they have to sell the house, they have to pay every single penny, whereas the house next door, where maybe they haven't saved and they haven't done the right thing, and they haven't put any money aside, they get the whole thing for free.
There is a real issue of fairness in our country today. And also the fact that I think 48,000 people had to sell their homes last year to pay for care. There is no easy answer to this. One answer would be just to say 'Well, let's make care free for everybody'. I don't think that is right (a) because the country cannot afford it; and (b) because actually if you make it free, you might encourage more people to go into residential care earlier than what they ought to, really, or what they would like.
So our plan, which is to allow people to put aside £8,000 when they turn 65 and say 'If you put that money into this scheme, then if you need residential care, you will get it for free'. I think that is the right voluntary method of getting over this unfairness. So we have had it costed and tested by the Association of British insurers, and I think it's the right sort of scheme. I think it's better than the death tax ideas and other things being put around, and we think this scheme would really help people and would end that unfairness. If people didn't want to do it, if people were wanting to take the risk of having to sell their home to pay for care, then they wouldn't have to do it, but a good voluntary scheme like that I think really could work and then no-one would have to sell their home to pay for care.
PAUL LEWIS: Of course you don't have to sell your home, do you: you can roll the cost up until you die and it's paid for out of your estate. But let's leave that to one side.
DAVID CAMERON: Well, that's the equivalent of selling your home and paying for care. It's not what people think. They want to pass their home on to their children or grandchildren. That's not what they had in mind.
PAUL LEWIS: Indeed. There will be a feature about this in Saga in a couple of months.
We have had a question exactly on this. Somebody has written in Ann Vales of Faversham has written in and says:
'£8,000 isn't conceivably enough to pay for the care needs of somebody who has Alzheimer's and is in care for a very long time. How would it cover that?'
DAVID CAMERON: I will tell you how it works. It works like this: because not everybody goes into residential care, it's effectively an insurance scheme. it's a partnership scheme. It works in many states in America.
PAUL LEWIS: So the four out of five who don't go into care would pay it anyway?
DAVID CAMERON: Correct, absolutely, but you would pay it knowing it was your way of ensuring you would never have to sell your home to pay for care. That's why it works because not everyone goes into residential care, but I think the certainty of a sort of government backed scheme with the £8,000 wrapper would actually be something that people would be willing to go for to save them the risk of these very, very high care bills.
PAUL LEWIS: Okay. I'm told there are literally thousands of questions coming in. I'm going to go to the gentleman in the audience next after I have done this, because we have had a question just come in:
'To Saga speaker, David Cameron: You know how badly the Equitable Life pensioners have been treated. A straight "yes" or "no", David: If you are elected Prime Minister, will you arrange for us to be compensated in full as soon as possible?'
DAVID CAMERON: I can't answer in full. There will be
PAUL LEWIS: Is the answer "yes" or "no"?
DAVID CAMERON: I can't do that, because you can't compensate people in full for loss, but what we would have is a compensation scheme. We would have a payment scheme, yes. And let's be frank about this. I have been sitting in the House of Commons these last five years and the Government I never mince my words.
PAUL LEWIS: It has been going on longer than that.
DAVID CAMERON: I know, but these last five years we have had review after review after review, and do you know, I think they are just waiting for these page to die.
PAUL LEWIS: So a compensation scheme in the next Parliament?
DAVID CAMERON: Yes. yes. Straight away we will have a scheme, a compensation scheme, but you cannot offer people full compensation.
PAUL LEWIS: I'm going to leave
DAVID CAMERON: It's very important, Paul. I think what has happened here is disgraceful. They have just been stringing the process out in order that people, more and more Equitable Life pensioners, will die. It's disgraceful.
PAUL LEWIS: The gentleman in the front row has had his hand up for some time. Say who you are, Sir, and then we will have your question for David Cameron. As I say, there are hundreds coming in. If you are listening at home, please send your questions in but we are only going to be able to get through a relatively few in an hour.
The gentleman here, yes?
HARBHAJAN SINGH: It is my culture to stand up to show respect to the VIPs.
I am Harbhajan Singh. I am the Chair of Bexley Engage Multi Faith Forum. But more so, I am 71 years young so I am representing the campaign alliance, and I'm a very active member of LOPSG, which is the London Older People's Strategy Group, and the Mayor is helping us quite a lot.
PAUL LEWIS: Could we have a question, sir?
HARBHAJAN SINGH: Yes, I'm going to ask the question. The question is: 71 year young, worked for 43 years, and many people like me have worked very hard, and they have never been out of a job. But in my case, like in many other people's case, my youngest son has got a loan of £30,000. I spent another £30,000 on his education.
PAUL LEWIS: This is a student loan we are talking about?
HARBHAJAN SINGH: Yes.
PAUL LEWIS: And the question to David Cameron?
HARBHAJAN SINGH: I want to know what is the message for me? Why should I vote for you and not other political parties? Thank you.
DAVID CAMERON: That is very long. I mean, I could give a very long answer we can wrap all the policies in, but I'm afraid I will give you a disappointing answer to start with, because I think these sessions should be about direct questions and direct answers.
I'm afraid when it comes to student loans, top up fees and tuition fees, we will keep them because I want us to have well funded universities. I want us to have graduates who have great opportunities to take on and beat the world, and we won't do that if we try and cut the cost and cut the investment in our universities. We cannot ask the taxpayer to put all that money in; we actually do have to ask students to make a contribution.
So the disappointing part of my answer is that I'm afraid if you get a Conservative government you will still have top up fees and tuition fees.
You asked why you should vote for me. I can go on for about half an hour, but in two words, I would say change: We need change in the country. We are heading in the wrong direction. And the other is responsibility. I think at the moment we don't reward responsibility, we don't have a responsible government look what a mess they have made of the economy and we need responsibility.
So change to get responsibility will be my short answer to your long question.
PAUL LEWIS: David, I am going to move you back to pensions. We have a question in the audience from a lady about pensions I'm sorry, Duncan in the audience. Duncan has a question about pensions.
DUNCAN: Yes, it really continues the theme of having done the right thing. When I started work 30 years ago I set up two private pension schemes, and to my horror in the last ten years not only have they not grown, they have actually shrunk, which is quite terrifying as I age.
I am just wondering whether there is any prospect, any reassurance for the next decade. Are things going to get any better?
DAVID CAMERON: Well, two thoughts here. Firstly, one of the things that has damaged pension funds is of course the then Chancellor of Exchequer, now Prime Minister's raid on pension funds which took place after 1997, where basically, by changing the tax on dividends, £5 billion was taken out of pension funds every single year. That has now built up to about £100 billion.
We think that was wrong, we think it was a mistake. We cannot reverse it straight away, but George Osborne did say in his party conference speech we would like to start the process of reversing it over Parliament, and we believe we could do that. That's the first point.
The second point is, I think one of the things people feel who have done the right thing, who have put money into a pension fund, who have tried to save for their old age, is the sort of condescension of the state saying that you have to purchase an annuity, irrespective of what the rates are like at the time. We would like to pass legislation to give people choice about whether they have to purchase an annuity, because I think in the end we should basically trust you. It is your money, you have saved it, you should be able to be spend it in the way you think is appropriate to you. So with adequate safeguards in place, we would like to end the rule that says you have to purchase an annuity.
So I hope those two things would help.
PAUL LEWIS: But on annuities, though, you don't have to. You can draw your pension down even at 75, though you don't get very much. How would you make sure people who don't buy an annuity don't go for a cruise around the world, come back and claim state benefits?
DAVID CAMERON: That's why I said the "adequate safeguards". You would have to have a pot that was sufficient you could convince people you weren't then going to be in the position that you then say.
PAUL LEWIS: We have had another question. This is one from a magazine reader. I am sorry, I don't have your name:
"You have said you will reform pensions. Saga is calling for one simple flat rate state pension of £130 without means testing. Will you do that?"
DAVID CAMERON: I'm afraid I can't say yes to that straight away. It's a very neat and simple and nice system, and I certainly would like us to reduce means testing. I think we are going in the wrong direction at the moment. The means test has grown and grown and grown, and one of the reasons I'm so convinced we need to link pensions back to earnings is to try and float people away from the means test. But to go straight to that flat pension would be extremely expensive. The money isn't there.
So I say let's do the link with earnings, that's the first thing to do that will reduce some of the means test and let's see over time if we cannot do better than that as well.
PAUL LEWIS: Sharn has a question on Inheritance Tax. We have rush a microphone to you Sharn, and you can ask David your question. We have covered some of the aspects of what you do with the money when you die, but you have another one.
SHARN: Thank you, Mr Cameron.
A while ago the Conservative Party stated that it would raise the Inheritance Tax threshold to a million pounds per person. If the Conservatives are elected, when will you implement the policy? Will that be on the day you are elected or a year's time? Or when?
DAVID CAMERON: What we have said I'm afraid it's going to be rather repetitious about the scale of the debt and the problems we face. We have said this is a pledge we will meet over a Parliament. It will be done with the Parliament. We have said how we will pay for it, because we are going to ask the non dom's to pay an annual charge every year, and every non dom' would have to pay that. That is the way we are going to fund the pledge to lift Inheritance Tax to a million pounds. But it will be done over a Parliament.
The reason I think it is so important is that the current threshold, which in the budget was frozen for the next few years, is only £325,000. I know Paul is going to jump in and say yes, of course, but husband and wife can combine. Well, they can, but what happens to someone who isn't married, or what happens to someone who has always lived alone?
I think £325,000 is too low for this quite confiscatory tax to kick in. To me, Inheritance Tax should be something that is paid by people who are very wealthy, people who have million pound houses plus. That is who it was always meant to be aimed at, and with the growth of property prices and with the fact that the threshold wasn't lifted, it has become a tax that actually millions of people could end up paying if we don't change. That is why we will do the change, but sorry to disappoint you, it is going to take a Parliament.
PAUL LEWIS: And the £2 billion cost?
DAVID CAMERON: As I say, the cost comes out of the non dom's who live here and pay tax on their UK income and not their worldwide income, we are going to charge them an annual fee of £25,000.
PAUL LEWIS: A dangerous topic to raise, David. That's why I asked!
PAUL LEWIS: A dangerous topic to raise, David. That's why I asked!
PAUL LEWIS: Indeed, and there will be none of them in the House of Lords after the election.
DAVID CAMERON: Indeed. Again, a change first suggested by the Conservative Party, and on a political evening we're having to try and get that point across.
PAUL LEWIS: Trisha Thornton says:
"Do you agree with David Willetts that baby boomers", and I imagine many people here are that, "are to blame for the current economic situation and they should make sacrifices for the sake of the younger generation".
DAVID CAMERON: That's very unfair. My colleague David Willetts, who is so clever he is known as "two brains", has written a very good book called The Pinch, and I think to try and subedit his book down to that one sentence is very unfair. But it's a very good book. I would recommend it. It's available and I think you can even find an unsigned copy if you are lucky.
PAUL LEWIS: Trisha Thornton would like to know whether you agree or not?
DAVID CAMERON: I don't agree, no, because that's not what he's saying. He's making a good point, which is, if you are a young person today, you are going into university and you are paying for university, whereas we got it for free. As you start saving for your pension, you realise that the pension provision that you might get in the future is not as good as we are currently getting today. As you look at the environment around you, you realise a lot of it has been despoiled even before you started your working life.
So the point he is making is that we do need to think in politics about intergenerational fairness, about what we hand over to future generations. I think that is a fair and good point.
PAUL LEWIS: A lady here has a question. Could we rush a microphone down here? Thank you for that answer, David. This is a live show and we have a lot of questions coming in and we are going to try and get through them, so if you could ask your question.
JUDY GRAHAM: This is another fairness question.
PAUL LEWIS: Could you just say what your name is?
JUDY GRAHAM: My name is Judy Graham. My question is about the people who don't yet go into residential care but need care. There are something like 6 million disabled people, and our generation, the over 55s, are generally speaking the people who are the carers. They are already caring for in my case my disabled husband, even though I am disabled myself. They are caring for elderly parents and they are also perhaps looking after teenage children, so they are squeezed in the middle.
Those carers subsidise the health service and the social care system by billions and billions of pounds. I pay £1,000 a month towards my husband's care, otherwise I would never ever be able to go out like I am tonight. I have to pay the carers. I have paid £60,000 in the last five years, and I have been disabled with MS myself for at least 37 years.
Now, I don't think that is fair.
What seems unfair to me is that you have people like binge drinkers and smokers and people who eat themselves silly, who cost the NHS something like £50 million. How can you make the system fairer?
DAVID CAMERON: Right, a very good question.
Basically, if carers gave up caring and just packed up, it would cost the taxpayer about another £56 billion, and as you say, you are saving the state a huge amount of money through what you do, whereas some people are actually costing the state through what they do.
I remember this from bringing up a disabled child: I wouldn't describe myself as a carer as we were lucky, we were able to get extra help, but we did do caring and you do feel that if only you could get a little bit of the help that the state would have to give if you gave up, you could do so much better. If you ask any carer what is it you most want to help you go on caring, they say 'Well, actually, it's a respite break. It's some break from caring, so I can continue doing what I do".
So I think the answer to this is really three things. First of all, I think we need to have some clearer rights for carers. We cannot start with enormous expansive rights because there isn't any money, as I have said about 15 times already, but if you start with an idea that you had a right to a certain amount of respite if you are a carer, that I think would be a good start.
So I think the answer to this is really three things. First of all, I think we need to have some clearer rights for carers. We cannot start with enormous expansive rights because there isn't any money, as I have said about 15 times already, but if you start with an idea that you had a right to a certain amount of respite if you are a carer, that I think would be a good start.
Right now and I want through this myself when you fill out the forms for direct payments it's unbelievably complicated lever arch file after lever arch file and you have to set up another bank account. As a carer of a child, you feel well, what am I going to do, run off with the money?
So I think we need a lot more trust from government to carer in terms of direct payments.
The third and last thing: individual budgets, trying to actually look at all of the money that is there to help you and your husband and your family in terms of respite and care and care assistance, and put it all in one package, wrap it around one person and give you access to it. I think all those things together would make a difference. But it is about trusting people rather than thinking that the state has all the answers.
JUDY GRAHAM: It doesn't address the question of fairness compared to smokers and drinkers and abuse people.
DAVID CAMERON: Well, I think the point there is, you know, yes you should, and we do, tax things that are damaging. So we do tax cigarettes. In the budget that has just been a big tax increase has been put on cider. I think they got it wrong, actually; they should have taxed the damaging drinks, the hard core high strength ciders and lagers rather than hitting everybody. But tax is a weapon where we recover money from people who actually take irresponsible choices.
PAUL LEWIS: We have had a similar question from Janice, but she makes a different point, David, which is:
"Millions of pounds have been put aside to help carers", this is according to two charities, she is saying, "but only a quarter of that cash is being spent by the NHS on carers."
DAVID CAMERON: Yes.
PAUL LEWIS: "Would you make sure that that money was spent where it was intended?"
DAVID CAMERON: Yes, absolutely, and the way to do that is by trying to give the more you can give money to people for them to spend as they choose, that I think is better. What happened is the money was given to the Primary Care Trusts and they spent it on everything else. This brings us to the point about how we pay for social care and the Government's plans. We all want to see a national care service work, but in my view it should be personalised service rather than a nationalised service. My worry is the way the government is going is that they are taking away, or might take away, the disability living allowance and the attendance allowance, benefits that people get and can spend on the things they need, and they are going instead to wrap that into a service that just gives you what the state is prepared to give you. I think that's the wrong direction. The direction of travel we will be going in is putting money in people's pockets and letting them choose the sort of care and the respite and the help that they want, rather than actually just 'Here's the state service and here's what you are going to get.'
PAUL LEWIS: We have had a question and I must ask for a very brief answer: why has your party pulled out of All Party talks to sort out the problem of care homes?
DAVID CAMERON: Well, we are very happy to go on having discussions, but we don't think the Government's plans, the option of the death tax, for instance, which is a sort of compulsory levy, we think that should be ruled out all together, so we are not prepared to discuss that, because frankly we think people pay enough in compulsory taxes already, and the idea of an extra compulsory tax when you die is not a good idea.
PAUL LEWIS: So no compulsory taxes.
We have just had a message in from Trevor Pearson. He says:
"Many pensioners look forward to retiring to the sun", I'm sure you all do on a night like tonight, "but current UK regulations stop them receiving NHS cover and also state pension payments are frozen." Well, they are in most of the world. "What does David intend to do to rectify this unfairness" to what Trevor calls "hard working citizens".
DAVID CAMERON: Right. This is a very difficult question. It's my understanding, if you retire to EU countries or indeed to Switzerland or anywhere in the economic area of Europe, you go on getting an uprated pension each year. But there is an issue now with in Spain particularly you are not getting access to the free health service that you used to get.
Now, the free health service point is something where there ought to be proper reciprocal arrangements. If people are getting free health care in the UK, you should get free health care in other European countries. We need to make sure we negotiate that. I cannot help straight away with the problem of people retiring to other jurisdictions where they don't get the updated pensions. Why? Well, it comes back to the great big mountain of debt.
PAUL LEWIS: Half a million pounds, it would cost.
DAVID CAMERON: Half a million pounds, so I cannot promise to do that straight away, I'm afraid.
PAUL LEWIS: Sue in the audience has a question. Sue, put your hand up. Thank you very much.
SUE: It's just following up on the fact the White Paper is coming up next week the White Paper on Reform of Care and Support. What is your message to the I think it's 14 million people over 60 who are going to be looking at that, because of the diversity of their needs compared to the people who are much older. You have covered quite a lot of the territory, but coming up for Tuesday, what's your view?
DAVID CAMERON: Let's see if the Paper actually comes out. I'm not totally convinced it's going to arrive, but let's see.
Our message would be, let's have a personalised service that gives people greater choice and power and control over their own lives, rather than a more nationalised service. Now, you have seen what our answer is to the question about people being forced to sell their homes. We are going for a voluntary scheme where you set aside money that will stop that happening to you.
I think when we look at other costs in terms of social care costs, I favour trying to put money in people's pockets for them to choose, keeping DNA, keeping attendance allowance, rather than going in a more nationalised direction. I think we have shown the sort of direction we are going in: give people choice, personalise it, don't try and have some kind of top down nationalised answer. And certainly don't have a death tax.
PAUL LEWIS: Thanks for your question, Sue.
Hundreds of questions are coming in. Jane has just sent a message saying "How would you help people who are at present being forced to retire at 65 when they don't want to?"
DAVID CAMERON: Yes. This is a very good question and it's a cliche now it has been said so often, but we always want retirement to be a slope rather than a cliff edge. That's the direction we should be going in. We are living longer, people are healthier aged 60, aged 70, they are more active, they are more able to go on working, so why do we have this cut off retirement age?
In principle I'm certainly in favour of ending the default retirement age. I think there's no doubt that's the direction we should be going in. I cannot give you a year, I cannot give you a date at which I'm going to do it, but I think that's the direction we should be going in.
I think one of the problems, and we have to be sort of open and honest about this, is businesses are very worried about all the additional costs there will be if we end at a retirement age just like that, and suddenly they are going to be having to make a lot of much bigger redundancy payments.
So I think there's a conversation we have got to have with business about saying to them, "Look, this is a good thing because people can go on working for longer, you can get more out of your workforce", but there's a conversation we have to have about what happens at the end of that. Currently at 65 there is no redundancy payment. If we get rid of the retirement age, there might be. And I think we need to have a reasonable and balanced discussion. But together with that legal change we also need a cultural change, where we get businesses to realise that actually employing people in their 60s and 70s is a really good thing to do. Some businesses have got that. There's a B&Q somewhere in this country where they only employ pensioners, and apparently they have the best attendance record, the best customer satisfaction record and actually sales are higher than at their other stores. So we need a bit more of that sort of thing.
PAUL LEWIS: You are not going to get an argument here about that, but Dr Stuart Brian from Fife on that very point says:
"In reaching the decision on scrapping the 65 compulsory retirement age, how will you rank the input from the employer's organisations, because they are worried about it?"
DAVID CAMERON: They are worried about it. That's why I didn't have to be prompted. I came straight out with it and said
PAUL LEWIS: But how will you rank it? When you come to look at it, here's the people who want it to go; there's the people who don't? How will you make that balance?
DAVID CAMERON: It's got to be a balance. It's got to be a balance. Look, we are tenderly coming out of recession. It's a fragile flower, the British economy right now, and we don't want to do things that will tip businesses back into difficulty. So it's a conversation we have to have. We want to be open about the costs and open about the benefits, and try and find a way through it. But there's no doubt in my mind, you know, we will look back in future years and say 'Well, of course the default retirement age had to go. It must make sense'.
PAUL LEWIS: David Cameron says the economy is a 'fragile flower'. I thought you thought it was far worse than that, David.
We have a question from the audience. Caroline wants to talk about re-education. Caroline?
CAROLINE: Thank you very much. How will you protect leisure learning which is currently suffering from the emphasis on adult education, concentrating on courses which are accredited, aimed at those in the workforce or retraining? Many people WHO come on leisure learning and acquire new skills often go on to develop those in careers, new careers, second and third careers?
DAVID CAMERON: It's a difficult one this, because I think this Government has been too obsessed with targets and processes and ticking boxes, and this has affected adult learning because if you are not getting the particular skill or the particular qualification, you don't qualify for the money.
So I do think we ought to try and get rid of some of the 'processology' and set the colleges free to teach the courses that people demand and that business wants without endlessly checking up on everything that they do.
But as soon as you do that you are going to have people saying, "Well, how are you going to measure how efficient they are and how are you going to measure what they do?"
So I don't really have an answer for you. I would like to get rid of some of the 'processology', I want to set the colleges free to teach the courses that people want, but we have to find a new way of trying to measure and make sure they are being efficient and they are adding to both well being and actually our economic value as well.
PAUL LEWIS: It will still be a bit outcomes based, then.
DAVID CAMERON: I think what we need is more outcomes based rather than process-based. If you go to - I spend my life in FE colleges. If you ask them they say it's maddening at the moment because it's all about the process. Is this particular person getting this particular qualification, rather than am I actually giving them the skill that will get them the job? So likewise, for old people who might not necessarily be thinking about jobs but actually it's about well-being and keeping active and keeping the brains going, it's about those things, trying to measure the outcomes.
PAUL LEWIS: How will you make sure that the over-50s are not left behind by the digital revolution asks Don Chatt of Hayes?
DAVID CAMERON: That gives me the opportunity to
PAUL LEWIS: You will answer the question?
DAVID CAMERON: Yes, of course, I have been pretty good so far.
PAUL LEWIS: You have, you have.
DAVID CAMERON: Firstly, let's not have the phone tax. I think this a great mistake. The Government is bringing in this telephone tax. They were bringing in the dog tax as well, so it was known as the dog-and-bone tax. They scrapped the dog bit, they are keeping the phone bit. I think this is a mistake because I think some people with land lines will actually think "Well, I'm not paying this" and will cut themselves off and actually will be withdrawing from the digital revolution. So what we need to do is we need high-meg broadband speeds and we need it all over the country, including the rural areas, like the one I represent where it is still the 'Worldwide Wait' rather than the 'Worldwide Web'. We should do that by opening up BT's ducts and pipes and the local loop to competition. That I think would make a big difference. We have said, although I know they will still keep you on, that some of the BBC's digital money, if we don't get what we want through opening up the pipes, we could use some of that to make sure we get the digital fast-speed broadbands in the rural areas.
PAUL LEWIS: So no tax?
DAVID CAMERON: No dog-and-bone tax. We think it will actually be counter-productive, that's the point.
PAUL LEWIS: Right, a question from the audience. A lady there. And then the gentleman there. The lady there first.
NINA MISHKOFF: Nina Mishkoff. You mentioned at the beginning that we are of the generation that votes, as opposed to the young. You the problem you have with the youth vote is apathy, but the one advantage you have with the youth vote is that, unlike us, they don't remember Margaret Thatcher and they don't remember previous Conservative governments, the previous Conservative governments which left us with British Rail broken up, our national industries flogged off, privatised-
DAVID CAMERON: I'm obviously enjoying the speech, but we must have a question.
NINA MISHKOFF: What I'm going to say is, how are you going to persuade us, the voting generation who do remember, that you are not the same 'selfish toffs' in a different disguise?
PAUL LEWIS: I think, Nina, the answer is he wants you to remember.
DAVID CAMERON: The good things. I think I'm going to have a tough time convincing her overall, so that is why I thought I would take a slightly harder line speech on that one.
PAUL LEWIS: See if you can convince Roger West, who has literally come in the last two minutes, this email:
"If people trust you, you can influence them; if they don't you can't. How do you intend to earn our trust?"
DAVID CAMERON: I think by being frank and straight with people, and not saying "Yes, I know, Margaret Thatcher was terrible, isn't it all awful" and trying to suck up to you, but actually telling you what I think. I think the only way you earn people's trust is by answering people's questions, by being direct with them, whether it is about saying "I'm sorry, we can't tackle student debt all in one go, we're going to have to keep those top-up fees and tuition fees", whether it's talking about the state default retirement age and saying "Look, there are problems here, we cannot solve it in one go". The way you earn trust is by showing that you are trustworthy, by answering people's questions and by not soft-soaping them but by giving to it them straight. That is what I try and do.
PAUL LEWIS: You mentioned that one of the things Margaret Thatcher did was control the Trade Unions. James Monk has just emailed in, we have hundreds coming in:
"Trade Unions are threatening to ruin this country", says James Monk, "How will you deal with them?"
DAVID CAMERON: Well, I think it is important that we keep the reforms that were put in place, so we have proper ballots before strikes and proper ballots -
PAUL LEWIS: But they were supposed to end strikes, and
DAVID CAMERON: You are never going to end strikes, but they did at least make Trade Unions more democratic. It seems to me the problem we have at the moment with strikes coming in, British Airways and possibly on the railways, and gas workers as well, I think one of the problems is the Government hasn't really been clear enough about the importance of saying some of these industries do need to restructure. I mean, British Airways faces fierce competition from airlines around the world, and I think the Prime Minister should have been a bit clearer that of course this business needs to restructure. And when I asked him four times in a row in the House of Commons, "Should British Airways staff who want to go to work go to work?", and he wouldn't answer, frankly, I think that was pretty feeble.
PAUL LEWIS: Would you intervene?
DAVID CAMERON: You intervene to try and help, to try and bring the parties together, to try and get talks going, to try and get a resolution to the dispute, but it is not just intervention, it is leadership that is required, and leadership that says if people want to go to work they should be able to go to work, and I frankly think it is wrong that the Prime Minister was not prepared to make that very clear statement.
PAUL LEWIS: There's a gentleman there who has been waiting for ages to ask a question.
DAVID CAMERON: Yes, he has been very patient, I noticed that.
PAUL LEWIS: The gentleman in the brown jacket who has been waiting since the start.
PETER HEATH: Peter Heath, no relation to our old friend Ted. But I just wanted to pick up on detail on your mention of the, whatever you call it, the final care insurance?
DAVID CAMERON: Yes.
PETER HEATH: I'm pushing 80. Is it possible for me to get into that scheme?
DAVID CAMERON: Yes, a very good question. Yes, we believe that when you introduce this scheme, which would effectively be for people as they turn 65, you could make the scheme available immediately to people over the age of 65, and I think the numbers do work, it does add up, it would be okay, but you would have to be careful that you weren't people weren't joining who were literally just about to walk into residential care, otherwise obviously it wouldn't work. But anyone over the age of 65 would be able to apply, if they were not literally on the point of going into residential care, yes.
PETER HEATH: I'm still working.
DAVID CAMERON: Very good. Well, you definitely will -
PAUL LEWIS: There's a lady there and then a lady there I think.
DAVID CAMERON: The gentleman here has been waiting longer actually, why don't we have him. I thought he was the one you were pointing at.
PAUL LEWIS: Oh I'm sorry, that gentleman there and then the ladies, if those ladies will wait.
CHRIS KNIGHT: Thank you very much indeed. We have just been through probably the hardest winter we have had for 30 years. I'm a local councillor here in Camden, my name is Chris Knight, and I'm concerned about the heating bills, the electricity bills and gas bills that our pensioners are going to have to pay. Will you be able to help them if we go through another one of these periods?
PAUL LEWIS: When would you do it?
DAVID CAMERON: Straight away. We have a plan ready to roll out about when the first contract will be let, about when the legislation would pass, about what needs to be done. It's a brilliant idea and we could really get it moving.
PAUL LEWIS: The lady there who has been waiting, and then the lady there.
REA STREET: Thank you very much. My name is Ray Street and actually I'm a visitor here to London today, from the north.
DAVID CAMERON: Whereabouts.
REA STREET: The cold north.
DAVID CAMERON: I was up in Chester today, where have you been.
REA STREET: Rochdale, I have come from. I live in the Rochdale constituency. Giving the huge pressure on public spending, we are going to have more, and given that that will affect the provision of social and welfare services and health services, particularly in the age groups that SAGA represents, we are already feeling it in towns across Britain. There are going to be cuts upon cuts upon cuts. Given that, given that the Trident nuclear armed submarines cannot keep us secure, they were unable to prevent terrorist attacks. Think of the one on New York, think of the one here in London. They are not weapons which can be used. I have never heard a General from Afghanistan appealing for a nuclear weapon.
So what is your policy going to be? How can you justify £2 billion in maintaining the current Trident weapon and, further, more importantly, that at least 76 billion, we are talking billion pounds, which will be needed to replace the Trident?
DAVID CAMERON: Right, I have got the question.
REA STREET: I have asked the question, straightforward, I want to know the policy.
DAVID CAMERON: I'm going to disappoint you hugely because I think we are better off having Trident. I think it is important that we do have an independent nuclear deterrent, and I think we should also update it, and that means having a replacement for Trident, and I think a submarine based replacement is the best that is available and that is the policy that we have.
Why do I think this is important? It's because we live in an uncertain and unsafe world, and having an independent nuclear deterrent is not about your defence needs this year or next year, it is the ultimate insurance policy against nuclear blackmail in 10, 20, 30, 40 years time, when you don't know what will have happened to the old Soviet Union and Russia, you cannot tell what position China will take, you don't know, alongside Iran, what other countries might have nuclear weapons. I'm afraid I just don't agree with you, I think it is right to have that insurance policy, and that is why I'm afraid we are going to have to respectfully disagree, even though you have come all the way down from Rochdale to be with us tonight.
PAUL LEWIS: And you have come from Chester. It's a straight answer. The lady here would like a question, and then there is another question from the audience.
JEAN AUSTIN: Jean Austin. I like what I have heard tonight, but first you have got to get elected. I feel the present Government is giving a message out, particularly appealing to people in precarious economic situations, "The way ahead is foggy, but nothing terrible is going to happen to you for at least a year". You, on the other hand, collectively are saying "We're going to cut quickly and deeper". What can you say to reassure those wavering marginal people -
DAVID CAMERON: Thank you. A very good question.
JEAN AUSTIN: - to get elected for the sake of everybody?
DAVID CAMERON: First of all, I think it is very important that we nail some of the lies that are being told about what the Conservatives would do, and I'm very pleased to do it here at this meeting.
PAUL LEWIS: You are going to say what you are going to cut and when.
PAUL LEWIS: And will you be cutting more than Alistair Darling set out in his plans on Wednesday or less.
DAVID CAMERON: We think over the whole of a Parliament
PAUL LEWIS: No, the first year.
DAVID CAMERON: Start earlier. They are doing nothing the first year. They are spending money today. A very good example, today they have been told -
PAUL LEWIS: There are cuts in the first year, they are in the red book.
DAVID CAMERON: There is nothing in 2010, absolutely nothing. They are doing nothing. They are increasing spending by £31 billion in 2010. And they are still spending money on things like this advert they launched today on policing -
PAUL LEWIS: But never mind that, David, what would you do?
DAVID CAMERON: I'm just making my point. I think it's fair enough, making my point. They are spending money on things that the advertising authority is telling them are illegal. That is how much waste there still is. The identity card, we could get rid of that. The national identity database, we could get rid of that. The regional assemblies, all the panoplies of regional assemblies, we could get rid of that. There are lots of things we can save money on which would actually help get the economy going, because the magic word for economy is confidence, and people don't have confidence now because they see their Government is so badly in debt they are not doing anything about it.
PAUL LEWIS: In the last 10 minutes I'm going to put a question from Don Clegg, who sent it in to us earlier:
"What will you do to recruit Members of Parliament who reflect the population, who have lived and worked in the real world and have life experience, not who have been recruited straight from university or dedicated to politics since leaving school?"
That's true of you.
DAVID CAMERON: What I did, what I have done already, is in the middle of the expenses crisis I went on the Andrew Marsh show and I said I wanted to open up the selection of Conservative candidates to people from all different walks of life, I wanted a wider variety of candidates. And a lot of people applied and a lot of people got onto the candidates list and a number of them have been selected. I'm just going to pick out two for you which I think are interesting.
PAUL LEWIS: Quickly.
DAVID CAMERON: Yes, quickly. The first is Bob Stewart, who was the commander of our forces in Bosnia who, if not a pensioner, is nearly a pensioner, who has been selected for the safe seat, or relatively safe seat of Beckenham. I think he is someone who brings a huge amount of life experience. And a very exciting experiment we carried out in South Devon where we had the first all postal primary, we sent a ballot paper to every single home in the constituency so everyone could vote for who the Conservative candidate was going to be, an they chose a woman called Sarah Woolaston who had been a GP for 25 years, and I think actually that's the sort of experience and life experience that it would be great to have in the House of Commons.
So I would promise a fairly balanced age, gender and ethnic and regional profile if we were to win the election. But I haven't done the maths on exactly how many are of what age. We would certainly have the oldest Member of Parliament Sir Peter Tapsell who I think at the last count was 82 and who is standing again. He first got into Parliament when he was serving Eden.
PAUL LEWIS: Okay.
DAVID CAMERON: I know it was a long answer but I was trying to make it amusing, to add some
PAUL LEWIS: That's fine. Isfael Maia:
"Do you agree with euthanasia and that those who assist in suicide should not be prosecuted?"
A message just in.
DAVID CAMERON: I don't agree with euthanasia, I worry about changing the law
PAUL LEWIS: And assisted suicide?
DAVID CAMERON: Again, I don't agree with that. I worry that if we change the law, there's a danger that elderly and frail people who feel they are a burden to their relatives will be sort of will be sort of pushed into it, and even if they say they are not being pushed into it and of course it's all their own decision, subliminally they might be, and I worry very much about changing the law. So I am not in favour of the changes that have been suggested on assisted dying or euthanasia.
PAUL LEWIS: A lady in the audience with a question on post offices. I'm sorry I can't hear your name. This is your second go.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Thank you very much. This is on behalf of actually one of my friends in East Devon where I come from.
DAVID CAMERON: I was there yesterday, I was in Exmouth.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: I'm very pleased to hear it.
DAVID CAMERON: It was pouring with rain. I was speaking at a Sun Holiday Camp -
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: I'm glad I'm in London.
DAVID CAMERON: and it was pouring with rain in Exmouth, so you're not missing anything. Anyway welcome.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: The question is actually from my friend down there, who is actually the champion for post offices at East Devon Council, is:
"Will the Conservative Party expand the financial services in the Post Office Limited and maintain a network of 12,000 post offices?
DAVID CAMERON: Yes, we will certainly expand the services that post offices are able to carry. I don't think anyone can give a guarantee that no Post Office ever will close ever again after the disaster that we have had, but let's look at things to try and keep the Post Offices open. So let's open up the Post Office contract, allow them to do more things, allow them to sign up with other companies. Let's make sure we keep Lottery terminals open in Post Offices. Let's not do the mistakes of the past, take away the BBC licence fee and things like that. Let's try and put work through the Post Office, and particularly councils I think have a great opportunity, as many are doing, to use Post Offices as places where people can pay council tax, can get their housing benefit or whatever. Let's use this network to keep it open. That's the only way it's going to happen.
PAUL LEWIS: But you cannot save 12,000 at the end of the
DAVID CAMERON: I don't think anyone can give you a guarantee. But you know, we have fought very hard for our Post Offices. With constituencies like mine, it is often the only thing left in the village.
PAUL LEWIS: We must move on because you've had a go, sorry. Mrs Bowen: a slightly personal question, David:
"50 per cent of men over 50 have prostate problems. You might find yourself soon", she says, "a worry is finding a public loo. Have you ever been caught short while out shopping and couldn't find a loo, and what would you do to make sure there are enough?"
DAVID CAMERON: Not recently. But with children you are always
PAUL LEWIS: Well, you travel enough, don't you
DAVID CAMERON: With children you are always being caught out, and so I have huge experience. So actually as soon as you have children, you become fanatically in favour of more public toilets, and also you start treating shops and pubs and restaurants not as shops and pubs and restaurants but actually as public toilets, which upsets them. So I do understand the question.
I think we do need to have that sort of provision and that is something local councils need to think about.
PAUL LEWIS: Are they going to get money to do it?
DAVID CAMERON: There is not going to be much money around, but a good local council, and it is normally town councils that do this
PAUL LEWIS: You mean as opposed to big local authorities?
DAVID CAMERON: Yes, absolutely. It is often the town council or the parish council that has that responsibility, and we ought to be encouraging them to do what they do.
PAUL LEWIS: We have a question from Gail in the audience about making life simpler.
GAIL BRODEY: Hello, I'm Gail Brodey and I would just like to know how you can make life simpler. I know for example the telephone chargers will be standardised, when you get a new mobile phone you don't have to have a new different charger and every family builds up a collection of useless chargers from the old phones. Can you think of any other ways that you can simplify life for us?
PAUL LEWIS: The editor of SAGA magazine Kate Bravery, would like to ask you one question on behalf of all her readers.
DAVID CAMERON: A million plus, is that right.
PAUL LEWIS: I'm afraid so. Many people wrote in, it just reminded me, we had thousands of questions that came in. But will you scrap basic rate tax on savings interest for over 65s so banks won't have to automatically take it and force retirees to claim it back? Apparently 200 million is sitting in Treasury coffers, taken from non taxpayers. And many people wrote in about this one.
DAVID CAMERON: I would love to. I'm afraid that's not a very good answer, is it, but it's the best I can do
PAUL LEWIS: No, to be fair
DAVID CAMERON: No, no, to be fair, actually, Paul, to be fair, last year, in 2009, when the Government was increasing spending by I think about 40 billion, we said "Don't increase by 40 billion, save 5 billion of that and use it for a tax cut, which would be to say no tax on savings income for basic rate taxpayers, including pensioners, and pensioners would have been big beneficiaries from that. The Government didn't listen to us and they didn't do it, they went on spending. And there isn't the money at the moment to make that pledge.
PAUL LEWIS: Is it an aspiration?
DAVID CAMERON: It is certainly an aspiration, because I do think there's a general point here: if you have worked hard during your life, you have paid tax on your income, when you have got modest savings and some very modest income from those savings, should you really be taxed all over again? So yes, I really would like to do that, but part of that thing about earning trust is not making promises you cannot keep, so I can't make the promise today, but I understand the problem and I would love to be able to address it.
PAUL LEWIS: Not even in Parliament 1, the whole of the Parliament?
DAVID CAMERON: Hopefully there will be opportunities in Parliament 1 to do a lot of beautiful things, of which that would just be one.
PAUL LEWIS: I'm asked would there be a minister in the cabinet for older people, and, given his age, would it be Ken Clarke?
PAUL LEWIS: What would you have raised the pension by?
DAVID CAMERON: We're not in control of the ship.
PAUL LEWIS: No, but the pension did go up more than inflation, because inflation was negative.
DAVID CAMERON: It didn't, Paul, you're wrong there.
PAUL LEWIS: The inflation rate was negative.
DAVID CAMERON: Yes, of course, but when is it going up? April. What is the inflation rate now? 3.5 per cent. So pensions are actually going down by 1 per cent. That is actually what is happening.
PAUL LEWIS: So you would fix it with the April
DAVID CAMERON: As I say, it's not what they've done. They've cut the pension.
PAUL LEWIS: David, we are coming to the end now. One final question. What are you going to call your new baby?
DAVID CAMERON: I think in the modern world you have to crowd source these things, put it all out on the internet, ask lots of questions. My children have an interesting theory. Elwyn, who is my boy, said it is obvious it's going to be a boy and it should be called Elwyn, and my daughter Nancy said it's obvious it's going to be a girl and it should be called Nancy. So, so far, the imagination in the Cameron household hasn't gone very far. But I think we can do a bit better than that. Maybe we could have a SAGA write in and come up with some good ideas.
PAUL LEWIS: Do you know if it is a boy or a girl?
DAVID CAMERON: Don't know. Don't know, don't want to know.
PAUL LEWIS: You don't know, you don't; want to know.
DAVID CAMERON: Just hope that everything is fine.
PAUL LEWIS: And we don't know, perhaps we don't want to know, the result of the election. David Cameron, thank you very much. That is all we have time for now. Apart from leading his party, David Cameron, I have to say, is the prospective parliamentary candidate for Whitney in Oxfordshire. There are other candidates, listed on our website, and there you can also watch the webcast in the near future with the other two party leaders, Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg for the Liberal Democrats. My thanks to this wonderful group of SAGA readers here, my thanks to all of you who are away, out in the world, emailing us at this moment with questions, and of course, my thanks to David Cameron. Thank you very much indeed.
DAVID CAMERON: Thank you. Thank you very much.