A MACABRE host of campaigning "skeletons" appeared at Westminster on Wednesday, as pensioners swooped on Parliament to demand a decent standard of living.
National Pensioners Convention activists donned skeleton masks and ghoulish white suits, protesting that up to three million elderly people will die before the government's promised restoration of the link between pensions and earnings in 2012.
Some of the skeletons collapsed on the green opposite Parliament, clutching placards declaring: "I died before the link with earnings was restored."
Others suddenly became animated, clenched their fists and shouted: "Link now! Link now!"
The host of ghouls received a warm reception as they trooped into a mass meeting of pensioner lobbyists in Westminster's Central Hall amid thunderous applause.
Campaigning Labour MP Kate Hoey supported the lobbyists' demand for a state pension of Â£114 per week and an immediate restoration of the link with average earnings.
Addressing the throng, she declared: "Let no-one tell you that we cannot afford it."
Ms Hoey noted that Chancellor Gordon Brown had talked about renewing the Trident nuclear missile system, which would cost something in the region of Â£25 billion.
The war in Iraq was also costing a "huge" amount of money, she declared. "Money that could have been spent on realising the aspirations of pensioners in this country."
Ms Hoey reminded pensioners: "You have the power to really make a difference at the next election."
NPC general secretary Joe Harris said that pensioners were not "putting out the begging bowl" and asking for charity. They simply wanted a decent income after spending a lifetime "building up this country."
Mr Harris noted that the national insurance fund had a surplus of Â£36 billion, which was enough to fund an immediate linked pension of Â£114 a week for four years.
Addressing the rally, public-service union PCS deputy president Sue Bond complained that Britain was the only developed country in the world where the state retirement pension was below the official government poverty level.
Labour MP Kelvin Hopkins reported that more and more MPs were supporting the pensioners' cause. He said: "We are starting to win the argument."
Labour leadership contender John McDonnell MP was cheered as he declared that he was "sick to death of waiting" for decent pensions.
"Nine years of a Labour government, when we were promised in opposition that the link with earnings would be restored. Nine years of waiting," he complained.
Mr McDonnell told the lobbyists: "When you go across into Parliament, when you eyeball your MP, make it clear that we are not putting up with it any more."
Angry 70-year-old "skeleton" June Hautot pulled off her mask and complained: "My measly weekly pension is less than some of those so-and-sos in Parliament spend on a single meal."
She stormed: "Money is no problem when it comes to wars. But, when it comes to pensions and the NHS, they tell us there's not enough money."
Fellow skeleton impersonator Monica Armitage-Smith, an 84-year-old second world war veteran, urged politicians to look at pensioners as people who needed to live, rather than just as an economic grouping.
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