GEORGE Osborne has once again singled out the grey vote with a major change to pension rules that could affect five million pensioners as a centre-piece to his last Budget before people go the polls on May 7.


While the Chancellor insisted there would be "no giveaways, no gimmicks", he has carefully selected for special treatment that part of the population which regularly turns out to vote in his last set-piece pitch to convince people why they should stick with the Tories.

Declaring that his final economic statement of the Parliament would be designed for a "truly national recovery", he said the Budget would be fiscally neutral and insisted: "Everything we do in this Budget has to be paid for. That has been the central argument I've made all along."

Ed Balls for Labour warned the Conservatives wanted to go beyond balancing the books in the next parliament and were committed to an "ideological plan" that involved running a £23bn surplus to "cut the size of the state" to a level not seen since the 1930s.

The TUC's General Secretary Frances O'Grady has also claimed there is a danger the Budget will be "more about winning votes in six weeks than securing growth for six years".

The planned annuity reforms from April 2016 will give pensioners the same opportunity to access their retirement funds as Mr Osborne announced last year for people who had not already taken their pensions.

"It's all part of trusting people who have worked hard and saved hard all their lives. It's all part of having a long-term economic plan where we build our country on savings and investment," declared the Chancellor.

He dismissed claims that pensioners could end up blowing their nest-eggs on Lamborghinis and holidays, saying this was a very patronising attitude to take towards people who had shown responsibility and saved throughout their lives for a pension.

In recent years, annuities have become the focus of growing controversy amid plunging rates and fears that many people are unaware they could possibly get a better deal by shopping around rather than sticking with their existing pension provider.

Removing the restrictions on buying and selling existing annuities will allow pensioners to either take the cash as a lump sum or place it into drawdown to use the proceeds more gradually.

Meantime, the tax-free personal allowance is set to rise even further than planned from £10,600 this April to £11,000.

Nick Clegg in his keynote speech to the Liberal Democrats' spring conference in Liverpool, noted how more than 26m low and middle income earners had had their income tax cut every year, worth more than £800 from next month.

But the Deputy Prime Minister added: "And I want to go further - much further - in next week's Budget to cut taxes for ordinary people again." A further rise could give people around another £200 a year.

Elsewhere, Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, dropped a further hint that there would be help on Wednesday for the beleaguered North Sea oil and gas industry with another cut in the supplementary charge, the tax on company profits.

He stressed the Government wanted to see "a more benign tax regime" for the sector.

In the Autumn Statement, Mr Osborne reduced the tax by two per cent. Given he raised it by 12 per cent in 2011, expectation is high that there will be a hefty cut this time round; possibly reversing in full the increase of four years ago.

The Herald and will have all the latest news on the Budget on Wednesday.