Why do some politicians appear to want to pick a fight with the pensioner population of the UK?
Conservative MP Nick Boles has given a speech outlining the idea of means-testing pensioners for certain benefits. He argues that wealthy pensioners should stop receiving free bus passes and prescriptions, and that perks of old age such as free TV licences for the over-75s, as well as the winter fuel allowance, should be means-tested.
Recognising this is a political hot potato, David Cameron has made it clear these benefits will remain untouched in this parliament, but there is pressure from certain Conservative quarters to reassess this position before the next election.
Nick Boles could well have a point. If you are a well-off pensioner then why should you receive a benefit you can easily afford?
I remember an interview with Lord Alan Sugar where he explained how he tried to return his winter fuel payment. He phoned up to say that as a millionaire he could well afford to heat his mansion. The woman on the helpline explained there was no process in place for him to give the cash back. He ended up donating it to charity.
Obviously Lord Sugar’s case is an extreme example, but I wonder how many pensioners in our particularly affluent corner of West Sussex could also afford to do without the payment?
This debate is incredibly emotional. Many pensioners already feel under the cosh. Having saved for their old age or retirement, they are financially challenged by some of the lowest interest rates of our times. They also feel that for all of their working lives they have paid into the pot and do not see why, in their twilight years, they should not benefit.
The pensioner population is growing and living for longer. This creates a headache for politicians, not only from an economic position, but also politically. Those aged 60 and above are the age group more likely to vote. This valuable chunk of the electorate can make or break governments and any political party should be wary of upsetting them.
Most people accept that in these challenging economic times savings need to be made. The argument behind reducing this county’s debt and deficit is solid and we simply cannot afford the scale of public spending we have enjoyed until now.
For me it is a question of priorities and this is the real issue that needs to be addressed: How can you put pensioners through the indignity of being means-tested yet still find billions of pounds to send overseas in foreign aid? The UK’s membership of the EU costs us billions, and the Olympics have cost us an arm, leg and a kidney.
There is clearly money sloshing around, but it is being spent on the wrong people.
If I were a pensioner I would be feeling pretty hacked off right now. Let’s hope Cameron and Co see the light and kick this idea into the long grass.