Lady Thatcher cost taxpayers £535,000 in past five years

The former Prime Minister Lady Thatcher once declared that "pennies don't fall from heaven – they have to be earned here on earth".

Some might question the wisdom of those words, however, after it was revealed that the 86-year-old has claimed more than half a million pounds in taxpayers' money in the last five years.

The Baroness is rarely seen in public and has health problems, but this has not stopped her claiming £535,000 in state handouts under the public duties cost allowance available to ex-PMs.

The system was set up by John Major in 1991 to reward former incumbents of No 10 for work including answering letters and attending public events.

A Commons briefing states the allowance is to "assist with additional office costs which they are liable to incur because of their special position in public life". In the past five years, it has cost taxpayers more than £1.7 million to support Baroness Thatcher, her successor Sir John Major and, since 2007, former Labour premier Tony Blair.

Mr Blair has claimed just under £273,000 since leaving office in June 2007, including £169,076 in 2008-9 – more than his annual salary when he was in Downing Street. Sir John, who ran the country from 1990 to 1997, has claimed £490,000 in the past five years.

Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude, who revealed the figures following a written Parliamentary question from Tory MP Philip Hollobone, said: "The public duties cost allowance is kept under review."

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