Debate: Should the Government cut benefits to wealthy pensioners?


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The Independent Online


What's going on?

As The Independent reports, Iain Duncan Smith appeared to backtrack today over his controversial suggestion that better off pensioners should hand back their winter fuel allowances and free bus passes and TV licences to the Government.

His move came as Downing Street said that David Cameron was sticking firmly to his 2010 pledge to maintain the universal benefits.

But should the government take steps to reduce the £74.2 billion bill for state pensions?

Case for: Bravery

We know it's no oversight, so what has protected rich pensioners from swingeing cuts to public funding? The answer is sheer political cynicism. Older people are far more likely voters; less than 50 per cent of under-24-year-olds turned out in 2010, compared to around 75 per cent of pensioners. Take away the cushion of Winter Fuel allowances and free TV licenses from rich pensioners and - so goes the thinking in Westminster - they will reward you by withdrawing their vote. We need some political courage to enact fair reform and rebalance pensions in favour of those who really need them.

Case against: Wrong target

Slashing the benefits of rich pensioners is not the way to solve our economies' woes. For one thing, the principle of universal benefits is a fine one. Most rich pensioners have worked hard and paid taxes all their life; these are earned comforts. Then there is a wider point. A universal system of benefits avoids the troublesome separation of pensioners off into different groups ("rich, less rich, poor") which can then be turned against each other. Instead, a universal system is one of the last vestiges of truth in that speedily discredited mantra: "we're all in this together". To make the rich contribute more, the Government should hound tax avoiders - not the old spine of this country.