Leading article: Pensioners' benefits cannot be untouchable

There are hundreds of thousands of well-off old people being subsidised by the state

Share
Related Topics

People aged 60 and above have never lost the habit of turning out to vote. If the young only understood what that means, they would do the same because the voting power of the elderly has meant that no government dare mess with their benefits. As the Coalition has struggled desperately to find ways to reduce the deficit, the pensions and perks enjoyed by the elderly have barely been touched. And they are to stay in place at least until the general election is safely out of the way in 2015. Only now, however, do we begin to hear whispers from Whitehall that, after polling day, the elderly may have to share more of the pain.

About time, too. The case for finding efficient and fair ways to reduce the Government's deficit is overwhelming, though how to go about it is a fraught, complex question. This newspaper has urged the Chancellor to concentrate on measures to stimulate growth and target the cuts on areas of spending which produce no economic benefit. Funnelling money into the bank accounts of the elderly is not a good way to escape recession: the case for doing it is social, not economic.

In a civilised society, no one should be condemned to hunger and deprivation in their old age. But there is a large number of people well past their prime who can afford a very comfortable lifestyle without help from the state, and yet qualify for subsidies purely by virtue of their age.

In 1999, when pension increases were tied to the Retail Price Index, the Labour government ran into political difficulties because low inflation meant that the annual pension increase was calculated at just 75p a week. To avoid such embarrassment, there is now a "triple lock" which guarantees that pensions will rise by whichever is highest – inflation, earnings, or 2.5 per cent. With an eye on the grey vote, David Cameron made an election promise, later incorporated in the Coalition Agreement, to leave the triple lock alone.

There is more. Until recently, there were free bus passes for everyone over 60. The only change that the Government has dared make is to raise the qualifying age progressively, but too late to stop vast numbers of wealthy people who were born in the post-war baby boom and left school or university during the years of full employment from getting a free ride.

Members of that same generation also receive a cheque every year from the Government to help towards fuel bills they can easily afford. It has been estimated that no fewer than 500,000 people on the higher tax rates receive such a perk. A smaller number of the very wealthy also qualify for free TV licences, because they are over 75.

The cost of these benefits should not be exaggerated. In total, they come to around £5bn a year – only a fraction of the cost of state pensions – but they contribute to a bill for benefits for senior citizens that is forecast to rise from £76bn this year to £86bn in 2016. Meanwhile, the benefits paid to people of working age are forecast to fall from £53bn to £47bn over the same period.

There is no dispute that substantial numbers of pensioners are in real need. Yesterday's figures from the Office of National Statistics suggest the UK is already less generous to its elderly than most other EU states. But the fact that some old people are living either in poverty, or very near it, must not distract attention from the hundreds of thousands of very well-off people of advanced years who are being subsidised out of general taxation. The Chancellor, George Osborne, has set a target of cutting £10bn from the welfare bill by 2016. That target cannot be reached by any fair route if the pensions and perks of the elderly are to be treated as sacrosanct.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Collections Agent

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Negotiator - OTE £23,000

£13500 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning, Bolton base...

Recruitment Genius: Client Account Executive

£23000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Client Account Executive is r...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketing Executive

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Full Time position available now at a growing...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: the SNP’s ‘fundamental problem’, says Corbyn, is that too many people support it

John Rentoul
An investor looks at an electronic board showing stock information at a brokerage house in Shanghai  

China has exposed the fatal flaws in our liberal economic order

Ann Pettifor
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future