Scrapping pensioner benefits would not achieve many benefits

Scrapping pensioner benefits would be a backward step and benefit no-one

Dr Kate Bradley from SSPSSR comments on calls by a Lords select committee to scrap certain benefits for pensioners.

‘The House of Lords’ Select Committee on Intergeneration Fairness and Provision has today called for pensioner benefits – TV licences for the over-75s, free bus passes, and the winter fuel payment – to be scrapped, as today’s pensioners are better off than many working-age people.

‘In a context in which young people are grappling with tuition fees, rising rents, and struggling to get on to the property ladder, these payments to the so-called ‘boomer’ generation seem excessively generous to a generation that has benefited from the welfare state.

However, combatting poverty in older age is a long-standing problem.  Before David Lloyd George’s Old Age Pension Act 1908 introduced a non-contributory means-tested pensions, people needed to have had the means to put by savings for their old age, or to have family members who might be able to look after them.  If not, the harsh reality of the workhouse beckoned. Since 1908, pensions have formed the cornerstone of looking after people after they have ceased to work, but remain far from perfect. Successive governments in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have grappled with how to balance a decent standard of living to pensioners with the cost of this to the public purse.

Pensions are by no means a guarantee of a decent standard of living. From the 1940s, Age UK’s predecessor organisations, Age Concern and Help the Aged, campaigned to draw attention not only to issues with meagre pensions, but also to the impact of isolation, loneliness, and keeping up with rising fuel bills. Those on low pensions and with few other social or financial resources to call on can be at particular risk. These are also not necessarily the problems faced by recent retirees, but can beset people as they progress into their eighties and beyond – the ‘oldest old’. As the British population has steadily aged over many decades, so too has the need to tackle the challenges faced by this group.

‘Following years of campaigning, these pensioner benefits were introduced by the 1997 Labour government, through the Transport Act 2000 and the Communication Act 2003.  These benefits are a major undertaking on the public purse. However, on a human level, these benefits offer a lot of good, from keeping someone engaged and entertained during a long day at home, or giving them the chance to get out without being reliant on family, or driving a car when they are not fit to do so.  Age UK’s own research[1] finds that the winter fuel payment prevents on average 12,000 deaths a year, and reduces strain on the NHS and social care services.

‘Cutting these benefits might seem like a quick and easy route to evening up the balance between the ‘boomers’ and ‘millennials’.  Yet it will be a retrograde step in dealing with the problems faced, not by the apparently wealthy boomers, but by some of the most vulnerable members of our society.

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