Hundreds of pensioners from across the UK will gather in Westminster on October 31 to lobby their MPs over the future of universal benefits such as the bus pass and winter fuel allowance.
The protest, organised by Britain’s biggest pensioner pressure group – the National Pensioners Convention (NPC), will address the suggestions that have been made by the Lib Dem deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Tory backbencher Nick Boles and Labour’s Liam Byrne that these benefits should in future be means-tested.
The NPC claims that the debate so far has been dominated by half-truths and mis-information, aimed at grabbing headlines. The protest will therefore aim to inform MPs of the facts surrounding the issue:
• There are approximately 11m older people over state pension age living in the UK, of which around 4.5m pay tax at the standard rate and less than 250,000 pay at the higher rate. The remaining 6.4m have an income below £10,500 and do not pay any income tax at all. The universal benefits are therefore essential for the majority of pensioners, even those with incomes above the level of the Pension Credit of £7500.
• Taking the bus pass away from the likes of Sir Alan Sugar; given that he doesn’t use one anyway, will do nothing to save money. Instead this smokescreen is being used to introduce widespread means-testing and represents part of a wider attack on the welfare state and would ultimately hurt some of our most vulnerable older people.
• The revenue collected by the state from older people, either directly through a range of taxes or through costs that older people bear that would otherwise be paid by the state, adds up to a staggering £175.8bn every year, compared to total expenditure on older people through pensions, welfare payments and health care of £136.2bn. The overall, annual net contribution by older people to the economy is therefore almost £40bn – and is estimated to rise to almost £75bn by 2030. Most importantly, this is more than enough to pay for the £8bn worth of age-related benefits that are now being questioned.
• It should be acknowledged that many of these universal benefits have been introduced over time because successive governments were reluctant to improve the state pension system. Having one of the least adequate pensions in Europe has almost forced governments to provide additional support to its older population, or witness the inevitable rise in pensioner hardship.
• Even if benefits were taken away from the majority of pensioners, the amount of money saved would be questionable given that the introduction of a means-tested system would involve setting up a costly bureaucracy to administer the payments (especially if people’s assets were to be assessed) and the chance that losing a bus pass or a winter fuel allowance could inevitably lead to some older people needing extra support from social services and the NHS.
Dot Gibson, NPC general secretary said: “This idea that the country’s economy is struggling because an army of millionaire pensioners are joy riding with their free bus passes is absolute nonsense. The economic crisis is being used as an excuse to undermine the welfare state and roll back some of our hard earned gains – many of which are necessary because the UK has one of the worse state pensions in Europe. The truth is that every year pensioners contribute £40bn to society in the form of taxes, voluntary work and unpaid caring. Removing the bus pass from everyone for example would raise just £1bn, but would lead to increased isolation and social exclusion amongst the elderly; ultimately costing more in the long run with higher demands on social services and the NHS (i). The same can also be said about the winter fuel allowance and free prescriptions which help people to stay healthy in later life.”
“Somehow there is a suggestion that these benefits are luxuries we cannot afford – but the total cost is tiny compared to what pensioners contribute to our society. If we start means-testing pensioners we will create a costly and inefficient bureaucracy which evidence shows will result in those who need it most failing to come forward to make a claim. If society is truly outraged by the super-rich getting such benefits, it is perfectly possible to use the tax system on those 250,000 top rate tax paying pensioners to recoup extra funds without the need to resort to a means-test. Any political party that goes to the next election promising to take away the bus pass and the winter fuel allowance from 11m older voters will therefore not only get a shock at the ballot box, but also end up costing the country more in the long-run.”
Programme for the day
* 11.30am – Photo opportunity/protest at Old Palace Yard (opposite House of Lords) involving campaigners with placards and banners.
* 1pm – Rally, Committee Room 14, House of Commons. Speakers include Dot Gibson (NPC), Ros Altman (SAGA) and David
* 2pm – Lobby of MPs
(i) Using a survey of 3000 pensioners, the report shows that 45% of bus pass use enabled older people to contribute directly into their local economy through shopping, banking, eating out and visiting museums and other facilities. A further 25% of bus travel was used to carry out voluntary work and unpaid caring, whilst the remaining 30% of travel was used to stay healthy (visiting swimming baths/keep fit classes), avoid isolation and improve well-being (visiting friends and family).