Tuesday, 24 February 2015
I hope and suspect that as many pensioners will be nauseated and put off by David Cameron's condescending tone as will be prompted to vote Tory by his latest bribe.
Cameron has promised that we can keep our perks (£200 annual winter fuel allowance and free bus passes for all, and free TV licences for those of us over 75) because we have, as a block, "done the right thing, worked hard and saved for our retirement."
I am quite certain that there is just as big a proportion of idle layouts, incompetents and variously dysfunctional people in my generation as there are in in the 18 -25 cohort or any any other. Having survived to 60 or 65 is unlikely to be the result of virtue.
For those of us with no savings and with no income other than the state pension the above perks are very welcome. However, many of us have additional public or private pensions and are quite well off. In fact many, having paid off mortgages, no longer supporting children and with a reduced appetite for positional goods feel that they've never had so much money in their lives. So these universal benefits are quite unnecessary and, at a time of savage cuts for those really in need, difficult to justify.
Generally I am in favour of universal benefits rather than alternatives which involve means testing. However, in this case, I feel no means testing would be necessary. The government knows which of us pay income tax. That means that our state pension plus other income come to over £10,660 a year. Not a fortune (and not apparently sufficient to keep the likes of Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw in the manner to which they've become accustomed) but quite enough to keep the wolf from the door. It should be a simple matter to stop giving the winter fuel allowance and free TV licence to those of us in this category.
I would make an exception for the free bus pass, which I think should be universal because, if it were not, those with a pass would be forced to identify themselves as "poor." (It's for similar reasons that schools contrive to disguise which pupils receive free school meals.)
For those without alternative means of transport the free bus pass is a godsend. Most of those who do have alternative means don't use the pass much (unless, like me, they make token efforts to save the planet by travelling by public transport rather than by car whenever it's not too inconvenient) so the extra expense would not be great.