PM's hint on pensioner benefits


Prime Minister David Cameron speaks to an audience during a PM Direct event at the Meridian Community Centre in Peacehaven, Sussex. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday March 24, 2014. See PA story POLITICS Pensions. Photo credit should read: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

David Cameron has hinted that protecting pensioner benefits for wealthy OAPs would go into the Conservatives' next manifesto.

The Prime Minister said not giving benefits, such as winter fuel allowances, bus passes and cold weather payments, to top-rate taxpayers would save only "a tiny amount".

Speaking to Saga members in Peacehaven, near Brighton, East Sussex, Mr Cameron said that cutting the benefits would also "introduce another complexity into the system".

He told the audience: "We will set our policy for the next Parliament at the next election. I don't want to pre-judge that.

"But the only thing I would say is that people think you save lots of money by not giving these benefits to upper-rate, top-rate taxpayers.

"You save a tiny amount of money and you always introduce another complexity into the system. We made our promises for this Parliament, we kept our promises, I'm proud of that."

Mr Cameron also suggested he would propose in the next manifesto to raise the inheritance tax threshold, saying it should only be paid by the rich.

Passing money down to their families helped contribute towards "a stronger society" and people should not be hit by inheritance tax where they have worked hard and saved.

He said: "Would I like to go further in future? Yes, I would. I believe in people being able to pass money down through the generations and pass things on to their children.

"I think you build a stronger society."

He added: "Inheritance tax should only be paid for by the rich. It shouldn't be paid for by people who have worked hard and saved, and bought a family house in, say, Peacehaven.

"So the ambition is still there and I would like to go further. It's better than it was, but it didn't make it into the coalition agreement. It's something we will have to address in our manifesto."

The Prime Minister attempted to capitalise on the positive reception for the coalition's radical pensions shake-up, which includes moves to scrap rules that force most pensioners to use their direct contribution funds to buy an annuity, even though the rates can be poor.

Although most of the reforms will apply from April next year, a number will be brought in from Thursday to ensure people close to retirement do not miss out.

Individuals with total pension savings of £30,000 or less will be able to take the full amount as a lump sum, nearly double the current £18,000 limit.

The minimum annual income required to access a pension fund flexibly will also be cut from £20,000 to £12,000, while access rules will be eased so people with substantial pots can draw higher incomes.

Mr Cameron said the moves were to enable pensioners to have "greater freedom" over what to spend the money they have saved on.

He said it was "deeply condescending" to say that pensioners would blow their cash, adding: "They are not irresponsible people, they are responsible people, that's why they saved in the first place."

Asked whether the Government expected OAPs to use their retirement pot to buy properties to rent, and whether the Treasury had undertaken work on the possible impact on the housing market,
Mr Cameron's official spokesman told a Westminster media briefing: "The Prime Minister's view is that it is right to give people greater choice.

"These are people who have been saving for many years in defined contribution schemes and we trust them in the decisions they make.

"It's not for me to give advice. It is about ensuring that good advice is available to everyone."

Mr Cameron said he did not support introducing minimum alcohol unit pricing when people's household budgets were still being squeezed.

He said: "We do have a problem in terms of binge-drinking, sometimes spilling over into violence and bad behaviour and anti-social behaviour."

Mr Cameron cited problems arising from supermarkets selling cheap alcohol. He said there was evidence that things were improving.

"But I don't think we should take steps that would disadvantage the responsible drinker and the responsible pub," he added.

"Pubs have had a pretty tough time over the years, a combination of the smoking ban, very cheap drinks in supermarkets... and I'm a great supporter of Britain's pubs.

"I think they provide a lot of social glue to help bring communities together, the focus for your village, the focus for your part of town.

"To try and help pubs by cutting the beer duty I think is the right thing to do."

He said he did look at minimum alcohol unit pricing, saying the idea had "a lot of merit".

But although public health is an important issue, he said: "Don't let us clobber pubs as we try to get this right."

Mr Cameron spoke of plans to impose a cap on care costs in an effort to help with people's "dignity and security" in old age.

He said: "I think there was a great unfairness that, if you were hit with dementia, sometimes at a relatively young age, you could be faced with hundreds of thousands of pounds in nursing homes, eating up every last penny of savings.

"Putting a cap on the maximum amount is a fair and good step to take."

7 ways to improve your retirement

7 ways to improve your retirement