The time may have come for pensioner benefits to be cut

Pensioners may have to shoulder pain alongside families

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If I told you this year's welfare bill is £220 billion and despite cuts that figure is exactly the same as 2010/11, you'd probably shake your head and bemoan handouts to scroungers, calling for further cuts.

But what if I said three-quarters of that bill goes to pensioners, funding the state pension and other benefits, and the bill is the same because of an increase in older people and more working families earning less. Would you feel differently about cutting it?

For politicians, the decision to cut has already been made and it's a tough decision in light of increasing longevity meaning more money for pensioners and lower wages meaning more people need a top up. While those on lower wages have seen their benefits fall, pensioners haven't and it may be time for them to shoulder some of the burden.

The Conservatives have pledged to cut £12 billion a year from the benefits bill f they stay in parliament (although they have outlined just £3 billion worth of cuts so far).

Assuming the next government sticks to this plan, there will have to be some very difficult decisions made. It's a given that the state pension is ring-fenced and all parties have agreed to continue the 'triple lock', where the state pension rises at the highest of inflation, wages, or 2.5%.

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Meeting targets

That's good news for pensioners. However, the universal benefits all pensioners get, like winter fuel allowance and free bus passes, is not. Figures from the Institute of Fiscal Studies ahead of the Budget next month show that in order to meet the target of £12 billion, the next government will have to freeze all benefits, excluding the state pension, for the whole five years of parliament. The total raised by this freeze would be £13.2 billion.

In contrast by focusing just on working age benefits, which many would argue have already been stripped far enough, a five-year freeze would only bring saving of £9.4 billion.

The good news for those of working age is that inflation, and therefore the cost of living is lower, and wages are showing signs of growth but this still doesn't mean that younger generations should have to shoulder an even larger burden.

No one wants to cut pensioner benefits but it may be time to start sharing the burden more evenly and targeting universal benefits may be a necessary evil for politicians to face in the next parliament.

Who will see their wealth rise in 2015?

Who will see their wealth rise in 2015?

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