Richer pensioners could lose free bus pass and benefits

Is it fair for pensioner benefits to be cut?

Theresa May becomes PM
Wealthier pensioners may be about to lose their universal benefits. The government has announced that it's going to look into 'intergenerational fairness.' It means the free bus pass, TV licence and winter fuel allowance are all at risk, and the triple lock guarantee for state pensions is under pressure too.

The idea behind the investigation is a suspicion that the government has been favouring pensioners over other age groups when it comes to benefits. Benefits for this age group cost around £8 billion a year, which means an awful lot is being handed to wealthy people who really don't need the help.

In the past, the government has been adamant that it wouldn't cut these benefits, and the Conservative general election manifesto pledged no cuts until 2020. However, a great deal has changed since the election - not least the arrival of a new Prime Minister, and Damian Green as the new Work and Pensions Secretary.

Over the weekend, Green dropped a hint on the Andrew Marr BBC TV programme that the policy of ring fencing pensioner benefits and protecting them from cuts could be heading for the scrapheap some time after 2020.

He pointed out that pensioner poverty had reduced drastically from around 40% in the 1980s to around 14% now. It means that providing benefits across-the-board to pensioners makes less sense.

Green didn't outline the changes that could be made, but the universal benefits given to pensioners are seen as the kind of low-hanging fruit that's ready to be cut. The government may also examine whether the triple lock needs to remain in place.

What will the investigation find?

To the casual observer, it's difficult to see how any investigation could fail to spot the fact that retirees have been favoured by the policy of ring fencing pensioner benefits. Benefits for those of working age have been cut to the bone, while pensioners on six figure incomes continue to receive a payment to help them cover their heating bills.

At the same time, pensioners have seen their incomes rise in a way that those of working age can only dream of. In the aftermath of the financial crisis, wages stagnated for six years before starting to grow again - during that period pensions continued on an upwards trajectory, regardless, as the triple lock guaranteed they would.

However, on the other side of the argument, there have always been plenty of MPs who feel that pensioners are using their wealth to help younger members of their family - helping them onto the property ladder, giving them lump sums, and paying for ongoing expenses like school fees, which is redistributing wealth across the generations. We can expect this group to be vocal during any discussion of fairness.

But what do you think? Would you like to see benefits for older people slashed, or is it only right that people who have worked and paid tax all their life should finally get something back in return? Let us know in the comments.

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