Sunday, October 10, 2010

Coalition hints at bringing end to universal benefit.

The Tories loathe the idea of universal benefits, which is why Osborne risked outraging his party by abolishing the right to child benefit for the better off citizen in the UK.

Now, the Tories plan to attack the principle of universal benefits again, this time by challenging the right of all old age pensioners to claim a winter fuel allowance.

But as the axe hovers over funding ahead of the spending review on 20 October, The Independent on Sunday has learnt that the winter fuel allowances paid to all over-60s could be restricted to the least well-off or taxed to limit the sum received by wealthy pensioners. It follows the row at the Tory party conference last week over plans to axe child benefit for high earners from 2013.

The move would strike at the heart of the principle of universal benefits for the elderly and fly in the face of assurances given by Mr Cameron that the payments would be "safe" under a Tory government. Some senior Tories oppose such a dramatic U-turn because of the damage it would cause to the Prime Minister's credibility.

I actually agreed with the plan to limit child benefits to those who actually need them, but I do worry about means testing anything which affects old age pensioners. Many old age pensioners are incredibly proud, and would do without a benefit before suffering what they see as the indignity of being means tested. That's why, in principle, most of us support this as a universal benefit.

We all remember the awful stories of old age pensioners dying of hypothermia because they were too scared of their fuel bills to turn on the heating in the winter. This universal benefit was introduced to make those horror stories a thing of the past.

By means testing such a benefit, Cameron risks bringing those horror stories back as some old age pensioners will simply be too proud to apply for help.

With the Government apparently signalling an end to universal benefits, the Age UK poll also showed 73 per cent of the public opposes means testing. Only half of Tories surveyed at the party conference agreed that "everyone who has worked hard and paid taxes all their life deserves the same support from the Government in old age".

Michelle Mitchell, Age UK's charity director, said: "With the lives of thousands of older people at risk if essential care services are cut, the Chancellor will not quickly be forgiven if he fails to support the oldest and frailest, who rely on public services the most."

73% of us oppose means testing pensioners, for very good reason.

They are amongst the most fragile people in the country, and that is why most of us would rather give a well off pensioner money they don't need, than run the risk of watching someones granny die because she is too proud to ask for help.

Cameron is now going to reverse that. It's yet another thing that he failed to tell us when he asked people to vote for him. At this point I am left wondering why he bothered to release a manifesto at all.

Click here for full article.

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