Fight for pensioners' benefits

Thurrock Gazette: Chancellor George Osborne has indicated pensioners' benefits could be reviewed in the years after the election because 'we have got to look at how we can afford them' Chancellor George Osborne has indicated pensioners' benefits could be reviewed in the years after the election because 'we have got to look at how we can afford them'

Campaigners for the elderly have launched a new effort to warn politicians against scrapping pensioners' benefits including bus passes and winter fuel payments.

With the squeeze on public finances set to continue after the next general election, the campaign will warn against any attempt to remove the measures or restrict them to the poorest pensioners .

National Pensioners' Convention (NPC) general secretary Dot Gibson said the universal benefits helped keep people "active, independent, warm in their homes, healthy and involved in their communities".

Politicians from all three main Westminster parties have indicated that the future of universal pensioner benefits, which are paid out regardless of the recipient's need, will come under the spotlight in future.

The handouts available to the elderly, including winter fuel payments, bus passes, free prescriptions and TV licences, have been protected during the course of this Parliament.

But Chancellor George Osborne has indicated they could be reviewed in the years after the election because ''we have got to look at how we can afford them''.

Labour has said it would strip winter fuel payments from the richest 5% of pensioners and the Liberal Democrats have also said they would means-test the benefits.

The "Hands Off" campaign backed by the NPC, the Age Sector Platform in Northern Ireland, the Welsh Senate of Older People and the Scottish Seniors Alliance aims to resist attempts to change the system.

Ms Gibson said: "The real reason why pensioners need additional benefits such as the winter fuel allowance and the free bus pass is because our state pension is so poor.

"Yet despite this, every year older people add an extra £40 billion to the economy in taxes, volunteering and unpaid caring. Universal benefits help to keep people active, independent, warm in their homes, healthy and involved in their communities.

"Removing universal benefits isn't about saving money or about stopping millionaires from getting a free ride on their local bus - it's about undermining the welfare state and the principle that services should be available to everyone in retirement. Universal benefits need to be defended not only for today's pensioners, but for the pensioners of tomorrow as well."

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