Do older people get too many freebies?
PUBLISHED: 20:00 29 April 2019 | UPDATED: 10:42 30 April 2019
A House of Lords Committee has suggested pensioners should lose some of their benefits to help young people − a rubbish idea says this 64-year-old reporter
Last week, a House of Lords committee came up with a jolly wheeze. Why not take benefits away from older people to help younger people?
Free TV licences for pensioners should be abolished and other subsidies, including free bus passes, winter fuel payments and the pensions triple lock should also be cut, the Committee on Intergenerational Fairness said.
Committee chairman Lord True said benefits must be rebalanced towards the young to prepare the country for 100-year lifespans.
“We are calling for some of the outdated benefits based purely on age to be removed,” he said. “Policies such as the state pension triple lock and free TV licences for over-75s were justified when pensioner households were at the bottom of the income scale but that is no longer the case.”
The report highlights how many pensioner households are now on average better off than many working age households, both in terms of income after housing costs as well as household wealth.
However, Dr Anna Dixon, chief executive of the Centre for Ageing Better, said people of all ages were struggling and bigger, structural change rather than tinkering was needed.
“Many young people are struggling on low wages at the same time as pensioner poverty is increasing for the first time in a decade,” she said. “This is not about old versus young, it's about creating a society where everyone regardless of income or background can enjoy every stage of life.
“Headline-grabbing proposals like abolishing free TV licences based on age risk distracting from the big structural changes needed across housing, work and communities.”
It seems to be a part of a general myth that all older people are really well off, fit and healthy, driving big, powerful cars, enjoying exotic holidays, clogging up the expensive seats at the opera and having Ocado deliver. Oh, yes and they nearly all voted to leave the EU.
One of the complaints levelled at this generation is that the annual fuel allowance and free TV licences are not means tested − so you get them whether you can afford to pay or not.
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So why not means test?
Well, that costs money too and it is has been calculated that, in fact, where means testing is involved many people do not even apply for benefits to which they are entitled.
And while we're looking at just how well-off older people are, here's a snap shot of how an average woman, aged 64, has had an easy time of it - mostly based on me.
First - she is still working (if she's lucky) because her retirement age is now 66. I may have mentioned before - indeed I have mentioned before - that the haste of the pensionable age changes has thrown a good many women into poverty. These are women who had been expecting to retire at 60 for most of their working lives.
Those who continue to work are still contributing to the wealth of the country through national insurance and tax.
In the Seventies, the prices of standard goods were comparatively high. People did not, as a matter of course, start married life with a washing machine and all mod cons. Launderettes did good business and so did TV rentals.
Then there were the dire eighties when, at one stage, mortgage repayment rates rocketed to an eye-watering 15%; and then came he awful mid nineties when people saw house prices plummet, leaving many in negative equity.
This generation is also directly helping younger people, not only with money (house deposits etc) but also with child care and, in some cases, inheritances.
The general thrust of the argument seems to be that older people are being selfish and living too long. And moreover, they are living longer lives at the expense of younger people. Er... hang on, no one asked to live forever (well, except in the Rider Haggard novel She, of course).
The answer might be to make the benefits taxable. We already know what older age benefits people are receiving so why not add them to pension income? Those who do not reach the tax thresholds will pay nothing. Those that exceed them will pay the relevant level of tax − 20, 40 or in a few cases (those bringing in over £150,000 per annum) 45 per cent. It's not unreasonable, is it? Although it is worth pointing out that many people in receipt of the Winter Fuel Allowance, chose to donate the sum to their county community foundations (Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk each run Surviving Winter campaigns) which redistribute the money to those in fuel poverty. Not so selfish, then.
• The modal average age of the House of Lords is 74. The oldest member of the House is 102. Members who are not paid a salary may claim a flat rate attendance allowance of £153 or £305 for each sitting day they attend the House. Expenses and allowances for unsalaried members of the Lords are not subject to tax or national insurance contributions. There is currently no retirement age for peers.
In June 2018, Members of Parliament supported calls for the abolition of the House of Lords after a petition which attracted more than 169,000 signatures sparked a debate.