This article was first posted on the Liberal Democrat Voice website
In its first annual report, the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission has proposed cuts in welfare for well-off pensioners, including currently universal benefits such as the winter fuel allowance, free bus pass and free TV license, proposing the money should be used to help children in poor families.
Proposing a fundamental shift in welfare support from pensioners to the young the report says:
We do not believe that favouring pensioners over their children and grandchildren will be a sustainable position over the long term if a meaningful dent is to be made in the UK’s high levels of child poverty and low levels of social mobility.
It also makes some more debatable assertions, about the appropriate balance of fiscal consolidation between different age groups, for example – punishing pensioners isn’t going to help a single child achieve more in life.
This seems at odds with what the Deputy Prime Minister has said in the past, publicly advocating the need to look again at universal pensioner benefits and that welfare “should not be paid to those who do not need it”.
The stats back up the commission’s proposals. According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies recent report pensioners wealth has risen faster than all other groups in the past 30 years. They are the only group to have become better off since 2007/08, while young people’s income has fallen by 12% during the same period.
As a party the Liberal Democrats need to make a clear policy decision on where they stand on universal benefits for the elderly. It’s not a vote winner with pensioners, but in a time of austerity when one in six children are living in relative poverty we should be directing government support to the groups that need the most help and removing unnecessary universal benefits from those pensioners who are fortunate to be wealthy enough not to need them.