George Osborne has made a lot of noise about how pensioners with spare cash are going to get a fabulous deal under the Coalition – high interest pensioner bonds and the chance to spend, spend their pension pot.
All this is seen by political commentators as a brilliant move by the Chancellor to get the grey vote out for the Tories next year – with many of the measures timed for the election.
He also made it clear that pensions were going to be exempt from the new welfare cap – which will hit everyone else from lone parents, the disabled.and the working poor on housing benefit.
Sounds too good to be true for the elderly. And guess what, it is.
Hidden in the specialist publication The House Magazine today is an interview with Works and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith by journalist Paul Waugh. And he asks: What’s your latest thinking about benefits such as winter fuel allowance and other universal, non-pension benefits for the elderly?
The answer is : “The Chancellor has made it clear that they go into the [welfare] cap. So straight away they will be looked at in the same way as other benefits. Whether we have a specific view on those is a matter for the manifesto. It’s already very clear that they will be part of the overall balance of expenditure within the department for the benefit cap.”
So this broad brush promise on Budget Day is not true. Bus passes, TV licences, fuel payments, all available universally will join the rest of the benefits facing the chop.
What he doesn’t say – but everybody in Westminster knows – is that the scale of cuts planned after the 2015 will make the last five years look like tiny by comparison. So it is my bet that we will see the end of free bus passes and most fuel payments – because the size of cuts required will dictate it. And if you take the fact that Labour under Ed Balls is already committed to means testing fuel payments and the Liberal Democrats under Nick Clegg want to do the same to free bus passes. there is no escape.
And the poorer elderly will find their social care all but disappear – as a fresh wave of local government cuts come into force.
Great policy from the coalition. Splash out your pension fund on a Lamborghini – but if you can’t afford to pay the full bus fares take up your zimmer frame and walk!