Should the government consider removing state benefits from wealthier pensioners?

Alex Burghart

The pinch on public spending is, very likely, going to have to get tighter. When it does, the government will need to ask itself some searching questions. Questions like, does Lord Sugar really need £200 for his heating bills this winter? Could Sir Bruce Forsyth afford his own TV licence? Would Lord Prescott survive without free bus travel? The primary purpose of the welfare system should be to offer a helping hand to those who really need it. There should always be support for pensioners who can’t afford to heat their homes, or who would struggle to pay prescriptions. These were the people for whom the system was invented. It was difficult to justify handouts to the rich in the days of plenty. Now it’s impossible. Protecting the vulnerable by scrapping benefits for the better off is a price worth paying.

Alex Burghart is director of policy at the Centre for Social Justice.

Ros Altmann

The government should not listen to calls for the means-testing of pensioner benefits. It would be equivalent to only cutting the state pension of those who have saved for their retirement and it would leave many poorer pensioners without the help they require. The reason we have all these pensioner benefits is because the state pension is so low for so many people. Around half have incomes below £10,000 a year and millions are already eligible for means-testing, although many won't claim. Means-testing pensioner benefits would involve assessing nearly 6m pensioners. It is complex, inefficient, costly to administer and penalises those who have saved. Universal benefits ensure all those who need them do receive what they should. It would make more sense to tax pensioner benefits, or perhaps increase the age at which eligibility starts.

Ros Altmann is director general of Saga.