June 12, 2012 - Bill Esterson's Westminster Diary

Bill Esterson

 

Before the election, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats both promised to keep free bus passes for pensioners. They also promised to keep the winter fuel payment, which Labour introduced and to protect free eye tests.


Reports this week suggest that all three of these are under threat and that 9million pensioners are set to lose their free travel and winter fuel payments.

Merseytravel brought in free travel for pensioners before other areas of the country and has so far managed to protect free travel for the over 60s even as the government has cut its budget by two thirds and as the qualifying age has been raised elsewhere. There is a limit to how far Merseytravel can protect pensioners in Merseyside facing the cuts imposed by the coalition government, which are deeper here than in most places.

The winter fuel payment has already been cut by the coalition government by £100 for the over 80s and by £50 for younger pensioners. The government is also set to raise the qualifying age for these payments as with the travel passes.

Before the election, the Prime Minister, David Cameron said: “We will keep the free television licence, we will keep the pension credit, we’ll keep the winter fuel allowance, we’ll keep the free bus pass.”

Other reports have suggested the removal of the free TV licence. It appears that the Prime Minister has failed to keep his promise to pensioners.

The retirement age is due to be raised, even though there are many people doing jobs which are physically demanding.  We are all living longer and we need to find a way of paying for our retirement.

But the removal of free travel and winter fuel payments for older people and the raising of the retirement age are examples of money being cut from people, the vast majority of whom are far from wealthy. The government claims that such cuts are part of its plans to reduce the size of the debt but as with cuts to disabled people and families, that debt reduction is being carried out on the backs of some of the most vulnerable in our society and some of those who can least afford to pay.

If the removal of travel passes and winter fuel payments is about cutting the debt, then the government should think again. Instead it should reverse the cut in the 50p tax rate and use a bankers bonus tax.

The coalition has cut taxes for millionaires and refused to tax those who caused the financial crisis through their irresponsible lending. It should target those with the broadest shoulders, not pensioners who have paid in all their lives and who should expect support in their retirement rather then being penalised to pay for the mistakes of some of the wealthiest.