Sunday, April 28, 2013

What is a wealthy pensioner to do?

I should begin by declaring my high admiration for Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith. He is taking on just about the most controversial, thankless job in UK politics - reform of a welfare system that has become financially unsustainable, and which has 'trapped' millions of people in a life on welfare. The fundamental principles on which reforms are moving forward are that "work should always pay", and that "no-one's benefits should be more than the average workers's pay". But I didn't agree with his idea that wealthy pensioners should give back benefits to the state if they felt they did not need them. I'm not sure that there is a mechanism for doing this anyway, and most people will object bitterly to some of the ways Gov't would spend the money returned. I certainly would.

The real issue here is whether benefits such as winter fuel payments should remain 'universal'. There is a manifesto committment that they must remain so until the next general election, but what's going to be in the political party's manifestos for 2015. For what its worth, I am not in favour of 'means testing' if at all possible. Its a 'cheat's charter', it disincentivises, it creates 'stigma', and its complex to operate fairly. And there are no current proposals to move away from universality. That's dealt with that.

But what about those pensioners who feel they are too well-off to justify receiving benefits. IDS thinks they should pay them back. I prefer the idea of encouraging giving any money not wanted to 'local charities', or those special charities that the relevant individuals support. In Wales this could include Wales Air Ambulance and the hospice movement. And I mean 'local'. I've lost my appetite for some national charities which seem to me to have become professional fund-raisers, taking all the cake and leaving the cupboards of local charities bare.

Anyway, I got to say something along the lines of this post on the Sunday Politics Show today. Thought I was saying nothing noteworthy or controversial. Bit taken aback when I flicked onto BBC Online tonight to find out what great speeches had been made at the Welsh Tory Conference in Swansea to find me near top of the billing. Appearing on Sunday Supplement and on Sunday Politics is such a risky business.

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