Labour MP hints at cuts to handouts for rich pensioners: Dame Anne Begg says it would make sense to reform the welfare systemPiling pressure on both David Cameron and Ed Miliband
Labour politicians tend to defend the principle of universal welfare paymentsPM ruled out any move to means-test these benefits before general election
02:28 GMT, 30 March 2013
02:28 GMT, 30 March 2013
A leading Labour MP has raised the prospect of cuts to pensioner benefits.
Piling pressure on both David Cameron and Ed Miliband to accept reductions in handouts for wealthy pensioners, Dame Anne Begg said it would make sense to reform the welfare system so that more generous benefits are paid to fewer people.
Her intervention is significant because Labour politicians tend to defend the principle of universal welfare payments such as winter fuel allowance and other perks such as free bus passes and television licences for the elderly.
Reduction: Suggestions are piling pressure on both David Cameron and Ed Miliband to accept reductions in handouts for wealthy pensioners
Changes: Dame Anne Begg Said it would make sense to reform the welfare system
The Prime Minister has ruled out any move to means-test these benefits before the general election in 2015.
But a growing chorus of Tory voices, privately supported by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, and the Liberal Democrats have said it is unfair to cut working-age benefits while rich pensioners continue to get state handouts.
Asked if the benefits system should evolve so that more generous payments are paid to fewer people, Dame Anne told the Today programme on Radio 4: ‘Yes. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. The biggest growth in welfare spend is on people who are over pension age.
‘Because of the demographics, there are more of them and they’re living longer, and that’s where a lot of the costs have come in.’
Asked whether cutting pensioner benefits should be on the table to save money and reform the system, Dame Anne, a disability rights campaigner, said: ‘The problem is in the debate.
‘We forget that the pensioners are part of the welfare system. Pensioners don’t like to think that their state pension is a benefit. But they are part of the overall cost of the welfare system.’
One third of state spending goes on welfare payments, and around half of that budget goes on pensioners.
Dame Anne said: ‘The statistic about one in every three pounds that the Government spends going on welfare includes all of the money spent on people over pensionable age.’
Asked whether she would like to see a Labour government limit the scope of pensioner benefits, she said she did not have ‘the seniority’ to ‘be able to make policy’ for the party.
But for someone who has campaigned against benefit cuts for some people of working age to even voice the idea that some pensioners should get less suggests a growing consensus that wealthy elderly people are likely to be targeted after the election.