Will you lose your bus pass, fuel allowance, free TV licence, and free prescriptions?

Members of the NPC lobbied the Houses of Parliament in October last year
Members of the NPC lobbied the Houses of Parliament in October last year

Universal rights for pensioners could be taken away or reduced.

Universal rights for pensioners gained in the past by groups representing older people - including the National Pensioners Convention (NPC) - could be taken away or reduced by the next government. Be it Conservative, Labour, or a coalition.

Yet these rights help to boost a poor average pension in our city.

For the Conservatives, Ian Duncan Smith has already stated that pensioner’s benefits and pension should be included in the benefit cap. Many Tory MPs have called for the abolition of the rights to a bus pass, the winter fuel allowance, a free TV licence and free prescriptions.

Already the coalition government has reduced winter fuel allowance and is likely to continue to freeze a benefit that is aimed at stopping the cold. They have also abolished the concessionary coach travel subsidiary for older people. Nick Clegg, deputy leader of the coalition, has called for the means-testing of these benefits.

Ed Balls, the Labour shadow chancellor, has said the winter fuel allowance should be means-tested.

Many, however, are worried that this is just the beginning of means-testing of all pensioners rights.

Peter Hain, the former Labour cabinet minister, said there were "three main problems" with the proposals from Mr Balls: "First, the money raised is estimated at £100 million, which is peanuts in terms of the wider welfare budget let alone total government spending"; "Second, it begs the question: if winter fuel allowances are to be means-tested, then how far does the means-testing go? Does it stop at fuel or will TV licences, bus passes, and senior rail cards come next?; "Third, if middle Britain ceased to benefit from the welfare state through some of the few universal benefits that are left, how can we convince them to fund the larger part of that budget through their taxes?"

The Green Party has no policy on universal pensioner benefits, but calls for a big increase in the pension - to £200 a week - in the form of a Citizens Income, which would be much more than the additional pensioner benefits.

We in the NPC would like to know if Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, would nevertheless fight for the existing rights in parliament if they are threatened. We would also like to know if a Green council would maintain the bus pass for older people and disabled if the next government reduces or abolishes it.

The bus pass is important to the city because it not only maintains the activity and health of elders and disabled people, but it also keeps some bus routes running which could otherwise be unprofitable and close.

Paul Philo is a member of the National Pensioners Convention in Brighton and Hove.

If you want to know more about how your candidates for government stand on these and other issues of interest to older people, come to the NPC Hustings at 6.30pm on Thursday, October 30, at the Brighthelm Centre, North Road, Brighton.

Speakers will include Nancy Platts, Labour's parliamentary candidate for Brighton Kemptown; Clarence Mitchell, the Conservative Party candidate for Brighton Pavilion; and and Davy Jones, the Green Party candidate for Brighton Kemptown. Andy Winter, chief executive of BHT (Brighton Housing Trust) will be the chair; Dot Gibson, the NPC's national secretary, will introduce the speakers.