The coalition government tries to portray itself as the friend of pensioners.
The coalition government tries to portray itself as the friend of pensioners. The Guardian‘s 2014 budget headline was "Vote Blue, Go Grey", when tax-free savings incentives for affluent pensioners were proposed.
At the 2010 general election, the prime minister pledged to protect pensioner benefits.
The reality, however, is somewhat different for all but the richest pensioners. Based on national averages, one in four pensioners in Brighton and Hove is living in poverty. We have high concentrations of pensioners in certain parts of the city whose votes may be crucial in their wards and constituencies. Hidden changes are increasing poverty for our pensioners. In a recent report by Landman Economics to the TUC, it was shown that £6.38 billion is in the process of being cut from pensioner’s incomes across the UK.
In terms of GDP per capita, we already have the lowest state pension in Europe. Yet existing and future cuts threaten to make it worse. Unless we can stop it.
A large proportion of the hidden cuts are because the government in June 2010 changed the way pensions are increased. The system is that pensioners annually receive the highest percentage of either the increase in the wages index or a cost-of-living index. The government has changed the cost-of-living index from the higher Retail Price Index (RPI) to the lower Consumer Price Index (CPI). According to pensions experts, this will cost the individual pensioner thousands of pounds over the years.
The biggest ongoing stealth cut, however, is the reduction in the value of Pension Credit, which by 2016/17 will cost pensioner families £3.85 billion by 2016/17. Pension Credit is the means-tested top-up to the basic pension. The inadequacy of the state pension is shown by the fact that the half of all pensioners - five million people - have to have that credit in order to lift them out of poverty; sadly, a third of them do not claim.
Other recent cuts to pensioners are the £138 million annual reduction in attendance allowance and a £340 million cut in disability benefits.
This may be bad. But the worst is yet to come.
Under the current system, families where one person is above state pension age and their partner is out of work can claim Pension Credit. Under the new system of Universal Credit starting next year, such a family will not be able to claim Pension Credit but will have to rely upon less generous working-age benefits and will be subject to the government’s benefits sanctions regime. We can expect more families being driven into poverty.
At the General Election Hustings Meeting at The Brighthelm Centre at 6.30pm on Thursday, October 30, questions the audience could consider asking parliamentary candidates (Green, Conservative, Labour) could include:
Will your party take measures to ensure the state pension does not lose value, but instead increases to a more normal liveable European level, which is above the poverty line and therefore does not need welfare top-ups?
Will your party if elected continue to implement Universal Credit?
Pensioners will not be fooled by stealth cuts. Neither will they stand for cuts in their bus passes, winter fuel allowance, free TV licence, or prescriptions. Parties that ignore pensioners’ anger at these cuts do so at their peril, because they are more inclined to vote than any other age-group.
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.