Intergenerational fairness shouldn’t mean that we cut pensioner benefits

The House of Lords report, Tackling Intergenerational Fairness, is a strange document. Most of it – six chapters out of seven – is a sober, well-documented account of demographic shifts in the pattern of disadvantage.  When it comes to policy, however, there is a serious disconnect.  There’s precious little about policies to remedy disadvantage within the older population – Pension Credit hardly gets a look-in, Housing Benefit (due to be shifted into PC) disappears, social care is punted into the long grass while waiting for a different report.

What there is an attack on policies that benefit old people: the report tilts at National Insurance, benefits for pensioners and universal provision, suggesting cuts for all of them.  Winter Fuel Payment is attacked, foolishly, because it doesn’t do much about fuel (a category mistake: as I’ve previously argued in this blog, we mustn’t get confused between the title of a benefit and the purpose it serves).  The welfare state, Alan Walker once commented, is largely a welfare state for older people, and the apparent premise behind the recommendations of this report is that the answer to that imbalance is to have a go at the welfare state.  It might be more constructive to think about how the benefits of secure, solidaristic benefits might be extended to younger people and people of working age.

One thought on “Intergenerational fairness shouldn’t mean that we cut pensioner benefits”

  1. Hi Paul. Have published comments on this topic on SUWN FB page and also now linked to your comments. How many people remember Johann Lamont’s ill-fated attempt, when as Scottish Labour Leader (prior to resigning on “Branch Office” grounds!) to criticise “free” personal care, bus passes, tuition fees (for the young of course) etc? Went down like a lead balloon. To be fair, having met her on a few occasions, I think she was genuinely trying to debate why Scotland was spending money on such things when other needs were unmet. However as with many recent Labour debates, it was too narrowly focused when, as per your blog, we need to look at the much wider picture of how money is raised (tax) and how it is spent and who benefits from it etc. One thing is clear. Once you implement something like free bus passes for pensioners, then even if it becomes “rational” to change that, it becomes very difficult to do so in political terms as it is a vote loser. Also, free bus passes only benefit those who are fit enough to use the bus and have decent bus services; free personal care is only a bonus if you meet very tight eligibility criteria; free tuition fees is only useful if you get a uni place and can afford to pay living costs etc.

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