70% of Lib Dem members back Clegg’s call to means-test some benefits of wealthy pensioners

by Stephen Tall on January 6, 2012

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Some 560 party members responded, and we’ve been publishing the full results.

70% back end to free bus pass and TV licences for wealthier pensioners

LDV asked: Nick Clegg has suggested introducing means-testing so that better-off pensioners would no longer be entitled to receive benefits such as free bus passes and television licences. Supporters argue that at a time of financial austerity such benefits for the wealthiest paid by general taxation are unfair. Opponents argue that the principle of universal benefits is important and that means-testing is administratively complex. Which of the following statements comes closest to your own view:

  • 70% — I support means-testing for some benefits
  • 26% — I oppose means-testing of benefits
  • 4% — Don’t know / No opinion

There is substantial support among our sample of party members, it appears, for Nick Clegg’s proposal — aired in December — for wealthier pensioners to lose their entitlement to some universal benefits such as free bus travel and TV licences. Here are a handful of the comments we received from members backing Nick:

There are plenty of pensioners that do not need free bus passes, or winter fuel allowances, but claim them anyway. Means-testing and redistributing the saved money to those who truly need it makes perfect sense.

The older generation holds most of the country’s wealth, while the youngest generation is struggling with student debt and high housing costs. It is plainly wrong that poorer young people should subsidise wealthy older people. We should focus support for pensioners on the one-third of who aren’t wealthy.

Some benefits should be universal as a principle, others should be means-tested but only if that does not cost more than if they remained/were made universal.

It’s absurd that affluent pensioners should get free bus passes and TV licences when they can well afford to pay for them.

A number argued that such benefits should remain universal but be taxed so the most affluent would receive a reduced benefit with little additional administrative complexity.

However, a significant minority, just over one-quarter of respondents, opposed any dilution of universal benefits:

Oppose but for practical reasons rather then on principle. Too complex, bureaucratic and controversial to be worth attempting. Equalise in other ways.

I oppose a) because it would be hugely expensive to means test b) because it would be better to increase people’s pension income to the point where such benefits are unnecessary c) some of the benefits were political bribes in the first place so means testing them is political suicide

Means-testing is always riddled with anomalies. The anomalies usually can’t be accomodated, as they result from the application of means-testing which is to broad a brush to apply to specific issues. What is needed is a properly integrated tax and benefits system. That won’t necessarily be anomaly-free but it will ensure that benefits can be appropriately targeted without paying them to those who don’t need them.

Wealthy pensioners will,almost certainly, have paid more ‘into’ their state pension pot through NI during their working lives. It seems fundamentally unfair to then limit their benefits during retirement. Of course, if the Government were to reform the whole National Insurance system and remove the myth that it’s somehow an investment in the future then it might be another matter.

  • Over 1,200 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. Some 560 responded to the latest survey, which was conducted between 9th and 13th December.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However, LibDemVoice.org’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past accurately predicted the winners of the contest for Party President, and the result of the conference decision to approve the Coalition agreement.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at www.libdemvoice.org/category/ldv-members-poll