What Lib Dem members think about means-testing pensioner benefits & a freeze on benefits payments

by Stephen Tall on October 4, 2012

Lib Dem Voice polled our members-only forum before conference to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. More than 550 party members have responded, and we’re publishing the full results.

Two-thirds back means-testing of some wealthy pensioner benefits

LDV asked: Nick Clegg has suggested introducing means-testing so that better-off pensioners would no longer be entitled to receive benefits such as winter fuel payments, 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:

    64% – I support means-testing of some benefits for better-off pensioners
    31% – I oppose means-testing of benefits
    5% – Don’t know / No opinion

So a large 2:1 majority backs Nick Clegg’s call for means-testing of some wealthy pensioners’ benefits, although by a slightly narrower margin than when last we asked this question in January — whether because members are less convinced by it, worried about the political consequences, or perhaps because of the association with Nick Clegg. Here’s some of your comments:

It is absurd that retired millionaires receive winter fuel payments and free TV licences

The whole idea was that our policy was for a decent pension which would obviate the need for freebies, and with the taxation thresholds set appropriately that deals with the ‘means testing’ anyway.

Depends on the benefit – but for pensioners I think they deserve the care we give them. In 15-20 years with an aging population I may change my opinion.

It would mean a return to a ‘poverty trap’ type of situation where those who were just too ‘rich’ for these benefits were disproportionately affected. Perhaps the benefits could be taxed – this is a much fairer solution as only better off people would have to pay any tax on them.

My parents live in Spain, but still get the Winter Fuel allowance. They use it to pay their air-conditioning bill!

70% oppose 2-year freeze on some benefits

LDV asked: Press reports suggest the Government is looking at freezing some unemployed, sickness and housing benefits payments for the next two years. Currently, such payments are uprated at the rate of inflation. This year that meant a 5.2% increase based on the inflation rate in September 2011. Inflation is currently running below 3%. Supporters of the move say it will save public money and increase the incentive for benefits claimants to seek work. Opponents say it would be wrong to cut the real incomes of claimants and would be very complex to do. Would you support or oppose a move to freeze some benefits?

    22% – Support
    70% – Oppose
    8% – Don’t know / No opinion

And some of your comments:

Totally oppose. We are supposed to be helping people out of poverty. It is already much more difficult to claim benefits. Id rather see an increase in the minimum wage if we are to fsll for the “incentive to work” argument. This proposal is morally wrong and we would be accused of punishing those on low incomes once again. Many of those who would be affected are working part=time.

Benefit levels, ought to be related to income levels rather than inflation.

Benefits should be based on need, which in principle means keeping pace with inflation although we should also keep under review whether the benefits are adequate more directly given the debate over how we measure inflation! We can tackle incentives by reducing the steepness of means-testing and considering the overall effect of tax and means-testing.

Given the pay freezes across the public sector, it’s hard to justify continuing to uprate benefits in line with inflation, though I would not include sickness benefits or pensions in that

I’m not against trying to find ways to reduce the welfare bill, but an across-the-board real-terms cut (which is what a freeze amounts to) is not the way to do it because many of the people affected could ill afford it.

  • Over 1,200 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. More than 550 responded to the latest survey, which was conducted between 19th and 22nd September. NB: most responses received before Nick Clegg’s apology broadcast.
  • 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 offered accurate guides to what party members think.
  • For further information on the reliability/credibility of our surveys, please refer to FAQs: Are the Liberal Democrat Voice surveys of party members accurate? and polling expert Anthony Wells’ verdict, On that poll of Lib Dem members.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at www.libdemvoice.org/category/ldv-members-poll
  • * Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.