POLITICS

Iain Duncan Smith Tells Wealthy Pensioners To Hand Back Their Bus Passes

28/04/2013 08:57 BST | Updated 28/04/2013 09:21 BST

Wealthy pensioners who do not need benefit payments should voluntarily hand back the money to the Government, the Work and Pensions Secretary has said.

Iain Duncan Smith encouraged better-off elderly people to pay back taxpayer-funded financial support that they do not need, such as the winter fuel allowance and free bus passes and television licences.

He urged those who can afford it to pay back the benefit, saying it was an "anomaly" that all pensioners receive universal benefits, no matter how wealthy they are.

The coalition is divided on whether the perks should be paid to the wealthiest people in society. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has said the payments are hard to justify.

But David Cameron is committed to maintaining them during this Parliament after promises made during the last election's televised debates.

In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph Duncan Smith said there is "no indication of change" to the current system, despite he and other ministers calling for an amendment to the payment system.

He told the newspaper: "It is up to them if they don't want it to hand it back. I would encourage everybody who reads the Telegraph and doesn't need it to hand it back."

Speaking on the BBC's Marr Show on Sunday morning, Lib Dem Deputy Leader Simon Hughes said pensioners had done "very well" from the spending cuts so far.

There is a debate about whether "millionaire" OAPs should receive the payments, he said.

"It won't happen in this Parliament but all parties have to address it," he added.

Duncan Smith's appeal to wealthy pensioners comes the day before the beginning of a pilot project for universal credit, a reform of the benefits system that would bring together several different benefits for those of working age into a single payment.

The shift is designed to ensure that no one is better off unemployed and on benefits rather than in work.

The revised benefit would included a commitment from people saying they are available for work, to look for a job and attend interviews, as well as taking the first job available, the Sunday Telegraph said.

If they do not do this they can lose their benefits for a certain amount of time.

Duncan Smith said: "People will know from day one, for the first time ever, what's expected of them. They'll have a sheet of paper which is their contract... We want to say to people, 'You're claiming unemployment benefit but you're actually in work paid for by the state: you're in work to find work. That's your job from now on: to find work'."

He also hit out at the BBC's coverage of the Coalition's welfare reforms, criticising the corporation for referring to what ministers call the "spare room subsidy" by Labour's phrase, the "bedroom tax", and describing changes as "cuts" rather than "savings".

“We’ve had a lot of moments with the BBC,” he said.

"They have always tended to look at the welfare reforms from the jar that is marked - and it's a very Leftist jar - 'less money bad, more money good'. So if you are reducing welfare you must be doing something rather nasty," he told the Sunday Telegraph.

But he said this was "more lazy" , rather than "politically motivated" reporting.