UK
05/10/2015 16:21 BST | Updated 05/10/2015 16:59 BST

TaxPayers' Alliance Boss Apologises For 'Offensive' Comments On Cutting Benefits To Dying Elderly

A generic stock photo of an elderly lady holding a cup of tea at home in Liverpool with her electric fire on.

A think-tank director has apologised for "crass and offensive" remarks during a discussion over cutting pensioners' benefits at the Conservative Party conference.

Alex Wild, head of the TaxPayers' Alliance (TPA) research team, used an address at a Tory conference fringe event to urge for quicker cuts to elderly people's Winter Fuel Allowance because they "might not be around" at the next election.

Despite a recent study by Age UK finding that the universal benefit prevents up to 12,000 deaths a year, Wild added that some of those still alive in 2020 would forget which party had slashed their payments anyway.

The TPA boss, who's group campaigns for lower taxes and highlights examples of Government waste, originally called for the cuts to be made "as soon as possible after an election for two reasons".

conservative party conference

Chancellor George Osborne speaking at this week's party conference

"The first of which will sound a little bit morbid - some of the people... won't be around to vote against you in the next election. So that's just a practical point, and the other point is they might have forgotten by then."

He added: "If you did it now, chances are that in 2020 someone who has had their winter fuel cut might be thinking, 'Oh I can't remember, was it this government or was it the last one? I'm not quite sure.'

"So on a purely practical basis I would say do it immediately. That might be one of those things I regret saying in later life but that would be my practical advice to the government."

Some social media users quickly piled in, criticising Wild for his "deplorable" comments.

But the TPA boss rowed back from the remarks on Monday, saying in a blog post that he wanted to seek amends and apologised for letting himself down.

"Yesterday I made some comments at a fringe event for which I want to apologise. They were crass, offensive and made 'off the cuff'," he admitted. "I made a mistake and I want to say sorry for that."

elderly bill

Winter Fuel payments help offset pensioners' energy bills

"Not only did I let myself down, but the result has been that most are overlooking the point I was trying to make: that by means testing pensioner benefits we can end the perverse situation whereby wealthy pensioners receive Winter Fuel Payments and potentially target money instead at those who genuinely need it – be they poorer pensioners or young people who are losing out."

Wild concluded: "I’m frustrated that my careless remarks have detracted from an important policy question. I apologise again and hope that all sides can discuss these issues constructively in future."