Iain Duncan Smith’s call for pensioners to face cuts to their benefits has been branded “dangerous and divisive” by a leading pensions campaigner.
The former Work and Pensions Secretary attacked the protection afforded to pensioners as part of the Tories austerity drive as he sensationally quit his post last week.
He told BBC’s Andrew Marr Show the Government was set to “lose the balance of the generations” by excluding pensioner benefits from its austerity programme.
He questioned why the working age must always “bear the brunt” of spending cuts, unlike pensioners who have seen their state-funded income protected by a so-called “triple lock”.
Pensioners are also entitled to free prescriptions, free bus passes, and a winter fuel allowance regardless of their income level, while over-75s get a free TV licence.
But the National Pensioners Convention, which represents more than 1.5million members, has warned that Duncan Smith’s comment's risk sparking a generational row.
Speaking to the Huff Post UK, the convention’s national officer Neil Duncan-Jones said: “You try and pitch one generation against the other - it’s extremely divisive and not really true.
He added: “He gave the impression that pensioners are isolated from austerity but the figures show that’s just not the case.
“I think that’s dangerous and divisive and it’s not even true.
“We know there are rich pensioners. It’s not about pitting young against old."
Mr Duncan-Jones said that while there are wealthy pensioners, there are also those who survive on the basic state pension of £115 a week.
Additionally, Government cuts to cash for local councils mean there is a growing pressure on social care funding.
Pensioners make up more than two-thirds of social care users, according to the National Audit Office, and the “need for care is rising” as funding is falling.
Mr Duncan-Jones said: “If that’s not suffering from austerity, I don’t know what is.”
He also argued that while it may appear that the benefits available to pensioners could be scaled back through means testing, such a move would not generate the more than £4billion needed to make up for the hole in the Budget.
At last year’s General Election, Labour pledged to scrap the winter fuel allowance for wealthier pensioners - defined as those with retirement incomes of more than £42,000.
But that measure was predicted to save just £100million out of the winter fuel allowance’s annual budget of £2billion.
The Lib Dems vowed not only to restrict the winter fuel allowance but also the free TV licences from those pensioners in the higher tax rate.
Mr Duncan-Jones fears that if the Government did want to take money from pensioners in a bid to reclaim its “One Nation” tag, the focus would be on the so-called triple-lock on pension increases.
The lock sees pensions rise by the highest of price inflation, earnings growth or 2.5%.
Last October, the head of the economic think tank the Institute for Fiscal Studies called for the lock to be scrapped, saying it added “a bizarre degree of randomness” into when pensions increase.
IFS chief Paul Johnson said: “Those now in their 20s, 30s and 40s may well end up with lower incomes in retirement than their parents.”
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, also warned against targeting pensioners in a bid to reduce government spending.
She said: “The triple lock on the basic state pension will help ensure that the value of one element of retirement income is maintained, and the new state pension will help future pensioners achieve adequate retirement incomes.
“Age UK supports the continuation of older people's universal benefits because they are an important way to get extra help to those on low and modest incomes, and because older people tell us they value them highly.
“Research strongly suggests that the UK's shameful and rising record on avoidable winter deaths would be considerably worse were it not for the existence of the Winter Fuel Payment.”
A Lib Dem spokesperson today confirmed the party would still seek to restrict benefits to wealthier pensioners.
They said: “In an era when the whole country is having to play their part in balancing the books, it is not right that the wealthiest pensioners in the country continue to get hand-outs they don’t need.
“We believe those pensioners who are higher rate tax payers shouldn’t receive winter fuel payments or have a free TV license.
“We must always protect help for the majority of pensioners in Britain who rely on access to transport and local services, and make sure everyone gets a decent pension in their retirement.”
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