Iain Duncan Smith urges wealthy elderly to 'hand back' benefits

Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith said the wealthy elderly have a choice as to whether to hand back some of their benefits

Wealthy elderly people who do not need benefits to help with fuel bills, TV licences or free travel should return the money, the work and pensions secretary says.

Iain Duncan Smith told the Sunday Telegraph he would "encourage" people who do not need such financial support "to hand it back".

But the decision whether or not to do so was up to them, he added.

Deputy PM Nick Clegg said the suggestion did "not make sense".

Prime Minister David Cameron has already said the benefits would be protected for the entirety of this Parliament, including for the year 2015-16.

A general election will be held in 2015, and Mr Duncan Smith said there were no plans to means test to exclude richer pensioners.

He told the paper: "I have no idea what we will put into the manifesto... I have no indication of change.

"It's fair to say that [pensioners] are more vulnerable than others and we need to be very careful about what and when we do things, if we ever do."


Money is tight, savings are being made across government, but Sir Mick Jagger is entitled to a free bus pass.

If you think that is odd, some in government agree with you, including the cabinet minister responsible for benefits, Iain Duncan Smith.

But the prime minister has repeatedly committed himself to protecting universal benefits for pensioners, regardless of their wealth.

So Mr Duncan Smith is trying to square the circle.

His idea creates an image of a queue of pensioners posting banknotes through the Treasury's letterbox. Don't hold your breath for that.

And his cabinet colleague Ken Clarke acknowledged there was no mechanism for people to repay the government.

In short, bus passes, free TV licences and winter fuel payments are safe until the next election. But after that, all bets are off.

Among the benefits is the winter fuel allowance of between £100 and £300 tax-free to help people who have reached the state pension age with heating bills.

A free TV licence, worth £145.50 for a colour set, is provided for people aged 75 or over, while those aged over 60 can get free NHS prescriptions.

Eligible older people are entitled to free off-peak travel on local buses anywhere in England when they reach the state pension age. Schemes in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland allow people aged over 60 to apply for free bus travel.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said people have always been able to contact the department if they no longer want to receive a benefit.

Mr Clegg said his Liberal Democrat party and coalition partner the Conservatives were at odds over pensioner welfare reform: "I think we should grasp this nettle. The Conservatives don't want to do so. That is a difference of approach."

He added: "When money is tight, you've got to have the right priorities in tough times. I think it's right to ask very wealthy, maybe multi-millionaire, pensioners to make sacrifices, just as we're asking families on lower incomes."

Election promises

Shadow communities secretary Hilary Benn said: "I don't agree with him (Mr Duncan Smith).

"The fact is we have certain universal benefits in our society, people have worked hard, they've paid their taxes and they get that, in this case, when they have retired."

Nick Clegg says there is a "difference of approach" between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats over plans for welfare reform

Entrepreneur Lord Sugar and nightclub owner Peter Stringfellow have been among those who have previously complained they have not been able to opt out of receiving the winter fuel allowance.

Former Conservative Chancellor Ken Clarke said: "Well, you can't hand it back to the government, I don't think it's a system for doing that.

"I think every pensioner and retired person, like myself, obviously has to make up their own mind about whether they really need it and whether they're going to give it to some worthwhile cause.

"No doubt, most pensioners who are reasonably prosperous give quite a lot of money to charity and worthwhile causes in any event."

Charity Age UK said encouraging wealthy people to give up the benefits could have a knock-on effect.

"It is open to anyone to decide not to make use of these benefits but when it is suggested that 'wealthier pensioners' should choose to forego them our worry is that some who are badly in need of extra help will feel less inclined to take it," director of external affairs Caroline Abrahams said.

"Older people on very low incomes sometimes minimise their own difficulties and refer to others they know who are worse off than they are."

Universal credit

Meanwhile, the introduction of a new system of benefits for working age people begins on Monday - and marks the biggest overhaul of the benefits system since the 1940s.

Pensioner Ann Davis: "I think they should give us the option to opt out"

Mr Duncan Smith said the new universal credit system was being implemented over four years because "I want to get these things right".

Under the new universal credit, six working-age benefits - income-based jobseeker's allowance, income-related employment and support allowance, income support, child tax credit, working tax credit and housing benefit - will be merged into one.

He said: "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."

Universal credit starts on a limited basis on Monday for new claimants, who are single, who live in a small number of postcode areas in Ashton-under-Lyne in Tameside, Greater Manchester.

Trials in three more areas - Oldham, Wigan and Warrington - will begin in July.

From October, more claimants will move on to universal credit as and when they have a significant change of circumstances, such as starting a new job or when a child is born.

From April 2014 until October 2017, the rest of those affected in England, Scotland and Wales will be moved on to universal credit in stages. It will start in Northern Ireland from April 2014.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 876.

    Lets see our wealthy Politicians hand back their allowances shall we. I agree to an extent, however it would be wrong to take away from people who have paid a lot of money into the pot over all their lives. Everyone deserves a decent standard of living so lets see our pocket lining politicians lead by example first.

  • rate this

    Comment number 875.

    Wealthy elderly people should go further. They should refuse treatment by the NHS. They can afford treatment so they should pay for it. Or better still, they should not pay for it, and die earlier so the state can get earlier access to their inheritance tax. Also all gold teeth should be forcibly removed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 874.

    Bus passes do not come unbidden in the post. They have to be applied for.I got mine as soon as I turned sixty and from that day forth left my car at home and travelled to work by bus.Win-win! I know elderly people who would not be seen dead on a bus so they have never applied for a bus pass so this system is self regulating. Perhaps the winter fuel payment should have to be applied for too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 873.

    Anyone who gets more than they need should give the surplus to charity. This should apply to anyone of any age and regardless of whether this includes any income from the state.

    The better-off elderly have paid tax all their life. No one minds them getting an income from private investments.

  • rate this

    Comment number 872.

    One look at the headline makes it logical that IDS should "Shun" his MPs expenses!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 871.

    Isn't this an admission that our current benefits system is unfit for purpose? I think it's time to scrap all current state benefits, and devise a new system that the country can afford, and is based on need.

  • rate this

    Comment number 870.

    So decent and honourable he could not take up the challenge to live on £53 pound a week - honour among the privileged is different to that of normal people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 869.

    Maybe the politicians should have reduce pay & pay back all their travelling expenses on their high wages too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 868.

    Well how about MPs not claiming 'expenses'? Itcost me £4,000 a year to commute to work but that had to come from my salary - why should MPs be able to claim it as an 'expense'>

  • rate this

    Comment number 867.

    Lets all try and live off £54 a week + MPs expenses.

    I could live orf that Mr IDS.

  • rate this

    Comment number 866.

    Financial industry...you got to laugh..another lot who have robbed the public.
    Endowment policies...does that ring a big bell.

  • rate this

    Comment number 865.

    No overheads, NO future possibility of Government departments using (or losing…) a register of names. Those who illegally or aggressively avoid tax wouldn't dream of being on such a list - nor would those who mistrust present or future governments.

  • rate this

    Comment number 864.

    I assume ALL cabinet Ministers will ALL give up their old age pensions entirely,due to the size of their Gold Platted and very lucrative & generous final salary,it must be one of the best still in existence,and correlated to a large salary indexed linked for life!!
    Would have been an idea to have said this before these comments,I wonder why not!?
    Ditto,pay your fares to work & back,WE HAVE TO!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 863.

    Perhaps if MP's did not reap all the benefits for them selves by claiming excessive allowances for 2nd homes, then reduce their salary to an ammount that pensioners have to survive on. One rule for big fat rich boys like Mr. Smith, another rule for the workers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 862.

    Would it be better to stop regarding welfare payments as "Benefits." Everyone wants to receive "Benefits" but the welfare state was set up to protect the most vulnerable in society. "Universal Benefits" makes no sense at all. Surely what is appropriate for Child Benefit can also apply to Pensions, Winter Fuel Allowance, TV licenses etc.. It is unusual for me to say this: I agree with Nick.

  • rate this

    Comment number 861.

    STOP Benefit Payments for all non British folk and save money that way. Why we paying for Non British people to live here? Or stop paying Aid to Pakistan & other countries! Charity Begins at Home!! Homeless at a all time High but your rather British people suffer!! Or better still all MP's / Lords take a pay cut? Can't wait to vote you out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 860.

    And maybe rich MPs and government ministers shouldn't accept their parliamentary salaries and allowances.

  • rate this

    Comment number 859.

    Ok so what happened to all the tax and N.I. I paid for 50 years.
    Remember that we where told by the government "we will take off you the money you need for retirement, because we think you will squander it"
    It seems the government have squandered it for me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 858.

    If governments stop spending the pension payments us working people are paying right now and ring-fence the money like a proper pension plan, the forthcoming pension crisis when we all retire will be averted. Also, we won't be paying all our contributions out to millions of immigrants who have not paid as much in, and we can stop being jealous and hateful of today's pensioners for their situation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 857.

    The way things are going this may be the last idiotic suggestion we hear from IDS, as I suspect after the up coming local elections Mr Cameron will feel the need for an emergency reshuffle of his cabinet!


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