UK Politics

Taxpayers' Alliance: Cut pensioner benefits 'immediately'

Taxpayers' Alliance meeting
Image caption Alex Wild, from the Taxpayers' Alliance, said he made "practical points"

Ministers should waste no time to make unpopular cuts to pensioner benefits, a think tank director has said.

Many of those hit by a cut to the winter fuel allowance might "not be around" at the next election, said Alex Wild of the Taxpayers' Alliance.

And others would forget which party had done it, he added.

At the group's meeting at the Conservative conference in Manchester, former defence secretary Liam Fox said spending cuts must be "for keeps".

Mr Wild said the Tories could not wait until a year before the next election to make the necessary cuts to the winter fuel allowance, free bus passes, the Christmas bonus and other pensioner benefits.

Mr Wild, who is research director of the think tank which campaigns for lower taxes and highlights examples of Government waste, said the cuts should be made "as soon as possible after an election for two reasons".

"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."

'Day of reckoning'

Mr Fox told the meeting that the government had to act now to make further cuts to benefits and welfare.

He said "we can never go back" to the "historically high" levels of public spending seen in recent years and the government's public spending cuts must be "for keeps".

"This is the time to fix the roof" he said.

"We have a broken opposition. We have just won a general election and we need now to take the tough decisions we believe are right."

Now that Labour was not such a "great threat", this was a "great opportunity for us to do some of the more difficult things, however unpalatable they will be in the short term are what we need to do for the country", said the backbencher, a leading voice on the right of the party.

He added: "We need to do what we all know deep in our hearts to be right."

Image copyright Conservative Party
Image caption Former defence secretary Liam Fox said the government had to make further cuts

Mr Fox added that the government had to make the "moral" case for reducing public spending further.

"We are borrowing from the next generation to spend today. That is otherwise known as a Ponzi scheme," he said.

"It's what we are operating as a national financial policy."

He added: "If you continue to overspend there will be a day of reckoning."

He said this was because borrowing costs would rise and the era of low inflation would not last forever, meaning economic growth on its own was not enough to balance the books.

Older people would understand the need for cuts to their benefits to help the next generation, he suggested.

"We have got to start to get really honest with people because this is not a sustainable position," he said.

"We can't afford it now, we can't afford it in the future, why don't we try to get a longer-term plan put in place so that people can make the adjustments they will need to make for us to be able to get back into balance."