Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop, said today (24th October 2012) that a proposal by a former Benefit Agency Chief that pensioners people should carry out community work to avoid being a ‘burden to the state’ – and have their pension cut if they refuse is “nothing more than a threat to return to the Victorian Poor Law Workhouse”.
Tom was reacting to a speech by Lord Bichard, a former head of the Benefits Agency, who said at a House of Lords Committee meeting “are there ways in which we could use incentives to encourage older people, if not to be in full time work, to be making a contribution?” He went on to say that the pension system should ‘incentivise’ people to do more to help look after the ‘very old’ and said there should be ‘penalties’ if pensioners do not make any contribution to society.
“There is a direct line between what this blinkered Peer is saying and the Workhouse of a century ago, where elderly people were put to labour for food and benefits. He does not seem to recognise that older people already give valuable help for the community, their wider families and society – for instance by informal child minding for their children and grandchildren. Many pensioners are also stalwarts of local community centres and voluntary groups.
“They have paid their dues and their taxes to society over the past half century and have helped to build the county we all now live in. To suggest that they be made to become members of some kind of a ‘forced army’ of helpers subject to financial penalties is both despicable and heartless. I would hope that both Lord Bichard reflects on his words and apologises for them, and that the coalition governments pension ministers make it clear he is not reflecting any kind of government policy.”