Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop, today (5th November) said that a suggestion from Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, that pensioners’ should be means tested for benefits like bus passes and winter fuel allowance ‘should be put on tonight’s Guy Fawkes bonfires’.
Iain Duncan Smith, speaking to Andrew Marr on BBC TV said ‘There are lots of anomalies in the benefits system. How we give benefits to pensioners is always a matter for debate.’
“The last large scale survey into the use of bus passes showed that 45% of bus pass use enabled older people to contribute directly into local economies through shopping, banking, eating out and visiting leisure centres. A further 25% of bus travel was used to carry out voluntary work and unpaid caring, whilst the remaining 30% of travel was used to stay healthy (visiting GP’s and clinics) to avoid isolation and improve well-being (visiting friends and family).
“This means that the bus pass was playing a key role in indirectly reducing the demand and cost on social care and support. It is also a valuable financial support system for bus routes and keeps them going for everyone.
“To suggest that winter fuel allowances means tested is simply criminal. During the winter of 2010/11, 25,700 in England and Wales died from cold related illnesses, and the vast majority of the deaths were amongst pensioners. Fuel poverty is a national scandal which touches around one in three pensioner households and results in some of the poorest older people having to choose between whether they buy food or put the heating on. It has not been updated properly either. When the winter fuel allowance was first introduced ten years ago by Labour, it covered a third of the average bill. Today, under the coalition, it barely covers an eighth.
“Subjecting these benefits to means testing is both wrong and would be hideously expensive – using up in administration costs what could be simply used as benefit. David Cameron said in the last election that bus passes and winter fuel allowances ‘were safe’. He needs to repeat this again, and also make it clear that the comments from Iain Duncan Smith do not reflect cabinet thinking.”