Steep rise in over 65s who stay in work in West Country
Senior citizens descended on Parliament yesterday to defend their vital age-related benefits – as it emerged that tens of thousands of West Country people are working beyond 65.
The National Pensioners Convention organised a protest meeting in the Commons, and lobbied MPs, over plans to means-test some payments.
The Western Daily Press reported last month on the controversy when Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said wealthy pensioners should lose benefits such as free bus passes and winter fuel allowance. The Liberal Democrat leader backs an extra £16 billion of cuts and said it would be “very difficult to explain” if low-earners lost state help, yet affluent older folk were left alone.
Chairman of Weston-super-Mare Senior Citizens Forum Ken Lacey warned of the enormous administrative cost of means-testing, and said they had paid for their benefits over 50 years of working life.
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Yesterday’s Hands Off The Bus Pass demonstration drew campaigners from around the country to underline a message to MPs that cutting pensioner benefits will not help reduce the deficit.
NPC general secretary Dot Gibson said removing free bus passes might save the Government £1 million – but it would lead to isolation and social exclusion among the elderly.
“This idea that the country's economy is struggling because an army of millionaire pensioners are joy riding with their free bus passes is absolute nonsense.
“The economic crisis is being used as an excuse to undermine the welfare state and roll back some of our hard earned gains – many of which are necessary because the UK has one of the worse state pensions in Europe.
“The truth is that every year pensioners contribute £40 billion to society in the form of taxes, voluntary work and unpaid caring.”
There are some 11 million people over state pension age in the UK and around 4.5 million pay tax at standard rate – and fewer than 250,000 at higher rate.
The remaining 6.4 million have an income below £10,500 and do not pay any income tax at all. The NPC says: “The universal benefits are therefore essential for the majority of pensioners, even those with incomes above the level of the Pension Credit of £7,500.”
Office of National Statistics data shows 88,000 people aged over 65 in the South West were working in August this year, 52,000 men and 36,000 women.
That is down from 105,000 on the same period in 2010, and is an employment rate of 8.5 per cent, for the age group.
As the Daily Press reported last week, Lord Bichard said retired folk should lose some of their pension unless they do community work such as caring for even older people. The controversial idea would stop senior citizens being a burden, the former benefits chief said.