Labour to consider cutting benefits for elderly

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   By a Newsnet reporter

The SNP claim that Labour’s Deputy Leader Harriet Harman has unwittingly highlighted another of the benefits of voting Yes in September 2014.

In an interview on BBC Radio this week Ms Harman confirmed that Labour would be looking at cutting benefits for the elderly if elected to Westminster and would review pensions, winter fuel allowances and free bus passes.

Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme on Saturday, Ms Harman was asked whether Labour stood by its policy of non-means tested pensions and benefits for elderly people.  After defending Labour’s introduction of non-means tested benefits for older people, Ms Harman admitted that Labour would review the policy in the run-up to the next Westminster general election.

Ms Harman said:

“… things change so you always have to look at everything to make sure your provision is right for the demography, for the income distribution at the time and there’s no mystery about that. We stand by why we introduced [non-means tested benefits for the elderly]. We will review it coming up to the next general election.”

Labour’s Holyrood leader Johann Lamont has also said that she intends to review universal benefits, including the winter fuel allowance and free bus passes for elderly people.  In a speech in September last year Ms Lamont said that it was time to bring an end to Scotland’s “something for nothing” culture. 

Addressing the growing numbers of elderly people and the increasing financial costs of providing for them, Ms Lamont said:

“This is the stark choice that Scotland has to face up to: if we wish to continue some policies as they are then they come with a cost which has to be paid for either through increased taxation, direct charges or cuts elsewhere.

“If we do not confront these hard decisions soon, then the choice will be taken from us when we will be left with little options.”

Ms Harman’s comments on Radio 4 this week show that there is wide support for possible cuts to universal benefits and benefits for older people amongst the highest echelons of the Labour party.

Labour has also signalled that it is unlikely to reverse the “bedroom tax” recently introduced by the Conservative Lib Dem coalition.  Speaking to the BBC in March this year, Labour’s shadow minister Helen Goodman said:

“We’ve said that the bedroom tax should only apply if people have been offered a smaller place to live and turned it down because, obviously, it is better to use the housing stock more efficiently.”

Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP, SNP Work and Pensions spokesperson commented:

“In her interview on BBC Radio Harriet Harman was caught out. She admitted a Labour government would mean reductions in benefits for Scotland’s elderly. She said Labour would be reviewing the winter fuel allowance which helps pensioners in Scotland out of fuel poverty every year.

“Her comments confirm that whoever is in government at Westminster, their plan is to cut services and support that elderly people in Scotland have earned over many years. The only way to protect our older people from Westminster cuts is with a Yes vote in 2014, so that it is the people of Scotland who are making these decisions.”

“Coming off the back of Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont’s ‘Cuts Commission’ now busy planning repeals of hard-won universal benefits at Holyrood, we now know Labour’s plans will hit older people’s benefits in Scotland and across the UK.

“Labour North and South of the border have made it clear. They are quite happy to claw back benefits from older people to get them out of the economic hole they created. “

“One of the greatest benefits of independence is that a Scottish government would protect benefits in a way Westminster won’t. Voting Yes in September 2014 takes those threats away.”