Some pensioners are poor. But lots of people are poor. Pensioners, though, have big political advantages: they vote, and are perceived to have “paid in all their lives”. Politicians meddle with pensioners’ income at their peril.
How else can we explain that even in the most austere budget for a generation, the basic pension will now increase in line with earnings, inflation, or two and a half per cent, whichever is highest. And even the richest pensioners get to keep their winter fuel allowance, their free bus passes, and free prescriptions.
And yet it is on this last issue that Simon Hughes, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats and “conscience of the party”, is taking a stand. Hints that the winter fuel allowance might be taken away from the richest pensioners have led him to talk of an end to coalition. Almost every commentator believes winter fuel allowances are bad policy, expensive to administer, and targeted neither at those who are poor, nor those with high energy bills.