Pensioners' leaders vow to beat back any attack on universal benefits
Pensioners' leaders vowed yesterday to beat back any attack by the three main political parties on universal benefits such as free bus passes, prescriptions and the winter fuel allowance.
Politicians from Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems say they plan to review universal benefits to pensioners, which are paid regardless of need.
But pensioners' campaign groups fear that abandonment of the "universal" principle will be just the start of a move to abolish benefits - in line with the coalition government's current attack on the welfare state.
All three parties say austerity policies will continue after the next general election.
But the National Pensioners Convention (NPC) insisted it would resist any attempt to remove universal benefits or to restrict them to poor pensioners.
NPC general secretary Dot Gibson said the universal benefits helped keep people "active, independent, warm in their homes, healthy and involved in their communities."
Chancellor George Osborne, who has axed taxes on the rich, has indicated the benefits could be reviewed after the next general election on the grounds of cost.
Labour has said it would strip winter fuel payments from the richest 5 per cent of pensioners and the Lib Dems that it would means-test the benefits.
A "Hands Off" campaign is being backed by the NPC, the Age Sector Platform in Northern Ireland, the Welsh Senate of Older People and the Scottish Seniors Alliance to resist changes to the system.
The government's own figures show that 31,000 "excess winter deaths" occurred in England and Wales in 2012/13 mainly from cold-related illnesses - a 29 per cent increase on the previous year. Most victims were 75 or over.
Ms Gibson said: "The real reason why pensioners need additional benefits such as the winter fuel allowance and the free bus pass is because our state pension is so poor.
"Removing universal benefits isn't about saving money or about stopping millionaires from getting a free ride on their local bus - it's about undermining the welfare state and the principle that services should be available to everyone in retirement.
"Universal benefits need to be defended not only for today's pensioners, but for the pensioners of tomorrow as well."