The final straw: Pensioners march on parliament against cuts

Pensioners will join the army of groups fighting government cuts tomorrow, when they march on parliament over threats to the bus pass and winter fuel allowance.

Campaigners say changes to the universal benefits are based on half-truths and lies and would increase state spending by driving pensioners towards social services and the NHS.

“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," Dot Gibson, general secretary of the National Pensioners Convention (NPC) said.

"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.

"If we start means-testing pensioners we will create a costly and inefficient bureaucracy which evidence shows will result in those who need it most failing to come forward to make a claim."

There is a growing cross-party consensus against universal benefits, with lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, Tory backbencher Nick Boles and Labour’s Liam Byrne suggesting benefits could be means-tested in future.

Government figures defend the proposal by suggesting it would take free bus passes away from wealthy pensioners like Alan Sugar, but campaigners say the argument is a smokescreen for further cuts to the welfare state.

George Osborne took the unusual decision of commissioning a poll showing the extent of public support for means-testing child benefit yesterday.

It found 82% believed those on high incomes should not receive the benefit, but the plan makes Tory backbenchers nervous because it hits the very voters they will be relying on for re-election.

The government has not made any decision to scrap free bus travel and winter fuel allowance for all pensioners yet, although the mood music from No. 10 suggests changes could be underway.

To make the change before the 2015 election would be a daring move. Older voters are typically more supportive of the Conservatives and can be relied on to go to the polls.