Benefit cuts: Are pensioners next?
Pensioners could find themselves targeted for benefit cuts in the next Conservative manifesto, Iain Duncan Smith has suggested.
The work and pensions secretary left open the possibility of moves against the elderly after days of buildup to today's Commons vote on deep cuts to welfare spending for those of working age.
Over half of the annual £200 billion spent on benefits is spent on pensioners, but they have been spared any of the pain of austerity after the 2010 Tory manifesto pledged to protect them.
"Nobody is going to be demonised on my watch who is a pensioner," Duncan Smith told the Today programme.
"I think it's fairness to pensioners to give them time, to make sure you support their income, but at the same time to reform the way people save."
His comments suggested that the elderly could be in line for cuts in the Conservatives' manifesto for the next parliament.
Duncan Smith added: "The problem with pensioners is they have less flexibility – they find it far less easy to make provision if things change for them – … so you have to take far more time. We are restoring the savings culture [for pensioners] but these things take time."
Around £4 billion is being saved as a result of the move to increase working-age benefits by just one per cent – well below the expected level of inflation – for the next three years.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has said the lowest earning ten per cent will be hit the hardest by the changes. Of 2.8 million workless households of working age, 2.5 million will see their entitlements reduced, it estimated. This will leave them an average of around £215 a year worse off in 2015/16.
"We're doing this because we have to get the deficit down," Duncan Smith insisted.
"To reduce the deficit is the number one priority of the government. Low paid taxpayers will pick up a massive bill if we don't resolve that."
He argued the move was necessary because welfare payments had risen ahead of average private sector earnings in the last five years.
The IFS pointed out earnings usually increased above inflation, making their decrease relative to inflation since 2007 all the more striking.