Time to let go: Public ready to abandon universal benefits

By politics.co.uk staff

The drift to end universal benefits for the elderly is backed by the public, according to a new poll.

Only "those who really need them" should receive payouts, 56% of those surveyed by pollsters ICM for the Sunday Telegraph newspaper said this weekend.

The majority support for the move will reassure all mainstream parties, who are already paving the way for cutbacks to elderly benefits like the winter fuel allowance and free bus passes after the 2015 general election.

Maintaining the universal benefits could still be a vote-loser, with 38% insisting they should be kept for all. Older voters are especially keen to keep them.

But both the Conservative and Labour parties are likely to be encouraged by the numbers suggesting the public is accepting the need for the universal nature of some payouts to end.

Labour raised eyebrows by admitting it would be prepared to consider cuts in a speech by Ed Balls on June 3rd.

"When our NHS and social care system is under such pressure, can it really remain a priority to pay the winter fuel allowance – a vital support for middle and low income pensioners – to the richest five per cent of pensioners, those with incomes high enough to pay the higher or top rates of tax?" he said.

"At a time when the public services that pensioners and others rely on are under strain, it can no longer be a priority to continue paying the winter fuel allowance to the wealthiest pensioners."

The Conservatives have said they will review universal pensioner benefits – which the party promised to protect in its 2010 manifesto – at the next election.

The poll also suggested good news for the Conservative party, with David Cameron and George Osborne judged the best team to run the economy by 30% of voters. Ed Miliband and Ed Balls were backed by 23%.

But ICM's 'wisdom index', which asks voters to choose which party they expect to win at the next general election rather than who they will support, put Labour up two points to 34%, with the Tories unmoving on 29%. The Liberal Democrats and Ukip slipped back to 15% and 13% respectively.

ICM Research interviewed a sample of 2,006 adults aged over 18 in the three days ending on Friday.