Nick Clegg has set his eyes on major reform. A defining moment for Liberal Democrat politics; removal of free bus passes and TV licenses from 'wealthy' pensioners. So now we know what the Liberal Democrats stand for. I expect it will include the automatic fuel allowance. Is this really what Liberal Democrats have been in politics for? And do they not understand why some benefits are universal?
It may appear unfair that rich and poor alike can receive the same benefits. But there is a good reason to give some benefits in this way. Targeting involves means testing and it involves setting thresholds. Thresholds can create a worst kind of unfairness; those just above, those just at the margin, losing the benefit. Two elderly neighbours one receiving and the other not, all for the sake of being a penny above the threshold; one neighbour now 'richer' the other now 'poorer'. But there is something more worrying about means testing. Many elderly people tend not to apply for benefits even when they qualify and deserve them. Each year, a staggering £5.5 bn of benefits that pensioners are entitled to go unclaimed.
Four million pensioners are entitled to pension credit, yet a third of them are not claiming it. This means they may be missing out on hundreds or even thousands of pounds of benefit they are entitled to, and yet Mr Clegg chooses to focus on bus passes and TV licenses. What kind of priority is it?
The Liberal Party had a proud history since they introduced state pensions in the UK at the beginning of the 20th Century. Now Mr Clegg wants to define them by taking away bus passes and TV licenses.