Taxpayers’ Alliance sorry for ‘crass’ call to cut pensioners benefits

A Conservative Party member reads a newspaper at conference in Manchester. Alex Wild made his ill-judged remarks at the conference on Sunday
A Conservative Party member reads a newspaper at conference in Manchester. Alex Wild made his ill-judged remarks at the conference on Sunday

The Taxpayers’ Alliance has apologised after calling for an immediate cut to pensioners benefits – saying some of those affected will be dead before the next election.

Speaking at the Conservative Pary conference on Sunday, director of the Taxpayers’ Alliance Alex Wild said the Tories could not wait until a year before the next election to make the necessary cuts to the winter fuel allowance, free bus passes, the Christmas bonus and other pensioner benefits.

Mr Wild, who is research director of the think tank, which campaigns for lower taxes and against government waste, said the cuts should be made “as soon as possible after an election for two reasons”.

“The first of which will sound a little bit morbid – some of the people ... won’t be around to vote against you in the next election. So that’s just a practical point, and the other point is they might have forgotten by then,” he said.

But Dot Gibson, general secretary of the National Pensioners Convention, hit back that the remarks were “both politically cynical and personally offensive” and that it represents “some of the most awful ageist nonsense I’ve heard in a long time”.

When the News Letter asked Northern Ireland Taxpayers Alliance coordinator David Hoey yesterday if the call would apply to the Province, he pointed out that Mr Wild had issued an apology.

“Yesterday I made some comments at a fringe event for which I want to apologise. They were crass, offensive and made ‘off the cuff’ – I made a mistake and I want to say sorry for that,” Mr Wild said.

“Not only did I let myself down, but the result has been that most are overlooking the point I was trying to make: that by means testing pensioner benefits we can end the perverse situation whereby wealthy pensioners receive Winter Fuel Payments and potentially target money instead at those who genuinely need it – be they poorer pensioners or young people who are losing out.”

His group proposes to means test Winter Fuel Payments, abolish the Christmas bonus, and give free travel passes only to those who genuinely need them, he said.

However, Mr Wild repeated that the time to make the cuts is “the immediate aftermath of a clear election victory” which is “the opportune moment to make unpopular but necessary decisions”.

Northern Ireland coordinator Mr Hoey added that welfare benefits should be for those who are “in genuine need”. The First and Deputy First Ministers are entitled to free public transport but neither actually needed the passes, he added.