It was not so long ago that pensioner poverty was one of the most pressing issues in politics.
Tony Blair and Gordon Brown made tackling it one of their key priorities.
Labour was successful in cutting poverty among older people, but that does not mean that it is a thing of the past. Many still struggle to get by, just as many middle-aged and young people do. So it is scarcely any wonder that older people's campaigners have reacted with anger to a Government report by former Labour MP Alan Milburn suggesting that pensioners are being favoured financially by the Government over their children and grandchildren because of the existence of universal pensioner benefits such as winter fuel payments and free television licences.
Some of Mr Milburn's language was unhelpful in pitching pensioners en masse against younger people. Pensioners are not a homogenous group; far from it, and painting a picture of inter-generational conflict benefits no-one. The truth is that this is not about the unfair advantages enjoyed by one generation versus another, but the unfair advantages enjoyed by the well-off compared to those on modest or low incomes.
It is not winter fuel payments and free TV licences per se that are at issue; it is the wisdom of granting them to well-off pensioners who do not need them alongside the many poorer pensioners who do.
An 85-year-old widow living in a draughty flat in Glasgow on a low income will need every penny of the £300 winter fuel payment she receives just to keep herself warm, but it makes no sense at all to give the payment to a wealthy retired businesswoman who can comfortably pay all her bills, take regular holidays and still have ample disposable income. Better-off pensioners themselves often feel uncomfortable about receiving winter fuel payments and many donate the sum to charity or give it to their children. It is essential that these benefits are retained for those who need them, so as not to undo the good work of the last decade in raising pensioners' living standards, but at a time of austerity it simply makes no sense to grant such benefits to each and every pensioner.
Perhaps the most shocking finding in Mr Milburn's report was that the Government's austerity programme has been "regressive", with the poorest 20% bearing more of a burden than any other sector of society, other than the very rich. This is only worsening the long-standing problem of widening social inequality and stagnating social mobility. The lag between earnings growth and price rises has resulted in many working people being unable to bring in a living wage. Consequently, child poverty today is a problem faced overwhelmingly by working families.
Tackling low pay is therefore an urgent priority. Mr Milburn is right to propose raising the minimum wage to help achieve this, though this will only benefit low earners if the wage is properly enforced.
There is indeed a "fairness deficit" that must be tackled by politicians alongside the fiscal deficit, but it is a disparity between the wealthy and the struggling, not the young and the old.
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