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Call to cut benefits for rich pensioners

BETTER-OFF pensioners should lose their free television licences and winter fuel allowances to help address Britain's "fairness deficit", the UK Government's advisor on poverty has said, as a call was made for a clear Scottish Government strategy on improving social mobility in Scotland.

Launching the first report of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, chairman Alan Milburn, the former Labour Health Secretary, warned the low-paid were the "forgotten people of Britain" and called for the minimum wage to be increased.

"Today, child poverty is a problem for working families rather than the workless or the workshy. Two-thirds of kids officially deemed poor in this country are in a family where someone is in work," explained Mr Milburn.

He said work was no longer a "cure for poverty" and ­employers and government had to find how to make work pay. Today's young, Mr Milburn noted, were for the first time in decades looking at being worse off than their parents.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg rejected the Commission suggestion that pensioners should be targeted, saying "punishing" them would not help the younger generation prosper.

In response, Mr Milburn asked: "Is it right that at a time when we've got such high levels of youth unemployment, when working families are seeing their wages stagnating and their public services being cut, wealthy pensioners have their benefits protected and in some cases enhanced? There's a strong case for looking again at the winter fuel allowance and free TV licences, particularly for ­better-off pensioners."

A spokesman for Saga, the firm that caters for the elderly, said; "Alan Milburn appears to be a bit bonkers and is barking up the wrong tree. Playing the politics of envy is not the way to create a cohesive society."

Meanwhile, the commission noted Scotland had the lowest child-poverty rate before housing costs of any UK nation, 15%, and the lowest proportion of children in workless households, 12%.

Despite this, Scotland still had had pockets of extreme deprivation. The commission's key "reflections" on child poverty in Scotland stressed the need for a stronger focus on the performance of poorer children at school. "It will be difficult for Scotland to achieve its objectives for fairer opportunities unless the attainment of poor children improves relative to other children."

Commissioner Anne Marie Carrie, who grew up in Glasgow's Easterhouse, said while progress had been made on beating child poverty in Scotland, there needed to be a clear strategy from Holyrood to impprove social mobility.

"I would encourage the Scottish Government to do that because we need to do more to help the poorest in society. There's a moral imperative here but there is also an economic imperative; Scotland simply can't afford to waste the talent," said the former chief executive of Barnardo's.

The commission will gather more evidence on social mobility in Scotland. Ms Carrie called on top Scottish firms to help those from poorer backgrounds.

"I would like to see the big firms say what they are doing to contribute to social mobility. How many interns are from poorer backgrounds? These firms must consider how they are supporting the poorest people."

The commissioner added: "There is lots of concentration on the fiscal deficit but now we need to turn our energies on the growing unfairness deficit."

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Families

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