The elderly and the state
The government makes rich pensioners richer still
BRITAIN'S pensioners are a cosseted lot. Since 2011 their state pensions have been protected by the “triple lock”, which ensures they rise along with prices, earnings or 2.5%, whichever is higher. Perks for the old such as free TV licences and bus passes and an annual winter handout to help with heating have all survived austerity. Government bonds paying well above the market rate of interest have just been made available exclusively to those aged 65 and over. Is all this generosity justified?
Pensioners are poorer than working-age people—almost all have incomes below the national average. But they are treated better by the state. For any given private income, retirees' equivalised disposable income—that is, money available to spend after the deduction of taxes and payment of benefits, and adjusted to account for household size—is higher than that of younger people (see chart 1).
The state pension, currently worth about ￡6,000 (around $9,000) a year, accounts for much of the discrepancy. It is often seen as a reward for past contributions, not as a pure benefit, but this is dubious: pensions are funded by today's taxpayers. Even if pensions are counted as private income, the richest pensioners still do well from the state (see chart 2). They do not pay national insurance (a tax levied only on earned income) on their private pensions, leaving more money for cruises and conservatories.
On January 27th, in an interview with the Daily Telegraph newspaper, David Cameron promised that a future Conservative government would remove housing benefit from 18- to 21-year-olds—a group that suffers from higher-than-average unemployment and already receives less generous welfare payments. Meanwhile, the silver-haired who will benefit most from the government's new bonds are those who can afford to stash away the full ￡20,000 limit—more than a year's income for most pensioners. It's a good time to be rich and old.