Iain Duncan Smith sparks pensioner benefits row

COALITION ministers traded verbal blows over pensioners’ benefits yesterday after Iain Duncan Smith, pictured, urged the wealthy to hand the money back.
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith. Picture: PAWork and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith. Picture: PA
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith. Picture: PA

The Work and Pensions Secretary said he would “encourage” people to forego perks such as free TV licences and winter fuel payments.

But Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg responded by attacking the Tories for blocking means-testing of the benefits.

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Mr Duncan Smith’s Conservative Cabinet colleague Ken Clarke said he did not believe it was even possible to return money to the government.

David Cameron has stood by his general election pledge to protect universal benefits for pensioners until at least 2015, despite the coalition’s austerity drive.

Mr Duncan Smith repeated his view that wealthy pensioners should consider repaying the money.

He said: “It is up to them if they don’t want it to hand it back. I would encourage everybody who reads the Telegraph and doesn’t need it to hand it back.”

But Liberal Democrat leader Mr Clegg said: “I have always argued for us to change the system. I do not think it is reasonable for us to say to a working family who has just had their child benefit taken away… why should they, through their taxes, pay for the multi-millionaire pensioner next door for his TV licence or his winter fuel payment?

“I think we should grasp this nettle just as we have grasped other nettles in government. The Conservatives don’t want to do so.”