The EU bashing desperation of Rupe’s downmarket troops knows no bounds: now the Sun has decided to go in with both feet on pensioners. That would be those people who have spent decades paying in to the system so that in their old age they can get something back – like a state pension, winter fuel payments, bereavement benefits, and for the less able, disability living allowance and incapacity benefit.
But the cheaper end of the Murdoch press has suddenly figured out that some of these pensioners are allowed to reside anywhere in the EU, and that some of those have chosen to live in places like Spain. Nothing gets past a Sun journalist, does it? So hack Grant Rollings has penned a “Britain’s Bonkers Benefits” column to try and whip up some hatred against these cheeky OAPs.
“Latest government figures, seen by The Sun, reveal emigrants are allowed to claim EIGHT different types of handouts” he thunders, making sure to put WORDS in CAPITALS to make sure READERS know when to get REALLY ANGRY about SOMETHING. “This means that even though they no longer pay into the tax pot, British expats still receive payouts from home”. No shit, Sherlock.
Playa Levante, Benidorm
They already paid in, Grant. You don’t just get benefits. And, as the man said, there’s more: “The Government has tried to ditch winter fuel payments to emigrants in the EU, but could not get out of the deal — despite a vast percentage of expats living in sunny SPAIN”. They don’t all live in bloody Benidorm, and you could have used an up to date photo of the place.
Yes, the Residencial El Tempo – that twin tower block in the left background – has been finished since the stock photo used by the paper was taken. But, as Clive James might have said, I digress. It’s not baking hot all year round in Spain. And what if they live in Madrid, for instance (Tuesday top temperature forecast to be the same as Crewe, at 11 degrees Celsius)?
Crystal Palace, Retiro Park, Madrid
And it snowed last week in southern France, another favourite destination for expats. If they’ve paid in to the system, what’s the problem? Heck, it’s not as if they’re costing us anything – they go to the doctors over in Spain. But it must be a serious matter as there’s a comment from Matthew Sinclair, chief non-job holder at the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA).
“Benefits should only go to expats who have built up a genuine entitlement” he wibbles. Christ on a bike, if they weren’t entitled to the benefit, it wouldn’t be paid. Go on, amaze us some more. “Ministers must put safeguards in place”. Dead right they must – like safeguarding newspaper readers from the routine bullshit peddled by Astroturf lobby groups. Some pensioners live abroad. Get over it.
And that goes for you Murdoch hacks. You’ll want your place in the sun someday.
The thing is, the argument about paying into the system to get something back doesn't wash for winter fuel. Yes, when people paid in National Insurance, there was an expectation that you would get a state pension at the end of it. Not so for Winter Fuel payment. That was a new benefit created around a decade ago. You can hardly claim the government broke a promise for something that hadn't even been thought of at the time you paid into the system.
It's fair to highlight the obvious anti-EU point-scoring, but that should not invalidate the question over whether we should carry on spending what we're spending now. When civil servants are losing out on pension deals THEY WERE ALREADY SIGNED UP TO, I don't see why pensioners wealthy enough to retire to a place in the sun should have a special entitlement to government money when other people who've also played by the book are losing out hugely.
Well, the Government didn't break any promise on fuel payments as they haven't stopped them.
And I wouldn't call those who retire abroad "wealthy". Most expat pensioners are ordinary folk - the kind who suffer when the Pound slides against the Euro, for instance.
I've already posted more than once on the Government's behaviour on public sector pensions - once again, to no surprise, egged on by the TPA.
Can I offer a Yes Minister style solution? Change it to "Extreme Weather Allowance". It's bloody hot in Spain. They need that money for air con.
Seriously, is that a bad idea?
I don't think you can just brush off Chris' point with "winter fuel allowance hasn't been cancelled". Pensioners who have paid into the system are drawing out vastly more than they put in.(This is not a problem unique to the UK.) It is an inter-generational transfer of money, plain and simple. While it is silly to single out pensioners in Spain, the country needs to have a serious conversation on pensioner entitlements that goes beyond the trite, "they worked hard and paid into the system all their lives".
"Well, the Government didn't break any promise on fuel payments as they haven't stopped them."
I could just as easily argue that the Government hasn't stopped multi-million bonuses to failed bank chiefs. That doesn't automatically mean the status quo is right.
I've stopped being interested in who "deserves" benefits - what matters is who needs benefits, and pensioners on large incomes are a long way down my list. I'm prepared to listen to arguments of how wealthy pensioners living abroad actually are, but I'm strongly of the opinion that blanket dismissal of this question because "we've paid into the system our whole lives" isn't good enough any more.
Come on, Chris, bankers' bonuses don't come out of taxation.
It was confirmed to me on Twitter yesterday evening:
that residing in Spain is no guarantee of warm weather, particularly in winter. The town in the photo - Antequera - looks very nice in September, but anywhere on the plain is susceptible to snow in the winter months.
So getting annoyed over winter fuel payments is a non-starter. There is clearly a need. And I can't see why residence outside the UK means someone has a "large income".
"Come on, Chris, bankers' bonuses don't come out of taxation."
Seeing as RBS is mostly owned by the UK government following a large bailout of taxpayers' money, that's debatable, but moving on ...
"So getting annoyed over winter fuel payments is a non-starter. There is clearly a need."
Or, more accurately, there is a need for some pensioners. It's all very well arguing that not all pensioners living abroad are wealthy, but equally, not all pensioners living abroad are impoverished (same as non-expat pensioners). Ultimately, some pensioners claim winter fuel allowance who clearly aren't short of cash for the heating bill. And as this potentially adds up to considerable expense for the rest of us taxpayers when quite painful cuts are being made elsewhere, serious questions need asking over who really needs it.
So you're only concerned about RBS, then. Or perhaps Lloyds. Not that you said so at the outset.
But, again, there's a difference between directly funding from taxation and having a shareholding in a business that you expect to be run, well, as a business.
As for the inference that some folks don't need benefits that at present are universal, I await your analysis of how making them not universal will make worthwhile savings. The amounts quoted by the Sun were hardly significant, and unless you remove the benefit altogether you would have to means test in some way.
Time: "So getting annoyed over winter fuel payments is a non-starter. There is clearly a need."
Chris N-S: "Or, more accurately, there is a need for some pensioners. It's all very well arguing that not all pensioners living abroad are wealthy, but equally, not all pensioners living abroad are impoverished (same as non-expat pensioners)."
In the context of the OP (The S*n attacking the fact that ex-pats are entitled to certain benefits) it's pretty clear that "non-starter" refers to the simple-minded "they don't need winter fuel in Spain, 'cos it's always dead sunny when I go there for my holidays" attitude.
Chris N-S: "Ultimately, some pensioners claim winter fuel allowance who clearly aren't short of cash for the heating bill."
This betrays your lack of knowledge of how the Winter Fuel Allowance is administered. It is not "claimed" by anyone. Anyone entitled to it gets it whether they ask for it or not. In fact they get it even if they write back and say they really don't need it thanks (as my mum did).
If you want to get into whether certain benefits should be universal or means-tested, perhaps you'd be better doing so where that is the focus. This blog post appears to me to be about geographic location rather than income levels.
(As Jon Stewert might say) 2 things here...
1) I think you're letting Chris N-S derail you. The S*n are trying to get their readers worked up about ex-pats in Spain receiving things like Winter Fuel Allowance when we all know it's always hot there 'cos that's where we go in July to get turned into a lobster on our annual holiday. There's no adequate argument to be made against your post, so Chris is moving the goal posts to make it look like your position is something it isn't.
2) You missed Chris betraying his utter ignorance of how Winter Fuel Allowance is administered: "some pensioners claim winter fuel allowance who clearly aren't short of cash for the heating bill."
You don't claim the Winter Fuel Allowance, it's paid to everyone who qualifies whether they ask for it or not. In fact when my mum first got it a couple of years ago she wrote saying she was still working (she's one of those greedy public sector layabouts) and anyway didn't need it. Didn't work. In the end it would have been more trouble than it was worth to return the money.
"£So you're only concerned about RBS, then. Or perhaps Lloyds. Not that you said so at the outset."
This is getting sidetracked. The point is that justifying the status quo on the grounds that it's allowed is circular logic. There are serious questions about multi-million pound bonuses to failed bank chiefs, whether or not they are being paid for out of taxpayers' money. Allowed now? Yes. Should it be allowed in future? Maybe, maybe not. But no-one would argue that the status quo must never be changed because it's the status quo. Similarly, there are point for and against changing entitlement for winter fuel allowance, but claiming the rules should never change because they're all entitled to it now doesn't even qualify as an argument.
"I await your analysis of how making them not universal will make worthwhile savings."
I agree that with only £92m of Winter Fuel money going to expats, any savings from expats alone will be negligible in government figures. But the total bill for Winter Fuel allowance is, I believe, £2.3bn per year. Even if you only only scrapped the allowance for the top 25% of pensioners, that's a saving of £575m per year, which is substantial compared to the pain of a lot of cuts that might otherwise be made in its place.
At the very least, the Government needs to have a serious look at who needs the allowance, who doesn't, and how feasible it would be to do the means testing. If it turns out they can't do it because it will cost more to administer than the money it saves, fair enough. But I don't see why Winter Fuel should be the sacred cow of benefits when the rest of us are having practically every tax, benefit and service raked over for savings.
"And I can't see why residence outside the UK means someone has a "large income"."
I think its because we've cultivated the narrative of British migrants being some how special (always referred to as ex-pats). My parents emigrated to the Netherlands to work as teachers because the pay there was higher than S. Wales at the time and you get more bang for buck in terms of the quality of housing etc. but they aren't particularly wealthy.
Parts of Spain and France have relatively lower living costs than the denser areas of north and central Europe, which is their greatest appeal. You can get a nice house in the country side for peanuts, trade of being you're miles away from anything.
I'd agree that fuel payments should be means tested though.
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