Ministers disagree over pensioners' benefits

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith.
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith. Photo: David Jones/PA Wire

Coalition ministers have traded blows over pensioners' benefits after Iain Duncan Smith urged the wealthy to hand the money back to the Government.

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

During an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, Mr Duncan Smith said, "It is up to them if they don't want it to hand it back," he said. "I would encourage everybody who reads the Telegraph and doesn't need it to hand it back".

ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen reports:

But Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said he does not think Mr Duncan Smith's suggestion makes sense.

The Liberal Democrat leader told the BBC's Sunday Politics programme, "I think the idea of saying in the meantime, you give people benefits and then you say, 'Oh, by the way, can you please give them back?' - I don't think that makes sense".

Meanwhile his Conservative Cabinet colleague Ken Clarke said he did not believe it was even possible to return money to the Government.

Speaking on Sky News' Murnaghan programme, the 72 year old refused to say whether he returned the universal benefits he is entitled to.

Minister Without Portfolio Ken Clarke.
Minister Without Portfolio Ken Clarke. Credit: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

He said, "It is certainly the case when it comes to a bus pass and when it comes to the winter fuel all taxpayers should decide and recipients should decide what to do with it themselves".

"You can't hand it back to the Government. I don't think it is a system for doing that. Every pensioner and retired person like myself has to make up their own mind about whether they really need it and whether they are going to give it to some worthwhile cause", he added.

David Cameron has stood by his General Election pledge to protect universal benefits for pensioners until at least 2015, but has not hinted at what the Conservative Party's policy will be at the next election.

The Department for Work and Pensions stressed that people have the right to choose what to do with the benefits.