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Protest to protect OAPs' benefits

Pensioners are set to protest to defend their right to age-related benefits in Westminster.

The Hands Off The Bus Pass demonstration, organised by Britain's biggest pensioner pressure group the National Pensioners Convention (NPC), aims to oppose the suggestion that universal benefits should be means-tested.

Universal benefits, including bus passes and winter fuel allowance, are currently available to all older people, regardless of their level of income.

Last month, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg proposed that wealthy pensioners should be stripped of their universal benefits while the country is still experiencing economic strain.

The protesters from around the country want to inform MPs that reducing the amount of benefits available to the elderly will not necessarily reduce the country's deficit.

June Clarkson, 79, from Portsmouth, has been a member of the NPC for more than 15 years. She is concerned that changes to the benefits system could negatively affect the quality of pensioners' lives.

"There are rumours flying around that the next government will be looking to almost certainly change age-related benefits to being means-assessed," she said. "While I doubt any of us would be isolated at home as a result, we would not be able to go out and about and do voluntary work, or visit friends and family as much. It would curtail our social life, definitely."

Dot Gibson, general secretary of the NPC, argued that while removing free bus passes may save the government an estimated £1 billion, it would lead to increased isolation and social exclusion amongst the elderly.

She said: "This idea that the country's economy is struggling because an army of millionaire pensioners are joy riding with their free bus passes is absolute nonsense. The economic crisis is being used as an excuse to undermine the welfare state and roll back some of our hard-earned gains - many of which are necessary because the UK has one of the worst state pensions in Europe."

Following the demonstration opposite the House of Lords, the protesters have booked a room within the House of Commons to hear a number of speeches. Speakers include Ros Altman from Saga, and David Crausby MP. Mr Crausby tabled a motion calling on the Government to resist changing to a system of means-testing pensioner benefits earlier this year.

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