Should all pensioners receive universal benefits?

Published by Esther Rantzen on 15 December 2010.
Last updated on 02 May 2013

Esther Rantzen

My grandfather was a successful businessman. Although I don't remember him well, I have pictures of us together, me in a pretty smocked dress, he sporting a natty panama hat and a white moustache. Alas, grandpa died when I was four, but my mother passed on to me his strong views about taxes. He was in favour of them.

That, I suppose, makes him as rare as a nudist in London Fashion Week. No doubt grandpa's business colleagues were far less keen on having their wealth extracted, and maybe I overstate his enthusiasm.

But I do know, because my mother told me, that grandpa always said you should never try to organise your life in order to avoid paying taxes.   

That thought occurs to me whenever I pay a quick visit to Monaco. It's always quick because, not being a super-tax payer, I have no reason to stay.

As you leave the sunny south of France and plunge into the shade of the mountains, Monaco always seems to me to be an odd place to live - claustrophobic and overcrowded. Neighbouring Provence is so glorious by comparison, with its rolling countryside strewn with orange blossom petals and little turreted towns perched on hilltops. 

Even Monaco's yacht-crammed harbour seems to leave no room for happy tax-free dolphins to play. With all that money, why live there - unless, of course, your life is dominated by the desire to save huge amounts of tax?

Following grandpa's precepts, I have paid taxes all my working life - almost 50 years. I must have funded several hospitals by now, and I don't resent any of it.

Targeting taxes

But in these tough, straitened times I have become far more picky. I now only want my taxes to go to people suffering real hardship. I want them targeted: to disabled people, so that they can stay warm and mobile; to disadvantaged children, so they can have decent clothes and good food.  

What I don't want is for my taxes to go to people like me - pensioners who are comfortably off, still hard at work, and can afford to pay their way. Of course I know most OAPs are not as lucky as I am, and I don't begrudge a penny of my taxes going to them.

But not, please, to me, or others like me without money worries. That is why I don't use a Freedom bus pass, and why, when my winter £250 fuel grant arrives, I feel guilty and slightly resentful.      

It's not that I reject all the advantages of our welfare state. At 70 I do draw my state pension, and I have an excellent NHS GP who gives me a flu injection every year. What's more, I bought myself a Senior Citizen Railcard, and I take advantage of OAP matinee tickets for plays and movies. So I admit I am not being consistent.

But some handouts feel like charity when they come to someone in my fortunate position, and I feel like a scrounger receiving them.

Dame Joan Bakewell says that there should be a charity set up specifically for pensioners too proud to accept their handouts, so that they can donate them to a good cause instead. Alternatively, we could all make that gesture ourselves - pick a favourite charity and make an equivalent donation to it.  

I do have one further suggestion. Looking at the charities that benefit most from legacies, I note to my dismay that although the list of the top 10 beneficiaries includes dogs, lifeboats and the National Trust, there isn't a single children's charity in it. And that saddens me because, given that most people who leave legacies are elderly, it would imply that old people don't care about kids - which I just refuse to believe. 

So here's an idea. If you happen to be a pensioner, and you receive a handout you don't want or need, why not pick a children's charity and give them a little extra this Christmas? Obviously as the founder of Childline I would be delighted if the charity received more funding but any children's charity would be happy to receive more.

I think that would warm our hearts even more effectively than a winter fuel allowance, don't you?


More About

Leave a comment