Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has said better-off elderly people should make a “sacrifice” to benefits such as the concessionary travel to help the government balance its books, it was reported last week.
“We should be asking millionaire pensioners to perhaps make a little sacrifice on their free TV licence or their free bus passes,” Mr Clegg told the BBC.
Lib Dem ministers pushed for the means-testing of universal benefits to be announced in last week’s Autumn Statement, but were rebuffed by their Conservative Coalition partners.
Conservative ministers are understood to be “dead set” against any move to water down universal benefits for fear of a popular backlash.
Mr Clegg, however, said he would continue to make the case for richer pensioners to sacrifice their benefits. “These are all things where we don’t agree as a government right now, but where those arguments will play out in the years ahead,” he said.
Around 12m people in the UK are now eligible for free bus travel, and it is estimated more than nine million hold a bus pass. Some Conservative MPs are backing proposals for councils to be able to charge small fees or administration charges for bus passes because of the growing cost of providing free travel to the over-60s.
As the next election approaches, Clegg said the Lib Dems would seek to set out their own, distinctive policy agenda, which is likely to be at odds with many Conservative positions.
“The natural battleground of British politics is to be up front with the British people that we need to make savings, to agree in overall terms what those savings need to be, but then to have the really key debate about who are the winners and who are the losers,” said Clegg.