FEARS that pensioner benefits could be cut if the Conservatives win the next election are felt nowhere more keenly than in Christchurch.
With the highest percentage of retired people in the UK, residents could be hard-hit if perks like free bus passes, winter heating payments and free TV licences were axed.
Speaking at the weekend, Prime Minister David Cameron said that state pensions would continue to rise by at least 2.5 per cent a year until 2020 if the Conservatives won the next election.
But he would not be drawn on whether or not his party would cut back on benefits that so many retired people rely on. On the streets of Christchurch, it was clear that the benefits – particularly the bus pass and fuel payment – would be missed.
Stan Holland, 91, said: “They’re a help because the pension increase is only a few pounds.
“If they stopped we would probably have to dip into our savings. We get by at the moment, but if we lost all that we would use up our savings.”
Ada Guyett, 81, added: “I lost my husband 35 years ago and if it hadn’t been for my bus pass I wouldn’t be able to afford to go out every day. It’s a lifeline.”
Myfanwy Pierce, 83, said: “It’s very important, the bus pass, to me because I don’t drive.
“The heating allowance we’re very glad of as well. We’d miss it.”
Nesta Holland, 80, added: “I think it would be disastrous. So many people, older people, are able to get out and about with a bus pass, it’s very important.
“Some people just go for a bus ride to get out.”
Len Trembeth, 75, said: “They are very important when it comes to heating. People that are on a basic pension are struggling.”
Commitment to increase
CLLR Denise Jones, elderly people’s champion for Christchurch, said she was pleased that a commitment had been given on pension increases.
She said she had “mixed feelings” on perks like free bus passes and TV licences, but added: “The heating question is one where I do really believe that you do need a payment. For a lot of elderly people it’s sometimes a distinction between heating and eating.”
John Mather, from Highcliffe Residents’ Association, said: “David Cameron seems to be looking after the retired person’s position and I know many people tend to say it’s nice to get these things but if we’re all saving that’s one way that we can look at it.
“We’re pretty fortunate down here to be in a part of the UK that’s fairly upmarket, but for people who are genuinely hard-up you can see it.”