Iain Duncan Smith’s comments on benefits meet with mixed response at Redbridge Pensioners’ Forum

Iain Duncan Smith MP

Iain Duncan Smith MP - Credit: Archant

Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, should “lead by example” before urging pensioners to voluntarily give up their benefits, according to a volunteer with the Redbridge Pensioners’ Forum.

Redbridge Pensioners' Forum chairman John Coombes

Redbridge Pensioners' Forum chairman John Coombes - Credit: Archant

But other members of the group, which campaigns for pensioners’ rights, were more receptive to the suggestion by the MP for Chingford and Woodford Green.

Mr Duncan Smith called on well-off elderly readers of a national Sunday newspaper who do not need benefits such as free bus travel or the winter fuel allowance to hand them back.

At the pensioners’ forum’s annual general meeting on Monday, volunteer Alan Banner, 67, of Ilford, said MPs should give up their expense claims and second homes first.

He added: “I think there’s greater issues which they’re diverting attention away from.

“For a lot of people, the bus pass is a lifeline.”

Mr Duncan Smith has spearheaded an overhaul of the national welfare system and also drew criticism last month after suggesting he could live on £53 a week in benefits if he had to.

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Mavis Jackman, 71, of Sackville Gardens, Ilford, said: “He said he could afford it, but I couldn’t.

“My fuel bill for the winter was £600.

“Some other people, millionaires, could offer to give up [their benefits].

“I’m scraping by with my pension.”

In a radio interview on Monday, the MP said he was not “encouraging people to hand it back or keep it”.

He said: “All I said in answer to a question, [is that] there’s always been the position that if somebody wants to hand the money back if they don’t use it, that’s up to them.”

Forum chairman John Coombes said the majority of the group, which met in Redbridge Central Library, Clements Road, Ilford, need “that couple of hundred quid”.

But Margaret Bint, 82, of Ilford, said: “I suppose [the benefits] should be means tested really. I know a couple of people who gave their winter fuel allowance to charity.”

And Maurice Conway, an 88-year-old RAF Bomber Command veteran of Cranbrook Road, Gants Hill, said: “I think it’s a good idea. If people can afford it and it helps, why not?”

The chairman and president of the pensioners’ forum also called on members to get behind future campaigns at the AGM.

During a packed meeting, thanks were given to members who have worked in senior positions within the forum during the last year.

Chairman John Coombes, who was re-elected, praised the role of the forum’s president, Chris Wilson, “despite the fact he’s 90-something”.

Mr Coombes said: “He won’t tell me his true age.

“He still goes around to Age UK and various organisations within the council and keeps us informed.”

Both men highlighted the campaigning side of the forum, and Mr Coombes said “changes in the NHS in particular will affect all of us”.

Mr Wilson said: “We have lots to campaign about now.

“We need everyone to support what we’re trying to do.”