One of the major shifts in government spending over recent years has been away from young people and towards those in retirement. A study due this week from the Intergenerational Foundation thinktank shows that while spending on pensioners and children respectively increased at similar rates before 2010-11, the austerity years to 2019 proved much more generous to the old.

The report finds that in 2018-19, the government spent “on average £14,660 on each child, £10,180 on each working-age adult, and £20,790 on each pensioner” and that the gap in per capita spending on children and pensioners more than doubled over the previous 20 years.

This means pensioners captured 30% of the growth in public expenditure throughout the period, with most of the gains coming after 2010 and the introduction of the triple lock, though many and varied ancillary benefits also played a part.

That’s the George Osborne legacy. It was a clever policy for a man obsessed with maximising the Tory vote. Older voters rewarded the Conservative party with electoral wins in 2015, 2017 and 2019.

Of the £900m a year spent subsidising bus and train travel for the old and disabled, the foundation calculates 88% is claimed by the old, and a growing health bill before the pandemic was also disproportionately accounted for by outpatient appointments for the over-60s.

A pensioner has much more disposable income than a worker on the same money, especially if the latter wants to start a family or buy a home

In one area, mental health, the foundation finds per capita spending on outpatient treatment for pensioners more than tripled between 2011–12 and 2018–19, whereas spending on children’s mental health rose by only 5.6%.

The situation is likely to persist as long as a majority of voters think means-testing benefits for the old is outrageous, but that it’s acceptable for families and children.

It is inconsistent that parents with an income above £50,000 are denied child benefit and that only workers on the lowest incomes can receive universal credit, yet a pensioner with a private income of £50,000 still gets the state pension and a free bus pass, all without any obligation


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