Simon Read: Cutting back on benefits must not mean risking lives

The Coalition Government's plans to cut back pensioners' winter fuel allowance is sickening. Not because they are going back on pre-election commitments not to abolish the allowance allowance. I really don't care if politicians turn out to be two-faced liars. In fact, I expect it. Especially from career politicians who, let's face it, would have said and done anything to get themselves into Downing Street.

But there's a more pressing reason for the current Government to think again about its plans to cut the payment and raise the qualifying age. It could mean the difference between life and death for millions. Some three million pensioners in the UK are currently living in fuel poverty, which means they are forced to spend at least a tenth of their income on energy bills.

What will happen to these struggling folk if their payment is cut? The obvious answer is that given the choice of whether to heat or heat, many people will just turn their heating off when they can no longer afford it. And without adequate heating the results for the elderly can be fatal. In short, cutting the amount of cash given to them could mean risking their lives. "The winter death rate among older people is a national scandal and getting worse," warns Dot Gibson of the National Pensioners Convention. "Last winter over 36,700 pensioners died of cold-related illnesses – that is a staggering 13 pensioners every hour."

According to reports published this week, the winter fuel payment – which is currently made to some 12 million older people – could be cut by £50 for new recipients and £100 for the oldest. The reports suggest that ministers also plan to increase the qualifying age for the annual payment from 60 to at least 66. There are even rumours that the payment could become means tested. At present any household with someone aged 60 or more automatically gets a £250 winter fuel payment. For households with people over 80, the payment climbs to £400. The proposals could cut the payment to £200 and £350 respectively. Even worse, means testing could leave even more missing out, even if they may qualify.

Roger Turner, the general secretary of the National Federation of Occupational Pensioners, warns that a change to means testing for the allowance could prove to be disastrous for thousands of pensioners that desperately need help. "Many of the most poverty-stricken pensioners will not want – or be able – to fill in complex forms or go "cap in hand" to the State; they see it as demeaning," he says. "Over half a million or so pensioners already live without money from the Pensions Credit because they do not claim it." There are other proposed cutbacks – such as the scrapping of free TV licences – which would hit pensioners.

The reports have angered Ros Altman, who is a pensions expert and a former adviser to the Treasury on the issue. "The Government cannot just get rid of winter fuel allowance and free TV licences – it would be like cutting state pension by over £10 a week!" she says.

Ms Altman proposes that the allowances be rolled into the basic state pension instead. "We should move towards a decent, flat-rate pension for all older people," she demands. I agree. More specifically I believe that no pensioners should live in fuel poverty. Whatever cutbacks we face, we must not risk more lives this winter simply because of cost. There must be a serious rethink of plans to hit our older people.

Using your nest egg to live is wrong

alarming research published today reveals that a third of us are surviving at the moment by using savings to get by. The investment house Schroders reckons we've collectively wasted £60bn-worth of savings – with the average person needing to reduce their nest egg by £4,600 in the past 12 months.

Bearing in mind that the statistics are slightly questionable as they're based on a survey of just 2,011 people, the fact that even some folk are having to rely on savings is of concern. Not least is the presumption that they're not earning enough.

With warnings of a double-dip recession still echoing around, the chances of pay increases or better times look forlorn, leaving those relying on savings facing a time when they will surely run out. And then their real problems will start as they will be forced to make some hard decisions about where cutbacks can be made.

But it also points to the fact that many people clearly can't afford to save. How can they approach the future? With some trepidation.

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at

Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Neil Pavier: Management Accountant

    £45,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you looking for your next opportunity for ...

    Sheridan Maine: Commercial Accountant

    £45,000 - £55,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ACA/ACCA/ACMA qua...

    Laura Norton: Project Accountant

    £50,000 - £60,000: Laura Norton: Are you looking for an opportunity within a w...

    Day In a Page

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
    Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

    The end of an era across the continent

    It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
    Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

    'Focus on killing American people'

    Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
    Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

    Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

    The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
    Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

    Same-sex marriage

    As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
    The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

    The Mafia is going freelance

    Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable