Cool reception to increase in winter payments

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Indy Politics

Campaigners dismissed a £50-a-year increase in winter fuel payments for the over-70s as a "sticking plaster", accusing Gordon Brown of failing to ensure that all pensioners get a decent income.

Campaigners dismissed a £50-a-year increase in winter fuel payments for the over-70s as a "sticking plaster", accusing Gordon Brown of failing to ensure that all pensioners get a decent income.

The Chancellor announced the £260m move which will increase the payments to £250 for the over-70s and £350 to those aged over 80. Mr Brown told MPs: "You judge a society by its generosity to children and the elderly, those who have served the community all their lives."

Pensioner groups derided the change, while the Liberal Democrats said Mr Brown had actually cut support to the elderly.

Mervyn Kohler, the head of public affairs for Help the Aged, said: "The Chancellor's announcement can only be described as another patch of sticking plaster. The extra £50 on the winter fuel payment for people over 70 is welcome. But it still represents a failure both to address the basis for financing local services and to provide a decent income to our pensioners."

Gordon Lishman, the director general of Age Concern, said: "Many older people do need this money to get through the winter and we are pleased they are getting it. The problem is we do not think people should be relying on a one-off payment to cover basic living costs such as heating."

Joe Harris, the general secretary of the National Pensioners Convention, dismissed extra winter fuel payments as "a few crumbs" for pensioners. "He has completely ignored the plight of millions of women pensioners who retire at 60," Mr Harris said. "The Chancellor should have committed the Government to a basic state pension of £105 a week for all rather than trying to divide the older generation even further. Yet again he has missed a golden opportunity to put an end to pensioner poverty and he may pay the price at the ballot box."

Steve Webb, the Liberal Democrat work and pensions spokesman, said Mr Brown had cut help for pensioners by £50 by failing to repeat this year's one-off £100 grant to help with council tax payments. He said: "They always said this £100 was a one-off, but council tax has not gone away. This year a 70-year-old got a cheque for £300. Next year it will be £250. That is a cut by anybody's standards, but it is after the election."

Age Concern also warned that British pensioners were more likely to die from cold than any of their northern European counterparts. The charity said 22,000 pensioners were likely to die from cold-related illness in the UK this winter, an 18 per cent increase on death rates in the rest of the year. Deaths increase by only 12 per cent in Denmark during the winter and by 10 per cent in Finland.

Mr Lishman said: "It is scandalous that older people in the UK and Ireland are more vulnerable during the winter than those in much colder countries. Almost 2.4 million older people live in homes that are cold enough to cause illness, and this is just unacceptable."

Meanwhile, union leaders warned of a clash with public sector workers over plans to cut ill-health retirement benefits.

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