David Cameron rejects winter fuel allowance cut for pensioners

 

David Cameron rejected calls to means-test winter fuel payments today, insisting he would stick to an election pledge not to cut state help for pensioners.

The Prime Minister stuck to his guns after ex-care minister Paul Burstow said all but the poorest OAPs should be stripped of the cash.

In a report for the Centre Forum think-tank, the Liberal Democrat said the savings would help pay for long-delayed reforms to the social care system.

With austerity cuts starting to bite, there is mounting pressure for well-off over-65s to be stripped of the right to help such as fuel payments and free bus passes.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has been pressing for a stop to universal benefits and Tory Charities Minister Nick Hurd urged rich pensioners last week to donate their fuel cash to charity.

It is worth £200 for the over-60s, rising to £300 for the over-80s.

But Mr Cameron, who made a commitment to protect such benefits central to his general election campaign, said he would not be budged.

"I made a very clear promise at the election that we would keep the winter fuel payments alongside the other pensioner benefits as they were, and that's a promise I'm keeping," he said.

Mr Burstow's call for the payment to be restricted to those eligible for pension credit - around a quarter - sparked warnings from campaigners that it could lead to more winter deaths.

Both the National Pensioners Convention and Saga said that at a time of rising fuel bills, the cash was key to some people being able to heat their homes.

Mr Burstow has been a vocal critic of the failure to reform elderly care since losing his position in September's reshuffle, accusing George Osborne's Treasury of blocking progress.

The Government has indicated that it accepts the principle of a blueprint drawn up by economist Andrew Dilnot more than a year ago but cannot agree on how it should be funded.

Mr Burstow suggested costs could be cut by around £1.5 billion if individuals were asked to contribute £60,000 to their care before the state steps in, rather than the £35,000 Dilnot proposal.

Currently, elderly people in England have to contribute to their own care costs if they have savings of more than £23,000, forcing many to sacrifice their life savings and sell family homes.

"A cap at £60,000, plus a means test being lifted from its current £23,250 to £100,000, would actually cost about £8.4 billion in the life of the next Parliament," Mr Burstow told the BBC.

"We can meet that by having a trade-off between those currently receiving the winter fuel allowance and not receiving it in the future but actually that being targeted on the poorest and the savings being used to ensure the frail, those who have dementia, those that are disabled, can have the peace of mind of knowing they don't face those catastrophic care costs."

He questioned whether it was right that 100,000 pensioners with incomes over £100,000 received the fuel payment, especially when many said it was spent on other things.

And he said he hoped the Government would "finally face up to its responsibilities and take action" on the care reform issue.

Saga director general Ros Altman said means-testing payments could backfire by discouraging people from saving for their retirement in the first place.

And she warned lives were at risk.

"Every winter, over 20,000 pensioners die of cold in this country and these 'excess winter deaths' would increase if more pensioners were denied their winter fuel payment," she said.

"It is likely to mean more people deciding not to bother to look after themselves, since they see colleagues who may have chosen not to bother setting aside sums for the future receiving far more."

Taxing the payments or raising the age of eligibility could be considered, she said, but the principle of universality should be protected.

Convention general secretary Dot Gibson said Mr Burstow's proposal would create a "costly and inefficient bureaucracy" which would discourage people who really needed the money from claiming.

"Taking money from pensioners who are trying to keep warm this winter on just over £10,500 a year will only create more fuel poverty and ultimately lead to more older people dying from the cold.

"Suggesting that these pensioners are well-off and should pay for the care of other older people is simply ridiculous."

Shadow health minister Andrew Gwynne called for a resumption of cross-party talks.

He said: "The Government is completely out of touch with the immediate care crisis. Instead of sticking their heads in the sand, they should engage in serious cross-party talks so we can get a proper agreement across all the political parties about how we fund long-term care in future."

PA

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee