Labour leadership disowns threat to OAP benefits

The Labour leadership slapped down a shadow minister last night who suggested that a Miliband government could target universal benefits such as the winter fuel allowance and free bus passes for pensioners.

Liam Byrne, the shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said cuts to the welfare budget would have to be found because Labour would inherit a "dog's breakfast". Ed Balls, the shadow Chancellor, would look at every element of spending, he said.

Mr Byrne said: "There's been a balance in the welfare state between universal benefits and targeted benefits. And I'm afraid that as part of Ed's [Balls] zero-based review, that balance has got to be looked at." But a senior source rapidly disowned the comments. He said: "You should be in no doubt as to our commitment to universal benefits. We believe it gives everyone a stake in the welfare state."

The issue of scrapping means-testing universal benefits paid to older people is highly sensitive – not least because of the number of over-65s who vote.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has raised questions over whether "millionaire pensioners" should receive such handouts.

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