Rich pensioners would keep winter fuel allowance under a Tory government

Conservatives accused of courting the “grey vote”

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Wealthy pensioners would keep perks such as winter fuel allowances if the Conservatives win the May election, David Cameron has suggested.

The Prime Minister said there were not "huge savings" to be made from cutting universal benefits from better-off pensioners. He gave a strong hint that the Tory manifesto would renew the pledge the party made at the 2010 election to preserve winter fuel payments, free TV licences and bus travel for pensioners.

This would make the Tories the only party committed to keeping the perks. Labour and the Liberal Democrats have promised to withdraw winter fuel allowances from better-off pensioners to save about £100m.

The Tories have been accused of courting the “grey vote” at the expense of young people because older people are more likely to vote.

Mr Cameron told BBC Radio 4: "I've always said that there aren't huge savings to be made from axing these benefits and I think pensioners welcome the clarity that there's been. But I think there's a really important issue of fairness here. This country has had to make difficult long-term decisions. We've had to work through a plan to get our deficit down and live within our means. I don't think it would be fair to ask pensioners to make the biggest adjustment because when you're a pensioner it's more difficult to adjust your circumstances."

Labour responded by criticising the Tories for refusing to spell out how they would find an estimated £50bn of cuts in the 2015-2020 parliament and making unfunded promises of £7.2bn of tax cuts.

Mr Cameron confirmed that a Tory government would reduce the annual cap on benefits paid to each household from £26,000 to £23,000, cutting up to £60 a week in state support. He said the £135m savings would help to fund 3m apprenticeships by 2020. Another £120m would be saved by ending housing benefit from 18 to 21-year-olds on jobseeker's allowance.

Alison Garnham, chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said: "The benefit cap is at least nine times more likely to affect children than adults, and the majority of adults it hits are lone parents. Britain is facing a looming child poverty crisis; lowering the benefit cap would bring it several steps closer."

Paul Noblet, head of public affairs at the Centrepoint charity, said removing housing benefit would "cause further misery and homelessness" for vulnerable young people.