Welfare for the wealthy must be tackled before the government makes any further benefit cuts, Nick Clegg said on Sunday.
The Liberal Democrat leader said he would be prepared to discuss further cuts to the welfare bill – but only if the Conservatives put universal pensioner benefits like the winter fuel allowance on the table.
Senior party sources said they did not believe David Cameron or the Chancellor George Osborne would be prepared to do this as it would go back on a Tory election pledge not to cut pensioner benefits in this Parliament.
Mr Clegg told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show that in order to tackle welfare reform you needed to “start at the top”.
“The fact that we're asking people on low incomes to pay through their taxes to basically pay the fuel bills of people who don't need to heat their homes because they live in sunny parts of Europe and maybe didn't even work here before they retired, I think that lifts the lid on a wider problem in our welfare system,” he said.
He added: “I don't think you can have a debate about welfare that is provided to people at the bottom, if you're not prepared to have a debate on the welfare that is provided to people at the top.
“That isn't fair, that is why I will only proceed with further welfare reform if it is done fairly.”
Mr Clegg said a debate about welfare for the wealthy was needed.
In the coalition agreement, the Conservatives and Lib Dems agreed to protect pensioner benefits like the universal winter fuel allowance until the general election.
Mr Clegg added his party would be prepared to revisit this.
“This is being blocked at the moment because the Conservatives don't want to have that debate and that is why we can't move forward,” he added.