Winter cut gets chilly reception
Senior Liberal Democrat Paul Burstow yesterday sparked controversy by calling for winter fuel payments to be means-tested. The suggestion is aimed at meeting the costs of implementing reforms proposed by the Dilnot Commission, which looked into the issue of how to fund care for elderly people.
At present there is no limit on how much people can end up paying out on the care they need.
This means that they often have to sell their houses to afford the costs.
The Dilnot Commission proposed a cap on how much individuals would have to pay and suggested that this should be set at £35,000.
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This would obviously be much fairer than the current situation but would cost a lot of public money – about £1.7 billion a year – to fund.
Mr Burstow's suggestion over winter fuel payments would provide the majority of the funding needed – about £1.5 billion.
However, it would mean that the majority of pensioners would lose the winter fuel allowance – about 10 million of them.
Only the most hard-up, those receiving the pension credit top-up, would continue to receive it.
The problem with this suggestion is that many of those who would lose out, while not the very poorest, are still on low incomes and the removal of a benefit worth up to £300 each year would have a serious effect on them.
Many are already struggling to pay energy bills and this would make it even harder for them to keep warm during the winter.
Mr Burstow was quoted yesterday as saying that there were 100,000 pensioners with incomes of more than £100,000 a year and he questioned whether it was right to continue to pay them winter fuel allowance.
However, his proposal would impact on people whose incomes are far less than that – as little as £10,500.
We agree with him that there is some room for reform as winter fuel payments are obviously not needed for pensioners on high incomes.
But he has suggested far too low a cut-off point by linking payments only to those on pension credits and we are pleased to see that Prime Minister David Cameron has dismissed the idea.