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'Don't give well-off older people winter fuel payment'

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: January 23, 2013

Comments (21)

A Westcountry MP wants cuts to benefits for well-off pensioners to be considered after a former constituent revealed they claim the winter fuel allowance – despite living in Greece.

Andrew George, MP for St Ives, was among nine rebel Liberal Democrats to vote against proposals for a three-year cap on most working-age state benefits.

But ahead of the Commons vote on the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill, which the Government won, Mr George argued more than one-third of benefits go to people with above-average incomes.

"Indeed, a former constituent of mine has said how laughable it is that he now lives in Greece yet still receives a winter fuel allowance," Mr George told MPs, adding later it took him two winters to spend the hand-out.

"Surely we can find savings that are less painful than those proposed."

By raising benefits by 1% until 2016 – rather than pegging increases to inflation, meaning claimants can expect a real-terms freeze – the Government expects to save more than £2 billion.

Official figures show nearly £13 million in winter fuel payments went to pensioners living abroad, including warmer climes such as Spain, Italy and Cyprus.

The winter fuel payment is given at a flat rate of up to £300 regardless of a person's wealth.

In response, Work and Pensions Minister Steve Webb joked the Cornwall MP's ex-constituent is "in our sights. All I can say is that I hope he enjoyed his last payment".

He added: "Joking aside, even if we took away all winter fuel payments to overseas pensioners, we would be talking about tens of millions of pounds, not savings on the scale that we need."

Mr George, who claims his amendment to the Bill to link benefit increases to average wages was blocked by Labour, argued the reform was unfair given the volatile inflation forecasts in areas including food and housing costs.

He said afterwards: "This risks leaving some of the poorest working and non-working households in dire circumstances. I believe that there could be less painful ways of helping the Government achieve its deficit-reduction programme."

Among the Lib Dem rebels was Adrian Sanders, MP for Torbay. Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has warned Britain's continued fiscal crisis means all parties will have to admit to voters at the next election that benefits for all pensioners are no longer affordable.

The Deputy Prime Minister also suggested David Cameron's manifesto promise to retain universal pensioner benefits is "completely irrational". Another target could be the older person's bus pass, another non means-tested benefit.

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  • smallboy2010  |  January 24 2013, 1:25PM

    Hi Jungle - no its big :-) - Im guess ing that you did use google then ? Its refreshing to know that Ive taught you a new word.. you never know I might share a new one with you soon ;-)

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  • mygodlesslife  |  January 24 2013, 1:22PM

    It should be means-tested, for sure. Assuming a fair and coherent test can be contrived by our unfair and incoherent Government.

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  • Dangerman  |  January 24 2013, 11:00AM

    Anybody with half a brain will realise that the winter fuel payment is paid out because the State pension in this country for Britain's 12 million pensioners is inadequate to live on. Britain's pensioners are crying out for a decent State pension, making no need for the means tested and none means tested handouts. Britain has the worst State pension in the developed world, and as such many millions of our elderly are living in poverty. Largely all Britain's pensioners have paid into the system all their working lives, ie 30, 40, and 50 years, their share of taxes and NI contributions, , they all should be in receipt of a decent level of State pension, this is easily affordable in this country. Unfortunately, all this goes back to Margaret Thatcher in the 80's who broke the link which kept State pensions increasing directly with British prosperity. The State pensions since has risen in line with the lower inflation rate and so the State pension has declined in value, while bills and food prices have shot up. Please go to my website which is dedicated to how badly Britain's pensioners have been treated since Thatcher in the 80's, and Governments since. My site is free to join, and free to comment on all postings http://tinyurl.com/bcmw2ry and I would welcome comments about my site. Thank you.

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  • 1RTEatsea  |  January 23 2013, 11:06PM

    Oh the blissful ignorance and naivety of the young. I am not receiving a penny in state benefits. Though in 2018 I will be ENTITLED to receive a state pension. I should also be entitled to receive additional state pension as in my early years I contributed to the government's "Graduated Pension Scheme", superseded by the "Superannuation Scheme", and finally the "State Earnings Related Pension" scheme. In each case I made additional contributions to the basic National Insurance Contribution, based on my earnings. The idea was to give an enhanced pension to those who paid for it. That is what this government is proposing to steal from me. Had you walked into a bank or insurance company and paid those contributions for 40 years, then come to pay out you were told that you do not need the money. So they are going to find someone on the street more deserving and give them your money. A person who has not paid into the pension, or in certain cases never walked into the bank. How would you feel. This is not a benefit. It is a paid for right. As for the winter fuel, I expect that will be gone by the time I would be entitled. But don't get bogged down with the details of people living abroad. That is a simple diversion of a needed benefit that is likely to be withdrawn from all. But hey, all the young contributors will get old one day, and realise the path is being set for an awful retirement prospect for them. Unless of course you become a politician with a gold plated pension unaffected by these changes! Well Mr George, I am pleased you don't represent me!

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  • Baby_boomer  |  January 23 2013, 5:19PM

    Dear "ineedtherapy", You would appear to be a prime example of this country's ill-educated ignorati who see fit to rant about or pass comment on something about which they know clearly are not qualified to do so. Anyone with a basic knowledge of tax and benefit matters knows that SERPS is an abbreviation for State Earnings-Related Pension Scheme and not the rubbish which you have spouted.

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  • ineedtherapy  |  January 23 2013, 4:26PM

    Agree with you josdave. I cannot see why on earth people who have CHOSEN to leave the UK should continue to receive any benefit except the old age pension....and there is an arguement for stopping this as well. A lot of people on this site won't like the next bit but the fact is that pensioners who continue to live in this country continue to pay tax...vat...council tax etc and so make a contribution back to the state coffers...whereas those living in Spain, Greece, etc etc make no contribution whatsoever. Yes I know they've paid in...we've all done or are doing that...but to receive these benefits - particularly "winter fuel" it must be a requirement that you actually LIVE in this contry. Don't forget that National insurance was introduced to fund medical care and a BASIC state pension and NOT these add odds that are now handed out to everybody. As for the cost of all this...well it seems strange that we can now under the general heading of National insurance hand out all this cash when only a few years ago the governement got rid of SERPS because they couldn't afford it.... Sorry...State Enhanced Retirement Pension Scheme

    |   -20
  • josdave  |  January 23 2013, 3:50PM

    I say hands off any benefit pensioners living in this country are getting as they have earned it. But those living abroad should not get it. My friend's brother-in-law who has been living in Spain for the last twenty years gets the full heating allowance and this is clearly wrong. The system is not helping many of those who deserve it and is funding a benefits lifestyle for those who can't be bothered to go out and get a job.

    |   -13
  • josdave  |  January 23 2013, 3:49PM

    I say hands off any benefit pensioners living in this country are getting as they have earned it. But those living abroad should not get it. My friend's brother-in-law who has been living in Spain for the last twenty years gets the full heating allowance and this is clearly wrong. The system is not helping many of those who deserve it and is funding a benefits lifestyle for those who can't be bothered to go out and get a job.

    |   -13
  • Jungle_Jim  |  January 23 2013, 3:16PM

    Smallbrain Please keep up, this is a reference to Omnivor's comment elsewhere and I never said I didn't use fuel. Obviously your memory is also small

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  • smallboy2010  |  January 23 2013, 2:12PM

    I notice Jungle has started using the word Bigot - he must have been on Google to learn what it means. Mind you I dont expect he uses any fuel in his house so he wont need a fuel allowance

    |   -8