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17 August 2010

Is the coalition planning to cut winter fuel payments?

Iain Duncan Smith reportedly pushing for fuel payments to over-sixties to be cut.

By George Eaton

Politicians of all parties will go out of their way to avoid picking a fight with the elderly, one of the groups most likely to turn out at election time. Tory ministers remember the opprobrium that was heaped on Labour after the miserly 75p increase in the basic pension and have vowed to avoid such a political blunder.

As a result, the coalition has maintained its expensive promise to restore the link between earnings and pensions and has pledged to safeguard pensioners’ free bus passes, free TV licences and winter fuel payments.

But this could be about to change. With Iain Duncan Smith ordered by the Treasury to find £5 of savings for every £1 he spends on welfare reform, the universal benefits paid to the over-sixties appear increasingly vulnerable.

As Hopi Sen notes, today’s FT reports that winter fuel payments could be cut in the near future:

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Some spending Mr Duncan Smith wants to pare back includes £2.7bn of winter fuel payments, a universal benefit paid to the over-sixties that Mr Cameron made a conspicuous pledge to keep in the election campaign and coalition policy manifesto.

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There’s a serious debate to be had about the merits of means-testing, but the principle of a universal welfare state, to which all contribute and from which all benefit, is one Labour must not abandon.

Either way, should winter fuel payments be cut, we can expect to be told, once again, that this was “unavoidable”.