Sunday, 20 November 2011
Anger At Winter Fuel Allowance Cut
I have been contacted by angry pensioners on Hexham Road who this week have been told at the Post Office that this year's winter fuel allowance has been cut.
After a year of rapidly rising prices - with gas and electricity increasing by between 15% and 20% this year - it is alarming to think the coalition government has decided to cut winter fuel by £50 for the over 60s and £100 for the over 80s compared to last year.
To say that our pensioners are baffled would be an understatement: most are angry that the government has decided to take support for fuel bills back top 2007 levels at a time when costs have never been higher.
When we did a house to house survey on the estate a month ago, many residents felt insulted that the Energy Secretary Lib Dem Chris Huhne blamed people for not shopping around for the best deal. Many older householders simply to do have access or know how to use the internet. Others pay more because they don't use direct debits. They also use more fuel in the day time, so forcing even higher bills.
It is unbelievably mean for the government to cut support for pensioners at a time when many are worrying about how to make ends meet. The coalition will not be forgiven by them for this.
George Osborne, in the speech introducing the Government's 2010 spending review was very careful to say that “winter fuel payments will remain exactly as budgeted for by the previous government”. If it is the case that the rates of 2010/11 were intended as a temporary, one year increase by the previous government, then this is, of course, true. And if we look back at the description of the 2010/11 rates then we do see that they are described as “a higher rate”, suggesting that these rates were indeed temporarily increased.
However, if we look further back in time we see that both in 2009/10 and in 2008/09 the rates of £250 and £400 applied. In both cases, £50 and £100 of these amounts respectively are described as “an additional amount”, and it is stressed that these additional amounts apply for one year only. We have to look back to 2007/08 before we find rates at the level they are planned to return to in 2011/12, of £200 and £300.
It may well be the case, as the DWP claims, that no additional amount for 2011/12 was budgeted for by the previous government. It is also the case, however, that these additional amounts have been consistently reintroduced over the last three years.