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Call to curb winter fuel payments
Former minister Paul Burstow said ending universal entitlement to winter fuel payment could help fund a reformed system of care for the elderly
The majority of pensioners should see their winter fuel allowance cut to help fund a reformed system of care for the elderly, a former minister has said.
Liberal Democrat MP Paul Burstow said targeting the allowance for all but the poorest of pensioners would help pay for a fairer system of state support for old age care.
Mr Burstow, a former care minister, said the move would help meet the cost of implementing the findings of the Dilnot Commission, which proposed capping the amount individuals have to pay for care during their lifetime.
In a report by the Centre Forum think-tank, Mr Burstow suggested setting the cap at £60,000, higher than the £35,000 proposed by the Dilnot Commission, saving the taxpayer up to £1.5 billion a year. Currently, elderly people in England have to contribute to their own care costs if they have savings of more than £23,000.
The Centre Forum report suggested the costs could be met by ending the universal entitlement to winter fuel payment and granting it only to those receiving pension credit. The report said: "The Government needs to be clear in its message that a reformed capped funding system is the most appropriate way of dealing with a broken social care system, a crisis that has lasted over 10 years."
It added: "The Treasury needs to grasp the 'best opportunity in a decade' provided by the Dilnot Commission, the goodwill expressed by the financial services industry and by care providers. Most importantly it should pay heed to the views of thousands of people who risk losing their entire life's work through having to pay for unexpected and unlimited care costs. The Treasury must understand that the care funding crisis is one which will only worsen."
Mr Burstow told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "A cap at £60,000, plus a means-test being lifted from its current £23,250 to £100,000, would actually cost about £8.4 billion in the life of the next Parliament and we can meet that by having a trade-off, between those currently receiving the winter fuel allowance and not receiving it in the future but actually that being targeted on the poorest and the savings being used to ensure the frail, those who have dementia, those that are disabled, can have the peace of mind of knowing they don't face those catastrophic care costs." Mr Burstow said there were 100,000 pensioners with incomes over £100,000 and questioned whether it was right for them to receive a universal winter fuel allowance - when many admit it is spent on other things.
Saga issued a stark warning that removing the payments would kill more pensioners unable to afford to heat their homes. Director general Ros Altman said: "As energy bills reach record highs, taking away winter fuel payments from pensioners who have modest incomes will risk many more older people unable to afford heating, suffering cold-related illnesses or even dying of cold."
Dot Gibson, general secretary of the National Pensioners Convention, said: "It's a shame that someone didn't buy Mr Burstow a calculator for Christmas - because if they had he would have realised that his plan just doesn't add up. Introducing a means-tested system will create a costly and inefficient bureaucracy which evidence shows will result in those who need it most failing to come forward to make a claim. Our social care system doesn't need this kind of tinkering at the edges - but a radical overhaul. Taking money from pensioners who are trying to keep warm this winter on just over £10,500 a year will only create more fuel poverty and ultimately lead to more older people dying from the cold.
"Suggesting that these pensioners are well off and should pay for the care of other older people is simply ridiculous. The cost of our social care system should be shared across society as a whole - just like we do with education, the armed forces and the NHS. Why should the care of our most frail and vulnerable older people be treated any differently? If Mr Burstow's party goes to the next election promising to take away the winter fuel allowance from nine million older voters they are likely to face oblivion at the ballot box."