Pensioners and Winter Fuel Payments

Part of Opposition Day — [12th Allotted Day – Second Part (Half Day)] – in the House of Commons at 5:09 pm on 22nd November 2011.

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Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions 5:09 pm, 22nd November 2011

Well, obviously, cynicism would be well beyond this Government. The rates of public spending are published through a comprehensive spending review period and for the rest of this period the figure we inherited was £200. That, as I say, was our baseline.

Another strange thing that went on was to do with the cold weather payment. That is the money paid when it is freezing cold to the poorest and most vulnerable people—the poorest pensioners and the poorest disabled people. Temporarily, pre-election, that was increased from the regular £8.50 to £25 a week. Temporarily, too, for the year after the election, as announced before the election, it was to be maintained at £25 a week. You will not be surprised to learn, Mr Speaker, that beyond that, it was planned to be slashed back to the £8.50 a week level. In other words, had we done nothing and taken no action, the winter fuel payment would have reverted to its £200 level and the cold weather payment paid to the most vulnerable when it is most cold would have reverted to £8.50 a week.

Let me remind Members that that was the baseline from which we were trying to find something in the order of £70 billion to £80 billion-worth of savings, so the question was not whether we should cut the winter fuel payment or the cold weather payment, but whether we could find the money to reverse the planned cuts, and thus have to find still further cuts from across the budget.

I agree with the right hon. Member for Belfast North on one point—that Governments have to make choices about priorities. He listed some of the priorities of this Government: ring-fencing the NHS, for example, about which I suspect the pensioners of Northern Ireland will be glad. He also mentioned the penny on petrol duty. I was not aware that it was his policy that we should not have reversed that, but I am happy to be corrected.