Pensioners and Winter Fuel Payments

Part of Opposition Day — [12th Allotted Day – Second Part (Half Day)] – in the House of Commons at 6:50 pm on 22nd November 2011.

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Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Treasury) 6:50 pm, 22nd November 2011

It is a pleasure to follow David Simpson. I commend him and his colleagues on bringing the motion to the House. In particular, I commend the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) on the cogent and assertive way in which he moved the motion and anticipated many of the Government’s arguments.

The motion is timely and focused. Contrary to much of the debate, which has ranged far and wide along the full dimensions of fuel poverty, the structural condition of the housing stock, fuel prices and all those vagaries, the motion is focused on something under the control of the House and the Government: the decision on the winter fuel payments. We are clear that all those issues need to be addressed, and the measures taken by the previous and present Governments are to be encouraged, as too are other more far-reaching measures, but given the rampant rise in energy costs for older people and all the other pressures on their incomes, we cannot countenance complacency about the cut to winter fuel payments.

The decision on winter fuel payments represents a clear and present cut imposed by this Government. The Minister tried to argue first that it was not a cut, then that it was a Labour planned cut, but the fact is this: it is a clear and present cut for pensioner households already facing other pressures and difficulties. It is a sleight of hand for people to suggest, “Well, the Government were committed to doing what the previous Government did”, because really they said, “No, we’re only committed to doing what we think the previous Government planned, not what they did.”

Jackie Doyle-Price said that we have to talk to and listen to our pensioners. I have, and every single one has told me that the cut is an issue for them, and every single one is clear that for three years they received payments at a certain level, but that this year they will not get them at that level. That is a cut, and it is a cut from this Government.