Belfast Telegraph

Don’t cut winter fuel aid, David Cameron urged

Prime Minister David Cameron was warned last night that pensioners' lives could be at risk if cuts were made to the winter fuel allowance.

Speculation surrounds the future of the payments.

Stormont Social Development Minister Alex Attwood said he was deeply concerned about potential cuts.

“They will create real hardship for thousands of elderly people and hard-working families,” he said. “Things could become a lot worse for people in Northern Ireland. That simply isn’t fair, especially given the unique position Northern Ireland finds itself in emerging from 40 years of conflict.”

Mr Attwood is to meet Work and Pensions Minister Iain Duncan Smith next month to raise concerns and “seek a better result for Northern Ireland”.

Labour called on the coalition to “come clean” about the plans and public service union Unison's general secretary Dave Prentis warned cutting the winter fuel allowance could cost lives.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said savings had to be found in the welfare bill, while stressing that no final decisions had been taken ahead of October's Comprehensive Spending Review.

The coalition agreement between the Lib Dems and the Tory party pledges to “protect key benefits for older people such as the winter fuel payment”, but does not rule out reform.

But Labour pointed out that Mr Cameron had explicitly ruled out scrapping winter fuel payments during the General Election

The National Pensioners Convention warned against changing the winter fuel allowance.

Dot Gibson, NPC general secretary said: “The winter death rate amongst older people is a national scandal and getting worse.

“Last winter over 36,700 pensioners died of cold-related illnesses — a staggering 13 pensioners every hour.”

It’s claimed the Government is considering raising the age at which people become eligible for the handout from 60 to at least 66.

The payment — £250, or £400 for the over-80s last winter — could also be cut by £50 for new recipients and £100 for the oldest.

Winter fuel payments, introduced in 1997, cost £2.7bn a year.

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