The winter fuel payment scheme is an excellent benefit offered by the government and makes sure that retirees aren’t left making the decision between paying their fuel bill or slipping gently into hypothermia.
The deal is this, if you were born on or before the 5th July 1951 then you will receive between £100 and £300 (age and status dependant automatically. There are some extra criteria but basically, that’s the deal. So as far as a government interaction goes, this one is pretty simple and easy.
The problem is that it is universally paid to all, and many high profile people have made a point of publicly asking why they have been given it when they clearly don’t need it. As a result this has become a bit of a political talking point.
Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, has today announced that he would cut the number of winter fuel payments made by changing the eligibility to make sure that wealthy pensioners don’t receive it.
The government has responded to say that it would make little difference to the budget deficit and that people who don’t want the payment can return it if they wish.
The problem with these options is that the first would require some kind of means-testing and the other is simply not functional, it’s not easy to pay the government back!
Instead, it would make sense to simply make the winter fuel payment and opt out scheme. This means those who feel strongly that they don’t need it can take that decision while not creating the kind of expensive overhead that means-testing is famous for creating. To us it seems like a win-win, however to the politicians it removes what has become a symbolic battle point in the fight for fiscal responsibility.
Let’s be honest, the sort of saving the the shadow chancellor is talking about, while honourable and not inconsiderable, is similar to our losing weight by trimming your nails analogy. You are lighter, but in reality, no one has noticed.
Surely the most important thing is to make sure that those who need the fuel payments receive them, whilst giving those who don’t the option to forego them. Then move on and focus on the bigger issues at hand.