POLITICS

Ed Miliband 'Looking At' Withdrawing Winter Fuel Allowance From Wealthy Pensioners

29/04/2013 14:34 BST
PA
File photo dated 23/3/2013 of Ed Miliband who will accuse the coalition of economic failure today as he unveils an alternative Queen's Speech.

Ed Miliband has suggested the Labour Party would consider withdrawing benefits such as the winter fuel allowance and free bus passes from wealthier pensioners.

The Labour leader told BBC Radio 4's World at One programme on Monday that while the winter fuel allowance had been "quite effective" at tackling fuel poverty, the fact that all pensioners receive it no matter how wealthy they were "needs to be looked at".

"Of course in our policy review we will look at all these issues," he said. "It's an important benefit, it has made a big difference, but of course we will look at all these issues."

The admission would mark a significant change of course for Miliband, who has previously said means testing "isn’t the road I want to go down". He told the BBC's Andrew Marr programme in January that universal benefits were the "bedrock of society".

In April, Tony Blair urged Miliband to examine what "the right balance between universal and means-tested help for pensioners" was.

Any move to take away the winter fuel allowance for wealthier pensions would be controversial within the party. Just yesterday former Labour work and pensions secretary Peter Hain, a close ally of Miliband, said means-testing universal benefits would be "simply mendacious".

"For lower earners these benefits are a few comforts guaranteed to them in old age, for middle to higher earners one of the few rewards received for consistent contributions to the welfare pot throughout their working lives. They are a symbol of senior citizenship and social cohesion," he wrote in The Guardian.

"Cutting or means-testing pensioners' allowances risks turning young against old and rich against poor while making negligible savings for the Treasury. All parties should be challenged to maintain them in their 2015 manifestos, as they did in 2010, and Labour should certainly stick by the policy."

On Monday work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith was forced to defend comments in which he suggested he would "encourage" pensions to forego perks such as free TV licences and winter fuel payments.

He told Radio 4's Today programme: "It was in answer to a question which was 'what if they don't need it or don't want it?'

"My answer is if they don't want it or don't need it there has always been on the website a helpline. If they want to go and ring that and make arrangements to pay back we have already been taking money from people who want to do that anyway."

David Cameron has pledged to stop any move to means test universal benefits for pensioners and the prime minister's spokesman said the commitment remained.

He said: "The prime minister's view on this is very simple. He made a promise, he made a commitment that we we would retain these benefits and that they would stay in place.

"That is in the coalition agreement. There are absolutely no plans to change that, that's very much his view on the matter."

A labour Party spokesperson told Labour List that on universal benefits for pensioners "the position has not changed".

“Of course we look at all these issues but as Ed made clear twice in the interview Labour supports the winter fuel allowance. Labour introduced the winter fuel allowance," the spokesperson said.