A "very kind, generous and public-spirited gesture". That's how George Osborne acknowledged one pensioner's decision to pay back their Winter Fuel Payment. The benefit, worth between £100 and £300, is paid to around 12 million pensioners each year to help them meet the cost of heating their homes over the winter months.
In his on-message letter, released to me under the Freedom of Information Act, Osborne reminded the pensioner that "we inherited the biggest deficit in our peacetime history after the previous government spent and borrowed their way through the good times."
How much of this goes on? When asked, the Department for Work and Pensions said it didn't know how many Winter Fuel Payments were returned, but they do know the number of pensioners who have volunteered to forgo it. Of the 12 million or so who are eligible, 331 have, since 2004, said they do not wish to receive it.
Small-scale generosity by individuals towards the State does happen. In the last 12 months, for example, individuals have donated £337,000 in cash and £1,084,000 in stock to help reduce the National Debt. In previous years, a steady stream of donations has been sent in by the public. And over the last decade, £835,000 has even been raised from the sale of houses in Leicester, East Sussex and Merseyside after people had asked in their wills for the properties to be sold and the money used to pay down the National Debt.
In the United States, the federal government even allows you to donate online towards reducing the American national debt. Ironically, you can even donate using a credit card.
With Britain's National Debt now totalling over £1.3 trillion these are tiny drops in the ocean. But as the Chancellor himself concludes his rather sweet letter to that generous pensioner: "every little really does help."