Winter fuel payment not enough says Rochdale MP

March 13, 2008 12:00 AM

Lib Dem Shadow Minister for Work and Pensions, Paul Rowen MP, has branded the extra £50 for pensioners and £100 for pensioners over 80 as "not far enough". The increase was announced by Chancellor Alistair Darling as part of his budget.

Mr Rowen has been campaigning against fuel poverty and 68 MPs from all parties have backed his Early Day Motion (EDM) in January calling for action. Mr Rowen has said though this is not enough and has repeated his call for the Government not to wait until 2012 as planned to restore the link between the state pension and earnings.

MPs including Charles Kennedy, Simon Hughes and Lembit Opik, alongside Labour and Conservative MPs supported him.

Mr Rowen said: "Although this rise is welcome, it doesn't do much to help pensioners suffering from intolerable poverty caused by the rises in gas and electricity. If the Government were serious about fighting pensioner poverty, then instead of this pre-election "gimmick', they would restore the link between the state pension and earnings. This £50 is a start but I feel that much more needs to be done.

Since the current level of winter fuel allowance was introduced in 2003 the average pensioner's fuel bill has risen from £572 to £1,027. In real terms this means that when it was introduced it covered an average of a third of the bill. Even with the derisory increase it is not even a quarter. This is not enough and tough action is needed - restore the link between the state pension and restore it now."

Mervyn Kohler, spokesman for Help the Aged, said it was "a badge of shame" that Alistair Darling had not taken more decisive action to combat fuel poverty. He said the one-off increase in the Winter Fuel Payment was nothing more than a "sticking plaster" that would fail to help pensioners in the long term. "Older people need far more than gestures while energy prices spiral ever upwards," said Mr Kohler.

"This was a Budget that simply hasn't delivered enough for older people struggling with the soaring cost of living.

"Fuel bills, water rates, council tax and even food and other basics are all increasing way beyond the pitiful rises in the basic state pension and pension credit. As a result, older people will face tough choices over the course of this year when what was hoped for was genuine action on pensioner poverty."

Mr Rowen's EDM read:

That this House notes that Npower has announced that electricity prices for its domestic customers will rise by an average of 12.7 per cent, gas bills will rise by 17.2 per cent. and that its average dual-fuel customer will pay more than £1,000 a year; expects that other providers' prices will soon rise; further notes that fuel price rises will more than wipe out the winter fuel payment for most pensioners; further notes that when prices of fuel dropped in 2007 charges to customers did not fall by the same proportion; is concerned that fuel poverty in the UK is on the rise; calls on the Government to address the problems people face of ever rising fuel prices by investing in energy efficiency in UK homes; and further calls on the Government to protect pensioners from possible future above-inflation rises in fuel prices by not waiting until 2012 as planned to restore the link between the state pension and earnings.