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North-East pensioners reject proposal to means test winter fuel benefit
NORTH-EAST pensioners have reacted with anger to a suggestion that the winter fuel benefit should be means tested.
Liberal Democrat MP Paul Burstow said targeting the allowance for all but the poorest of pensioners would help pay for a fairer system of state support for old age care.
Mr Burstow, a former care minister, said the move would help meet the cost of implementing the findings of the Dilnot Commission, which proposed capping the amount individuals have to pay for care during their lifetime.
However, Sean Fahey, regional secretary for the North East Pensioners Association, said the proposal had not been thought through properly.
“Means testing is expensive and complicated - a lot of pensioners would rather freeze than go through all the forms that they would need to do," he said.
“Pensioners have made their contribution to this country and deserve what they get.
“I think Mr Burstow is being a little bit silly saying this, especially when the Government has already said it won’t take this step.”
Councillor Shelagh Marshall is the older person’s champion for North Yorkshire County Council.
She said North Yorkshire had the highest ratio of excessive winter deaths in the UK last winter.
She believes the current system of winter fuel payments is not working, but does not believe means testing is the answer.
“At the moment it’s not getting to the people who really need it and a lot of people are receiving it who don’t really need it.”
A report by Mr Burstow said means testing winter fuel benefit could fund most of the £1.7bn cost of implementing reforms of elderly care in England proposed by the independent Dilnot Commission.
He said: "Social care isn't free, but it could be a lot fairer for those who have worked hard all their lives.
"By concentrating the winter fuel payment on those eligible for pension credit, we can pay for a cap on care costs."
But Pat Glass, Labour MP for North West Durham, said Mr Burstow should have done more to address the growing care crisis when he was a minister.
She added: “The Government have sat on the Dilnot proposals to tackle the problem for well over a year.
“At the same time our local councils are facing huge financial problems caused by government cuts which are putting care services under further pressure.”
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