Bath MP Don Foster calls for winter fuel payment review
Bath MP Don Foster has called for universal age-related benefits such as winter fuel payments to be reviewed.
The 65-year-old newly-appointed Communities Minister said he did not think it was right that he received the heating allowance given his salary.
One of the ways to cut the welfare bill was to look at some of the benefits received by wealthier people, he said.
His comments came as his Lib Dem party colleague Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg also cast doubt on the future of some universal benefits.
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Speaking at his party conference in Brighton, Mr Clegg said: “My own view is that all parties will need to confront the simple irony, which is that we are giving free bus passes and TV licences and winter fuel payments to (entrepreneurs) Alan Sugar and Peter Stringfellow while limiting housing benefit to families on much lower incomes. I do not think that is sustainable in the long term.”
Speaking on the BBC, Mr Foster said: “It's not yet Liberal Democrat policy, it’s something we'll work on. But you know, if there is something that can be done now then we need to get the economy moving now, not just to put it in a Liberal Democrat manifesto for 2015. If we can get something like this implemented now, then that would be better.
“I just think there’s some examples where if we are going to, as our prime move, to get the richest in society to make a bigger contribution… some of the things they get, frankly, no longer should they get.”
He pointed out he received winter fuel allowance. “Frankly on the salary that I’ve got I don’t think that is justified,” he said.
“It is one of the ways where we are both dealing with the issue of the wealthiest making a contribution and dealing with the need to reduce the benefit bill. So you can do it by looking at some of the wealthier people’s benefits.”
He added: “The minute you start saying ‘they’re all in the mix’, there’s going to be a new story saying ‘Don Foster says…’ and I’m not saying that. What I’m saying is that we should certainly be looking at all those things and I think people are.
“Look it’s very simple. I was asked a simply question – should we be addressing benefits issue as well, the welfare side of things – to which I said, it’s one of the biggest budgets of government. We can’t simply say we’re not going to go any further.
“But then I said there are ways of actually addressing the welfare system insofar as it is benefitting some of the richest in society. I gave a simple example, I don’t retire from that, I believe we should look at it. Whether there are others, I will need to reflect on that. But certainly I see no reason why you shouldn’t be looking at those as part of the mix.
“I’m just throwing out some ideas that I think should be looked at. It’s not my area of responsibility. I’m not an expert in these matters, but I know I shouldn’t be getting £200 winter fuel allowance on the basis of my salary.”
But Lib Dem Cabinet Office minister David Laws, one of Mr Clegg's closest allies, has said he was ‘sceptical’ about cutting universal benefits for pensioners.
He said the policy would not raise much money because there were so few rich retired people.