DUNCAN BARKES: How to defuse a ticking time bomb?

David Cameron has once again said he will stand by an election pledge not introduce means testing for pensioners for benefits such as the winter fuel allowance. Is he right to continue to do so?

Monday, 14th January 2013, 11:00 am

Last week, Paul Burstow, a Liberal Democrat MP, suggested that pensioners should not receive winter fuel payments if they are well off.

I used to oppose this idea, but I have now changed my mind. This puts me in the rare position of agreeing with a Liberal Democrat.

He pointed to the on-going debate about how we are going to fund social care in this country. It is a ticking time bomb.

Our elderly population is getting larger and living longer.

There is, rightly, a belief that the state should care for them later in life, but how do we pay for it?

Mr Burstow suggested that if wealthy pensioners did not get winter fuel payments, then the money could be pumped into social care. The logic is pretty sound, yet he has been roundly criticised for his suggestion.

For some, “means-testing” is a demeaning process, but how else can you properly ensure that the right benefits are going to the people who really need them?

The last government borrowed so much money that we find ourselves in a mess that isn’t going to be tidied up in a hurry. Every penny counts.

It is not unreasonable to expect a well-off pensioner to give up their winter fuel payment if they are comfortable enough to pay their fuels bills independently.

This is not about bashing pensioners or snatching away benefits.

It is about using what little money there is effectively and fairly. Those who genuinely need the support would carry on receiving it.

It is estimated there are around 100,000 pensioners with incomes in excess of £100,000. What possible argument exists to say that they qualify for a winter fuel payment?

Some say that, no matter how healthy a pensioner’s financial status, if they have paid into the pot through taxation then it is only right they take from the pot later in life.

I disagree. This attitude is selfish. We now live in times where far more enlightened thinking is required.

If pensioners can comfortably afford to do without the fuel allowance, then they should.

This would free up vital funds for those in less fortunate circumstances, now and in the future. Like I say, it’s a ticking time bomb.