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Winter Fuel Allowance

Volume 455: debated on Monday 8 January 2007

The Government keep all tax and welfare policies under review and any changes are considered as a part of the normal Budget and spending review processes.

I thank the Minister for that answer. He will be aware that a coalition of charities called for an extension of the winter fuel allowance to those people under the age of 60 who are particularly vulnerable in cold conditions and who receive long-term benefits. Indeed, the Government’s own energy review accepted that there was a problem in that area. Has the Minister pressed the Chancellor to use some of the massive £1 billion increase in VAT receipts, arising from the increase in fuel bills over the past year, to extend the winter fuel allowance to such groups?

That is not my ministerial responsibility, so it is not my job to do so. The key things are that recent falls in wholesale prices should be passed on to customers soon and that we protect the most vulnerable. I remind the hon. Gentleman that in 1996, only £60 million was spent on the problem, but now more than £2 billion is spent on it. I am sure that he welcomes that.

Will the Minister congratulate the excellent regional and county newspaper, the Leicester Mercury, on its campaign to highlight the fact that, given the inflation in energy prices, the winter fuel allowance buys rather less fuel than it did when it was set? It has urged county MPs to make a submission to the Chancellor—possibly the future Prime Minister—and I have agreed to do so. Will my hon. Friend allow his signature to be added to my letter?

I think that I would probably have to resign from the Government if I did that, so no, I will not give my hon. Friend that promise. The winter fuel allowance has increased far faster than inflation and energy prices. It was £20 when it was first introduced, but it is now over £300 for people over 80, which is a much faster rise than the increase in utility prices. The key thing is that the cuts in wholesale prices are passed on to customers, particularly the most vulnerable, as soon as possible.