Clegg gets specific on cuts: Lib Dems to cut winter fuel payments for under-65s

by Stephen Tall on March 22, 2010

So reports the BBC:

The Liberal Democrats have said if they won power they would stop the winter fuel allowance for people under 65. Anyone aged 60 can claim the allowance, worth £125 to £400, but the minimum age is due to rise to 65 in 10 years’ time.

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said his party would implement the change now – saving about £400m in public spending. He said just under £200m would be used to give extra winter help to about one million severely disabled people or those who are terminally ill. …

Mr Clegg told the BBC his plan would not only save money, but put “extra fairness into the system”, by helping about a million people who currently do not qualify for the allowance.

“We say you should bring that rise in the eligibility age forward to now, that saves you about £400m and you could use some of that money to actually provide extra winter fuel payments to the very disabled or those who are terminally ill.

“Those are the kind of difficult, detailed choices which we are putting forward that no other party is being open enough about with the British public.”

This is a calculated risk on Nick Clegg’s part. The cut is a specific one, and will hit an easy-to-identify segment of the population: 60 to 65 year-olds.

It is also a move from a universal benefit – in which you accept that some who benefit do not need the money in return for increased take-up and lower administrative costs – towards targeted benefits. Nick has ruled this out in the case of child benefit, though Vince Cable is known to favour tapering the family element in tax credit.

Such are the (potential) downsides. More positively, Nick is able – rightly – to point to the fact that while Labour and the Tories talk about the need for cuts and tough choices, only the Lib Dems are so far being brave enough to put their heads above the parapet and identify actual cuts that will save money.

The question is: will that honesty convert into votes?