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2008 Retired Members' Conference
14 October 2008

In the March 2008 Budget, Alistair Darling, Chancellor of the Exchequer, did not totally ignore the plight of pensioners and increased the fuel allowance by £50 to £250, a one-off payment to be paid in the autumn. But the Budget has once again failed to deliver on the eradication of pensioner poverty. Because of rapidly rising prices, more older people will face tough choices, and with an estimated 3 million vulnerable households in England living in fuel poverty, many of whom are pensioners, one such choice will be between eating and heating. The £50 one-off increase in the Winter Fuel Allowance will do little to prevent this. The fuel allowance has remained at £200 since 2003 (5 years) and although increased this year, it could be reduced back to £200 in the future and it has not kept pace with the spiralling prices of gas, electricity and domestic heating fuel.

Fuel poverty is described as being when a household spends at least 10% of its income on fuel and for every 10% rise in fuel bills, it is estimated a further 200,000 people go into fuel poverty. The Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000 and the Government’s Fuel Poverty Strategy require the Government to end fuel poverty for vulnerable people by 2010 and to end fuel poverty for everyone by 2016. But the Government’s own figures and a report from its official advisory group on fuel poverty, predict that the 2010 target will be missed by a large margin and that the 2016 target is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve.

Since 2002/3 electricity has risen on average by 32% and gas by 48.9% compared with the basic state pension which has increased by only 8.7%. The Office of National Statistics states that excess winter deaths recorded between December and March are above the numbers experienced throughout the rest of the year.

Since Labour came to power in 1997, more than 260,000 older people have died during the winter months. Quoting Gordon Brown ‘pensioners should not have to choose between spending money on food or spending money to keep warm’, he should be reminded of this statement!

Help the Aged is joining with Friends of the Earth to seek a judicial review to ensure that the Government is held to its legal obligation to eradicate fuel poverty by 2016.

Therefore, Conference:

i.Instructs the National Retired Members’ Committee (NRMC) and calls on the National Executive Council to strongly campaign with other pensioner groups for a realistic and urgent increase in the Winter Fuel Allowance – an increase of an additional £300 immediately, ensuring that £500 will be available for pensioners to meet fuel bills incurred during the winter months of 2008/9. This extra money is needed as the basic state pension has not been increased to a level where fuel bills can be met without handouts;

ii.Calls on the NRMC to request the National Executive Council to support the Help the Aged/Friends of the Earth campaign;

iii.Instructs the National Retired Members’ Committee to report progress on the campaign through editions of Interactive.