Winter Fuel Allowance: Time for an Increase

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2014 National Retired Members Conference
1 January 2014

Conference is very concerned that the Winter Fuel Allowance payments were included in the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne’s Budget statement on 19 March 2014, when he stated that benefits will be capped in 2015/16.

The statistic (National Pensioners Convention) for the 2013/14 winter is that 31,000 pensioners died of cold-related diseases. The United Kingdom is the 7th richest country in the world and it allows people to die in situations which could be avoided if money was available to pay for gas, electricity etc. so that they could keep warm. What a shocking statistic!

If the basic state pension was raised to above the poverty level (£178 per week for a single pensioner) from £113.10 (April 2014), a deficit of £64.90, pensioners would be able to afford to heat their homes AND eat, whereas, at present, in many cases they have to make a choice between the two. Last winter, Age UK reported that more than a quarter of pensioners over the age of 65 were worried about staying warm at home; half of pensioners were concerned about the increasing costs of energy bills. The Government can do something to help. As called for by York Older People’s Assembly: it is time the Government increased the value of the Winter Fuel Allowance. The allowances were the same in 2013 as they were in 2008. This is shameful. Average household bills have doubled in the past six years, so the proportion of energy costs covered by WFA has probably halved. While the basic state pension remains one of the worst in Europe, the Winter Fuel Allowance and other benefits are crucial to the survival of pensioners.

The Government has been unwilling or unable to curb the massive rises in energy prices and the large energy companies are continuing to make huge profits. In March this year a report by the energy regulator Ofgem criticised the effectiveness of competition in the UK energy market. Ofgem has called for an investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) which could take 18 months to complete. The price of energy has become an important political issue, particularly after several of the ‘big six’ (accounting for 95% of the energy supply market) raised tariffs at the end of 2013. Although some suppliers have announced price freezes – and Ed Miliband has pledged to freeze energy prices for 20 months if Labour is elected in 2015 – even the most optimistic timescale for some improvement in market competition, perhaps bringing a halt to price rises, cannot change the burden of energy costs in the winter of 2014/15 and beyond.

Therefore, this UNISON National Retired Members Conference instructs the National Retired Members Committee and calls on the National Executive Council to:

1. Campaign urgently for an increase in the Winter Fuel Allowance to £700 for the over 80’s households and £500 for the under 80’s households in 2015;

2. Build a campaign to encourage the major energy companies to curb their prices;

3. Take positive action to make our concerns known to the Government through LabourLink, national and regional branches of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), local Trades Councils, by lobbying MPs, and by supporting the National Pensioners Convention and the Scottish Pensioners’ Forum in their campaigns.

4. Report regularly on progress to National Retired Members Committee meetings and publicise on all appropriate communication channels, including the national UNISON website, U Magazine, In-Focus and E-Focus. The information must also be circulated to Regions and Branches.

5. Report back to the 2015 National Retired Members Conference on action taken and actual achievements.