Page last updated at 12:00 GMT, Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Lib Dems would cut winter fuel payments for under-65s

Nick Clegg
Nick Clegg said some of the money saved could help disabled people

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.

'Difficult choices'

The winter fuel allowance is paid automatically to millions of people who receive a state pension or other social security benefits - and men aged 60 to 65, who are not eligible for the state pension, can apply individually.

But alongside plans to raise the state pension age for women to 65 by 2020, the minimum age at which people can claim the allowance is also due to rise.

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."

As the general election approaches, all parties are under pressure to spell out how they would make savings and fund policies, in the face of a budget deficit which is expected to hit £178bn this year.

Under the government's plans, the state pension age for men will rise gradually from 65 to 68 between 2024 to 2046. For women it will gradually rise from 60 to 65 by 2020 and then to 68 by 2046.

The Conservatives have outlined plans to raise the state pension age for men to 66 from 2016, up to 10 years earlier than planned, to save money.

Earlier, the Liberal Democrats called for the formation of a cross-party "council of financial stability" to agree the scale of the deficit cuts required and a timetable for action.

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