Ed Balls’ austerity plan ‘mean-minded’

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HAS shadow chancellor Ed Balls struck the right tone and suggested the right 
policy on winter fuel allowances (your report, 4 June)?

Winter fuel allowance payments have already been reduced in the past few years from £250 to £200 for those aged 60-80, and from £400 to £300 for the over-80s.

Now Mr Balls wants to take the allowance away from those paying the two top rates of tax. He is, in my opinion, wrong to propose this on several counts.

Firstly, raising the age limit for the allowance (from 60 to 65) might be a more practical way to cut expenditure. It is preferable to the means-testing he proposes by denying the benefit to those with annual incomes of more than £32,000.

Secondly, he is sending out the wrong signals about Lab­our’s approach to tackling fuel poverty and the power of the large energy providers.

The winter fuel allowance is only one means to ensure that everyone has the chance to heat their home properly. But it is an important one. People’s circumstances may change suddenly and the
allowance may provide a cushion at a critical time. It is also a means to provide some government support against the tendency of the large power companies to raise prices suddenly.

All chancellors need to intro­duce some restrictive policies to assure the markets the government is ­serious about controlling expenditure. However, I find it difficult to believe Mr Balls couldn’t put forward a more imaginative proposal than one which will harm so many pensioners. If this is the sort of mean-minded policy his party is prepared to adopt in opposition, it begs a lot of questions as to what Labour might try to impose if it gets back into government.

Bob Taylor

Shiel Court

Glenrothes, Fife