Norman Lamb opposes David Cameron’s pensioners pledge to keep winter fuel payments and bus passes for all

Prime Minister David Cameron makes a speech at the Saga offices in Hastings, Kent on Sunday. Photo:

Prime Minister David Cameron makes a speech at the Saga offices in Hastings, Kent on Sunday. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire. - Credit: PA

David Cameron made his pitch to pensioners with a promise to keep winter fuel payments and bus passes for all. Political editor ANNABELLE DICKSON reports

Liberal Democrat care minister Norman Lamb said he struggled to understand the justification for the universal payouts when the public finances were still under serious pressure, pledging that his party would scrap the universal benefit for the highest rate taxpayers.

Mr Cameron promised at the 2010 election not to introduce means testing for benefits such as bus passes, TV licences and the winter fuel allowance, and he said yesterday that universal benefits for pensioners would once again be protected if the Conservatives won May's general election. It comes as Labour is hoping to finalise plans to woo young voters and students with a cut to tuition fees.

• Poll: Should pensioner benefits be protected from cuts?

Linda Matthews, information and advice manager at Age UK Norfolk, welcomed the announcement, saying that the non-means-tested system was the best way to get the help to the people who really needed it.

She said that benefits for older people were the ones which were claimed the least, and if people had to apply there would be some who fell through the net.

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'I think our older generation are a generation apart, they often think there are people worse off than themselves,' she added.

'The winter fuel payment is quite crucial, deaths from the cold are still rising and as you get older, many people are no longer able to drive – without the use of the bus pass, they might not be able to visit people. It is so important the these benefits are given without an application.'

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North Norfolk MP Mr Lamb said there were millionaires who would continue to receive winter fuel payments and a TV licence.

The Liberal Democrats have said that while they will keep the benefits, they will ensure that higher rate taxpayers do not get the handouts.

'I struggle to understand the justification for paying out fuel payments to well-off people when there is such pressure on the public finances,' he added. He said resources should be focused on the 'very vulnerable', but he urged people who did not need their winter fuel allowance to donate it. He added: 'I think of my mother, she wasn't wealthy, but she was very clear that she did not need the winter fuel allowance and she chose to give it to a charity in Norfolk.'

He said that Mr Cameron had 'flunked' a big choice at a time when he was not committing to plugging the £8bn gap in the NHS.

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