26 January 2009

The current cold weather is a good time to recall that the Labour government has done much to help pensioners pay the accompanying high fuel bills, notably with the winter fuel payment introduced by Labour in 1997.

Every household with a person or couple over sixty gets £250 as a winter fuel payment. People of eighty and over get more. Of course, this doesn’t pay the whole fuel bill but it certainly helps; and of course some are more in need than others. Cornwall is far from being the coldest place in Britain in winter but about 131 000 winter fuel payments are made in Cornwall and Scillies (Hansard 27 November 2007, columns 333W-334W). Those payments are for the year 2006/07 and the number will have increased by now – I think my headline figure is an understatement. More needs to be done about the price of fuel and how to make it affordable to those on low incomes, but the fuel payment is a capital practical policy.

The Conservatives have refused to guarantee its continuance should they form a government: Hansard 4 June 2008 column 841. Let me repeat that: the Conservatives have not guaranteed to keep the winter fuel payment.

The elderly in Cornwall have much to thank Labour for. Free bus travel and shorter waiting times in the NHS, state spending on pensioners up 50 percent in real terms since 1997 (Hansard 4 June 2008 column 844), effectively a single pension of £124 a week and £189 a week for a couple (standard minimum guarantee of pension credit), a promise to restore the link between earnings and pensions.

There is still much to do. A scandalously large amount goes unclaimed in benefits and it is urgent to simplify the system and get more necessary money to people who rightfully are entitled to it. The delay in linking pensions and earnings is disappointingly far off: 2012 at the earliest under present government plans. We need a national, rational, and coherent energy policy that minimises gigantic leaps in domestic fuel prices.

Labour has made many mistakes and has not always understood the impact on the poor and vulnerable of their policies such as the abolition of 10p tax rate. Too often poor men’s reasons have not been heard. Its response to its own culpability and to that of the well-heeled for the present economic recession is seriously inadequate. Jerusalem is not yet. Perhaps we never reach Jerusalem. But look what Labour has done that is good. Read the first four paragraphs again. People in Cornwall are being helped, their lives are made better, they and their needs are recognised, not theoretically, not generally, but in minute particulars that count and in that everyday world in which most of us live.


The original paragraph immediately around the the Arnold and Blake quotations are rewarding reading and I have linked immediately below to accessible online books.

Jerusalem is not yet: Matthew Arnold A French Eton original page 112-113 in the online book

Minute particulars: William Blake Jerusalem original page 55: 60-63 in the prophetic book online (this is not the poem)

Poor men’s reasons are not heard: Thomas Fuller (1654-1734) Gnomologia (Proverb 3897)