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Wednesday, 19 November 2014

WINTER BOUNTY

UPDATED 4 DECEMBER 2016

A payment of £200 appeared in my bank account last week. I'm a freelance journalist so in itself that is not so unusual. But this payment wasn't a fee for work. Nor was it a payment for something I'd sold. Nor a gift from a kind friend. Unless you count Secretary of State Damian Green MP as a friend. Because Damian's Department for Work and Pensions sent me £200 tax free this week just because I was born before 6 May 1953.

The Winter Fuel Payment was introduced by Gordon Brown in 1997. It was £20 then and was increased in successive years by Gordon and then Alistair Darling to reach £250 in winter 2008. The final £50 – technically an addition to the £200 payment – was taken away for winter 2011 by the Coalition Government. That was one of its first austerity measures and one of the very few that have affected pensioners. Since then the Winter Fuel Payment has been (ahem) frozen at £200 per household and £300 if one person in the home is at least 80 (technically born before 26 September 1936). Its purpose is to help old folk with the cost of keeping warm in the winter.

Although free money is always nice, I don't need it. I haven't been worried, as many people are, about the cost of heating my home when it gets cold. And because it is tax (and NI) free and I am lucky enough to earn enough to pay higher rate tax it is worth the same to me as earning £344.83. So thank you Gordon for inventing it and Damian for continuing to pay it.

I am not sending it back. Nor am I giving it to Age UK or any other charity which helps people over a certain age cope with their heating bills. I prefer to concentrate what charitable giving I do on homeless people, especially young ones. By gift-aiding this tax free payment it will be worth £250 when it reaches the charity after Chancellor Philip Hammond kindly adds £50. In fact I will give £267 so the charity will get £334 and when I settle my self-assessment tax bill and claim higher rate tax relief it will have cost me just 25p.

So thank you Damian and Philip for giving me a bit more money to help the growing number of people left destitute by your sanctions (taking their benefit away if they fail to jump through all the JobCentre hoops). Left unhoused by councils whose government grants you have cut. Left paying a growing amount of their council tax even though their income is at poverty levels. Left paying a bigger and bigger share of their rent however low their income. Freezing their benefits last April, next April all the way through to 2020. And left with nothing by employers who want them to turn up as and when there is a bit of minimum wage work to do and go away unpaid if there is none, because your Government - like the last - has not legislated to end zero hours contracts.

Happy Christmas

vs2.00
4 December 2016