I’ve just been participating in a Radio Scotland phone in on Winter Fuel Payment. It’s a subject that breeds confusion. It’s not really a Winter payment; the qualifying date is in September. It’s not really a Fuel payment: there is no connection between the money paid and energy. It is a payment, though, and that seems to get people’s goat up – like the caller who was indignant that some people who get the benefit are able to come in to his pub. The whole point of giving people cash is that they decide how to use it.
The reason that WFP is back on the agenda is that apparently the Democratic Unionist Party are insisting that the Conservatives keep WFP as it is. This is ironic, because Northern Ireland has nominally been in charge of its own distinct social security system for the best part of a century. The reason why DWP benefits matter so much to Northern Ireland is partly a matter of political choice (the application of the so-called “parity principle”), but more recently a because of the Treasury’s insistence that Northern Ireland had to fall into line with DWP’s benefits, whether they wanted to or not. That closes off the obvious solution, which would have been to allow Northern Ireland to do as they see fit.