Subsidised warmth feeling the heat
Subsidised warmth feeling the heat?

Well-off pensioners should give away some of the benefits they get, a senior Conservative MP has said.

Charities minister Nick Hurd made the call in response to Prime Minister David Cameron shying away from stripping universal benefits, such as the winter fuel allowance, from senior citizens deemed too wealthy to need it.

Hurd told the Telegraph he wanted pensioners to make the decision for themselves. "The government is going to stick to its commitments," he said of Downing Street's promise not to cut benefits for seniors.

"But if people take their own decisions that they want to use [the money] for good, of course, as minister for charity, I would support, congratulate and encourage them."

The winter fuel allowance is one universal benefit in the spotlight amid calls for it to be reformed.

At present, every person aged 60 or over gets between £200 and £300 to heat their home. That includes millionaires such as Lord Sugar, the business tycoon and star of The Apprentice TV show.

Deciding whether to deprive the elderly of benefits is a thorny issue for politicians. The case for preserving the winter fuel allowance for only those in need during tough times is strong, but actually doing so risks providing ammunition to rivals while alienating the fast-expanding voter group which is most active in elections.

Hurd's job as charities minister is closely tied to the Conservative party's "Big Society" idea - a vision for a more caring, sharing society predicated upon citizens, not the state, shaping communities.

Hurd's call for citizens to take the initative could be viewed as a stab at reviving the Big Society, on which Cameron has been silent for months.

The Taxpayers Alliance (TPA) called on the government to drop taxes in order to put more money into people's pockets to pay for essentials such as heating. Sokesman Matthew Sinclair told IBTimes UK: "It is silly to churn all this money into the system and then hand it back as universal benefits."

The issue of universal benefits also caused a fissure within the ruling coalition government, with Liberal Democrat deputy prime minister Nick Clegg hinting earlier that he favoured stripping some universal benefits from prosperous OAPs.