The Liberal Democrats have promised to extend winter fuel payments to up to one million severely disabled and terminally-ill people.
The party said the £200 annual payments – £50 lower than those currently paid to people aged 60 to 79 – would be funded by increasing the current minimum age of eligibility for winter fuel payments from 60 to 65.
All those receiving the higher rate mobility component of disability living allowance (DLA), or the higher rate care component of DLA because they were terminally-ill, would be eligible.
The payment would also be extended to families with severely disabled children under the age of five.
A Liberal Democrat spokesman said these groups “spend more time in their homes and therefore have higher fuel costs, yet they are also at a high risk of living in poverty”.
The announcement came days after a coalition of organisations said the “scandal” of fuel poverty had reached “crisis levels”, leading to debt, ill-health and winter deaths, and called for winter fuel payments to be extended to all terminally-ill people and many disabled people under 60 on low incomes.
Last July, the government’s Fuel Poverty Advisory Group suggested more than a million more disabled people had fallen into fuel poverty between 2004 and 2008.
Steve Webb MP, the Liberal Democrat shadow work and pensions secretary, said: “The government has failed to break the link between disability and poverty.
“Our plans mean that up to one million disabled people and those who are terminally-ill will get £200 to help pay their heating bills.”
Meanwhile, leaders of the three main parties have signed a pledge not to use slurs about their opponents’ mental health during election campaigns.
The best practice “compact” commits their parties not to stigmatise, slur or discriminate against anyone with a mental health condition, to challenge negative attitudes, and not to speculate about the mental health of rival politicians.
The compact – launched by the mental health organisations Rethink, Mind, Stand to Reason and the Royal College of Psychiatrists – also commits the parties to investigate any breaches of its principles.
Jonathan Naess, director of Stand to Reason, which is run by people with mental health conditions, said he hoped it would allow more MPs to “come out” and encourage candidates to come forward “who might otherwise have turned their backs on parliament”.
Rethink research found that when politicians were open about their own mental health, people with mental health conditions were more likely to vote.
24 March 2010