07 January 2011

The absurdity of the ‘social tariff’

Recently there was a proposal that the winter fuel allowance, paid to those over 65, should be effectively means-tested by being paid only to those who already qualified for some other means-tested benefit. Those receiving the basic state pension, but not the supplementary income support, would stop receiving it, thus noticeably increasing the disadvantage of not qualifying for the supplement.

Probably this was considered too obvious a form of means-testing, so this benefit (winter fuel allowance) was continued as payable to all over a certain age, regardless of their assets. But what has now been surreptitiously introduced is another form of energy-related concession, which will (effectively) be means-tested: the so-called ‘social tariff’ of the energy companies.

One is now informed that if one is over 60 one ‘should be better off’ on the ‘social tariff’, though one can only find out if one is eligible by ringing up one of the energy companies. So now, presumably, there will be less need for pensions to be adequate, since all who cannot ‘afford’ energy will not have to pay for it. This will therefore probably drop out of the ‘cost of living’ used to assess pensioners’ needs, in the same way that the cost of healthcare has dropped out of it, since you are supposed to regard the ‘free’ NHS as an acceptable alternative to medication for which you might formerly have wished to pay.

No, the newspaper says, if you are on the ‘social tariff’ the supplier will not worry if you are late paying your bill but (although the newspaper does not say so) they may of course notify the social services to see if you would not be better off in a ‘care home’. As, of course, they might when you make your first telephone call to them to find out whether you are eligible for the ‘social tariff’ .

When the state pension started to be effectively ‘means-tested’, and to ‘wither on the vine’, I thought that however far it fell below one’s real needs it would at least have to preserve some relationship to the cost of the most basic physical needs. But no. Never underestimate the cunning of governments.

How about food and clothing suppliers being made to set up ‘social tariffs’ as well, so that the cost of food and clothing will vary according to the means of the purchaser?

Then it would not matter if the basic state pension is clearly inadequate to pay for the costs of living in food and clothing, as well as gas and electricity.