The Conservatives’ policy of means testing the winter fuel allowance for pensioners could contribute to almost 4,000 extra deaths this winter, Labour has said.
Theresa May said removing the annual payment of up to £300 a year from all but the poorest pensioners would release funds that could be pumped into the social care system.
But the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, published analysis which he said showed almost 4,000 more pensioners’ lives would be at risk through being unable to heat their homes.
No level was given for the means test in the manifesto, published last month, but the Resolution Foundation thinktank suggested one straightforward approach would be to give the payment only to those who receive pension credit, the means-tested benefit for the poorest pensioners.
That would mean 10 million people who currently receive the annual payment missing out – though Labour claims the true figure could be higher, since many who are eligible for pension credit do not claim it.
McDonnell said: “There are now only three days until polls open in this election, and the truth about the Tories’ plans for older people in our country needs to be known. Re-electing the Tories will represent the single biggest attack on pensioners in a generation in our country.
“Removing the winter fuel payments from millions of pensioners could leave thousands of the most vulnerable at even more risk this winter. On top of their dementia tax, it means that pensioners in our country will struggle to heat their homes and keep their homes under the Tories.
Labour cited research saying that half of the almost 10,000 decrease in so-called “excess winter deaths” – the rise in mortality that occurs each winter – between 2000 and 2012 was due to the introduction of the winter fuel allowance, and suggested that could be reversed by the Conservatives’ policy.
The Conservatives rejected Labour’s claims. “This is irresponsible scaremongering by Jeremy Corbyn – who can’t be honest about the fact he is relying on his magic money tree to pay for all of his uncosted promises,” said Damian Green, the work and pensions secretary.
Labour has pledged to keep the winter fuel allowance, and maintain the triple-lock promise on uprating the state pension, as well as funding social care through general taxation instead of expecting wealthier pensioners to part-fund their own care.
The over-65s overwhelmingly voted Conservative at the 2015 general election and Labour has been keen to win them over through a series of manifesto promises.