Pensions: Currie analyses Sunak's decision to protect triple lock
HM Treasury would love to see the back of the expensive state pension commitment, but few politicians dare admit this in public.
Whenever they’re asked, they squirm and twist and duck the question, because they’re too scared to tell us the truth.
Loads of politicians would love to axe the triple lock, but they also want to win the next election.
They can’t do both, and they know it.
On Thursday, Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride went further than most are prepared to go.
He admitted his successor will have to “grasp the nettle” and bring forward the next state pension age hike to 68 (or possibly even higher).
That will also be hugely unpopular, forcing millions to work even later into life, at a time when many are dying younger.
Rishi Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt recently delayed the state pension hike over fears of a political backlash as riots swept France, but Stride hinted it has to be done.
Not by him, of course, but an unknown successor.
When journalists asked Stride about the triple lock he suddenly went all vague, as politicians usually do.
He said there were “no plans currently” to change the mechanism commitment, but stopped short of guaranteeing it would be retained in the next Conservative Manifesto.
Steven Cameron, pensions director at Aegon, says it’s not good enough and pensioners need to know exactly what politicians plan to do with the triple lock before they go to the polls.
As always with the state pension, they’re too scared to tell us the truth.
Under the triple lock, the state pension increases each year either by earnings, inflation or 2.5 percent, whichever is highest.
It has helped pensioner incomes play catch up since it was introduced by the coalition government in 2010, and remains hugely popular today.
When Rishi Sunak was Chancellor he suspended the mechanism for the 2022/23 tax year.
As a result, 12.5million pensioners got a rise of just 3.1 percent instead of 8.3 percent in line with earnings.
That decision cost pensioners almost £500 in the first year, money they will go without every year for the rest of their lives. They were furious.
The triple lock matters and thankfully it’s been restored for now.
This paper has campaigned long and hard to keep it in place, but it will be an uphill struggle as politicians search for savings.
Politicians know how popular the triple lock is. They also know pensioners are far more likely to vote than anybody else, and most vote Tory.
If the Conservative Party did make a manifesto commitment to scrap the triple lock, it would end its dwindling hope of beating the Labour Party.
Rishi Sunak knows that, too.
Yet he and Hunt have repeatedly refused to commit to the policy, leaving millions of pensioners in a terrifying limbo.
Most people assume Labour leader Kir Starmer is so desperate for power that he will stand by the triple lock, but this isn’t a given.
When Sunak suspended the mechanism, Starmer didn’t call for it to be retained, even though it was a commitment in his party’s electoral manifesto, too.
Instead, Labour MPs were whipped to abstain on the Parliamentary vote.
It makes you wonder whether Sunak and Starmer cooking up something between them.
The next general election must be held before January 2025, but Sunak could call it as early as next May, just one year away.
Steven Cameron says debates around state pension age and triple lock must feature in political parties’ manifestos. They can’t duck it like they usually do, “as there are big decisions to be made about the state pension after the general election”.
He says the state pension age and triple lock off are inextricably tied. If the triple lock remains, the pace of state pension age increases will have to accelerate to offset the cost.
Rather than binning the triple lock, it could be “adapted”, Cameron suggested. “This could reduce pressures to increase the state pension age as quickly.”
Cameron didn’t suggest how, but one option is to scrap the 2.5 percent element, so pensions rise either by inflation or earnings.
Whatever politicians decide, we need to know BEFORE the next election, rather than afterwards, Cameron says.
Then we can put it to the vote.
Unfortunately, politicians would rather we didn’t know what’s on their minds, and it isn’t hard to see why.
Any politician who wants the axe the triple lock must first put it to the vote.
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