, , , , , , , , , , , ,

I’ve been listening for the last two days to heated debate about the triple lock for State Pensions, with two former pension Ministers slugging it out, Ros Altmann and Steve Webb, and increasingly frustrated, as I so often am, by the stoking of intergenerational tension that tends to accompany these pronouncements.  The triple lock is a promise for the life of this Parliament that state pensions will rise by the higher of earnings, prices, or 2.5%.

Although I didn’t agree with everything he did in office, Steve Webb was a brilliant Pensions Minister caring passionately about supporting a basic income for older people and ameliorating poverty, and working pretty much tirelessly to improve the system.  He had an impressive grasp of the minute detail of the pension system and was a highly respected parliamentarian, by all sides.  Supporting the triple lock is, as he so eloquently said on Radio 4 Today this morning, (at 7.13- )  supporting acceleration at an incredibly modest pace (in certain woeful economic circumstances) the “catching up” that the dismally inadequate basic state pension needs to do, for millions who will never be entitled to the single tier. It is about reducing inequality and making sure money gets to those who need it.

To give this debate some context, research that I did with my colleagues at King’s College London published last year in Ageing and Society, ‘How important are state transfers for reducing poverty rates in later life?’  showed that fully 39% of pensioners have incomes above the poverty line only because of state pension and means tested benefit transfers, and for a further approximately 7 per cent of men and women, their incomes were above the poverty line only because they or their partners were in receipt of disability-related benefits (mainly Attendance Allowance and/or Disability Living Allowance) – intended to compensate of course for the extra costs of disability [and by the way, under threat]. Add to that the percentage that are in poverty (we found 30% of women and 22% of men over 65) and we deduce that only 24 per cent of women and 33 per cent of men over 65 would avoid official poverty without transfers from the state. Although the data is a few years old now, any changes to these percentages would be modest at best.

Does anyone want to go back to the 1990s when pensioner poverty reached a third of our older population? Has anyone spent time with and spoken to pensioners who are living from hand to mouth? Or those currently watching their life savings of £10,000 produce no interest and being drawn down for emergencies with increasing levels of stress? We need not to demonise older people and we need some proper context for this debate.

Tax it off the rich if you think they get too much. I’m a supporter of universal benefits and progressive taxation, and so I shall remain.