Government vows to protect pensions triple lock, after ‘grand betrayal’ warning

‘Make no mistake, this would be a grand betrayal – a shocking broken promise hitting pensioners in the pocket,’ Labour says

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Sunday 31 July 2016 15:18
Comments
Pensioners’ collective electoral power has long influenced government policy
Pensioners’ collective electoral power has long influenced government policy

The Government has insisted it will continue to protect the triple-lock for state pensioners after Labour warned reneging on the manifesto pledge would be a “grand betrayal” of voters.

Downing Street was forced into the guarantee after Baroness Altmann, who left her post as Tory pensions minister in Theresa May’s reshuffle, warned the cost of keeping the safeguard in place would be “enormous” after 2020 and that it should be dropped to save billions.

It came amid reports that the Department for Work and Pensions was refusing to rule out a review of the policy in the coming months.

Recently appointed shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Debbie Abrahams told The Independent: “Just months ago the Tories went to the country on a solemn promise to protect pensioners, saying their ‘triple lock’ was guaranteed, that people could trust them, now we hear they’re considering dumping it.

“Make no mistake, this would be a grand betrayal – a shocking broken promise hitting pensioners in the pocket. The lesson here is that for all their words about doing the right thing, the Tories don't stand up for ordinary people."

However, a spokesman for Number 10 said: “The manifesto contains a commitment to protect the triple lock. That commitment still stands.”

Baroness Altmann told The Observer that she attempted to persuade David Cameron, last year, to drop the triple lock, which sees pensions rise by the inflation rate, average earnings or a 2.5 per cent safety net – whichever is the highest, but he refused for political reasons.

“The triple lock is a political construct, a totemic policy that is easy for politicians to trumpet, but from a pure policy perspective, keeping it forever doesn't make sense,” Lady Altmann added.

“I was proposing a double lock whereby either you increase state pensions in line with prices or with earnings. Absolutely we must protect pensioner incomes, but the 2.5 per cent bit doesn't make sense. If, for example, we went into a period of deflation where everything; both earnings and prices was falling, then putting up pensions by 2.5 per cent is a bit out of all proportion.

“Politically, nobody had the courage to stand up and say we have done what we needed to do,” she said.

The ex-minister also believes that now Theresa May is Prime Minister the abandonment of the policy is a real possibility. Ms May’s joint chief of staff, Nick Timothy, wrote in an article for Conservative Home last November that the “obvious alternative” to welfare credit cuts – looking at the triple lock – was “off the table” for then Chancellor George Osborne.

“He could redistribute the welfare cuts to take the pressure off low-paid, working people. But the obvious alternative is already off the table: pensioner benefits are protected and so is the ‘triple lock’,” Mr Timothy wrote.

“Another option – to demonstrate that the Government really does value hard work above all else – is to stop the inheritance tax cut for estates valued between £650,000 and £1m. But that policy is not only a manifesto promise but a totem for the Conservative Party.”

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