The Government must protect the triple lock on pensions

Our saintly Steve Webb – the Lib Dem pensions expert who became Pensions Minister during the coalition – created the triple lock pledge on pensions. Here he is talking about its history.

And the only thing that Liz Truss did that was commendable on the economy – admittedly under pressure – was to reaffirm the triple lock in her final Prime Minister’s Questions last week.

As a reminder, the triple lock on state pensions means that they will rise by average earnings, inflation or 2.5%, whichever is the highest.

So it is hugely disappointing to realise the Rishi Sunak is refusing to commit on the triple lock, which presumably means that it is “under review” in the run-up to the Budget on 17th November.

Wendy Chamberlain is our Work and Pensions spokesperson and released this statement:

Rishi Sunak stood on the steps of Downing Street yesterday pledging to rebuild trust and stick to the promises made in the Conservative manifesto. But already he’s preparing to tear up his party’s promise on the pensions triple lock, while slashing welfare support for the most vulnerable.

This endless hokey cokey from the Conservatives is leaving pensioners and struggling families in a desperate limbo.

It shows this Conservative government can’t be trusted and is totally out of touch with people trying to make ends meet.

Struggling families and pensioners shouldn’t be made to pay for the Conservatives wrecking the economy with their disastrous budget.

Of course, we would like to see an equivalent triple lock on a range of other benefits as well.

* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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  • Unfortuntely there isn’t the money for this, so the triple lock has to go (and quite a lot of other pensioner benefits in my opinion)

    Child poverty is more prevalent than pensioner poverty by orders of magnitude. There are better ways to target pensioners in poverty without a give out to the 3 million millionaire pensioners

    Pensioners must realise that the economic mess we are in (inflation, cost of living crisis, trade and fiscal deficits) is all part of the payment for the government’s fantastically expensive (and wasteful) Covid mitigation policies, which were implemented for the protection of almost solely pensioners. Cuts and squeezes cannot continue to fall on the youth and rest of society, whilst pensioners’ economic issues are ringfenced with steel. The country cannot continue to beggar itself for this demographic. Especially since it was this demographic that swung the country towards a Brexit win, which is compounding our economic difficulties

    Something more targetted is a far fairer proposal

  • Lorenzo Cherin 26th Oct '22 - 5:30pm

    Nobody who was in the coalition deserves such a positive description. It says more about the niceness of Mary than the man in the article, such a lack of judgemental attitude does.

    He received a KBE for serving under Ian Duncan Smith. Enough on that eh!

  • Lorenzo Cherin 26th Oct '22 - 5:32pm

    But Wendy Chamberlain is praiseworthy. A future leader North or South of our Isles!

  • It’s sad that any thread on pensions seems to wind up with commenters pitting one generation against another. And repeats the myth that anyone who owns their own house is wealthy, when it is paper wealth only, unless it is practical for them to use equity release (lifetime mortgage, not ‘money for nothing’).

    However, what I’d like to pick up on from James is his: ‘Especially since it was this demographic that swung the country towards a Brexit win’.

    Are you saying you think people who voted for Brexit should be made to pay for doing so?

  • Phil Beesley 26th Oct '22 - 5:46pm

    James Pugh: “Pensioners must realise that the economic mess we are in … were implemented for the protection of almost solely pensioners.”

    The Covid economic measures, about which I have many questions, were mostly about protecting the financial establishment. Millions of pounds were given to fraudulent business claimants. Other millions were given indirectly to (legitimate) business rent collectors.

    It is counterproductive to construct arguments about rich pensioners, baby boomers versus Gen X.

    “There are better ways to target pensioners in poverty without a give out to the 3 million millionaire pensioners”

    Nobody seems to track the age of the top 85%+ of wealth owners (ie millionaires). Obviously they are not all collecting a state pension plus associated state benefits; and even if they tied up their money in trusts, it is hard to live without paying purchase tax. Have a web search for Sir Frederick Barclay to see how ridiculous life becomes for the stinking rich.

  • Lorenzo – I suggest you look up what Steve Webb actually achieved during the coalition. He was a one-man pocket of Liberal Democracy, who managed to push through some radical policies simply because he really knew what he was talking about.

  • @Cassie

    The reason there is generational tension is because there is huge politically driven generational unfairness. The austerity of the coalition years (totally necessary) fell entirely on the non-pensioner section of society, with ALL pensioner related welfare ring-fenced. We then had Brexit voted in on us, with the Brexit base of pensioners being one of the largest. We then had Covid where the interests of the working age population, business owners, plus students and children were completely steamrollered amd trampled over for the interests of pensioners (mostly).

    This obscene level of unfairness, with pensioners’ interests so nakedly elevated and protected at the absolute expense of everyone else’s, needs pointing out, discussing, acknowledging and addressing. It can’t just be swept under the carpet indefinitely

    Re:asset liquidity… Downsize

    @Phil Beasley

    A bizarre take on the aims of the Covid measures (lockdowns), which were always about limiting the risk of hard from Covid (the overwhelming bulk of which are pensioners). They were not about protecting the financial institutions.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 26th Oct '22 - 10:30pm


    I know he is decent and his record deserves a fair critique. But to be in the govt while that dept destroyed tax credits and gave the alternative universal credit, really sets his record in a different direction.

    I realise he was not responsible for other things, only pensions, but think that an excuse many use who have yet to apologise.

  • Tristan Ward 27th Oct '22 - 8:05am

    Provided poverty is avoided why should pensioners’ income rise faster than anyone else’s?

  • Barry Lofty 27th Oct '22 - 9:08am

    I agree with Cassie, i understand that the UK has one the lowest state pensions in the “Civilised” world, it beggars belief that that pensioners receive such vitriol for all the ills of our country. The triple lock was and is something to be proud of.

  • Mick Taylor 27th Oct '22 - 9:53am

    Hm, wealthy pensioners eh? My state pension is £8295 and if the triple lock holds will go up to (assuming 8.5% uptick) £9000.11. That’s £173.08 per week. Hardly luxury by any account. So, I do wish those people pontificating about how well pensioners are treated would find out the facts before spouting such nonsense. We do indeed have the lowest pensions in Europe and we should be ashamed of that.
    Oh, and by the way, I paid tax and national insurance all my working life to get this pension. Oh, and by the way, my tax allowance is reduced by the amount of the state pension, so I actually lose 20% off income that otherwise would be tax free. That’s £1800 to save you the maths, so the pension will actually be worth £7200 to me.
    And before anyone says it, I do have a work pension too. My point is that people who have only the state pension to live on and don’t pay tax will still have only £173 a week to live on and to begrudge them a rise to what will still be a wholly inadequate pension is grudging indeed.
    A quick word on millionaire pensioners. They have paid all their lives to receive a state pension too and, effectively pay more higher rate tax than they would because of the reduction in their personal allowance. It is churlish to complain that they are benefitting by around £420 pa (net) when they will be paying £344.25 in extra tax.

  • My personal thanks to Steve Webb. His pension freedom reforms have made me better off an ensure that after my demise my pension pot will pass to my nearest and dearest rather than go to some large financial organisation. My money, my choices – true liberalism !

  • @James ‘downsize’. It’s that easy, is it? There are that many cheaper, suitable properties that older folk could move to in their local area (where they have community ties)? Just like the bedroom tax was so easy…

    An elderly relative of mine lives in OAP flats where the service charges are currently £4k a year and about to rise. A lot of other residents there only have a (single) state pension, and some are renting, not owners.
    Where do you suggest they downsize to?

  • @tristan. Provided poverty is avoided…
    Two million or more pensioners ARE living in poverty, according the the Joseph Rowntree Foundation figures.

  • @James ‘We then had Brexit voted in on us, with the Brexit base of pensioners being one of the largest.’
    So you DO want to penalise people who voted a way you don’t like? (I’m an ardent Remainer, btw).
    What about all the people (of all ages) in deprived areas like the Welsh Valleys, who also voted Leave? Should their benefits be held down as well?

    As for Covid: that was about protecting the NHS from meltdown.

  • Peter Watson 27th Oct '22 - 3:09pm

    “the only thing that Liz Truss did that was commendable on the economy – admittedly under pressure – was to reaffirm the triple lock in her final Prime Minister’s Questions last week.”
    I thought the party would also have been delighted (wrongly, IMHO) with her plan to scrap IR35 reforms (a scrapping now scrapped along with Liz Truss!).

  • Suzanne Fletcher 27th Oct '22 - 4:21pm

    I could say much, and it wouldn’t be condemning Steve Webb for being part of the coalition, but key words to me are:
    “of course, we would like to see an equivalent triple lock on a range of other benefits as well.”
    It isn’t about who is most deserving, it is about a fair distribution of wealth and support for those who need it.
    Complicated I know, but that is our bottom line.

  • James Fowler 27th Oct '22 - 5:40pm

    The triple lock needs to go. If we want keep it as we’re worried about poor pensioners, then let’s look at means testing and tapering as we do (aggressively) with all other state benefits. If means testing is unacceptable, then we ought to be uplifting all benefits and low wages in the same way as we do pensions. Too expensive? Then all we’re left with is generosity for the old and wealthy and funded by the young and poor. This is moral problem as much as an economic one. We need to re-think this as a country. The old need to show more solidarity with the young – the state pension should rise by no more than public sector pay.

  • Tristan Ward 28th Oct '22 - 5:55am


    2million pensioners are living in poverty.

    Does that mean the incomes of the remaining 10 million odd must increase faster than the incomes of everyone else?

  • I started by saying: ‘It’s sad that any thread on pensions seems to wind up with commenters pitting one generation against another. ‘
    You have proved me right.
    With some pretty heartless comments along the way.

    The state pension isn’t means-tested. Whether or not it should be, it isn’t. So as things stand, Jamesx2, Tristan etc are saying because not all pensioners need it, the 2m in poverty (Feb 2022) and unknown millions who were scraping by, before two lots of energy bill hikes and before inflation hit 10%, shouldn’t get any help.
    In the hope (not guaranteed) that the money saved by that will be given to others.
    (And as Ian has pointed out, the ones who don’t need it will lose most of the rise in tax).

    You will be old one day, guys. Even if now, you don’t (like me) have any contact with frail, elderly people who are by no means millionaires.

    In other words, you are pitting one vulnerable group of people against another. Bravo.

  • Barry Lofty 28th Oct '22 - 9:30am

    Cassie you have said it all ,there is nothing further to say other than it makes me angry and sad that this divisive argument continues especially on a Liberal Democrat site.

  • Nonconformistradical 28th Oct '22 - 10:03am

    I’m a better off pensioner.

    Wouldn’t it be sensible to support less well-off pensioners in an efficient cost-effective way?

    Is means-testing efficient and cost-effective? Criticisms in the media of the inefficiency associated with universal credit – maybe means-testing isn’t efficient.

    Is clawing back money from better off recipients of the state pension via the tax system efficient and cost-effective? Taking my situation as an example, my tax code notice shows that what I receive in state pension is offset against my personal allowance, so becoming taxable.

    My personal allowance is offset against my main company pension (my investment income is within the non-taxable amounts). Tax on state pension is taken from that company pension.

    Where people switch jobs over time and many have other small employment-related pensions – those are taxed at basic rate i.e. currently 20%.

    This seems to me a tried and tested process – and straightforward to process each year. I don’t have to do anything – the organisations who pay me money tell HMRC directly.

    So via a straightforward long-established process people in receipt of state pension pay the legally appropriate amount of tax. Whether that’s enough tax is open to discussion but modifying the tax take from individuals can be handled by adjusting the tax band threshholds.

    I’m assuming you do not favour giving tax breaks to better off pensioners. So the alternative to the above is a separate means-testing system is it not? With all the complexities that might involve.

  • Tristan,

    Now if I’d heard you saying in the past that the state pension income had been falling for many decades compared to earnings and this needed correcting, I might just have thought you had a point to make. If you had acknowledged that the pension is taxed and so more goes to those in greatest need, it would indicate some real knowledge. If you had added that means testing requires a massive bureaucracy to implement it whereas tax just works, it would indicate some real depth to that knowledge. And if you had indicated that one key factor in support for benefits is that universality is a key means to ensure support for those benefits (just like the NHS is founded on the principle of delivery base on need) that would have demonstrated real understanding.

    Cassie, Barry,

    Spot on.

  • Peter Davies 28th Oct '22 - 11:30am

    The triple lock itself makes no sense. If we believe pensions are too low, we should raise them not commit to their being raised randomly whenever the price and wage rises get out of synch.

    Personally, I would favour a significant one off rise at the same time as raising tax rates on unearned income to the same rate as earned income (abolishing employees NI).

  • @Nonconformistradical & Cassie
    >Is means-testing efficient and cost-effective?
    The most cost-effective and socially inclusive is a universal benefit which doesn’t require a bureaucracy to support it(*1). Also it helps to avoid drawing a line between the deserving and non-deserving, which politicians like to grasp onto in their bids for votes…

    The most cost-effective way to level up is through the taxation system, yes this means there is potentially more money in circulation as there will be a lag between monies being paid out and (excess) monies being collected. But given our understanding of modern economies and large-scale schemes such as furlough, this is probably a benefit rather than a negative that has grown up around means-tested benefits where excess is immediately clawed back – acting as a disincentive to finding work or better pay.

    Two big conundrums with respect to pensioners is wealth and care provision (especially end-of-life (*2)) and allowing for a reasonable handing down of monies.

    (*1) We only need to look at the case of Child Benefit to see the increased administration cost for means-testing over the equivalent universal benefit.

    (*2) With 24hr EoL care costing circa £80 pa (more if the person doesn’t qualify for free health care), the current means test threshold of less than £20K of assets to qualify for free social care, looks plain daft.

  • Correction:
    (*2) With 24hr own home EoL care costing circa £80,000 pa plus costs of running the home and shopping.

  • Far too many people on this thread fail to understand the mechanics of pensions.
    1. Everyone who receives a state pension has paid for it through tax/ NI and is entitled to receive it.
    2. The tax allowance is reduced by the amount of the state pension and people with higher incomes pay their marginal rate of tax on their state pension, which varies from 20-45%, so richer pensioners already lose much of their state pension through tax.
    3. The basic state pension is crap, one of the worst in Europe. The triple lock only ensures it doesn’t get worse. The reason for the poor value of pensions is because they were NOT raised in line with inflation for decades until Steve Webb persuaded the coalition government to go for the triple lock.
    4. And yes, in an ideal world there would be a once for all hike to bring pensions up to a decent level and a commitment to keep them there. Despite the savings that would be made in scrapping other benefits as no longer needed, the cost of doing this is very high.
    5. And, again yes, other benefits should also be raised in line with inflation but see comments in 4 above.
    So, please, let’s hear less about how well off some pensioners are and more about keeping very meagre basic state pensions at least at their present meagre level, rather than falling back as they have done for too long.

  • Generally agree with many comments that that the tax system (rather than means testing) is the correct way to address income inequality.

    The missing piece is to correct the anomaly that pensioners don’t pay National Insurance (NIC). NICs have long ceased to have anything to do with the contributory principle; they are simply another name for income tax. It’s inequitable that there is – in effect – a lower rate of income tax for pensioners than for the employed.

    If we were immediately to align NICs with the rest of income tax, there would also be big administrative savings from effectively just administering one system. The NIC and income tax thresholds are already now largely aligned – if you leave to one side the self-employed, another anomaly to be fixed. Pensioners in poverty would remain protected as the nil rate band is already higher than the state pension, so they’d still pay no tax on the state pension. But wealthier pensioners with large additional pensions/other sources of income would be taxed more.

    And in making this change, we could happily afford to implement the triple lock.

  • James Fowler 28th Oct '22 - 7:42pm

    I find the moral tone from some here hard to take. If you’re a pensioner now you’re part of a generation that voted – while they were earners – to break the link between pensions and earnings in the 1980s. It was deemed unaffordable. Incidentally, income taxes fell. By 2010 opinions, and stages of life, had moved on a bit. Now we hear how it’s scandalous how low the pension is, and that earners should pay more tax. It’s not an impressive record.

  • Nonconformistradical 28th Oct '22 - 8:34pm

    @James Fowler
    “If you’re a pensioner now you’re part of a generation that voted – while they were earners – to break the link between pensions and earnings in the 1980s.”

    This current pensioner did nothing of the sort – she has never voted tory in her life and has no intention of ever doing so.

    Please don’t try to imply some sort of collective responsibility to people just because they happen to be old enough to be current pensioners.

  • @ Nonconformistradical “This current pensioner did nothing of the sort”…. and neither did this pensioner….. having paid tax and National Insurance ever since 1958.

    Some of the comments on this thread (from younger Liberal Democrat supporters ??) are utterly depressing and have echoes of other less good matters between 2010-15. I just remind them that one day the bell will toll for them too.

    They should be careful what they wish for and reflect on the history of the Liberal Party’s achievement in the modest beginning of the state pension back in 1908…. and on Beveridge’s later contribution in the post war world (of which they probably know nothing).

    The triple lock was one of the rare Lib Dem achievements in Coalition and much to Professor Webb’s credit….. although his later ‘let them buy a Lamborghini’ comment was careless and somewhat spoiled his achievement.

    PS….. I’d also mention that late my Dad (a Typhoon pilot 1943-45) never received the state pension even though he contributed NI all his adult life. He died age 62 (from stress related conditions associated with his service).

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