What is the state pension triple lock and will the Government honour its pledge to give pensioners a bumper 10% rise to £10,600 next April?
Triple lock: Final decision on 10.1 per cent is expected in Jeremy Hunt’s statement on 17 November
The triple lock pledge means the state pension should increase every year by the highest of price inflation, average earnings growth or 2.5 per cent.
This year, the inflation rate is 10.1 per cent, which should prompt a hike in the full rate state pension to £203.85 a week or £10,600 a year.
The triple lock was introduced by David Cameron’s Government in April 2012, to ensure pensioners receive a decent rise in income every year.
But it is now mired in controversy, even though all the major parties promised to stick to it in their manifestos ahead of the 2019 general election.
The Government sparked fury by scrapping the earnings element from last April’s state pension rise because wage growth was temporarily distorted to more than 8 per cent due to the pandemic.
Instead, pensioners received a meagre a 3.1 per cent hike, using the inflation figure from the previous autumn before it started to soar.
In the political chaos of the past few weeks, the Government has sent mixed messages about whether it will implement the full 10.1 per cent increase in April 2023.
The decision is now expected to be announced by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt in his fiscal statement on 17 November.
How much could the state pension rise by next April?
The 10.1 per cent inflation hike would put pensioners receiving the post-2016 full rate state pension on around £203.85 a week or £10,600 a year.
Those on the basic rate would get around £156.20 a week or £8,120 a year.
If the Government decides to break the triple lock pledge it might use the earnings growth figure – based on total pay including bonuses – of 5.5 per cent instead.
This means pensioners on the full rate would receive around £195.35 a week or £10,160 a year, and those on the basic rate would get £149.65 a week or around £7,780 a year.
The crunch inflation rate figure used in the calculation is taken from September, and the key earnings figure is for the three months to July, in the year before the state pension increase.
Why is the triple lock controversial?
Critics point out that maintaining the triple lock would be expensive when public finances are in a straitened state, and some question whether the elderly should get a bumper state pension increase when workers are handed below inflation pay deals.
Supporters say that unlike with the temporary wage growth spike last year, pensioners are currently struggling with the very real challenge of high inflation while on a fixed income.
Many depend solely on the stage pension, and are facing a tough winter paying sky-high food and energy bills.
The UK also has the lowest state pension among rich countries based on one of the most cited international measures, although that does not tell the whole story because some roll their state and workplace pensions into one system.
Aside from the moral case and fairness argument in favour of a full hike, elderly people tend to vote in high numbers.
The Conservatives are unlikely to want to upset this key voting bloc by denying them a triple lock increase for the second year running.
Former Pensions Minister Steve Webb, has tweeted: ‘I simply don’t believe that the Conservatives would break the triple lock for a second time in this Parliament.
‘Might be up for grabs in manifesto, but it would be like a magnet for Tory rebels if they tried to do it now.’
Last week, he said: ‘Many pensioners have faced a big squeeze on their standard of living this year following a very low pension increase in April 2022 and would have expected the April 2023 increase to help to catch up on the big rises in the cost of energy and food.’
Another former Pensions Minister, Ros Altmann, who campaigned against the triple lock being ditched last April, says: ‘It is a matter of honour and integrity that all the past promises of protection must be kept.
‘Pensioners’ lives are not playthings and they have suffered enough uncertainty
‘It should be unthinkable to betray pensioners a second year running during a cost of living crisis.’
How much is the state pension now?
The basic state pension is currently £141.85 a week, or around £7,400 a year. It is topped up by additional state pension entitlements – S2P and Serps – if accrued during working years.
The two-tier state system was replaced in 2016 by a new ‘flat rate’ state pension. This is currently worth £185.15 a week or around £9,600 a year.
People who have contracted out of S2P and Serps over the years and retire after April 2016 get less than the full new state pension.
But they can fill gaps in unpaid and or underpaid National Insurance in previous years, make voluntary top-ups to buy extra qualifying years, and build up more years if they have enough time between now and state pension age.
Workers needed to have 30 years of qualifying National Insurance contributions to get the old state pension, but they now need to have 35 years of contributions to get the new flat rate state pension.
But even if you paid in full for a whole 35 years, if you contracted out for some years on top of that it might still reduce what you get.
Everyone gets the option of deferring their state pension to get more in their later years. You can check your NI record here.