“It’s no wonder that pensioner poverty is so high in the UK”

Wednesday November 9th 2022


Midlothian MP, Owen Thompson, writes his monthly column for Midlothian View

Yet again, there have been political murmurings about scrapping the triple lock on pensions. This is a scandal when you consider the UK already devotes a much smaller percentage of its GDP to state pensions and pensioner benefits than most other advanced economies. The UK spends a lower proportion of its GDP on pensions than Colombia. Pension levels compared to earnings are also far lower here, with UK mandatory pensions just 58% of average earnings compared to the EU average of 71%. Britain compares very badly internationally when it comes to looking after our older population.

It’s no wonder that pensioner poverty is so high in the UK. At the start of this year, 2.1 million pensioners were living in poverty, which represents an increase of 200,000 in five years. Pensioner poverty now stands at a 15 year high.

Tragically, these dreadful statistics look set only to get worse. According to Age UK, 2.8 million older households will be living in fuel poverty this winter as a result of soaring energy bills. Across the UK, more than one in five older people are already reducing or stopping spend on medications or specialist foods and one in seven were skipping meals or expecting to do so in the coming months.

I’ve personally met pensioners in Midlothian who have taken the decision to go completely without heating and invest instead in electric blankets and body warmers – forcing them to stay in the same spot all day.

Nobody should be having to take those kinds of decisions in a country where bankers’ bonuses are being uncapped, oil and gas giants are making record profits, and the Prime Minister is worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

In that context, it adds insult to injury that every few years a new threat emerges to the one glimmer of hope for pensioners – the triple lock that ensures the state pension rises by either inflation, average wages or 2.5%.

I sincerely hope that the Government backs down from this obscene threat to pensions – but I’m also deeply concerned that the damage has already been done, because this isn’t the first time the triple lock has been under threat. We saw the Government suspend the triple lock last autumn then reinstate it in July, only to start threatening to scrap it again under the previous Prime Minister, who then recommitted to keeping it out-of-the-blue, only for the current Prime Minister and Chancellor to start floating the idea of scrapping it for good.

The triple lock has become a political football for the Government, and with every kick of the ball comes waves of anxiety amongst vulnerable older people.

We must stop the Government from scrapping the triple lock in this latest battle, but the bigger picture demonstrates the UK is not a country where Governments can be trusted to keep their word on pensions. There is a lack of trust in those in charge and a lack of integrity in the system.

We have seen governments turn their backs on those who have lost out in pension scandal after scandal. We’ve seen them continue to use surplus profits from the mineworker’s pension scheme as a cash-cow instead of improving the support for ex-miners and their families. We have witnessed pension promises being broken to thousands upon thousands of women born in the 1950s, when the age of eligibility increased without fair and proper warning for those getting set to retire. While the “WASPI” campaign for pension justice has been widely praised across political divides, that is about as meaningless as banging pots for the NHS if it’s not backed up with decent and fair financial solutions.

Even if the Government does end up keeping the triple lock, it no longer feels safe from more political fiddling. Pensioners in the UK are being short-changed time and again and it’s just not good enough. We need only look at neighbours such as Denmark or the Netherlands to see how we could do things so much better, small countries with sustainable systems that consistently get an “A” grade in international comparisons. I look forward to the day when Scotland joins them and can better use our vast resources in energy, culture and people to invest in our pensioners, just as every other country in our region has done.

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