Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Pensions, the triple lock and Scottish Independence

Steve Webb has come under a bit of fire for comments that his triple lock, which guarantees a state pension rise by the higher of earnings, inflation or 2.5%. Let's look at what he actually said to the Financial Times.
My view is it should be triple lock; to be absolutely clear, I would want to see that continue. But we, as a party, will have to thrash that one out.
He made clear that this would be something that all parties would have go deal with.
This is pretty much a statement of the obvious. Every policy of a previous government is up for grabs once the next lot come in.

The triple lock, of course, was brought in when the pension was much lower. It was £97.65 per week  in 2010-11. Sustaining it over the longer term with a pension rate of £142 per week which will be brought in by the Pensions Bill currently going through Parliament  is bound to present challenges. We will need to be quite clear about how we would pay for it. Steve clearly thinks that we should and will no doubt argue his case with the Manifesto Working Group which is currently developing the platform for 2015.

I have long said that it is ridiculous that a family with a disabled child get no help with heating costs while my husband, who is still earning a reasonable amount, qualifies for Winter Fuel Allowance that we don't need because he's over 60. I'm very encouraged that Nick Clegg has signalled that any further cuts to welfare must come from those who can most afford it. The money that will save is not sufficient, however.

Our record on improving and widening access to a decent state pension as well as ensuring fair annual increases, is undoubtably one of the best things we've done in Government. It's the sort of reform we have been talking about for as long as I've been in the party. Steve Webb wrote about the new Bill for LDV in January:
 It will treat men and women equally for the first time and will value unpaid caring work just as much as a high-flying city job. That is why the big winners from Single Tier will be women, carers and some low earners who haven’t previously received much in the way of earnings-related state pension. And for the first time ever, we will be bringing the self-employed fully into the state pension system.
You know your polices must be good when they're nicked by your opponents. Scottish Finance Minister John Swinney told the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Scotland that an independent Scotland would, from 2016 provide a single rate pension with a triple lock. Willie Rennie took him to task for promising a Liberal Democrat pensions policy without saying how he would pay for it:
The triple lock is a great policy for pensioners which is why we are delivering it in Government.  It's been possible with the economic base of the United Kingdom.  The SNP promise our policy but have failed to show how they will pay for it. Instead of promising everything and costing nothing they should answer the serious questions posed by ICAS about the security of pensions after independence.
Swinney spoke of a "seamless transition" of pensions after independence. This flies in the face of what ICAS said in a report questioning how the pensions system could operate post independence given that many schemes currently operate across the whole of the UK. The effect of EU rules requiring schemes to be fully funded if they operate over more than one country could cause significant problems, they said:
If Scotland became an independent country there would be significant cross-border issues for schemes which currently operate UK-wide. Under EU law (as interpreted by UK legislation), schemes which operate in more than one country must fund their liabilities in full and any underfunding must be rectified immediately rather than through a staged recovery plan. Dealing with underfunding would have major cost and cash flow implications for employers with underfunded cross-border schemes.
That doesn't sound seamless to me.

Swinney's assertions are consistent with the SNP's "it'll be fine" attitude to everything. If you question them, you are accused of scaremongering. Scottish voters are too canny to just cross their fingers and hope for the best. They will need much more credible details if they are to be persuaded to vote for independence than the SNP has yet been able to provide.
Why, though, should voters choose some sort of  imitation of Steve Webb's scheme when they can have the real thing by staying in the UK?

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