Amendment 1

Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Bill - Committee – in the House of Lords at 4:32 pm on 27th October 2020.

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Lord Addington:

Moved by Lord Addington

1: Clause 1, page 1, leave out lines 11 to 16 and insert “must lay before Parliament the draft of an order which increases each of the amounts referred to in subsection (1) above by a percentage no less than—(a) the difference between the general level of earnings at the beginning of the period under review and the general level of earnings at the end of that period,(b) the difference between the general level of prices at the beginning of the period under review and the general level of prices at the end of that period, or(c) 2.5%,whichever is the greater.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment would probe whether the relevant benefits for the tax year 2020-21 should be up-rated in line with the “triple lock” of the higher of increases in prices, increases in earnings or 2.5%.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat

My Lords, this is nothing more than a probing amendment to clarify the Government’s thinking. There is a commitment that the Government will uprate pensions and other benefits in line with practice. However, the economic situation may not trigger that increase via the triple lock and so we do not know what will happen. Without it being stated that that will automatically be in place through the triple lock, we do not know quite what the Government’s intentions are for this year. And what happens next year? What is going on? Some information on the Government’s ongoing intentions would help here.

In the middle of the coronavirus crisis, we sometimes forget that there will probably be a world afterwards. I am not sure whether this is being glass-half-full on this occasion, but are we committed to the triple-lock or something like it? We should look at this issue, or at least pay half an eye to it, because of generational fairness, which is the idea floating at the back of this debate. This Government, and others, I hope, must ask: are we going to continue to make sure that the basic pension is enough to live on and will be a little more than it is now in the future? That might encourage people to buy in.

I look forward to the Minister’s reply and thank her for pointing out before I rose to my feet, with her devastating and scything charm, the slight change to my explanatory statement, in which I originally got the wrong year. I seek the Government’s thinking on this. It is an opportunity for the Minister to provide clarity on the process that will apply if the economic situation does not respond in line with the legislation. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Altmann Baroness Altmann Conservative

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for his explanation of the amendment and echo his request for some clarity from my noble friend the Minister. Is she able to give us an idea of the Government’s thinking on the future uprating of pensions?

Clause 1, before proposed subsection (2A), relates to the basic pension and the standard minimum guarantee. At the moment, the triple lock does not apply to the standard minimum guarantee and pension credit. Were the amendment to be inserted, it would ensure that the poorest pensioners, who are normally those we might wish to protect the most, would get the benefit of the full triple lock. The overall issue on which I should like clarification from my noble friend is whether she can give us an idea of the Government’s thinking on the 2.5% element of the triple lock. Is that likely to continue in the light of what is happening in the rest of the economy? If so, is there any thinking within the department on ensuring that the pension credit is also uprated by the full 2.5%?

I congratulate my noble friend on pointing out what I was going to mention about the relevant 2021-22 tax year. The thrust of this probing amendment is of interest to the Committee and I look forward to her response.

Photo of Baroness Janke Baroness Janke Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

My Lords, I too welcome the amendment of my noble friend Lord Addington. We are all interested to hear the Government’s thinking, particularly on the future of the triple lock. I am sure that we all welcome their commitment to the undertakings in their manifesto and are pleased to see the Bill. However, in recent months, a lot of doubt have been shared regarding the triple lock’s future. Some people have said to me that there seems to be an almost systematic picking at the seams of the triple lock. With the Chancellor under pressure due to the economic implications of the pandemic, we would like some reassurance from the Minister that the Government are committed to ensuring that the pension keeps its value.

The state pension is particularly important to give the poorest pensioners confidence. Everyone is suffering under the pandemic but there is no doubt that the poorest are suffering worst. We would like to know the Government’s thinking for the future. Will there be a commitment in the Bill to keep the 2.5%, as well as transparency and clarity to reassure those pensioners who are particularly dependent on the state pension? I look forward to the Minister’s reply.

Photo of Baroness Sherlock Baroness Sherlock Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for explaining what his amendment would do, and to other noble Lords who have spoken in pursuit of clarity. The noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, raised the issue of the uprating of pension credit and the standard minimum guarantee in particular. I will return to that in more detail when I move my Amendment 3 shortly.

The Bill is permissive rather than prescriptive. The Explanatory Notes say that it will

“allow the Government to meet its commitment to the Triple Lock.”

At Second Reading, the Minister was invited by many noble Lords to tell the House if it was indeed the Government’s intention to increase the state pension in line with the triple lock, but she simply repeated the formula that the Bill

“will allow the Government to maintain their manifesto commitment to the triple lock.”—[GC 309.]">Official Report, 13/10/20; col. GC 309.]

Had she been able to go further, she might have obviated the need for much of the debate we are having at the moment.

The Minister was also asked at Second Reading whether the Government intended to stand by the manifesto commitment to the triple lock for the rest of this Parliament. As the noble Baroness, Lady Janke, pointed out, there have been various rumours and briefings swirling around that have cast some doubt on the future of the triple lock. But answer came there none.

I realise that the Minister is in a difficult position. She probably thinks it unreasonable of us to ask her to answer these questions because the decisions are not hers, but she speaks for the Government in this House. We are being asked to fast-track this Bill to enable the governing party to fulfil a manifesto commitment, although the Government will not tell us whether they are going to fulfil it. It does not seem unreasonable to ask for a bit more clarity. I look forward to her reply.

Photo of Baroness Stedman-Scott Baroness Stedman-Scott The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for the first amendment and for clarifying the date to which he referred. His charm clearly works better than mine.

The purpose of the Bill is to allow the Secretary of State to increase the specified pensions and benefits for 2021-22. This then allows the Government to deliver their triple lock commitment. However, the actual rates of increase for each of these pensions and benefits are subject to the Secretary of State’s annual statutory uprating review. In presenting this urgent Bill, the Government have sought to replicate the powers given to the Secretary of State in the founding legislation, as was also the case in 2009.

This amendment would also apply the triple-lock formula to the pension credit standard minimum guarantee and to widows’ and widowers’ industrial death benefit for 2021-22. The triple-lock commitment does not apply to those benefits. By convention, the relevant widows’ and widowers’ benefits keep pace with the basic state pension.

In previous years the Government have sought to match the basic state pension cash increase in the pension credit standard minimum guarantee, where this increase has been higher than an amount generated by the increase in average earnings; that is the statutory minimum for uprating the standard minimum guarantee. As a result, the standard minimum guarantee for a single person is now nearly £10 a week higher than it would otherwise have been. For a couple, it is nearly £15 a week higher. The decision on how to uprate the standard minimum guarantee next April will be made during the Secretary of State’s uprating review and will be announced in November. These rates too will be subject to the Secretary of State’s statutory review in November.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Altmann and Lady Janke, asked whether the Government are going to honour their commitment to the triple lock and introduce the 2.5% element. As I have said, the Bill makes technical changes for 2020-21 which will ensure that state pensions can be uprated even though there has been no growth in earnings. This will allow the Government to maintain their manifesto commitment to the triple lock, including the 2.5% element.

The noble Baroness, Lady Janke, asked by how much the state pension will be increased this year. The Bill enables the Secretary of State to uprate state pensions in 2021-22. Every autumn, the rate of state pension increase is subject to the Secretary of State’s uprating review to which I have already referred. It would not be right to pre-empt the outcome of this review. The triple lock is a manifesto commitment under which the rate of the state pension will increase by the highest of the growth in earnings and prices, or 2.5%.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Altmann and Lady Sherlock, raised the uprating of pension credit. Without this Bill, the core component of pension credit—the standard minimum guarantee—will be frozen in 2021-22. The decision on how to uprate the standard minimum guarantee will be made during the Secretary of State’s uprating review. Your Lordships will have the opportunity to debate the uprating of the state pension, pension credit and other benefits when the draft order implementing the Secretary of State’s decision is brought before Parliament for approval in the normal way. I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat 4:45 pm, 27th October 2020

I thank the Minister for her reply. I take it that the intention is to continue as we are for the moment. We will hold the Government to this. It is also quite clear from this short debate that changes to benefits should be brought in at the same time, as they work together under the current system.

It might have been a little optimistic to expect some sort of long-term vision from the Minister in this House at this point, but we must bear this in mind in our discussions. We have not really covered the generational fairness point. Unless we get young people to buy in because they think they have something to look forward to, there will be trouble. The stroppy youth of today is the deciding voter in a few years’ time. I hope that we can draw more of this out in the debate on this Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness Barker Baroness Barker Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Voluntary Sector), Deputy Chairman of Committees

We now come to Amendment 2. I remind noble Lords again that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division should make that clear in the debate.