Protect triple lock call

Unite retired members call on government to honour manifesto promises and maintain triple lock guarantee ahead of Autumn Statement

Reading time: 7 min

UPDATE: Chancellor Jeremy Hunt confirmed today (November 17) that the triple lock pensions guarantee will be maintained. But under this Tory government, we know it is only safe for now. That’s why it is vital that Unite retired members get organised to defend pensioners’ rights and incomes. You can find out more in our article published yesterday ahead of the Autumn Statement below.

Pensioners across the UK – more than 2m of whom are already living in poverty – face the chancellor’s Autumn Statement tomorrow (November 17) with dread, as the triple lock pension protection hangs in the balance.

The triple lock guarantee ensures that the state pension increases each year in line with whichever is highest – inflation, the average UK wage increase or 2.5 per cent.

The guarantee exists to safeguard the value of the state pension so that it isn’t overtaken by the rising cost of living or growth in the working population’s wages.

Last year, the Tory government suspended the triple lock during the Covid pandemic because of a sudden 8 per cent increase in averages wages precipitated by the end of lockdowns. This left pensioners seeing a rise of only 3.1 per cent in the state pension from April this year.

But since April, inflation has soared by more than three times the pension rise, leaving retired people among the hardest hit by an unprecedented cost of living crisis. Since March alone, an astonishing 200,000 more pensioners have fallen below the poverty line.  

Unite retired members national committee chair Monica Taylor told UniteLive that she was “dreading” chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Statement on Thursday (November 17), which is expected to outline billions of pounds in government spending cuts.

“This is such a crucial time for pensioners, and we still don’t know what exactly the chancellor is going to say – whether they’re going to keep their manifesto promise,” Monica said.

Monica said she had heard so many stories of pensioners who for the first time will have to make the decision between heating and eating.

“Older people are much more vulnerable to the cold so it’s a very scary time,” she explained. “Just the other day, my friend who is also a pensioner told me she bought a portable heater because she can only afford to heat the one room she is in rather than heating the whole house.”

Irene Graham, who serves as the equalities officer for the Unite Glasgow and Renfrewshire retired members branch, as well as being on the national committee, agreed.

“For pensioners, they’re now facing both the present reality of the cost of living crisis, as well as having huge concerns for the future, especially with the triple lock under threat,” she explained. “This has led many pensioners to not eat properly or heat their homes adequately because they don’t know what the future holds.”

Irene highlighted that while many retired people are entitled to pension credit – a top-up of the state pension for those on low incomes – a huge proportion do not claim it for various reasons.

“Millions of pounds are then left unclaimed, and for those who are reliant on just the state pension, the huge rise in the price of basic necessities like food and energy has been particularly devastating,” she noted. “It’s no exaggeration to say that we will see many more premature deaths among the elderly this winter.”

Irene also explained how the cost of living crisis has had a huge impact on pensioners’ mental well-being.

“My friends and I will often go to the pub to socialise,” she told UniteLive. “But with prices going up so much, many just can’t afford it anymore. We know that loneliness in particular affects older people, and studies have proven that lack of social contact has a significant adverse effect on both mental and physical health.”

Monica said that what angers her most is that the basic state pension, which over a fifth of people retiring this year said they will be solely relying on, is already at a very low level compared to other nations globally.

“The UK has one of the lowest state pensions in the entire developed world,” she said. “And at the same time we are one of the wealthiest nations — we can absolutely afford to look after our elderly.”

Irene also lambasted the low value of the state pension which has been eroded further still by record-breaking inflation.

“I used to work with children’s charities and the saying ‘choosing between heating and eating’ used to apply only to the poorest of the poor in this country. Now it is a stark reality for even those pensioners who have always had a sufficient income to ensure all their basic necessities were covered, and more.”

Monica urged the government to see sense and protect the triple lock.

“The government needs to step up and take stock of what they’re doing,” Irene said. “They need to help those who are desperately in need right now. It really will be a matter of life and death for many pensioners, this winter especially.”

Both Monica and Irene criticised the rhetoric that divides young and old; and those in work and out of work. This rhetoric, they say, has in many ways fuelled the threat to the triple lock guarantee.

“There’s this whole narrative that pensioners have it okay, so why should they get that guarantee – this really needs to stop,” Irene said. “Thankfully, people are living longer and the government has to find a way to deal with this reality – by honouring their promises to pensioners and respecting them as citizens who should be entitled to a decent standard of living.”

Monica agreed.

“This isn’t about young and old – at heart the triple lock guarantee is an issue that should concern everyone,” she said. “Everyone, no matter who they are, should have a decent standard of living. When people who are now in work eventually retire, they too will need an income to live on. In this sense, we as pensioners are paving the way for the younger generation – to protect their futures. Our fight is their fight.”

You can join Unite’s fight for dignity in retirement through the union’s Retired Members Plus membership. Find out more here.

By Hajera Blagg