Polly Toynbee opposes a triple-lock increase to the state pension, but also says the current state pension is inadequate (The pension triple-lock is an insult to the UK’s young people, 1 July). She says the old are stealing the future of the young, but fails to point out that the young will themselves one day be old and want a good pension. She tallies up what UK pensioners receive, but fails to mention that they, like everyone else, pay income tax. Polly also ignores our comparators in Europe, for whom the pension entitlement as a percentage of pre-retirement average earnings is as follows: 82% for Spain, 75% in France, 51% in Germany, and 29% for the UK (OECD, 2017). Hardly a picture of UK pensioners living in the lap of luxury.
So what should happen to level up society? Three things: progressive taxation, progressive taxation, progressive taxation. Raise income tax. Approximately 2.5 million pensioners currently pay income tax. Recalibrate council tax. Those lucky enough to own their own home should offer greater financial support to cash-strapped councils, including pensioners. Tax-paying pensioners should also pay national insurance. In 2019-20, the Office for Budget Responsibility expected NI to raise £143.4bn. If the same number of retirees who currently pay income tax were to pay NI, the Treasury would net some £11bn.
Tony Blair and Gordon Brown made a colossal mistake when in 1997 they promised not to raise income tax. Instead, they subsidised employers by bloating the welfare bill, while feather-bedding the rich.
As to a better life for young people, a real living wage, mending the broken housing market, improved employment rights, the renationalisation of utilities, clean air, and the resolution of the climate crisis must be top of the agenda.
Polly Toynbee is absolutely right. Favouring the old, who overwhelmingly vote Tory, has been a key part of the divisive politics of this party since 2010, when spending on pensioners and younger people really started to diverge. She is also right to point out that, although poverty among the most vulnerable pensioners fell sharply under the Brown-Blair reforms of the early 2000s, roughly halving to 16%, it has risen steadily since 2014 due to punitive rent benefit policies and the stigma that stops people claiming their rights.
We shouldn’t forget two things. The attack on those of working age – so that child poverty rose from 27% to 31% between 2010 and 2020 (on a par with Romania) – is only part of a divisive politics that sets immigrants against others, the poor against those getting by, those in deprived areas against those in the south, and homeowners against tenants, simply to get votes.
Also spending on pensioners is not a bad thing. UK pensions are on average the lowest in the OECD compared with earnings, and the retirement age (68) is one of the highest. More should go to the poorest pensioners, but the real scandal is the multiple cuts since 2010 that have hit the incomes of working-age people. We need better minimum wages, higher benefits and decent social housing.
Professor of social policy, University of Kent
I’ve admired Polly Toynbee’s journalism for many years, but I disagree with her on the triple lock. She fails to acknowledge the huge variation that exists among pensioners. Pensioner poverty decreased for many years in the UK but it is now on the rise for single people, ethnic minorities and those living in rented accommodation. Single older women are the worst off. Women born in the 1960s are now having to wait until they are 67 to draw their state pension. Many are struggling to keep working, with unemployment rampant among older workers.
UK pensioners receive on average 29% of the working wage compared with the OECD average of 63%. Scrapping the triple lock will undoubtedly hit the most vulnerable the hardest.
Dr Diane Bebbington
Merton Park, London
Polly Toynbee’s article is an insult to pensioners. Yes there are some pensioners who are financially very comfortable – they have worked hard and paid into private pension schemes to invest in their retirement so that they are not a burden to the government. So many pensioners like myself have worked and paid into the state pension scheme for more years than is now required to receive the full state pension. I also had to buy extra years to enable me to receive the full pension which is, since the change a few years ago, in the lower tier, therefore I do not receive the amount that is now available for new pensioners.
Many pensioners like myself have saved all of their working life, and have seen the interest on their savings dwindle. It is now is 0.01%, whereas younger people have had the benefit of low mortgage and loan rates. Also, many pensioners like myself did not vote for this government and never would.