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The triple lock must stay until the UK state pension reaches a decent level

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The state pension triple lock is back in the government’s sights, according to Treasury leaks reported in the Daily Telegraph.

The paper claims that dropping this manifesto pledge is part of a package of policies to "enhance credibility and boost investor confidence" in the economy that have been drawn up for the chancellor to consider.

The triple lock is the mechanism for increasing the value of the state pension each year. It means that the state pension rises by either 2.5 per cent, consumer price inflation or average earnings growth, whichever is highest.

The policy was introduced in 2011 to gradually boost our state pension, which was one of the most miserly in Europe.

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It is unclear from the report what the government would replace the triple lock with to save £8bn (a change of law would be required to cut the earnings link) but pushing the cost of coronavirus onto pensioners would be a terrible mistake.

The triple lock has not done its job yet

Although the value of the state pension has improved since the triple lock was introduced, progress has been slow, and the UK still lags far behind most comparable countries.

For the average UK worker the state pension replaces just 20.7 per cent of their pre-retirement earnings. This is less than half the EU average, and far behind countries like Austria and Portugal where the state pension replaces almost three quarters of income.

And after decades of improvement, poverty among the elderly has begun to rise again, with two million pensioners now living in poverty, while state pension age increases have added to the problem (and taken a disastrous toll on the mental health of those affected according to the latest research).

So there’s a long way to go before our state pension can provide the safety net in retirement that citizens of neighbouring countries take for granted.

Until we get there, we can’t think about ditching the triple lock.

Older people have already been hit badly by the pandemic

But in some quarters the idea that older people should pay for the economic consequences of Covid-19 because they are most at risk from the virus is being pushed hard.

This is nonsense. Older people are already paying a terrible price.

Almost nine out of ten deaths involving Covid-19 have been of people over 65, and the heart-breaking conditions in our care homes have become a national scandal.

Targeting state pensions for cuts after this would be particularly cruel.

Young workers will suffer the most

This isn’t all about current pensioners though. The triple lock does give them some protection against falling living standards, and it’s likely that the 2.5 per cent floor will kick in next year as wage growth and inflation are likely to fall in 2020.

This could be worth £5 or £10 a month, which will make a difference to pensioners on the lowest incomes.

But because the triple lock increases the value of the state pension gradually over time it is worth far more to future pensioners, who are today’s young workers.

Switching from the triple lock to an earnings link would cut about £700 a year from the value of the state pension by 2050.

It would also push around 700,000 more pensioners into poverty.

The people who would suffer as a result of that are today’s 30-somethings who’ll be approaching retirement in 2050.

The TUC is clear that there can be no return to the damaging policies of austerity as we begin to recover from the latest crisis. Targeting the state pension would be particularly harmful for both pensioners and workers.

Read: A pay freeze is no way to reward public sector workers for putting their lives on the line

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