Politics

Rishi Sunak performs the lengthy sport as he prepares to open the triple lock

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Ever since Gordon Brown awarded retirees a measly 75p increase, politicians have been afraid to upset the gray voice. In 1999 the Treasury Department was so pleased with the low inflation that it failed to recognize the PR disaster of the tiny increase in all index-linked benefits.

Brown never repeated the mistake and paid his fine by quickly making his temporary winter fuel money a permanent fixture, as well as introducing free television licenses for the elderly and retirement loans.

During the 2010 election, Brown urged David Cameron to keep action. The Tory leader went a step further by introducing the now infamous “triple lock”, which guarantees that the basic and state pension will be increased based on income, prices, or 2.5%, whichever is greater is.

In 2015, the Conservatives plunged into the dangerous waters of cutting what some called “pensioner perks,” announcing that they would withdraw government funding of the free TV license for those over 75 and instead ask the BBC to to pay the bill. The blame game is still playing out, but a poll by AgeUK found that Tory voters are the hardest hit.

Fast forward to today and it seems that Rishi Sunak is preparing to think the unthinkable and not keep the triple lock promise affirmed in the last Tory Manifesto. The Chancellor, in some ways, has perfect cover in the form of the pandemic and the huge cost it has caused across the nation.

Young people in particular are hit hard by unemployment, on top of student debt and the UK’s chronic inability to provide them with affordable housing. With the third wave of Covid causing a new tsunami of cases among the under 30s, it seems they have their share in the disease, too. While ministers seem intent on some form of herd immunity, Covid has long been the fear that stalks the WhatsApp chat of many young people.

The demands for “intergenerational justice” are getting louder and louder and Sunak seems to have listened. Of course, it was subtle on the breakfast sofa shows, but the message seemed pretty clear: the triple lock is being tweaked, changed, possibly suspended in order to save valuable money.

In a master class on the political hint-drop, the Chancellor said yes, the triple ban is still government policy, “but I very much acknowledge the concerns of the people.” “We want to make sure that the decisions we make and the systems we have are fair, for both retirees and taxpayers.” It was straight out of the foreign aid playbook: the overall goal is on the manifesto hold on, but the pandemic has forced a rethink.

For this reason, there is talk in Whitehall and among MPs that the Treasury Department is considering a possible suspension of the triple lock for just one year, just as it did with its commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on development aid. The hint was far from official when even Boris Johnson refused to end speculation on Thursday. “We have to do justice to retirees and taxpayers,” he said.

While Brown was trapped in a PR nightmare by pegging pensions to (low) inflation, Sunak obviously doesn’t want to suffer from a similarly self-inflicted locked-in syndrome. With pensions now linked to income (which skyrocket 8%), even a temporary way to avoid the £ 3 billion cost would save the Treasury Department a lot of money. Retirees could still get promotion, just not a mega promotion.

Insiders insist that nothing has been decided yet and everything will depend on what the numbers look like later in the year before the spending review, but no one spoils the idea of ​​a brief suspension of the full triple lock. The fact that both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor sounded like they were coordinating their message (in various media) shows that at least a softening is underway.

With Keir Starmer’s move from constructive to destructive opposition, Labor will inevitably seek to see any change as an outrageous theft from retirees’ wallets. But everyone will try to guess how many Tory backbenchers are trying to keep the lock from opening. Will those who loved a temporary pruning aid bite their tongue now?

It will certainly be a test of Sunak’s political ability, although he may have time on his side. Just as with the international development cut, the decision to do so in the middle of a parliament (and in the middle of a pandemic) gives him room to do so in the run-up to the next elections.

It could also be that the chancellor recognizes from the triple lock that he could polish up his reputation in the long run rather than damage it, not least among younger voters, who see this as a question of justice.

The vacation program has already made him the UK’s most popular politician and he might think he can afford to burn off some of that capital now. The termination of the £ 20 increase in the Universal Loan and the increase in corporate tax prove that he is not afraid of making unpopular decisions.

Choosing the bold option of annuities would certainly signal that Sunak really has his eyes on the jackpot. In contrast to his “buy now, pay later” boss, the Chancellor cannot rely on the loan to compensate for the books. If he can present himself to the Tory MPs as firm but fair in terms of taxes and spending, he could make a decent leap himself into 10th place.

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