All 1 Selaine Saxby contributions to the Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Act 2021

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Mon 20th Sep 2021

Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Bill Debate

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Department: Department for Work and Pensions

Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Bill

Selaine Saxby Excerpts
David Linden Portrait David Linden (Glasgow East) (SNP)
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It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith).

I rise to speak in favour of the reasoned amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Ed Davey), and commit the SNP to voting for it when the House divides this evening. As well as speaking to that amendment, I wish to comment on the broader principles of the Bill. I am conscious that those watching our proceedings will perhaps be unaware of the consequences of the passing of this legislation, and especially of rushing it all through in the space of a couple of hours.

In short, as we all know, the Bill facilitates this Tory Government’s breaking yet another manifesto commitment —namely, by breaking the pensions triple lock, to which all parties in the House committed themselves at the election less than two years ago. The breaking of that manifesto pledge follows on from the Government’s scrapping the commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on the world’s poorest through our international aid budget, and now comes on top of the new Tory poll tax, which sees hard-working Scots having to endure a hike in national insurance to pay for the sorting out of the utter mess of England’s health and social care system. The Prime Minister is not known for keeping his promises, and the decision to suspend the triple lock will have dire consequences for pensioners.

As constituency MPs, we all know that the state pension is by far the largest source of income for UK pensioners, and the triple lock has kept it secure throughout the pandemic. To be blunt, the British Government’s decision to break its triple-lock promise is a betrayal and an unacceptable attack on pensioners’ incomes. What is more, this change will do nothing to stop recent indications that more pensioners are living in poverty. The proportion of pensioners on relative low income—that is, the percentage of pensioners in the UK living in households with net disposable income below 60% of the national median, after housing costs—rose from a historic low of 13% in 2011-12 to 18% in 2019-20.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
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Does the hon. Gentleman recognise in his analysis that we took notice of pensioners’ needs last year? The triple lock is reliant on earnings being positive, and last year they were negative, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State took the opportunity to raise pensions, despite the fact that the terms of the triple lock were not met at that time.

David Linden Portrait David Linden
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If the hon. Lady pays attention to the rest of my speech, she will understand that I am developing my argument because the UK state pension is so pitiful. That is the point I am addressing and I am sure she will make it in her speech, too.

The rise in the proportion of pensioners on relative low income followed a period of more than a decade during which the measure had been trending downwards from a high of 29% in 1998-99. The passing of the Bill will undo all that work.

Although the state pension is the biggest source of income for pensioners, House of Commons Library analysis shows that UK state pensions are the lowest as a proportion of pre-retirement wages of all our European neighbours. Pensioners throughout these islands receive around just a quarter of the average wage when they retire, whereas pensioners in Luxembourg and Austria receive 90% of the average working wage. According to the OECD’s latest analysis, the UK has an overall net replacement rate of 28.4% from mandatory pensions for an average earner. That is well below the OECD average of 58.6% and the EU average of 63.5%. It is simply not right that the UK devotes a smaller percentage of its GDP to state pensions and pensioner benefits than most other advanced economies.

The triple lock betrayal is yet another Tory-imposed austerity cut. The Commons Library briefing for this debate estimates that the British Government will take away £5 billion from pensioners in 2022-23 if the triple-lock elements of the state pension are uprated by 2.5% rather than 8.3%. Investment in the state pension is crucial, especially as many are still excluded from automatic enrolment in workplace pensions—although I acknowledge that some, but nowhere near enough, progress has been made on auto-enrolment.

Let me briefly develop that point a little further. The British Government’s failure to extend automatic enrolment to low-income earners and young people disproportionately impacts women, thereby worsening the already massive gender pension gap on these islands. That is before we even come to the issue of the Department for Work and Pensions’ maladministration with regard to 1950s-born women who, quite rightly, await to see what stage 2 of the ombudsman’s process will conclude. I very much hope it will do so soon.