EXCLUSIVE: Pensions minister '˜confident' triple-lock will not be scrapped

Ministers have asserted they have 'every confidence' that a keystone pledge to increase pensions by at least 2.5 percent each year will not be scrapped in a bid to plug the Government's £2bn budget black hole.

Pensions minister Richard Harrington

Pensions minister Richard Harrington told the Yorkshire Post that he has “no reason” to doubt Downing Street's commitment to the so-called Triple Lock measure, stressing that it has played a crucial role in reducing pensioner poverty.

The assurances come as the Government facing mounting pressure to explain how it plans to make up a £2bn budget shortfall created by the Chancellor's recent U-turn on National Insurance reforms.

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They also come amid fresh calls for the triple-lock to be abandoned, with MPs and peers attacking the annual pension increase as unsustainable and unfair.

The promise to boost state pension payments by at least 2.5 percent – or inline with inflation or wage growth if higher – formed a key part of the 2015 Conservative general election manifesto.

The then-leader David Cameron vowed to keep the scheme in place until at least 2020, as part of a broader plan to guarantee “dignity and security in retirement” for all.

However, the policy has come under fire on numerous occasions, largely for its cost to the Treasury, which has been estimated at £6bn a year,

In a recent report MPs on the Work and Pensions selection committee described the pledge as “inherently unsustainable”, while the former pensions minister Baroness Altmann told this paper that the policy is a “political con trick” that will drive up the state pension age to the disadvantage of those in “poorer areas”.

But despite these criticisms, ministers have denied any plans to scrap the scheme.

Speaking exclusively to the Yorkshire Post, Mr Harrington said he had “absolutely every confidence” that his party will keep the lock in place for at least another three years.

“Number 10 Downing Street said very clearly when questioned about this that the triple lock is in place until 2020 - the lifetime of this parliament,” he said

“That's what they said and I have no reason to believe its any different from that

“[The triple-lock] has helped reduce pensioner poverty a lot - it has gone down dramatically over the last couple of decades.

“I have absolutely every confidence in saying 'til 2020.”

The Watford MP has also expressed his support for calls to improve access to pensions for the self-employed.

The Government is currently celebrating a milestone for its automatic enrollment scheme for workplace pensions, with 7 million employees signed-up to date.

But with the April deadline looming for employers to make sure they have a programme in place, the Department for Work and Pensions is now reviewing options to improve or expand the scheme.

Organisations like the Citizens Advice Bureau have called for the creation of a similar opt-in scheme for the self-employed, and Mr Harrington said he is keen to explore the possibility of linking pensions with tax returns.

“There's still a large number of people, who, if they've got the money and take the professional advice they can take the pension, but there's no system bringing them under an umbrella and that's what we're looking at,” he said.

“The only way I think [that can be done] is the tax returns, because its the only thing everyone has in common. And particularly now people do it online, it can't be too difficult to link it in with a pension provider and say: if you pay that money to that pensions provider then actually you'll pay less taxes this year.”