Pensioners on a hike in Cumbria (Picture: Morebyless on Flickr)

The government wants to squeeze the size of the state pension and set younger people against older ones. And it is threatening to abandon the “triple lock” that gives some protection to pensioners.

The present system guarantees the state pension rises each year in line with average earnings, inflation or 2.5 percent—whichever is highest. If it is implemented this year the state pension would go up from a maximum of £204 a week to £221. This is hardly a fortune.

As a percentage of average earnings, it’s much less than many other countries. And many people, particularly women, don’t receive a full state pension. Women’s private pension funds are 35 percent lower than men’s, according to the government’s official estimates.

Private pensions consist of workplace schemes or personal pensions set up by individuals using independent companies. Taking time off because of caring tasks or going part‑time to fit in with children or older relatives means less is paid into women’s pensions.

It’s also true that the basic state pension today is lower in real terms than when Tory Margaret Thatcher broke the earnings link in 1980.

It’s about £50 per week lower for those who retired pre-2016.

Rishi Sunak refused last week to commit to keeping the pensions triple lock, which was introduced in 2011, in the next Tory manifesto. He’s looking for ways to cut taxes for the rich and the corporations.

Money robbed from pensioners or benefits could provide that cash. Mel Stride, Tory work and pensions secretary, said that in the long-term the triple lock is “not sustainable”.

Pensions are not some benevolent handout from employers and the state. They are really deferred wages—deductions from income while you work to enable you to survive when you eventually retire.

There is a deep class question at the heart of all pension discussions. Should you work almost until you drop, and then exist on the margin of life unless you have a big private pension?

Or should we at 55 or 60 be free from work when we are more likely to be fit and healthy to do what we want in financial comfort?

We might choose to enjoy time with family, go travelling, learn a new language, play volleyball, involve ourselves more in revolutionary activity—or just relax.

For years governments have insisted that pensions are unaffordable because people are living longer. But the economy has grown much more than any increase in life expectancy.

And now life expectancy is falling—particularly for manual workers and those in more deprived areas.

Almost eight years separates the life expectancy of retirees living in exclusive parts of London like Kensington and Chelsea to those living in Glasgow.

A 60-year old man in the Scottish city might live a further 19 years. For his London contemporary that rises to 27 years.

Yet Labour, in typical cowardly fashion, is also refusing to guarantee the future of the triple lock and is waiting to see what the Tories do.

Sunak hopes that as well as creating funds for tax cuts, pensions can be another way to divide people.

He wants younger people to blame the “luxury lifestyles” of the elderly for their low pay, blunted prospects and inability to afford a house.

Fortunately there’s not much sign of that. It’s not surprising that a poll last week showed 90 percent of people over 65 backed the triple lock.

But so did 44 percent of 18-24 year olds against just 15 percent who wanted it to go. We should fight to maintain the triple lock and for a higher state pension.

Pensions should be available at 60 at the latest whatever people’s work record. And at an earlier age for people in the most arduous and hazardous jobs.

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