About time. Finally, the Government has decided to put together a universal State pension, one payment for everyone, one flat rate, and no means testing. What a breath of fresh air.
The suggestion is that the pension could be worth £140 a week, much higher than the current basic State pension of £97 a week, and even more than the £132.60 a week you can get with the maximum Pension Credit. When it will arrive remains to be seen, but the fact that it is on the way is a great move forwards.
Ros Altmann quite rightly points out that there are many different elements of the State pension – the Basic State Pension, the Second State Pension, State Earnings Related Pension, and the Graduated Pension. Add into that the Pension Credit, with a Guarantee Credit and a Savings Credit – which half of all pensioners would be entitled to, but around 1.6 million pensioners are not claiming up to £2.93 billion of Pension Credit each year. So the system as it stands is clearly failing.
As a sceptic, I would say the previous government simply offered this as a sop to pensioners, knowing that it could take the moral high ground by saying that ‘the money is there’, but that a serious amount of it would remain unclaimed. Most pensioners have never relied on the State for anything in their lives, and while they accept they are entitled to a State pension, plenty will avoid asking for any more, even if it is their right to have it.
Britain's complicated pension system desperately needs changing, and the coalition’s plan is great news.
Women who have taken a career break will be some of the biggest beneficiaries. Official figures show that more than a third of women get less than 60 per cent of the basic State pension – so that is 2.3m women getting less than £58.59 a week to live on. The latest figures available show that 1.3m women get the Guarantee Credit, part of the Pension Credit, which takes their State pension up to £132.60 a week, still less than the suggested £140 flat rate.
However, for the remaining 1m women, they would see their weekly income rise by nearly 2.5 times – going up from £3,046.68 a year, to £7,263.36 a year. This is a life changing amount for these women, and the coalition has to be applauded for pushing to make this change.
The biggest difference? Finally having a pensions minister in Steve Webb who actually understands pensions, and a Government that is prepared to listen to how the changes should be made to help millions of people, and acting on it. The big question is when these changes will come through, and for the women struggling along on £58.59 a week or less, the answer is not soon enough.