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Theresa May’s outrageous refusal to guarantee the “triple-lock” on state pensions, which guarantees rises of at least 2.5% a year, could be her undoing.
Pensioners are typically viewed as a pillar of Tory support. But just yesterday, BBC Radio 4 hosted a call-in show on the triple-lock and dozens of pensioners, some of them Tory voters, called in to condemn May.
Sonia, a retired NHS worker from Lincolnshire, stated:
“The 20 years I spent working for the NHS gave me a very small occupational pension, which even now only nets me just over £440 per calendar month. Now, the government puts that together with my state pension and they tax me on it – so I am still a tax payer.
With this income, I am just about able to cope. I can just about pay my bills. My council tax is going up in leaps and bounds. My energy bill has gone up by 5.3% since April. I am just about keeping pace with this at the moment.
Now, there’s an ever-increasing clamour of voices that seem to be saying that pensioners are rich that we are rolling in money, that we are getting more income than people who are working. I would say to those people to come and live the way I do for a couple of weeks. You’ll soon be sick of it. We are not all rich.
I am really, really worried that if the government undoes the triple lock, or interferes with other pensioner benefits… well, if you’re like me you’ll be really struggling.”
Sonia is far from being an isolated case. British pensioners are already among the lowest-paid in western Europe, receiving just 38% of their average wages. This is compared with Holland and Austria where the figure is 90%, and Spain and Italy were pensioners receive 80% of their average wages.
Even more shocking, in 2014-15 alone, an estimated 43,900 excess winter deaths occurred – mostly amongst pensioners.
As the example of Greece has shown, when pushed too far pensioners can be amongst the most militant opponents of austerity. It’s not difficult to guess why. After having worked your entire life, to then be pushed into poverty when you are at your most vulnerable is an unthinkable betrayal.
Jeremy Corbyn, whose election campaign is really beginning to build momentum, was quick to leap on the Tories over this issue:
“Theresa May seems incapable of answering any question about the protection of the triple lock on the state pension. Well I give you a commitment now. Labour will maintain the triple lock!”
This is brilliant. But to address those who ask how it will be financed, Corbyn needs to explicitly link the triple-lock to the need to tackle massive tax avoidance amongst the super-rich.
More than £120billion is lost every year in corporate tax avoidance.
Corbyn has been given a fantastic opportunity here to split the Tories’ support. He needs to take it with both hands.