Steve Webb hits back over new state pension and triple lock

Steve Webb DWP Committee

Former pensions minister Steve Webb has defended communication of the new state pension, the triple lock and played down the concerns of women who will miss out under the new regime.

Speaking to the Work and Pensions committee today, Webb hit back at claims the new system has been missold.

Earlier this month, pensions minister Ros Altmann said the single tier state pension has been “missold”.

But Webb told MPs giving too much detail risked the message of broader awareness of the changes being lost.

He said: “I don’t think she [Ros Altmann] woke up in the morning and thought I’ll announce it’s been missold. The seed was sown. I don’t think its been missold. It’s incredibly difficult to communicate any measure of detail beyond the headline.”

He added: “As soon as you start explaining to a journalist about contracting out you’ve lost them. And then you communicate nothing at all. Of course there’s the risk of simplifying and maybe I oversimplified.

“If we hadn’t oversimplified the message the risk was we wouldn’t have communicated anything at all and that was the challenge.”

The committee also asked Webb about women born in the 1950s who claim they were not made aware their state pension age had been pushed back.

Under Webb the Government pushed back the state pension age for these women by up to 18 months, but changes made in 1995 had a much bigger impact.

He said: “When we wrote to them in 2011 about changes that pushed back their state pension age by up to 18 months it was the first time some of them had heard about the impact of the 1995 act.

“We got the flack for six years of rises, but we’d only done a maximum of 18 months.”

He added: “Did we miss some people? Probably, when you move house do you tell the DWP and tell them your new address?”

Webb, now director of policy at Royal London, also produced a DWP report from 2004 which found 75 per cent of women affected were aware of the changes.

He said: “The report shows there were gaps but three quarters had some knowledge. This is the only objective research I’ve seen.”

He added other groups would also lose out from the new system.

He said: “For women who have not yet taken the state pension they could defer and possibly get more than the flat rate. Of course not everyone can afford to do that.

“I understand why they are aggrieved but arguably there are other groups who could be more aggrieved.”

Triple lock

He also defended the triple lock on state pension increases, which raises payments by the highest of earnings, inflation or 2.5 per cent.

Critics say the system breeds unfairness between the generations as pensioners see income increase while working people may not.

He said: “Actually the triple lock is very important for women. Even with auto-enrolment, the state pension will remain the major part of women’s income in retirement for decades to come.”

He added he recommended keeping the system in its present form “for at least another decade”.