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What would scrapping the pension triple lock mean?  

Welcome to Wednesday’s Early Edition from i.

Critics accuse it of being too expensive and disproportionately handing too much help to older generations when younger ones are struggling. But at the time of its inception, the “triple lock” or “triple guarantee” as it was first called on pensions was aimed at safeguarding key benefits and curbing poverty. The Coalition’s Agreement in 2010 said: “We will restore the earnings link for the basic state pension… with a ‘triple guarantee’ that pensions are raised by the higher of earnings, prices or 2.5%”. The Tory government held its pledge throughout the years of austerity, leading to accusations they were “shamelessly courting the grey vote”. But now ministers are considering “tweaking” the triple lock formula to reduce the burden on the taxpayer. It’s not the first time – after the Covid pandemic the Government temporarily abandoned the triple lock amid the surge in earnings as businesses re-opened, to avoid around in £3bn in costs. But this time there’s more than just taxpayer money at stake – there’s an election around the corner too. Yesterday a former Cabinet level minister told i that both parties would love to scrap the triple lock but “no one wants to be the first to do it” for fear of older voters deserting them. What implications could scrapping it have? We’ll take a look, after the headlines.

Today’s news, and why it matters

Sewage may have been dumped illegally into UK waters for as many as 7.5 million hours over the past three years due to a legal blunder, the environmental watchdog has announced. The Office for Environmental Protection said Defra, the Environment Agenc and Ofwat may have used too lax an interpretation of law from the 90s. Environmental groups hope the provisional findings will mark a turning point, but water industry insiders have warned that meeting a much stricter interpretation of the law could prove impossible.

MPs have voted 404-36 to back a ban on nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas – but the Government is yet to decide how it will exempt legal uses of the drug. Under the draft order, which will now go to the House of Lords for approval, nitrous oxide will become a Class C drug, punishable by a sentence of up to two years in prison or a large fine while dealers could face up to 14 years in prison and an unlimited fine.

Rishi Sunak was warned in Cabinet months ago that political parties were at risk of being infiltrated by spies before a Tory parliamentary researcher was arrested, i can reveal. Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt has urged the Prime Minister and other ministers to back her suggestion of a system where political parties would be able to work more closely with intelligence agencies to flag any suspect individuals who wanted to donate money or work alongside MPs.

Unions are looking forward to Labour gaining power, but striking could be a tough habit to break. At times this week’s TUC conference has felt like a love-in with Labour. But that hasn’t stopped delegates speculating about when a Starmer government would face its first strike, writes Richard Vaughan.

The public will be able to track outbreaks of colds, flu and other respiratory viruses online from later this month when the Government launches a new version of its Covid dashboard. Alongside its existing updates on coronavirus, the UK Health Security Agency will publish a daily data of trends in other viruses in a “next-generation dashboard”, to increase public health awareness.

The boss of oil group BP has resigned four years into the job amid unspecified allegations about his conduct and personal relationships with colleagues. Bernard Looney quit “with immediate effect” after spending his entire career with the energy group.

Four key questions on the pension triple lock:

What is the government considering doing? The triple lock means pensioners receive an annual increase of whichever is highest of average earnings, inflation or 2.5%. Average earnings are expected to be the highest of these, largely driven by a significant rise in wage growth leading up to September. Public sector bonuses have also helped fuel that rate, and it’s these that the government might exclude from the rate, meaning instead of an 8.5% rise to pensioners’ income next year, they would receive around 7.8% instead. That would mean pensioners lose about £75 a year, while the government saves about £700m. Read the full story here.

Who else might it affect? Money Box’s Paul Lewis warns younger generations should be “careful what they wish for” when it comes to being in favour of the government saving taxpayers money now by reducing state pension payments. He warns: “If the pension rise is curtailed this year, that will make the pension lower forever, as each year’s rise is a percentage increase on the last. So a lower pension in 2024/25 means their pension will be a lot less in 20 or 30 years’ time when they come to claim it.” Read his full piece here. Five years ago, Age UK warned scrapping the triple lock could see 700,000 more pensioners living in poverty by 2050 if the measure was scrapped, and also warned it would particularly hit women, as well as the young.

Is it sustainable? Earlier this month, the IFS warned that maintaining the triple lock could add up to £45bn a year to the welfare bill by 2050, increasing pressure on the government to raise the retirement age. William Hague drew further attention to this. Writing in the Times he said: “Since I am not a serving politician, I can explain that the triple lock … is ultimately unsustainable. Somehow the main political parties have to give themselves, and each other, the space to amend it. If you increase a number each year by the highest of three measures, and which measure is highest varies from year to year, you will steadily increase that number by more — perhaps considerably more — than all of the three measures.”

How might it play out in the run up to the election? Mr Hague also described politicians’ treatment of the triple lock as “a very fierce sleeping dog that hates anyone to tread on its paws”. Scrapping it, or pledging to scrap it ahead of an election seems an unlikely vote winner. So far, Labour has urged the Conservatives not to scrap their commitment to the pension increase this April, but has also not pledged to maintain it if elected into Government. i understands there have been suggestions that those on the Labour left were pushing the party’s leadership to maintain the triple lock promise after the next election – due by January 2025 at the latest – but they have faced resistance over concerns about the spiralling cost. Deputy Leader Angela Rayner told the BBC: “We will have to see where we are when we get to a general election and we see the finances.” Rishi Sunak recently declined to say whether the policy would feature in his party’s manifesto at the general election, which is expected next year. Downing Street said it will ensure the state pension “remains sustainable and fair across generations”. Read the full story here.

Both the Conservative Party and Labour Party are refusing to commit to the triple lock (Photo: Peter Dazeley/Getty)

 Around the world

Kim Jong-un and President Vladimir Putin have arrived for talks at Vostochny cosmodrome in Russia’s far east, just hours after North Korea fired two ballistic missiles towards the sea. “I am glad to see you,” Mr Putin said as he shook Mr Kim’s hand for around 40 seconds. “This is our new cosmodrome.”

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives plans to open an impeachment inquiry into US President Joe Biden. Republican House leader Kevin McCarthy claimed there were “serious and credible allegations into President Biden’s conduct” relating to the business interests of his son, Hunter Biden.

More than 2,000 people are believed to have died while 10,000 have been reported missing in catastrophic floods in Libya that have been called “as devastating” as the earthquake in Morocco. More than 1,000 bodies have been retrieved from the rubble in the hard-hit coastal city of Derna, which authorities have declared a disaster zone after torrential rain from Storm Daniel unleashed the floods across much of eastern Libya.

A man who fled Chechnya after being tortured with electric wires when security forces accused him of homosexuality faces being forced to return to the Russian republic where LGBT people are being “systematically” persecuted by the authorities.

A Chinese city has launched an operation to find around 70 crocodiles that escaped during floods. Deluges caused by a typhoon around the city of Maoming in Guangdong province caused a lake at a commercial crocodile farm to overflow and allowed the reptiles to escape, local media reported.

 Watch out for…

 a fresh row over voter ID, as a report by the election watchdog warns hundreds of thousands of people could be excluded from voting in the next general election because of it.  

 Thoughts for the day

The Tories are missing a trick on worker rights – Angela Rayner’s raw politics will work. Polling suggests that measures to strengthen worker rights are popular with the public, writes Paul Waugh.

A vape ban may be the best thing for addicted teens – but it’s the adults I’m worried about. I know too many people who vape on trains under their jackets, in bed in the middle of the night and in the toilets at work, says Roisin Lanigan.

Take it from a sex writer, asking ‘how often’ is the wrong question. The one thing least likely to improve your sex life, or your relationship, is panicking that you’re not getting it right, explains Rebecca Reid.

‘What’s the quality of your sex life like? It’s not all about the frequency’ (Photo: Getty)

Culture Break

‘Am I the future of Radio 2? I don’t know about that’. From viral drumming to a BBC ‘graveyard shift’, nothing can dampen the spirits of Owain Wyn Evans, writes Nick Duerden.

Owain Wyn Evans presenting BBC Radio 2 (Photo: Patrick Olner)

 The Big Read

What every woman should know about hormones, the pill and cancer. One in five UK adults are aware of links between oestrogen and womb cancer, research shows – our knowledge of hormones needs to improve, reports Sarah Graham.

Doses of HRT are carefully managed to minimise risks (Photo: MStudioImages/E+/Getty Images)


‘I’ve never got a free pint in Scotland for my historic winner against England’. Don Hutchinson has lost his accent but none of the memories as he recalls his iconic winning goal at Wembley in the Euro 2000 qualifiers, reports Mark Douglas.

Hutchinson backs Scotland to pull off another shock against England in Euro 2024 qualifying (Photo: Getty)

 Something to brighten your day

When art detective Arthur Brand heard a knock at the door earlier this week, he knew he had reached the end of a three-and-a-half-year quest to recover a stolen painting. Handed over to the art sleuth, nicknamed “Indiana Jones”, in a pillow case and Ikea bag was the Van Gogh painting Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring, worth €6m. “The last few weeks have been very nerve-racking. I didn’t sleep a wink until it turned up on Monday afternoon,” he told The Times.

Arthur Brand poses with the painting title “Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring”, painted by Vincent van Gogh in 1884 (Photo by HANDOUT/ARTHUR BRAND/AFP via Getty Images)

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