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Moving from the Treasury, which reigns in spending, to the Department for Work and Pensions, which spends more than any other department, is...

Sunday, 29 November 2015

ZERO, ZILCH, ZIP: BENEFITS FROZEN FOR ALL UNDER AGE 63

The new rates for social security benefits from April were quietly issued on Thursday 26 November in a written statement in the House of Lords by Pensions Minister Baroness Altmann. It linked to fifteen pages listing every DWP payment, what it is this year and what it will be for 2016/17. And the two columns are almost identical. Every single benefit paid to people under pension age is unchanged.

In other words all benefits – with the exceptions below – are frozen. No rise at all in April. Zero. Zip. Zilch.

There are two reasons for that. One group of benefits such as jobseeker’s allowance, income support, and child benefit are unchanged because the Chancellor announced in his Summer Budget that they would be frozen for four years saving £4 billion a year by 2019/20. The rest, such as disability living allowance, carer’s allowance, maternity allowance, and widow’s benefits, are unchanged because inflation is effectively zero. The September CPI showed a slight fall in prices of -0.1% and negative inflation counts as zero. So between these two rules all working age benefits are frozen. Children, disability, illness, widowhood, caring , unemployment - none of those merit even a 1p a week rise.

Pensioners gain
How different it is when we come to that magic word ‘pensioner’. People over the age of 63 – when women will be entitled to state pension from April – will generally find they get more from April.

Their benefits and allowances will rise. The basic state pension will go up by the rise in earnings of 2.9% from £115.95 to £119.30, an extra £3.35 a week. But, and it is quite a big but for some, all the extras paid with the state pension – SERPS, State Second Pension, extra pension earned by deferring or by paying Class 3A contributions, and graduated pension – will all be frozen. A point not mentioned by the Chancellor in his Autumn Statement speech.

The full rate of the new State Pension was fixed, as predicted here a while ago, at £155.65 a week, though for transitional reasons most new pensioners will get less than that rate in the first years of the new state pension. Many will get what they would have had under the old system or a little more, especially women. Click for the full story of women doing worse than men from the new state pension.

Pension Credit for the poorest pensioners will also rise by 2.9% - up by £4.40 from £151.20 a week to £155.60 for a single person and up £6.70 for a couple from £230.85 £237.55. That will benefit 1.1m people. But most of that rise will be clawed back from the 1.4m who are slightly above the poorest level who get savings credit as well. That will leave them with only about £2.02 a week out of the £3.35 of the state pension rise. The figure for couples is keeping £3.21 from an extra £5.35. Overall the maximum income to get any pension credit is frozen at £188 single and £274 couple.

Housing benefit which helps pay for rent distinguishes between those under and over state pension age. No rise for those under - single, couple, disabled, children - all frozen. But there is a rise of 2.9% for those over pension age and even higher amounts for those over 65. Pensioners are not subject to the hated bedroom tax either.

The same rises will be found in local council tax support schemes where older people are fully protected against the cuts imposed on working age people.

Winter Fuel Payment is frozen again as expected.

But the few niggles about minor items not changed cannot hide the fact that the big social security winners are older people. As the Chancellor made clear in his speech

“The first objective of this Spending Review is to give unprecedented support to health, social care, and our pensioners.”
Perhaps that is why he gave these fifteen pages of bad news on benefits for everyone else to the Pensions Minister to quietly slip out in the House of Lords on a Thursday afternoon.

1 March 2016
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