IF Manifesto Audit 6: Pensions and Welfare

The main parties’ manifestos have abandoned intergenerational fairness in bid to win the grey vote, says IF Co-Founder Angus Hanton

In preparing their manifestos and election promises, the Labour, Conservative and LibDem parties have all doubled down on their promises to older voters.

In the full IF Manifesto Audit, we have applied a traffic-light system to signal how intergenerationally fair we consider the various policy offers to be. We grade intergenerationally fair pledges as “green”; “yellow” if intergenerationally neutral; “orange” if some progress has been made, but more needs to be done; and “red” if intergenerationally unfair.

On the subject of pensions, all parties have received red lights.

They have all guaranteed the triple lock on the state pension to be paid out, however wealthy the recipients are – the LibDems have gone further and pledged to increase the state pension by £10 a week to £178.

They are helped by the fact that young people are very supportive of poorer older pensioners and are unlikely to vote against a party just because of its pension promises. Older people, by contrast, will vote for a party which they feel will keep paying out and, if necessary, borrowing heavily to do so. The state pension cost is approaching £100bn each year out of total government spending of around £800bn.

WASPI trap

The most dramatic proposals on state pensions are promises by the Labour Party as well as the SNP and Plaid Cymru to reimburse older women who have lost out because of the rising pension age, who are often labelled the WASPI women (Women Against State Pension Inequality).

The cost of fully compensating them could be as high as £58 billion, paid out over five years, and this plan would even include a refund to wealthier women. So Theresa May, for example, would get a £20,000 cash rebate.

SPA cap?

Labour would also scrap increases in the state pension age (SPA). One can see the logic of this for many low-income voters whose life expectancies haven’t increased rapidly and who may have started work aged 16 – and many of them are working in physically demanding jobs.

So the hidden question is whether the increases in retirement ages should affect everyone. In principle, Labour would like to exclude better-off voters but this would contravene one of the core principles of the Welfare State – of everyone being treated equally.

Labour hopes that their progressive tax policy can compensate: in other words they would claw back some of this expense by taxing the better-off more heavily than those in need.

On other pensions (occupational pensions) – such as final salary pensions and defined contribution pensions – none of the main parties is challenging the current very generous tax treatment of these schemes which has given a huge boost to the assets of older generations but is unlikely to help the young nearly as much.


In welfare, the picture is a little more varied, with policies getting a mixture of red, green and yellow lights.

The main parties all aspire to increase the National Minimum Wage, with both Conservatives and Labour wanting to raise it to £10, or more, but the most innovative idea here is from the LibDems who want to increase it by an extra 20% for those on zero-hours contracts to reflect the uncertainties they face.

The Greens have a quite different approach because they want to introduce a Universal Basic Income (UBI).

For public transport, whilst the main parties will all keep the pensioners’ free bus passes, Labour want to match this help for oldies by introducing free bus passes for the under 25s and free rail travel for the under 16s. The Greens would spend £2.5 billion on new cycle routes.

Benefits by need, not by age

In terms of intergenerational fairness, there is very little effort in any of the manifestos to separate out the poorer older people from those who are well-off. One exception is the Winter Fuel Allowance where the Lib Dems have said they would means-test the WFA.

On the TV licence fee – which was until recently free for all over 75s – the Conservatives would allow the BBC to continue its policy of restricting free licences it to those on Pensioner Credit, whilst the Labour Party would reinstate the free TV licence to all the over 75s, however well-off they might be. UKIP would sidestep the issue altogether by turning the BBC into a subscription service like Netflix or AppleTV.

The pattern is clear: voters are seen to notice things which affect them more than promises to other age groups, so the parties have all pledged to support older voters very strongly, taking the view that young people won’t hold it against them – especially if younger voters are offered benefits that matter to them such as free university tuition (Labour) or free childcare for toddlers (LibDems).

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