Five questions answered on new flat rate pension proposal

Who will benefit, and who will miss out?

The government plans simplify the pension’s system in what will be its biggest overhaul in decades. We answer five questions on the proposed changes.

What new flat rate are the government proposing?

Pensioners after the 6th of April 2017, when the new changes will likely to come into effect, will be paid a flat rate of £144, plus inflation rises between now and 2017. This effectively merges the state basic pension and the state second pension.

The current state pension is £107.45 a week. However, this can be increased up to £142.70 by applying for a pension credit and the state second pension.

Why has the government decided to make these changes now?

The coalition government believes the current system is too complicated and they say they want to simplify the system so people know what they will be paid when they reach pension age.

They government also believe that the one-and-a-half million pensioners who currently don’t claim pension credit they are entitled to will be paid what they are owed under this new system. 

Who sets to benefit the most from these changes?

Those who are self employed are set to benefit as they tend to get a lower state pension as they tend not to qualify for the state second pension. Women are also set to be better off.

As Chris Curry, from the charity the Pensions Policy Institute, explains to the BBC:

"So people who don't make enough contributions throughout their working life to, in particular, the state second pension, which includes people with intermittent work patterns, periods of low earnings and the self-employed," he said.

"So a lot of women will do better from this particular policy, as will people who are spending long periods of their career in self-employment."

Who might miss out on a full pension under the new system?

It is believed the government will announce that anyone who hasn’t paid National Insurance for at least 10 years will not get a pension. Also, those who have paid National Insurance for less than 35 years will have their pension reduced; a change from the 30-year threshold introduced a few years ago.

Also, the state pension age is rising to 66 for both men and women by 2020, with further plans for this to increase to 67 between 2026 and 2028.

What has the pension’s minister Steve Webb said about the proposed changes?

Webb told the BBC: "At the moment, nobody has a clue what the state is going to pay them," he told the BBC.

"We have a basic pension, a second state pension, a pension credit - it's fiendishly complicated. So we are proposing a simple system, not a more expensive one... that will help people plan for their retirements.

"Now, men and women will build up pensions in their own right. And women coming up to pension age who have got a damaged pension record, because they brought up children, will have that restored." 

"At the moment, nobody has a clue what the state is going to pay them" Photograph: Getty Images

Heidi Vella is a features writer for Nridigital.com

Photo: Martin Whitfield
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Labour MP for East Lothian Martin Whitfield: "I started an argument and ended up winning an election"

The former primary school teacher still misses home. 

Two months ago, Martin Whitfield was a primary school teacher in Prestonpans, a small town along the coast from Edinburgh. Then he got into an argument. It was a Saturday morning shortly after the snap election had been called, and he and other members of the local Labour party began discussing a rumour that the candidate would be an outsider.

“I started an argument that this was ridiculous, we couldn’t have a candidate helicoptered in,” he recalls. He pointed out that one of the main issues with the Scottish National Party incumbent, the economist and journalist George Kerevan, was that he was seen as an outsider.

“I kept arguing for an hour and a half and people started gently moving away,” he jokes. “About two days later I was still going on, and I thought enough’s enough.” 

He called Iain Gray, the Scottish Labour veteran, who interrupted him. “He said, 'Right Martin, are you going to put up or shut up?’ So I filled in the forms.

"Then I had to have a very interesting conversation with my wife.”

One successful election campaign later, he is sitting in the airy, glass-roofed atrium of Westminster’s Portcullis House. Whitfield has silver hair, glasses, and wears a Labour-red tie with his shirt. He looks every bit the approachable primary school teacher, and sometimes he forgets he isn’t anymore. 

I ask how the school reacted to his election bid, and he begins “I have”, and then corrects himself: “There is a primary four class I had the pleasure to teach.” The children wanted to know everything from where parliament was, to his views on education and independence. He took unpaid leave to campaign. 

“Actually not teaching the children was the hardest thing,” he recalls. “During the campaign I kept bumping into them when I was door-knocking.”

Whitfield was born in Newcastle, in 1965, to Labour-supporting parents. “My entire youth was spent with people who were socialists.”

His father was involved in the Theatre Workshop, founded by the left-wing director Joan Littlewood. “We were part of a community which supported each other and found value in that support in art and in theatre,” he says. “That is hugely important to me.” 

He trained as a lawyer, but grew disillusioned with the profession and retrained as a teacher instead. He and his wife eventually settled in Prestonpans, where they started a family and he “fought like mad” to work at the local school. She works as the marketing manager for the local theatre.

He believes he won his seat – one of the first to be touted as a possible Labour win – thanks to a combination of his local profile, the party’s position on independence and its manifesto, which “played brilliantly everywhere we discussed it”. 

It offered hope, he says: “As far as my doorstep discussion in East Lothian went, some people were for and against Jeremy Corbyn, some people were for and against Kezia Dugdale, but I didn’t find anyone who was against the manifesto.”

Whitfield’s new job will mean long commutes on the East Coast line, but he considers representing the constituency a “massive, massive honour”. When I ask him about East Lothian, he can’t stop talking.

“MPs do tend to say ‘my constituency’s a microcosm’, but it really is Scotland in miniature. We have a fishing industry, crabs and lobsters, the agricultural areas – the agricultural soil is second to none.” The area was also historically home to heavy industry. 

After his first week in Westminster, Whitfield caught the train back to Scotland. “That bit when I got back into East Lothian was lovely moment,” he says. “I was home.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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