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

Photo: Getty
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The three big mistakes the government has made in its Brexit talks

Nicola Sturgeon fears that the UK has no negotiating position at all. It's worse than she thinks. 

It’s fair to say that the first meeting of the government’s Brexit ministers and the leaders of the devolved legislatures did not go well.

Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon told reporters outside that it had all been “deeply frustrating”, and that it was impossible for her to undermine the United Kingdom’s negotiating position as “I can’t undermine something that doesn’t exist, and at the moment it doesn’t seem to me like there is a UK negotiating strategy”.

To which cynical observers might say: she would, wouldn’t she? It’s in Sturgeon’s interest to paint the Westminster government as clueless and operating in a way that puts Scotland’s interests at risk. Maybe so, but Carwyn Jones, her Welsh opposite number, tends to strike a more conciliatory figure at these events – he’s praised both George Osborne and David Cameron in the past.

So it’s hard not to be alarmed at his statement to the press that there is still “huge uncertainty” about what the British government’s negotiating position. Even Arlene Foster, the first minister in Northern Ireland, whose party, the DUP, is seen as an increasingly reliable ally for the Conservative government, could only really volunteer that “we’re in a negotiation and we will be in a negotiation and it will be complex”.

All of which makes Jeremy Corbyn’s one-liner in the Commons today that the government is pursuing neither hard Brexit nor soft Brexit but “chaotic Brexit” ring true.

It all adds to a growing suspicion that the government’s negotiating strategy might be, as Jacqui Smith once quipped of Ed Miliband’s policy review, something of “a pregnant panda – it's been a very long time in the making and no one's quite sure if there's anything in there anyway”.

That’s not the case – but the reality is not much more comforting. The government has long believed, as Philip Hammond put when being grilled by the House of Lords on the issue:

"There's an intrinsic tension here between democratic accountability of the government and effective negotiation with a third party. Our paramount objective must be to get a good deal for Britain. I am afraid will not be achieved by spelling out our negotiating strategy."

That was echoed by Theresa May in response to Corbyn’s claim that the government has no plan for Brexit:

 “We have a plan, which is not to give out details of the negotiation as they are being negotiated”

Are Hammond and May right? Well, sort of. There is an innate tension between democratic accountability and a good deal, of course. The more is known about what the government’s red lines in negotiations, the higher the price they will have to pay to protect. That’s why, sensibly, Hammond, both as Foreign Secretary during the dying days of David Cameron’s government, and now as Chancellor, has attempted to head off public commitments about the shape of the Brexit deal.

But – and it’s a big but – the government has already shown a great deal of its hand. May made three big reveals about the government’s Brexit strategy it in her conference speech: firstly, she started the clock ticking on when Britain will definitely leave the European Union, by saying she will activate Article 50 no later than 31 March 2017. Secondly, she said that Brexit meant that Britain would control its own borders. And thirdly, she said that Brexit meant that Britain would no longer be subject to the judgements of the European Court of Justice.

The first reveal means that there is no chance that any of 27 remaining nations of the European Union will break ranks and begin informal talks before Article 50 is triggered.

The second reveal makes it clear that Britain will leave the single market, because none of the four freedoms – of goods, services, capital or people – can be negotiated away, not least because of the fear of political contagion within the EU27, as an exit deal which allowed the United Kingdom to maintain the three other freedoms while giving up the fourth would cause increased pressure from Eurosceptics in western Europe.

And the third reveal makes it equally clear that Britain will leave the customs union as there is no way you can be part of a union if you do not wish to accept its legal arbiter.

So the government has already revealed its big priorities and has therefore jacked up the price, meaning that the arguments about not revealing the government’s hand is not as strong as it ideally would be.

The other problem, though, is this: Theresa May’s Brexit objectives cannot be met without a hard Brexit, with the only question the scale of the initial shock. As I’ve written before, there is a sense that the government might be able to “pay to play”, ie, in exchange for continuing to send money to Brussels and to member states, the United Kingdom could maintain a decent standard of access to the single market.

My impression is that the mood in Brussels now makes this very tricky. The tone coming out of Conservative party conference has left goodwill in short supply, meaning that a “pay to play” deal is unlikely. But the other problem is that, by leaving so much of its objectives in the dark, Theresa May is not really laying the groundwork for a situation where she can return to Britain with an exit deal where Britain pays large sums to the European Union for a worse deal than the one it has now. (By the way, that is very much the best case scenario for what she might come back with.) Silence may make for good negotiations in Brussels – but in terms of the negotiation that may follow swiftly after in Westminster, it has entirely the opposite effect. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.