Older people are the section of the population most likely to vote on June 8. In the second of a series of articles looking at key issues ahead of the General Election, Lizzie Anderson finds out what the people of North West Durham and the political candidates seeking to represent them think about pensions

A LONG and happy retirement is something all of us hope to enjoy, but as life expectancy continues to rise, the question of how this can be funded cannot be ignored.

In recent weeks, debates surrounding winter fuel allowance and proposed social care reforms have dominated the headlines. But how much state pension people with receive and the age when they can expect to receive it remains a key battleground.

The ‘triple lock’ is an area of divergence between the parties. It was introduced by the Coalition Government and guarantees pensions will rise in line with earnings, inflation or 2.5 per cent, whichever is highest. Critics believe this to be over generous and, in its latest manifesto, the Conservative Party has vowed to replace the triple lock with a double lock after 2020. They argue a double lock without the 2.5 per cent will still provide a high level of security.

However, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Ukip intend to maintain the triple lock, describing it as an added level of protection for those who rely on the state pension. The Green Party, meanwhile, proposes replacing all benefits with a Universal Basic Income.

Opinion is also divided with regards to the state pension age. It is scheduled to rise in 2019 and the Conservatives are planning further increases between 2026 and 2027. Labour, however, wants to create a flexible retirement policy but this could have financial implications, with the state pension already costing more than £90 billion a year.

In North West Durham, a Labour stronghold, all five candidates have strong views on the subject.

Conservative candidate Sally Ann-Hart says protecting the living standards of older people is extremely important to her.

“With the triple lock, pensions are rising more than the cost of living and a lot of money is coming out,” she says “The important thing is that pensions go up in line with inflation and average wages and that is what the double-lock will ensure.”

She says it is inevitable that the state pension age will have to rise as life expectancy increases, adding: “Pensions are vitally important but we need to pay for them. To do this we need a stable and robust economy, which is particularly important with Brexit. Theresa May will deliver Brexit and lock in our economy, which has been growing.”

Labour’s Laura Pidcock says: “The message I am getting from older people is that they feel insecure. They have seen a fall in living standards over the last four or five years and they feel targeted. They are asking why us? The triple lock provides the extra level of security older people deserve.”

With regards to rises to the state pension age she adds: “I don’t think a longer life has to mean a longer working life and not everyone enjoys good health. This is especially important for people who have jobs that are physically and mentally demanding. They may not be able to continue to work late into their sixties.”

Liberal Democrat candidate Owen Temple points out that a Liberal Democrat was pensions’ minister when the triple lock was established.

“I’m very proud of the Liberal Democrat record on pensions and it is not something we should be seeking to bargain away,” he says. “For me the 2.5 per cent is important, it’s a ratchet measure, to ensure pensions don’t fall behind the rest of the world.

“There are an awful lot of people in North West Durham who only have their old age pension. It’s vital we look after the pensioners who have the least.”

Ukip candidate Alan Breeze says: “In the UK the state pension is 30 per cent of the average wage. For other European countries, like Greece, Italy and Spain, it’s about 70 per cent. We can’t go overboard with massive increases to pensions but we should protect the state pension and that means maintaining the triple lock.”

Green Party candidate, Dominic Horsman, meanwhile, says replacing the welfare system with a Universal Basic Income will give pensioners and those on benefits greater peace of mind. He says instead of looking at national insurance payments, people’s contributions to society outside of work, such as voluntary work or raising a family, would be recognised.

He highlights how money spent on the “bureaucracy” of benefit assessments could help fund the income, with pilot studies showing the system encouraged people into work.

“We want people to know they are valued members of society and they shouldn’t have to fight to be given resources and opportunities they need,” he adds.

But what do voters think? In Crook town centre, it was the potential increases to the state pension age that provoked the strongest views.

The Northern Echo:

Evelyn Boughey, 76, pictured above, says: “When someone has worked since leaving school until they are 65 they should be able to retire and give the kids a chance. There are not many jobs around here for young people. My grandson is in his third year at university and I sometimes worry he will struggle to get a job at the end.”

Another resident who turns 64 in August says it was very difficult for people in their 50s and 60s to find work, adding: “When you go to the job centre they make you feel very small. It’s degrading.”

The Northern Echo:

Dene Gregory, 32, pictured above, is involved with a construction project in the town and works alongside people in their 60s.

“It’s not a position I would want to be in,” he says.

“My wife works for a multi-national company and she has a very good pension. I just have the workplace pension at the moment. It’s something I definitely need to look into.”