Rishi Sunak has been urged to tweak a key metric used for the pensions triple lock under a proposal that could see pensioners lose out on £200 a year.
The Chancellor faces a difficult decision over uprating the state pension this autumn, with concerns that the Covid pandemic has skewed economic data in a way that could force an “artificial” pension spike under the terms of the triple lock.
The mechanism, a 2019 Tory party manifesto pledge, means the state pension must rise each year by whichever is the highest of 2.5 per cent, inflation or average earnings growth.
The latest wage growth data, published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Thursday, suggested earnings have increased by 6.6 per cent. However, the ONS also published a new metric for “underlying” earnings data, which stripped out the abnormal effects of the pandemic.
The spike in earnings growth calculated using the regular formula has been called an artificial trend because it is based on the bounce-back from wages being depressed while many workers were furloughed and the disappearance of many lower-paid roles.
The lower “underlying” earning growth figure, which the ONS said was a range of between 3.2 and 4.4 per cent, could offer Mr Sunak a new metric to use in the triple lock, although it would leave him open to claims of breaking the pledge.
On Thursday night, he was urged to consider the possibility amid concerns that a major boost for pensioners would be unfair on the working-age population, which has borne the brunt of the Covid economic shutdown.
Tory MP Nigel Mills, the chairman of the all-party group on pensions, said the proposal would keep the spirit of the promise made by the Government with the triple lock pledge.
Former Tory pensions secretaries Damian Green and Stephen Crabb said they expected Mr Sunak to study the idea of using the new metric closely.
Last week, Mr Sunak used an interview with The Telegraph to give his strongest signal yet that he could suspend the triple lock this year, amid concerns it could force a record-breaking rise to the state pension due to Covid.
Tom Selby, of the stockbroker AJ Bell, warned that the latest average earnings data were a conservative estimate of the figure that will be used to calculate the triple lock uprating. Both earnings and inflation are expected to spike this month as lockdown restrictions are lifted, which could push average earnings as high as eight per cent.
An eight per cent increase could cost the Government £3 billion, versus March estimates of 4.6 per cent, the Office for Budget Responsibility has estimated.