Pensions and benefits will not keep up with cost of living, warns think tank

Pensions and benefits will not keep up with cost of living, warns think tank

Benefits should rise to match the soaring cost of living as millions face crippling price rises driven by energy bills, a think tank has said.

Many benefits and the state pension are inflation-linked, but – by convention – rates for this year were set before prices started rising rapidly.

It means most will only go up by 3.1% in April, half of the expected increase in the cost of living.

The government said it had already taken “decisive action to help”.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said 10 million people were affected by price hikes that were not matched by benefit rises.

Raising benefits and the state pension to the same level as inflation in April would mean preventing a £290 real fall in benefit income year on year for this huge group, the economic research body said.

“Doing so would compensate benefit recipients on average for higher costs, including energy costs. This need not be a permanent increase. Future up-rating can be adjusted once inflation has fallen back,” said Robert Joyce, IFS deputy director.

Such a rise, albeit temporary, to benefits, Pension Credit and the state pension would cost the Treasury £4.5bn, which makes such a move highly unlikely, not least for political reasons.

Households with typical energy usage face a £600-700 rise in annual bills without government intervention. That would put a typical annual energy bill close to £2,000. The rise in the state pension set for April amounts to an annual increase of less than £300.

The IFS points out that lower-income households spend almost three times as much of their budgets on gas and electricity as the highest-income tenth on average (11% versus 4%).

It said that, to help these people, the government should consider a long-term change that meant rises in benefits and the state pension should not be linked to inflation seven months prior to the change, as is the case now. Instead, the decision should be taken much closer to April, when the increases take effect.

In the meantime, financial experts have said that everyone needs to brace for a year of rising prices.

“Our budgets are coming under extreme pressure from the big squeeze, and for the next few months it is only going to get worse,” said Sarah Coles, senior personal finance analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.

However, the government said it had already taken “£4.2bn of decisive action”.

“This includes increasing benefits in line with the inflation measure from September, the Energy Price Cap which is saving 15 million households £100 a year on average, and winter fuel payments, which are supporting over 11 million pensioners with their energy bills,” a government spokesperson said.

“Our £500m Household Support Fund is also providing low income households with essentials over winter,” they added.