THE Centre For Social Justice has released an astonishing policy paper, proposing to increase the state pension age dramatically, to 70 by 2028 and then to 75 a few years later.
Apart from the fact that we are already seeing problems as women’s state pension age has risen sharply, and further increases for men and women are already under way, these proposals would create significant social “injustice”.
Forcing everyone to wait longer for their state pension on the basis of average life expectancy is unjust. Stark pension age rises would create significant hardship for many Britons. Such misguided policy proposals suggest little understanding of the role and impact of state pensions and the differentials within our society.
Variation in healthy life expectancy across the country is 19 years.
Those who have had heavy manual labour careers, the less well-off or people with poor health might never receive their state pension, even though they contributed National Insurance for decades.
Current state pension policy fails to recognise that those in the most deprived areas tend to die younger and on average spend 19 more years in poor health in old age than people in the least deprived parts of the country.
Raising the pension age further still will create even greater injustice, causing unwarranted hardship for the most vulnerable older people.
It is rare that I see a proposal which is so damaging in terms of both policy and politics.
This flawed policy thinking needs to be dismissed immediately, before it has any chance of being adopted by politicians looking for seemingly easy benefits.
In any case, such proposals would be politically disastrous. Indeed, I believe, they would have damaging effects similar to the dreadful manifesto proposals for social care reform which helped the Government lose its majority at the 2017 general election.
Yes, working longer can be beneficial for many people’s health and wellbeing, but not all. A significant minority of the population, many of whom have had hard physical manual labour careers, are simply not well enough to carry on.
And those who leave work to care for loved ones should not be expected to wait so many more years. Either they, or those who need their care, will suffer. Policy should be about encouraging longer working life, not callously forcing it on people who cannot cope.
Yes, keeping more older people in work can boost the economy and cut public spending, but it should be their choice. Official estimates suggest that an increase of just one year in the average age at which older people retire would add one per cent to GDP.
And increasing the state pension age would save significant sums in benefit spending as the population ages. But just forcing people to wait longer for their pension, regardless of their circumstances, is not a socially equitable welfare policy, nor does it accord with the principles of a basic state pension to offer support to people who have paid contributions for their working life.
Boosting growth and cutting spending on the backs of would-be pensioners is wrong. Indeed, major state pension reform in 2016 was supposed to have made state pensions affordable for the long term.
More than one million people aged over 50 want to work but can’t find a job – let’s help them first.
Age discrimination is still embedded in the labour market and currently over one million people below state pension age cannot find a job.
Increasing support for these citizens – with retraining programmes and employer incentives – should be the first priority. Only when work is readily available to all who want it before reaching current state pension ages could further state pension age rises be considered.
Leaving more people languishing on “in-work” benefits, when they have no prospect of finding the work they need, or are being forced to carry on when they are not fit to do so, denies them the dignity and choice they deserve. Forcing people to work until they drop is not the mark of a civilised society – there must be room for choice.
Baroness Ros Altmann is a Tory peer and a former Pensions Minister.