The latest Tory proposal to raise the pension age to 75 is insidious, argues Jacqueline Mulhallen
The Centre for Social Justice (surely a misnamed organisation) chaired by former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith wants the pension age to reach 70 by 2028 and 75 by 2035. This, they say, will boost Britain’s economy by £182billion. But will putting people who are 70 or 75 to work actually do this?
If it were introduced, it would turn the clock back 110 years. When the first old age pensions were introduced it was for people aged 70 and over, and that was in 1909! But there is another way in which the Tories have already turned the clock back, and that is in life expectancy.
We are often told that ‘people are living longer’ but information from the Office for National Statistics states that within the UK, life expectancy did not improve and in fact declined by 0.1 years in the period 2015-2017. Life expectancy in the UK remained lower than in other comparable countries with only the USA and Poland having lower life expectancies. This period saw the longest annual percentage of increase in deaths since 1968.
There is therefore no guarantee that life expectancy will go up. It may go down. So the workforce which the Centre for Social Justice imagines might be rather less than it expects.
At present, the state pension age is due to rise to 67 by 2028 and 68 by 2046. This news is bad enough. Whether or not you want to retire depends very much on your circumstances. If you are in a well-paid interesting job and enjoy it, then retirement might be a disappointment. But for most working-class people this is not the case, and they look forward to retirement and to having a bit of leisure before they die. After all, a state pension is not a gift from the state, but something we have contributed to all our working lives.
Life expectancy varies with class. Certain ‘postcode’ areas which are largely working class show a difference in life expectancy of ten years or more as compared with areas where better-off people live. Long hours, shift work, low pay and poor working conditions contribute to poor health. If you work in the building trade or the NHS or other occupations where physical labour forms part of your job, work becomes more difficult as you get older. Early retirement would be beneficial for people in such jobs. In many cases, health problems increase with age, and if you are in poor health, you simply are not able to work whatever the job.
This seems obvious to most people, but of course, Iain Duncan Smith, the architect of universal credit and the bedroom tax, does not acknowledge this. It is notable that the years in which the life expectancy went down were the years of the Tory austerity government in which Duncan Smith played such a prominent part.
Jacqueline Mulhallen, actor and playwright, has co-ordinated King’s Lynn Stop the War since 2003 and initiated and organised 14 Women for Change talks for King’s Lynn & District Trades Council (2012/2013). Her books include The Theatre of Shelley (Openbooks, 2010), and a Shelley biography (Pluto Press, 2015). Her plays include 'Sylvia' and 'Rebels and Friends’.
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