By Charlie Kimber
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2793

Government appoints Tory peer to ‘fix’ review into state pension age

The Tory peer—Lady Lucy Neville-Rolfe—has backed sharp increases in the state pension age
Issue 2793
An official parliamentary portrait of Lady Lucy Neville-Rolfe

Lady Lucy Neville-Rolfe wants you to work longer (Picture: Wikimedia/Creative Commons)

The Tories are trying to fix a review of the state pension age. They want it to demand workers wait even longer before they receive the money they’ve earned. The result would be people dragging themselves to work when they are ill, injured or exhausted because the alternative is poverty-level benefits.

Ministers have appointed a Tory peer, who previously backed faster increases in the retirement age, to prepare an “independent” report on the issue. Lady Lucy Neville-Rolfe will head up the six-yearly review of the state pension age (SPA)—the age at which people can claim their pension.

The SPA is currently 66 but is set to begin rising to 67. As part of the review, the government will weigh up whether to go ahead with a recommendation from 2017 to bring forward a rise in the SPA to 68.

Five years ago Neville-Rolfe spoke in a parliamentary debate on whether to move more quickly to an SPA of 68. She said there was “the need for a big shift in the interests of intergenerational fairness”. “Why are the government not going faster, bringing these changes in more quickly and, perhaps, going up the age range?” she said. 

The TUC trade union federation leader Frances O’ Grady said this week, “Life expectancy improvements have ground to a halt over the past decade. Conservative governments’ austerity policies have hit the poor and low-earners hard. 

“That’s why the government is trying to fix the review by rigging the terms of reference and appointing a Tory peer with a history of pushing for faster and steeper rises to lead it.” 

In fact, life expectancy has not just stalled but gone into reverse. Official government figures show that life expectance at birth in 2014 was 84.1 years for men and 86.9 for women. But by 2020 it had fallen to 82.2 for men and 85.3 for women.

It is extremely unusual for life expectancy to fall in this way. It reflects a decade of austerity which has hit working class people in particular. 

A series of government reviews argued that rising life expectancy meant the pension age had to increase. That was always a scam, but even on their own terms they should now call for then SPA to fall. Already workers are being forced to work longer in order to survive. There are now record highs in employment among 65 year olds.

Research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, published in January, found that around 55,000 more 65 year olds were in paid work in 2021. This was the result of the rise in the pension age, from 65 to 66, between late 2018 and late 2020. 

The change led to an additional 7 percent of men and 9 percent of women staying in work. This took employment rates at age 65 to record highs for both men and women. And there is a sharp class dimension to the shift. People living in poorer areas were much more likely to remain in work while waiting for the state pension. 

After the change, the employment rate in the fifth most deprived local areas rose by 13 percentage points for women and 10 percentage points for men. But it rose less than half of that in the fifth most prosperous areas.

Renters tended to stay in work more than homeowners, and those without qualifications were more likely to do so than those with a university education.

And another wave of poverty looms as Covid-19 leaves large numbers of older people unable to work. Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, the number of 50 to 64-year olds who are neither working nor looking for a job has risen by almost 250,000.

Some are better-off people who have “found a new life” during lockdowns. But many are people whose health was wrecked and can’t work. There has to be a battle to defend and improve workplace and state pensions.

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