Now we must all work longer to pay for Theresa May’s failed austerity

So the Government has finally come clean on its plans for the state pension age. Unsurprisingly, they have decided that it should rise more quickly to the age of 68.

This means that over seven million people will be forced to work longer, and lose out by £10,000 each in state pension entitlements. All to plug the gap left by this Government’s failing austerity agenda. This must surely amount to a breach of social contract.

Bizarrely, the announcement came the same week that the renowned expert on life expectancy, Professor Sir Michael Marmot, described how a century-long rise in life expectancy was “pretty close to having ground to a halt.” Professor Marmot pointed to 2010 as the turning point, when this Government began its ideological austerity programme.

This chimes with evidence published by Public Health England the week before, which showed wide variations in the number of years that people are expected to live in good health, both regionally and between different groups in our society including women, disabled people and Black and Minority Ethnic groups.

It is astonishing that the Government chooses to ignore this vital evidence, and push ahead with its plans to make us all work longer. No more proof can now be needed that austerity is driven by ideology not evidence.

According to the Director of Public Health England, most pensioners will now spend their retirement battling a “toxic cocktail” of ill health, with men on average only expected to live in good health until 63, five years earlier than the brought forward state pension age of 68. While women expect to see signs at 64.

Gender is not the only factor in the Government’s retirement lottery, where you live is a factor too: if you’re a man living in Nottingham, your healthy life expectancy falls to 57, a whole 11 years before you can draw your state pension.

What about those who aren’t able to work that long, those whose jobs are physically demanding or arduous in other ways? What are those people who suffer from poor health or a disability before age 68 do? Perhaps, like the Pensions Minister astonishingly suggested in a debate earlier this month, the Government will force people in their mid-60s to seek out an apprenticeship.

A constituent of mine, hearing this suggestion, visited her local Jobcentre in Oldham, only to find that the Adviser had no idea of any apprenticeship opportunities or Government employment support available to a woman of her age.

Or will they have to suffer the indignity of the dehumanising social security system, including the Government’s flawed work capability assessments where even terminally ill people have been found fit for work.

The Government’s own reviewer John Cridland, argued in their review of the state pension age that major reforms of the social security system must be made alongside a shortened timetable for an increase in the state pension age to 68.

These included a significant strengthening of the safety net for older people who are unable to work longer, and a relaxation of the Government’s punitive sanctions regime. But the Government failed to include these vital recommendations in their statement and only included pushing ahead with bringing forward the state pension age.

This surely underlines a central point; that it is precisely because we have a dysfunctional labour market, one which prevents older people to develop new skills and bring their experience to a new role; it is because we have pursued an economy-wrecking austerity rather than investment to grow and it is because this Government has failed to address our low pay economy that so many people are excluded from saving into an occupational pension, and are now being forced to work longer.

Labour want a different approach. In our manifesto, we committed to leaving the state pension age at 66, while we undertake a review of the state pension age in relation to healthy life expectancy, arduous work and the potential of a flexible state pension age. An evidence-based approach to build a state pensions system that brings security for the many, not just the privileged few, so we can all enjoy a healthy retirement.

**This article was originally published in The Times Red Box**

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