UK state pension age rises – but what is retirement for?

sky divingThe British government has confirmed that, as expected, it will bring forward the increase in state pension age. The previous planned rise from 65 to 66 for men will now almost certainly come eight years earlier, in 2016, and for women by 2020. Meanwhile, there will be a review of how much further and faster things should move, with suggestions that there will be legislation to allow for automatic age rises every five years. If the state pension isn’t directly linked to life expectancy, it will be something very like it. Britain will almost certainly be looking at holding off pension entitlement to the age of 70 by 2050.

In France, there were strikes and street demonstrations yesterday over plans to raise the state pension age to a mere 62. There, a pension is regarded as a central part of a treasured social contract between state and citizens, in which benefits are an essential part of a civilized society. Here, the resistance to the change has not been general, driven by public sector outrage, but on behalf of the poor. Brendan Barber, the general secretary of the TUC, pointed out that at the age of 65, men in Kensington and Chelsea can look forward to 23 years more of life, while their counterparts in Glasgow can expect only 14.

In that case, we ought to be thinking more about working lives and health inequalities than about retirement. This gross imbalance is conditioned by things that happen earlier in life – by the kind of work people are able to do and the opportunities they have to live healthily. Trying to do something about it (what, though?) at the age of retirement is a matter of stable doors and bolted horses. Continue reading

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Pension? what pension?

Steve Webb

Steve Webb, the new pensions minister

Yesterday I went to see Steve Webb, the new pensions minister, speak at a debate sponsored by the International Longevity Centre (ILC). With some trepidation, because I find pensions terrifying. I know I don’t have enough of one, and I don’t understand them.

The debate was quite consoling, because it was clear, firstly, that pensions are really difficult to understand (it’s not just me) and secondly, that Steve Webb, despite only having been in the job a month, is one of a small minority of people who does understand them. He previously worked at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, specialising in pensions.

Before we sat down, I spoke to a pensions adviser who told me that the state pension was ‘in the international third division’ and private pensions no longer provided enough to live on. Essentially, we are all doomed. Continue reading

The Selfish Generation

Patsy and Edina

Patsy and Edina

David Willetts’ book is subtitled, ‘How the baby boomers took their children’s future – and why they should give it back.’ This seems to imply a malign intention on the part of the post-war generation and, sure enough, at points in the book, Willetts talks of the ‘ultra-individualism unleashed’ by this generation, whose failure to exercise self-control he deplores. If you are part of a large cohort, he argues, ‘you will be able to spend your life in a generational bubble, always outvoting and outspending the generations before and after you.’ We are the selfish generation.

But can we help ourselves? It isn’t clear. A book subtitled, ‘How the baby boomers took their children’s future – but that’s what large cohorts do,’ wouldn’t have had quite the same edge. You get the sense that Willetts would quite like to be cross with the boomers (of whom he is one, having been born in 1956) because they have behaved very badly, but he knows it would be intellectually dishonest, because they didn’t have the faintest idea what they were doing.

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What will the coalition do for us?

Cameron_counts_on_his_fingersThe policy agreement from the new British coalition government is a seven-page summary, put together under 11 headings, in private and under pressure. Inevitably, it’s a bit thin in places – often more a statement of shared principles than specific intentions. So what does it mean for older people? And what can we infer from what has been lifted – and left out – from the Conservatives’ and Liberal Democrats’ respective election manifestos about how the new government has resolved to address pensions, tax, retirement and care?

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Will the old derail China’s growth?

The report from CSIS Two-thirds of Chinese can currently look forward to a destitute old age. China faces the prospect of tens of millions of low-wage workers maturing into indigent urban elders between 2020 and 2030, with untold social and political consequences.

A new report from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, The Graying Of The Middle Kingdom Revisited, analyses China’s current state of preparedness for its rapidly ageing population and makes persuasive recommendations for a pensions policy which could avert disaster.

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