TODAY’S newspapers play a game of retirement bingo when reporting on the government’s official review of the state pension age. The consensus is that people under about 55 may well have to wait until their 70s to retire, while the Sun tops that with: “WORK TILL YOU’RE 81.”
That curiously precise headline figure is based on a quote from former Lib-Dem pensions minister Steve Webb, and no, I don’t remember him either. The headline might as well have been: “Work till you drop.”
I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that George Osborne plans to sneak into the Budget later this month a Zombie Tax proposal that pensions should only be paid when people die. That would be a fiscally brilliant solution and one right up his street.
Although come to think of it, there is always a danger that the spare room tax might be extended to embrace that final ‘room’. Yes, make way for the spare coffin tax, to be applied to people who insist on taking up that extra ‘room’ when they are dead.
That is of course a satirical slight aimed at my second least favourite politician (dear David somehow manages to just sneak it). But it is the sort of satire that falls only a foot or two short of reality.
In previous generations it was common for men to die on or just before retirement, especially if they were in physically arduous employment.
Now people are living longer and that, it is said, has caused the problem. That much is true, but my rule of thumb is that governments can afford all sorts of things if they want to. Untold billions on renewing the Trident nuclear defence system: not a problem, admiral. Giving people a decent pension at a decent age: oh, we’re not made of money, you know – and mending holes in the road is generally considered to be very good exercise for old people.
The review is being led by John Cridland, the former director general of the CBI, who earned a salary of £312,000 in that job, according to a Management Today blog last March, so will not be too worried about his pension pot. Although that isn’t actually a lot (believe it or not) up in the boss stratosphere where the air is thin and the wallets are thick.
Cridland has been appointed to act as the independent reviewer of the pension age and will consider whether the pension age should continue to be linked to rising life expectancy.
Another slant is that the state pension age could depend on the sort of job one does. This prospect causes today’s Daily Mail to ask on its front page: “WHITE COLLAR PENSIONS BLOW” above the sub-head: “Millions face longer wait to retire than manual workers.”
The logic here is that if the pension is linked to life expectancy, then industrial workers, who have a shorter life expectancy, could be allowed to claim their pensions earlier.
Well, here is a shocking suggestion from me and my ledge. Never mind manual versus white collar, why don’t we just pay everyone a decent state pension at a reasonable age; and while we’re about it, why don’t we find a way to pay for the NHS that doesn’t involve divisive internal markets and hiving off the profitable bits to private industry?
Amazing, I know. Why they never made me Chancellor of the Exchequer is a mystery.
If the state pension age can be linked to life expectancy and the nature of a person’s work, I reckon that MPs should not receive their Westminster pension until they have reached whatever age is decided for the rest of us.
But this plan falls down when so many of them, especially on this government’s front benches, are independently wealthy and therefore comfortably insulated against the bumps and furrows of ordinary life.