In 1940, amidst the darkest hours of World War 2, the age for the state pension for women was reduced from 65 to 60. There things remained – pensions for men at 65 and for women at 60 – until New Labour, claiming to be concerned about ‘affordability’ but actually yielding to pressure from the financial services industry to privative pensions, legislated in 2007 to raise the state pension age to 68 by 2046. This had the effect unlocking the flood gates – just as it did when New Labour introduced other ‘modest’ measures such as PFI, student loans, and academies. Predictably, the Tories with LibDem support seized the opportunity and enacted a series of increases in state pension age. Women of the WASPI generation were especially badly hit, losing their earlier pension age with little time to prepare for the change. The Pensions Act 2007, which raised the state pension age for both men and women to 68 by April 2046, was supposedly the last such increase, but further ones are now threatened. An opaque, right wing “think tank”, the Centre for Social Justice (sic), recommended last week that the state pension age should rise to 75 by 2035. As the Morning Star aptly put it in a banner headline, this would mean “Work Til You Drop”.
Patrick Spencer, the Head of the Work and Welfare Unit at the Centre for Social Justice, defended the proposal in CityAM on 22 August. His argument was that in 1940 someone aged 65 could expect to live until 66 while today a 65 year old might expect to live into their 80s. The meagre state pension has thus become, in some unexplained way, “unaffordable” despite the fact that GNP per head has increased by some 300% in real terms since 1940.
The real issue here is not “unaffordability”, it is indeed “social justice” and it concerns who has a better claim on the fruits of economic progress, the workers who generated the wealth or the capitalists who appropriate it. There are many ways in which the state pension could be improved, including: raising it to match levels paid elsewhere in Europe; providing credits for time out to care for children and dependents; and allowing those with physically demanding jobs to retire earlier. Further increasing the age at which it is paid to everyone is the precise opposite of what is needed.