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Clause 1 — Equalisation of and increase in pensionable age for men and women

Part of Concessionary Bus Travel (Amendment) – in the House of Commons at 5:30 pm on 18th October 2011.

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Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Labour, Croydon North 5:30 pm, 18th October 2011

It is a pleasure to follow Jenny Willott. I may touch on some of her themes as I make progress.

The Minister will forgive me for repeating some of the issues that I have raised before, not least in Committee. My main point is this: pension policy in Britain has always been at its best when it goes with the grain of how our society works and of how our people work and live. It is also at its best when we have the courage for long-term planning, with time scales and periods of notice that enable men and women to plan their lives and their retirement properly.

This Parliament first legislated for old age pensions more than 100 years ago, because it started to understand the extraordinary fact that, for the first time in broad numbers, working people were outliving their working lives: hence the need for an income in old age. We then had the great national insurance reforms, which the Liberal party should have much credit for introducing, including particularly those in the great report by the Liberal reformer, William Beveridge.

I was thinking of William Beveridge as I was listening to the hon. Member for Cardiff Central. When Beveridge produced his report in 1942, it was hardly in the most auspicious public spending circumstances. He, and those in the Labour party who supported the Beveridge plan, was subject to huge opposition from many—but not all—in the Tory party, and particularly from the Treasury. Imagine the huge opposition from the Treasury to the outlandish idea that we could have a new national insurance settlement in the post-war world, at a time when we did not know where our pennies were coming from. But today the Liberal party has been blown away by a little puff from the lips of the Treasury. Thank goodness that in the 1940s there were decent strong Liberals, who were not blown away when the Tory monetarists spoke.

If Beveridge’s national insurance plan enabled us to see a future that still lasts today, we can think of other things that ran with the grain of how people worked and lived in this country, not least the home responsibilities payments, which started to recognise that women had children and needed to leave the labour market, but should be properly insured for those responsibilities through the national insurance system. Later we introduced similar provisions for those caring for elderly relatives and others.

We face the challenge of longevity and we are all united in understanding the demography. Pension ages in both the occupational sector and the state sector need to increase, and that is where we reach agreement. However, I disagree with the crude, deficit-influenced way in which this policy is being forced through Parliament. The coalition Government assume certain points that I wish to question.

One assumption is that, broadly, everyone in society is benefiting from improved longevity and will live well into their late 70s and 80s, regardless of their social class and location. Where we live in our cities, towns and rural areas is closely related to socio-economic status.