Pensions

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:01 pm on 19th July 2017.

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Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 2:01 pm, 19th July 2017

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, and for arranging to let me have sight of it 30 minutes ago.

Yesterday, 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” since 2010, when this Government began their failing austerity programme. Last week, evidence from Public Health England showed how deep inequalities in healthy life expectancy remain, both regionally and between different groups in our society, including women, disabled people and black and minority ethnic groups. It is therefore astonishing that today this Government choose to implement their plans to speed up the state pension age increase to 68.

Most pensioners will now spend their retirement battling a toxic cocktail of ill health, with men expecting to drift into ill health at 63, five years earlier than this proposed quickened state pension age of 68, and women expecting to see signs of ill health at 64. This national picture masks even worse regional inequalities. Men who live in Nottingham are likely to suffer ill health from the age of 57, a full 11 years earlier, under this Government’s shortened plans, than a state pension age of 68. The Government talk about making Britain fairer, but their pensions policy, whether on the injustice that 1950s-born women are facing or on today’s proposal to increase the state pension age to 68, is anything but fair.

The Government claim that it is young people who will have to bear the burden of the state pension, but in fact it is the young who have to bear the burden of the cuts that they are facing already—cuts to education, housing and working age social security—as well as the Government’s endless extensions of the state pension age. Sadly, like much of the Conservatives’ policy platform, their approach to this matter appears to have changed little since their election manifesto. At that time, they promised to

“ensure that the state pension age reflects increases in life expectancy, while protecting each generation fairly.”

How does today’s statement meet the promise made in the manifesto, given the evidence on life expectancy that we have seen in the past week? What conversations has the Minister had with his new friends in the Democratic Unionist party, whose manifesto promised advocating

“for the interests of our older people”?

Perhaps, as 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 that suggestion, visited our local jobcentre in Oldham, only to find that the adviser had no idea of any apprenticeship support or Government employment support available to a woman of her age. The Pensions Minister’s position was not one shared by Mr Cridland, who suggested that the social security system must be able to support those who find themselves unable to work. Perhaps Mr Cridland was unaware of the seven years of slash-and-burn policy on our social security system; the so-called “safety net” is increasingly inadequate, driving up pensioner poverty by 300,000.

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