With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will make a statement on the second review of the state pension age, which I am publishing today.
The purpose of this review has been to determine whether the existing rules about pensionable age remain appropriate, as required by the Pensions Act 2014. Two reports commissioned by the Government have formed part of the evidence base: one from the Government Actuary and an independent report led by Baroness Neville-Rolfe, both of which I am publishing alongside this review. l am grateful to both the Government Actuary and to Baroness Neville-Rolfe for their thoughtful and valuable reports. I would also like to thank those who responded to the call for evidence that informed the independent report.
As today’s review underlines, this Government are committed to providing dignity and security in retirement and to delivering the certainty that people need to plan for later life. It also highlights the importance of ensuring that we have the best available evidence before making decisions about the course of the state pension age that impacts millions of people.
It is thanks to the measures that this Conservative Government have taken that there are now 200,000 fewer pensioners in absolute poverty than there were in 2009-10. This year, we are projected to spend around £117 billion on state pension-related expenditure. Next month will see the state pension’s biggest ever increase, and, as a result, the new state pension will surpass £10,000 a year for the first time.
I want to make sure that the state pension in this country continues to be the foundation of income in retirement for future generations, while also being sustainable and fair. I welcome Baroness Neville-Rolfe’s independent report. It highlights an important challenge: a growing pensioner-age population and the affordability and fiscal sustainability of the state pension. It also looks at how we can balance that with our commitment to providing fairness between the generations.
As a society, we should celebrate improvements in life expectancy, which has risen rapidly over the past century and is projected to continue to increase. Since the first state pension age review was undertaken in 2017, however, the increase in life expectancy has slowed. In fact, the rapid rises in life expectancy seen over the last century have slowed over the past decade, a trend seen to a varying degree across much of the developed world. For most people and communities, people alive today are expected to live longer than their predecessors. Life expectancy is still projected to improve over time but, compared with the last review of state pension age, those improvements are expected to be achieved at a slower rate.
Having had regard to the relevant factors, I agree with the independent report’s conclusion that the planned rise in the state pension age from 66 to 67 should occur between 2026 and 2028 and that that rise is appropriate. It has been in legislation since 2014 and will continue to give certainty to those planning their retirement.
I have noted the independent report’s recommendations that the rise from 67 to 68 should take place between 2041 and 2043. That is four years later than the first independent reviewer, John Cridland, proposed in 2017—a proposal that the Government accepted, subject to a further review—but three years ahead of what is provided for in legislation. However, Baroness Neville-Rolfe was not able to take into account the long-term impact of recent significant external challenges, including the covid-19 pandemic and global inflation caused by Putin’s illegal war in Ukraine.
The Government Actuary also notes the challenges of assessing long-term mortality trends, particularly in the context of the covid-19 pandemic. He states that,
“relatively minor changes in the mortality assumptions can result in fairly large changes to the calculated State Pension age timetable”.
Given the level of uncertainty about the data on life expectancy, labour markets and the public finances, and the significance of these decisions on the lives of millions of people, I am mindful that a different decision might be more appropriate once those factors are clearer.
I therefore plan for a further review to be undertaken within two years of the next Parliament to consider the rise to age 68 again. That will ensure that the Government are able to consider the latest information, including life expectancy and population projections that reflect the findings of the 2021 census data, the latest demographic trends and the current economic situation. We will also be able to consider the impact on the labour market of the measures we have announced to increase workforce participation and of any other relevant factors.
The current rules for the rise from 67 to 68 therefore remain appropriate and the Government do not intend to change the existing legislation prior to the conclusion of the next review. All options that meet the 10-year notice period will be in scope at the next review. The Government remain committed to the principle of 10 years’ notice of changes to state pension age and will ensure that any legislation can be brought forward in a timely manner.
The approach I am setting out today is a responsible and reasonable one—one that continues to provide certainty for those planning for retirement, while ensuring that we take the time to get this right for the longer term so that the state pension can continue to provide security in retirement and is sustainable and fair across the generations.
The Opposition agree that it is not the right time to accelerate a rise in the state pension age, although I note that five years or so ago the then Secretary of State announced that it was explicit Government policy to bring forward the increase in the state pension age to 68 between 2037 and 2039. When objections were raised on the grounds of life expectancy trends, the Government said that such objections were irresponsible and reckless. They told us that bringing forward an increase was necessary for the long-term sustainability of the public finances. Now it turns out that, with a general election only a year or so away and the Government trailing so badly in the polls, abandoning the accelerated rise in the state pension age is not so reckless and irresponsible after all.
Can the Secretary of State confirm whether the review he has announced will still consider bringing forward an increase in the state retirement age to 2037? Does that remain the Government’s policy ambition, or is that now abandoned?
The Secretary of State cites life expectancy trends. It is certainly true that our trends were hit hard by the pandemic, but that is because life expectancy improvements were slowing before the pandemic. The life expectancy gap between the richest and poorest communities was widening before the pandemic, and—disgracefully and shamefully—in around one in five of the poorest areas for women and one in nine of the poorest areas for men, life expectancy went backwards from 2014 to 2019. He should have acknowledged that today.
The ongoing stalling of life expectancy is out of kilter with many of our European competitors. It is much more dramatic and it means that, in a city such as Manchester, Middlesbrough or Liverpool or a town such as Blackpool, life expectancy for men is nine to 10 years lower and for women eight years lower than in the wealthiest parts of Chelsea or Westminster. In Glasgow, as The Sunday Post recently warned, one in four men will die before their 65th birthday. That is a quite shameful record.
Why do the Government think, after 13 years, life expectancy trends have become so dismal in the United Kingdom? It is not just because so many more people are waiting for treatment in the NHS, or cannot access health check-ups for blood pressure, cardiovascular disease or cancers. It is not simply because smoking cessation services have been so cut under this Government. It is not simply because mental health services are overwhelmed, addiction services have been cut back and we are now seeing the phenomena of deaths of despair in the UK. It is not simply because social care provision has been so savaged. It is also because poverty makes people ill quicker and it means people die sooner.
After 13 years, wages are stagnant and jobs insecure. Too much housing in the private rented sector is damp and squalid. Today, there are 400,000 more pensioners in relative poverty, 1 million more children in poverty and half a million children destitute, without a bed to sleep in tonight or a hot dinner in their stomach, after 13 years of the Conservatives.
Today’s announcement that the Government are not going ahead with accelerating the state pension age rise is welcome, and it is the right decision, but it is the clearest admission yet that a rising tide of poverty is dragging life expectancy down for so many. Life expectancy that is stalling—even going backwards in some of the poorest communities—is a damning indictment of 13 years of failure, which the Minister should have acknowledged and apologised for today.
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has broadly welcomed the decisions that I set out in my statement. I will address a couple of the points he raises. On poverty and, as we are particularly focused on pensioners, pensioner poverty, the situation has improved. The poverty situation has improved right across the board since 2009-10, with some dramatic reductions to both absolute and relative poverty levels across that period, not least because of the policies pursued by this Government. He suggests we are something of an outlier in terms of the flattening of the increase in the expectations of length of life in future. That is simply not the case; as I said earlier, it is an international phenomenon.
The right hon. Gentleman raised a couple of questions I would like to address. First, he asked whether a move of the rise of the pension age to 68 was possible, along the lines of the Cridland recommendations of 2037 to 2039. Given we have made a commitment to a 10-year notice period, that would suggest that, if the next review —and I say if, because that is for others to decide in the course of time—were in, say, 2026, that would indeed make those dates possible. Of course, it would not preclude decisions being taken for dates further out than 2037 to 2039.
Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman asks what our policy is at the moment. We are very clear what our policy is: the current legislative position is appropriate, but there will be a review within the first two years of the next Parliament.
Unlike the Labour party, I do not welcome this decision. From the 1940s to today, life expectancy from retirement has increased by seven years, which would indicate a retirement age of 72 rather than of 67 or 68. The benefit of long-term decision making is that it gives everybody the chance to plan well in advance. Delaying the decision is a decision in itself, and it is not exactly a sign of strength.
I hear what my right hon. Friend says. As I set out in my statement, there are a number of uncertainties, some of which are in the fiscal sphere. In fact, if he reads pages 13 and 14 of the Office for Budget Responsibility economic and fiscal outlook, he will see what the OBR has to say about the uncertainty of the public finances around labour supply, energy prices and, indeed, interest rates. For that reason, among others, I believe it appropriate to wait until we are more certain about what the future holds.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. The Work and Pensions Committee called on the Government to publish the reports by Baroness Neville-Rolfe and the Government Actuary, which have been used to inform the review of the state pension age, and it is regrettable that that did not happen in good time. I am sure that many of us are left wondering why the Government did not publish those reports earlier to allow proper parliamentary scrutiny and a more informed decision. Is it not the case that this is a political decision because this Government, who are at the end of their days, do not want another fight before the next general election?
We in the SNP oppose further increases to the state pension age. We are glad that life expectancy is now finally being factored into the wider consideration of what is an appropriate state pension. The reality is that Tory austerity, followed by covid, has caused an overall reduction in average life expectancy figures. The UK has one of the worst state pensions in western Europe; too many pensioners in Scotland live in poverty, which is a damning indictment in what is supposed to be the sixth largest economy on the planet. Is the Secretary of State not embarrassed that pensioners on these islands have to choose between heating and eating in 21st century Britain? He talks about a reduction in poverty rates, but that is because the Government are using lagged data to analyse poverty rates and ignoring the cost of living crisis that is on us now. With 7 million households in fuel poverty, the Government cannot talk about poverty rates decreasing.
There is evidence that increasing the state pension age from 65 to 66 caused absolute poverty rates to rise. Has the Secretary of State seen the Institute for Fiscal Studies report on that and, if so, has it been part of the decision-making process? What lessons has he learned from the Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign about raising the state pension age for women born in the ’50s? When will they see some compensation?
Finally, we look forward to an independent Scotland being the best place to grow old in prosperity, not in poverty with a Westminster Government we did not vote for.
The hon. Gentleman raises several points. First, on the publication of Baroness Neville-Rolfe’s report, I have always been clear that we would publish that at or around the time that my report of the review was released, and that is precisely what we have done, including by giving advance sight of my report and her report to the Opposition.
I believe that the hon. Gentleman’s remarks about pensioner poverty are misplaced. Pensioner poverty has fallen since 2009-10, as has poverty across other cohorts of the economy. He will, of course, be aware of the huge amount that this Government have been doing by way of intervention to ensure that we support low-income households, and pensioners up and down this country—many millions of them—with billions of pounds of targeted transfer payments, which will be going out over the coming months.
Finally, the hon. Gentleman mentioned the WASPI women. He will know that I am not able to comment on that matter as it is subject to a current inquiry by the parliamentary ombudsman.
That is a beautiful question because it is precise; it requires an answer that one cannot duck. I will write to my right hon. Friend with that information.
I am grateful for early sight of the statement. I understand why the Secretary of State has chosen to defer the key decision. Like John Cridland’s independent review six years ago, Baroness Neville-Rolfe’s report should have been published soon after the Department received it six months ago, rather than kept needlessly under wraps until today. John Cridland proposed early access to pension credit. Will the Secretary of State consider leaving access to pension credit at age 66 when the state pension age rises to 67 in three years’ time?
The right hon. Gentleman raises the issue of when Baroness Neville-Rolfe’s report was published. We had a fairly detailed discussion about that when I appeared before his Committee yesterday, so he knows my arguments around that. It is something that I certainly would not rule out for future reviews as a perfectly reasonable practice, but he knows the reasons it did not happen on this occasion. In terms of early access to pension credit, that is not something that the Government are currently planning—nor was it something that previous Governments planned to do at any stage—but of course, as with all matters around pensions, we will keep that under review.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the various spurious claims that have been made by those who support Scottish independence not just about the amount that would be paid in future for pensions but about who would pay it? Does he agree that the best way to achieve long-term security for Scottish pensioners is for Scotland to remain at the heart of the United Kingdom?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. What matters for sustaining a fair and just pension system is a strong economy. We are stronger together, and if we continue to work together—all the nations of the United Kingdom—we can continue to afford decent pensions for our pensioners.
The statement has provided clarity on when somebody will receive their state pension—the age of 67—but we also need to focus on what people will receive. The Government’s response to the Future Pension Centre backlogs, and people’s absolute inability to get through for advice on whether to top up their national insurance credits before the
The hon. Lady raises an important point. As she acknowledges, there has been an extension to the deadline, and the reasons for that were in the very point she made about waiting times and so on. We are keeping that under review—I can say no more than that—and we are also increasing the amount of resources going into telephony to resolve the issues.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that there are real complexities in understanding life expectancy? From listening to Jonathan Ashworth, one would think that it was very easy to understand. The Secretary of State is my constituency neighbour, and the difference in life expectancy between the north and south of our county is over 10 years, with the lowest being in my patch—it is incredibly complex. Does he agree that setting the state pension age is also a complex process, and that it should be set through data-led decision making rather than political point scoring by the Opposition?
I agree with my hon. Friend and neighbour. She is absolutely right that we need to use the best possible data that we have, which is precisely why we have taken the decision that we have, and I am pleased that the Opposition have welcomed it.
I am sure that it is always a relief for a member of this Government to postpone an unpopular decision, especially in the light of what we have seen in France. Like John Redwood, I am curious about the likely impact on Treasury calculations and whether it has been factored into recent projections.
The hon. Gentleman will know that fiscal sustainability is one of the key issues that we examine in coming to these conclusions and in the work carried out by the independent assessor of these matters. If he has further specific questions about the impact of one particular set of decisions on the fiscal outlook over and above any other, I am happy to discuss those with him outside the Chamber.
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement, because we are trying to encourage people to save for their old age and retirement, and it is important that people get as much notice as possible. However, there is a dilemma right now. One of my constituents contacted me to say that she had been saving £1,500 a month for her retirement, which was fixed for September 2022 when she was 67, but by the time she came to realise her pension, it had dropped by £25,000, so she was no longer able to retire. Worse still, she wanted to replace her car so that she could be compliant with the ultra low emission zone because of the Mayor of London’s ULEZ extension, but she can no longer afford to do so.
Some 31% of pre-state pension age households have no savings at all. Will the Government finally establish an independent pensions and savings commission to ensure that pension policies are fit for purpose, and if not, why not?
I have already identified that we have been bearing down on pensioner poverty. We have stuck with our manifesto commitment to the triple lock, which has seen pensions rise to historically high levels. This is the party that stands firmly behind pensioners.
Blackpool has the lowest life expectancy in England, with men on average living five years less than the national average. Shockingly, in some wards in my constituency, male life expectancy is 13 years lower than the national average. So that people in all parts of the UK can enjoy a broadly similar retirement period and the state pension remains fair for all, does the Secretary of State agree that we must redouble our efforts to reduce such large inequalities in health across this country?
My hon. Friend is right, and that is why the Government are majoring so hard on the levelling-up agenda. He is right to point to the different life expectancies between regions and, indeed, within regions; there are sometimes stark differences between cities and towns. That is the kind of element that will need to be looked at again when the next review occurs.
My right hon. Friend knows well that pensioners are much more susceptible to rises in the cost of living because they are often on fixed incomes. On behalf of the more than 18,000 pensioners in Southend West, I simply thank my right hon. Friend and this Government for delivering the biggest ever increase in the state pension, which is going up by over 10% in just a few days’ time.
I thank my hon. Friend for that observation. She is quite right: we have stood by our pensioners. There will be a further £300 cost of living payment to pensioners alongside the winter fuel allowance. We are encouraging as many pensioners as possible who qualify to apply for pension credit, which is worth £3,500 on average. That, in turn, passports pensioners on to £900 of payments in three instalments over the coming year.
People in France are taking to the streets to protest against proposals to raise the state pension age to 64, yet in the UK people are expected to simply accept, despite today’s announcement, that the pension age should continue to rise, perhaps even to 70 or older by the mid-2050s. Given the poverty into which women born in the 1950s were thrown when their pension age was raised with little or no notice, and the fact that the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has warned of a “pensioner poverty time bomb”, can the Secretary of State explain what consideration is given to rising levels of pensioner poverty—it is currently at 2.1 million, although he is seeking to deny that—when decisions are made about raising the state pension age?
I set out in my previous response a number of the measures the Government have taken to make sure we look after our pensioners. I have also made it clear that since 2009-10, pensioner poverty has decreased.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. A number of people in my constituency work in the construction sector and manual labour. To expect someone in their late 60s to work in a manual labour job is simply impractical and unworkable, so I support the Government’s temporary stay of execution on this increase, so that people can retire when they have some semblance of health and strength to enjoy life. However, this again underlines the unfair treatment of the WASPI women born in the ’50s. I noted the Secretary of State’s response on that issue, but it would be unfair of me not to make that comment on behalf of the many constituents who have contacted me. May I gently ask him to act on their behalf, to ensure that there is fairness and parity?
As the hon. Gentleman recognised, I am not in a position to comment on the matter he raised, as it is before the ombudsman at the moment, but his comments will have been heard.
I thank the Minister for his statement and for responding to questions for just short of half an hour.