My Lords, the Government will keep under review the complex issues surrounding earlier retirement on the ground of ill health.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I am pleased that the Government are keeping these issues under review.
Does the noble Lord agree that alleged health grounds can be a cause for getting rid of people as a form of not-very-well-disguised age discrimination; and that the situation may become worse when the age for women to retire equals that of men in 2010?
My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness. It is one of the issues which the Government Actuary addressed in his report. It was not a statement but a report of a lecture given at a think tank Politeia. There are major problems both for the protection of employees against age discrimination and as regards the public purse about the over-use of retirement on health grounds.
My Lords, I should not be tempted to reply to that question, which is wide of the Question on the Order Paper. But I am tempted; and I agree with my noble friend.
My Lords, is there not the paradox of trends to greater longevity at the same time as trends towards difficulty in financing pensions? Does the Minister agree that we have to put pressure on employers to reverse that trend? The alternative will be legislation on discrimination.
My Lords, one of the continuing problems which public policy faces is that employers may be tempted to give early retirement on health grounds rather than on other grounds on the basis that those who are retired will become eligible for incapacity benefit and, therefore, less demanding on the pension fund of the employer. It is a problem which the Government are addressing.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Government produced a report, Winning the Generation Game, in April of this year which covers all these issues in detail? It is a comprehensively researched report containing 75 recommendations. What progress has there been on implementing the recommendations in the report?
My Lords, indeed I am just about aware that the Government have produced a report on the subject, yes! I think that I could be expected to be aware of it.
The 75 recommendations in the report published only six months ago require careful consideration and consultation. We are keeping the matter under urgent review.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that far too many people who have led active and busy lives are forced prematurely into retirement on health grounds or otherwise and simply fade away and die? Will he assure the House that the Government will do what they can to encourage employers to keep on people who are suffering from ill health in a way that enables them to cope, perhaps on a part-time basis, to prevent the unnecessary loss of vigorous, active, experienced people and to enable those people to continue to lead active and useful lives?
My Lords, my noble friend points out one of the dangers of early retirement on ill health grounds. As the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, said, it can be used as an excuse for unnecessary early retirement. The Government Actuary's report also pointed out that those who retire early on ill health grounds ought to be encouraged to go back to work if their health improves sufficiently. That is another issue that the Government need to address and are addressing.
My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the Welfare Reform and Pensions Act 1999 introduced a clawback provision under which half of any occupational ill health retirement pension above £85 a week is offset against benefit? Does not that demonstrate that the mounting crisis over ill health retirement is at least partly of the Government's making? More generally, although they made a manifesto commitment to encourage saving for retirement, is not the broad thrust of their pensions policy a huge disincentive to that?
My Lords, I draw the opposite conclusion from the provisions in the Welfare Reform and Pensions Act 1999. I do not think that the noble Earl is entitled to draw his more general conclusion about pensions policy.
My Lords, I am sure that I should have such information, but I do not. I shall have to write to my noble friend on that point. I suspect that those who are under stress at work are among the most likely. That is a common cause of early retirement.
My Lords, although I answer on behalf of the Government, that exceeds my personal responsibility, and it does not follow from the Question.