Early Retirement on Health Grounds

– in the House of Lords at 3:16 pm on 9th November 2000.

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Photo of Baroness Greengross Baroness Greengross Crossbench 3:16 pm, 9th November 2000

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What response they will make to the Government Actuary's statement on 17th October concerning the economic effects of early retirement on health grounds.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, the Government will keep under review the complex issues surrounding earlier retirement on the ground of ill health.

Photo of Baroness Greengross Baroness Greengross Crossbench

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?

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

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.

Photo of Lord Lipsey Lord Lipsey Labour

My Lords, does the Minister agree that we need not only more action to prevent too much early retirement but also action so that people who retain their youth and vigour can continue to work, a concept for which your Lordships' House is an advertisement?

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

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.

Photo of Lord Lea of Crondall Lord Lea of Crondall Labour

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.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

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.

Photo of Baroness Barker Baroness Barker Liberal Democrat

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?

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

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.

Photo of Lord Janner of Braunstone Lord Janner of Braunstone Labour

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?

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

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.

Photo of The Earl of Northesk The Earl of Northesk Conservative

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?

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

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.

Photo of Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen Labour

My Lords, does my noble friend have any information about which workers are currently the most likely to seek early retirement on health grounds?

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

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.

Photo of Lord Lawson of Blaby Lord Lawson of Blaby Conservative

My Lords, given the spirit that has been evinced on all sides of the House in answer to the Question, including by the Minister, will he give an undertaking that if and when stage two of the reform of this place is introduced, there will be no question of there being a retirement age?

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, although I answer on behalf of the Government, that exceeds my personal responsibility, and it does not follow from the Question.