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State Pension Age

Volume 769: debated on Wednesday 2 March 2016


My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has today made the following Statement.

“Yesterday we announced the appointment of John Cridland to lead an independent review of the state pension age. The review will make recommendations for the Government to consider to ensure the future state pension age is fair and affordable in the long term. The review will report by May 2017. I want to stress that the review is independently led and evidence-led. It will be evidence put forward to John Cridland to consider in his important considerations about the state pension. The review will consider changes in life expectancy, as well as wider changes in society.

It is also useful at this point to remind the House why this kind of review is necessary. In 1945, a man, for example, retiring at 65 had a life expectancy of between 60 and 63. Men rose from 14.27 years in retirement after their pension age to 27 years under the present forecast and existing timescales, and women have gone from 18 years in retirement after their pensionable age to 29.5 years in retirement.

Future generations will rightly expect that we reflect those changes in how we set the pension. It is right that pensions should reflect these changes in life expectancy. Future generations will not thank us if we do nothing and do not have the courage to ensure pensions are sustainable to avoid them picking up the bill.

I want to make clear what this review is not. It will not cover the existing state pension age timetable up to April 2028. We have already provided legislation for this, and the review will not look to change the state pension age up to this point. The Labour Government first legislated for state pension rises beyond 65, but without any commitment to an independent review. When we brought forward the Pensions Bill in 2013, Labour seemed to have a change of heart. They agreed with us about the need for a regular independent review of the state pension age. The shadow Secretary of State at the time, the honourable Member for Birmingham Hodge Hill, said:

“The Secretary of State and I have no difference of opinion on the need regularly to review the state pension age”.—[Official Report, Commons, 17/6/13; col. 661.]

So, that is what we are doing. Under that legislation, we are required to appoint an independent reviewer who will make recommendations to him on future state pension age arrangements. We have appointed John Cridland to lead this work. Under the legislation, we are required to report in 2017 on this, and that is what we will do.

This review is part of the Government’s reforms to pensions to ensure they are affordable for the long term. But it is right that we recognise those who have reached their pension age, who have worked hard, done the right thing and provided for their families. We are delivering for them. As a result of our triple lock, pensioners will be receiving a basic state pension over £1,100 higher a year than they were at the start of the last Parliament. We are providing greater security, more choice and dignity for people in retirement, while also ensuring the system is sustainable for the future”.

My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, for repeating the Statement delivered in the other place. One of the matters that has characterised this Government’s approach to pensions—changes to both the state and private pensions—has been the lamentable approach to communicating change. This has manifested itself in the frustrations of the WASPI group; the misunderstandings over why only a minority of those retiring after 5 April this year will receive the full rate of the new state pension of £155 per week; and issues arising from the so-called new flexibilities.

What assurance will the Minister give about not repeating the mistakes of the past when the review that is being undertaken brings forward its recommendations? The terms of reference require consideration of what a suitable state pension age is in the immediate future and over the longer term. However, the government press release states—this is what the noble Baroness said—that the review will be focused on the longer term and will not cover the existing timetable to April 2028. So can the Minister please reconcile these two positions? It is a classic case of confused communication which fuels speculation about the Government’s true intent.

Do we take it that there is no intention of revisiting with some transitional relief the position of those in their mid-50s who are adamant that they received inadequate notice of the rise in their state pension age?

The review has to take a view on how changes to state pension age rises support affordability. I ask therefore whether the triple-lock is within its scope.

We accepted the 2014 provision which required a periodic review of the pension age. We know that life expectancy is generally increasing, but we know that this does not always equate to healthy years of life. We know also that health inequalities remain stubbornly persistent. How does the Minister consider that these factors should be reflected in a fair approach to the pension age? Can the review cover an assessment of the adequacy of social security arrangements for those who cannot sustain work before reaching an extended pension age?

We wish John Cridland well with his review: transparency, consultation and a clear recognition of the need for long-term notification of any changes will be vital.

I thank the noble Lord for his comments. I would like to request and invite all noble Lords to be in touch with the review, so that we can ensure lessons are learned. If noble Lords have any observations on issues relevant to the consideration of long-term changes to the state pension age and state pension age policy, this is the opportunity to do that. It will be an independent review which will consider all the relevant factors, and the reviewer will welcome such evidence. The review is about the state pension age. It is also about the longer term. I repeat that it will not consider any changes to the state pension age timetable that is already legislated for up to 2028.

If the Minister will forgive me, could we just clarify that point? The terms of reference—I have a copy here—say that the review will consider:

“What a suitable State Pension age is, in the immediate future and over the longer term”.

The Government have made it clear that this is about the changes for the longer term and the appropriate framework for state pension age policy. No changes will be considered and the reviewer will not be looking at making or recommending any changes to the timetable before 2028.

My Lords, as Pensions Minister, Steve Webb set up a system for gradual rises in the state pension age that was widely hailed as both fair and affordable, so why are the Government seeking so soon to unpick this consensus? Are they contemplating changes that will fall harshly on low-income earners, especially women, who depend on the state pension and have no private pot to enable them to retire earlier?

I assure the noble Baroness that this is not about unpicking anything. This was legislated for in the Pensions Act 2014. We are merely following the legislation that was introduced.

My Lords, I welcome this Statement from the Minister and the setting up of an independent inquiry. I can only offer my sympathy to the chairman because, as she knows, pension age is a hot potato politically. There was a debate in the Commons last week about the whole case of the baby-boomer, or WASPI, women, and a Motion, which was lost by only a few votes, calling for action from the Government on transitional provision for these women. Will the Minister, who in a previous incarnation showed great sympathy for these baby-boomer women, express some concern that this is not within the remit of the newly appointed review?

I stress to the noble Baroness and noble Lords that if there are any issues they would like to raise with the independent reviewer—lessons to be learned from the past or issues that should be considered for the future—they should do so. It is an independent review, looking at all the relevant factors.

My Lords, will the Minister assure the House today that the Government would accept any ruling or recommendation from the independent reviewer that that category of women—I have to declare an interest as I fall within that so-called group of women, and I served as shadow Minister for women’s pensions for a year—were not given 10 years, which is deemed to be the appropriate time to prepare for a later retirement age?

The independent review will be considering long-term changes to the state pension age. It will not be recommending any changes before what is currently legislated for up to 2028.

My Lords, will the review take into account the ability of people to work beyond the age of 65, bearing in mind that some people have a very physical job and may not be able to work after that?

My Lords, as the terms of reference make clear, the independent review will consider changes in life expectancy as well all other relevant factors.

My Lords, will Mr John Cridland, as the independent reviewer, be provided by the Government with official terms of reference? We have seen a press release, but will there be formal terms of reference shaping the work that he does? Will it be possible for him to consider some of the schemes previously used by Scandinavian countries that simply index the increase in the basic state pension age to increasing longevity as it goes forward, both up and down?

My Lords, this will be an independent review. All these issues are a matter for the reviewer. I urge as many noble Lords as possible to make representations to the review. It will consult widely across society and across interest groups to ensure that all these relevant factors are considered.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that there is a deep unfairness in having a single retirement age irrespective of background? In my home city, two wards one mile apart have a difference in life expectancy of 11 years. Those who are better off receive more state pension for longer and enjoy disability-free years. Will the Minister accept that every time she raises the state pension age, disadvantaged people have to wait longer for a pension while, at the same time, they are more likely to incur disabilities earlier, so that they enter retirement already unfit, unwell and unable to enjoy it?

The noble Baroness raises relevant points. I stress again that the review is not just about raising the state pension age but about considering the appropriate way to run state pension age policy. I encourage her to raise those issues with the reviewer.

Did the Minister approve the wording of the press release that has been referred to, with the word “immediacy” in it?

My Lords, the press release has been compiled by the department and the wording of the release has, of course, been approved.