Longevity is a concern for the government and the pensions industry alike, but a considered approach is needed, says Sara Benwell
In its election manifesto, the Conservative Government promised at least £8bn in additional funding for the NHS every year until 2020.
What, you may ask, does this have to do with pensions?
In the same manifesto the party guaranteed no increases in VAT, National Insurance contributions or Income Tax. The best bet, therefore, on where this magical £8bn is going to come from, is pensions.
The triple-lock is in place for at least the next five years (at least for the basic state pension), so the obvious contenders for a pensions raid are an increase in the state pension age or more reduction in lifetime and annual allowances.
Both are problematic, but the one that worries me most is the state pension age. That isn’t to say that a small increase in pension age, say from 68 – 70, is necessarily a disaster. But this is the kind of tinkering that is often ill-thought-out, and can have severe consequences.
For instance, whether or not you are able to continue working in your 70s and 80s depends largely on what kind of job you do. As Malcolm McLean, senior consultant at Barnett Waddingham, puts it: “If you’re on a pneumatic drill or up a ladder cleaning windows, you’re not in the same situation as someone who works in an office.”
Quite simply, a lot of jobs that involve heavy manual labour are out.
McLean thinks one potential solution could be for the government to organise retraining for manual workers who want to stay in employment, to help them find less physically demanding jobs.
Office workers aren’t really safe either”
Of course, office workers aren’t really safe either. Over 800,000 people in the UK suffer from some form of dementia, a condition that most often occurs in those over 65. Certainly my job as a journalist would be no longer possible if I suffered from such a disease.
There are further implications for those outside of the older generation. Youth unemployment is currently at its worst rate in 20 years; it has been running at 14.4%, compared to 5.7% of the total working population, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Many argue that the rise of senior workers should not impact the number of young people out of work, but McLean disagrees. “I find it difficult to accept the argument that people staying on past retirement doesn’t hurt young people.
Men in Glasgow would justifiably be very concerned at further rises
“The reality is when you see these older people on checkouts at supermarkets and B&Q, they’re doing jobs that young unemployed people could do.”
Another potential issue comes from the huge variation on longevity depending on where in the country you live. Men in Glasgow, whose longevity is estimated at just 71 by the ONS, would justifiably be very concerned at any further rises. Regional state pension ages would be fraught with difficulties, but longevity variation does throw into sharp relief, the importance of a long-term, measured plan.
Longevity is a problem that both the government and the pensions industry desperately needs to address, but any decision needs to be properly considered. We definitely don’t need a state pension age that rises every time a government needs to fund an expensive election promise.
If the industry gets the independent retirement commission it has long hoped for, the future of the state pension age should be high up its agenda.
Otherwise we’ll be working well into our 100s, to fuel the whims of election-frenzied politicians.