There’s been much food for thought over the past few days in the reinvigorated debate about the increase in the state pension age. Interest has centred largely on those several hundred thousand women in their late fifties who will now have to wait a couple of years more before they receive their state pension. This is a double whammy for them in as much as raising the age for all comes on top of the increase in women’s state pension age (to align it with men’s) which is now being phased in following a notice period of several years.
Of course, it is unfortunate and unfair for those particular women, but the change has to be made. It is arguably equally unfair to keep the burden of paying for older people’s pensions with the shrinking pool of working age people (many of whom now face long-term financial pressures). Certainly the fact that women have been able to retire well before men has been totally unjust for many years and completely at odds with women’s longer lifespans and drive for equality.
At the heart of the issue however seems to be the question of do we, as citizens, have a right to retire? Not just a need, or a desire, or a social habit, but a right? Personally it had never occurred to me that we might, but listening to the input of others not just over the past few days but for many years now, it appears that many do.
I find it an attitude that is difficult to accommodate. Whilst I acknowledge that one has rights in relation to personal or workplace pensions that one pays into, in terms of an expected and reasonable return at a certain date, I don’t believe that the state pension system is the same thing.
Surely, like income support for the unemployed, it was only ever intended to be a default – a way of assisting those who were too weak or unfortunate to be able to continue to work? Although the idea seems a glorious nirvana, it wasn’t ever intended to be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow guaranteed for all who had simply worked for a number of years and paid their taxes…was it?
So – hard luck that pensions are now being pushed off a bit, but our focus as a society surely has got to be firmly on creating and sustaining work for older people, not paying pensions. That’s a field where there’s plenty to complain about that might actually have a productive outcome.
Time, I feel, for a good prime time TV documentary on the origin of the state pension and the reality of what people can and should expect. We’ve got to start accepting that a state pension is a priviledge not a right.