State Retirement Age and Public Health

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Sometimes I think that politicians must be smarter than they seem when they bark during the prime minister’s questions. I have spent the last two years discussing pension reform with relevant actors within the social policy process – academics, civil servants, employers, politicians, the professions, think tanks, trade unions – not realizing that UK Members of Parliament had built an escape. clause in the law. As Therese Coffey (Secretary of State for Work and Pensions) explained to the House of Commons on 4the December: Section 27 of the Pensions Act 2014 requires a second Government Review of the State Pension Age by May 2023, for which it has already commissioned independent reports from Martin Clarke (Government Actuary) and Lucy Neville-Rolfe (Peer of the Realm) – all three of which, it may be relevant to point out, will be entitled to solid gold pensions upon retirement (non-contributory, defined benefit, last salary).

If you look at the ONS Longitudinal Study, it is clear that in every decennial census since 1971, the proportion of 50-year-old women who describe themselves in labor market terms (paid employment, unemployed, permanently ill, retired) has increased consistently, so It is reasonable that women and men have the same state pension age, although why should the gender difference have been equalized upwards (first at 65, now at 66 and soon at 67 , then at 68) rather than downward (at age 60)? years), is less obvious.

The official reason is the increase in life expectancy during the last decades. One problem with this explanation is that the rate of increase in life expectancy now appears to have plateaued, and if it resumes, it is likely to lose its former vigor. The biggest problem is that being alive is not the same as being able to hold down a job; Hence the need to think in terms of healthy life expectancy. Here the devil is in the details and Lucy Neville-Rolfe has been commissioned to award. John Cridland’s earlier review chose to measure the healthy part of healthy life expectancy in terms of self-assessed health, although many feel that the absence of physical or mental disability would have been more appropriate.

I am one of those who would prefer to see state retirement age linked to disability-free life expectancy, but my concerns are not limited to this technical issue. I am also part of an informal group of public health specialists who want to draw attention to the potential unintended consequences of raising the state retirement age and contribute to the discussion on how to mitigate them.

Our concerns are that extending working life may: (1) worsen the health of those with pre-existing conditions; (2) overwhelm scarce overburdened occupational health and general medical services; (3) prevent informal care at a time when its need is projected to increase; (4) discourage volunteerism that supports the NHS and the many charities on which public health depends; (5) trigger overt disease in those with asymptomatic pathology or prior good health. Our report, detailing each of these elements, can be downloaded free here.

We suggest that our concerns could be mitigated by [1] commission two investigations to establish (a) evidence-based classification criteria to guide occupational health and general medical services in deciding which older employees are most at risk; (b) whether extending working life will increase the mortality risk of older employees in the most deprived occupations. Y [2] two changes to administrative regulations to accept (a) greater flexibility in the age range of 60 to 68 years, to adapt to patterns of relapse and remission in chronic diseases; (b) that paid work is not the only type of socially necessary work at these ages, with informal care and volunteering being adequate and legitimate alternatives.

Finally, there are problems of financial loss and work system. Many of those now working until age 66 spent most of their lives paying their National Insurance contributions when its regulations increased the size of their State Old-Age Pension in line with years worked beyond state pension age; raising the state retirement age removed this right, at a cost per person of up to £300 per month for life which, for Pension Credit recipients, could be the difference between living with or without the Minimum Income for a Healthy life of the elderly person. To add insult to injury, these same individuals now find themselves subject to conditionality (fitness-for-work testing) and sanctions (benefit cuts), that those who saw the Dispatches report on the subject (Channel 4, 17the December 2021) will find it hard to believe that parliamentarians had the intention when they voted in favor of the 2014 Act.

david blane
Emeritus Professor at Imperial College London

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