It is not an unaffordable luxury
Providing a decent retirement pension for UK citizens has been a bone of contention for years. The situation has worsened over the last 40 years despite the efforts of high-profile campaigners such as former trade union leaders Jack Jones and Rodney Bickerstaffe. This includes the 13 years of New Labour.
In the world’s fifth biggest economy, there is no justification for the miserable state pension, nor the increasing pension age, which is due to rise to 67 by 2028 and then to 68 in the following decade.
This will mean that anyone born between 6 April 1970 and 5 April 1978 will not be able to retire until they are 67. Anyone born after 6 April 1978 will not be entitled to a state pension until they are 68.
Women have been the hardest hit. Campaigners feel particularly aggrieved by the New Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown because they left the Tory 1995 Pension Act unchanged.
It was this statute that ended pensions for women at 60 making them miss years of pension benefits under the equalisation of the State Pensions Age (SPA) to 65 between April 2010 to 2020 for men and women.
Adding insult to injury the New Labour government announced in 2007 that the state pension age would rise to 66 between 2024 and 2026.
The Tory-LibDem coalition then accelerated the timetable. Starting in April 2016 when women’s SPA was 63. Their justification for this was that life expectancy had risen faster than expected.
But last year, the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries, which calculates life expectancy for the UK pension industry, said UK life expectancy is falling, not rising.
Government actuaries warned ministers back in 2005 that if they went ahead with the change, almost one million people who were then alive would die before ever receiving any state pension. New Labour ploughed on regardless.
New Labour’s 2004 Finance Act also increased the minimum age when workers could draw their occupational pension, from 50 to 55. This came into effect on 6 April 2010.
The government has now said it will increase the age again, this time to 57 in 2028.
The various petitions and legal actions against the attacks on our state and occupational pensions by successive governments has so far been unsuccessful, but we must keep up the pressure.
Britain is a wealthy nation with its own sovereign currency, so the provision of dignity in retirement is not unaffordable and should be a basic right for all citizens.
It simply requires political will to make it happen
When Jeremy Corbyn was elected as the Labour leader, we came close to creating the political space to implement such a radical change, but we were sabotaged by the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) and the party’s bureaucrats. That is why we need to work towards building an unstoppable grassroots movement and potentially a new electoral vehicle, because our representatives in parliament have singularly failed to live up to expectations.
With around 5,000 women born in the 1950s and a similar number born in the 1960s in every constituency in the country, the potential to exert political influence on this issue is enormous.
The Grey Swans campaign group is one of a number of organisations demanding pensions justice. The Grey Swans are calling for a state pension of £372 a week for men and women from the age of 60. The Grey Swans call for a range of other changes including a lower SPA.
The stock response from national politicians is that demands like these are unrealistic and unaffordable, but that is simply not true. The same politicians never have any difficulty in voting for wars.
If we can find money to kill people, we can find money to help people.Tony Benn
According to the National Audit Office almost £1 trillion was found to support the broken banking industry.
The UK is a currency issuing nation so we are not constrained in the way politicians and media commentators claim we are. With political will, we can use the flexibility of our sovereign currency to create a good society, including the provision of a decent pension.
The only constraint is the availability of spare capacity in the economy such as unemployed and under-employed workers. There is a huge deficit in high quality public services, action to address climate change, decent infrastructure etc. But the only deficit that governments of every stripe are concerned about is the fiscal deficit.
Ironically, that is the only deficit that doesn’t matter, so long as it isn’t exceeding the availability of real resources in the economy.
The comprehensive destruction of the Corbyn project inside the Labour Party was a bitter blow, but the underlying veracity of the values underpinning the enthusiasm for the project remain. Which is why, as socialists, we need to dust ourselves down and continue to be the tribune of the people, raising expectations and political consciousness.
We must continue to demand a good society where poverty is eliminated, and everyone can live out their lives in dignity. After all, we have nothing to lose but our chains!
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