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Editorial: On pensions, rich people's greed is stealing our future

A TORY-LEANING think tank’s recommendation that the state pension age be ramped up to 70 over the next nine years and to 75 after that show how grim Britain’s future will be without a political and workplace revolution.

Though the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) is an independent body, it was founded by three Tories — Baroness Philippa Stroud, Conservative Home’s Tim Montgomerie and “welfare reform” supremo Iain Duncan Smith.

Duncan Smith chairs the CSJ and this work-till-you-drop proposal will be bitterly familiar to disabled and chronically ill people up and down the country. He was after all the work & pensions secretary who imposed a “fit for work” regime that imposed humiliation and misery on tens of thousands while being so irresponsibly run that more than half its rulings taken to tribunal were overturned as unfair.

Thousands died shortly after being declared “fit for work” — as shown in statistics Duncan Smith claimed did not exist until forced by repeated legal challenges to release them. Some committed suicide on having lifeline security payments withdrawn and some even starved to death.

Part of the mantra that has allowed successive governments to attack pensions and try to raise the pension age is that with people living longer, the burden of pensions on society can no longer be borne.

But it is difficult to justify continuing to raise the pension age when statistics earlier this year showed that life expectancy in Britain has now started to fall.

This also varies massively between regions. As Labour’s Paul Sweeney points out, male life expectancy in Glasgow is just 73 — so postponing pension age to 75 would see workers literally work themselves into the grave.

A CSJ proposal may not be Tory policy yet, though, as with its previous brainchild universal credit, it may only be a matter of time. But it exposes the dead-end, flog-a-dead-horse attitude that pervades a party representing the tiny elite who preside over Britain’s rigged society rather than the mass of ordinary people whose lives are getting harder and poorer every year.

An ageing population is a challenge to society, requiring better co-ordination of healthcare with social care, greater investment in health and social services including by addressing the scandalous cost of care homes, spending more on ensuring universal access to efficient and safe (which means properly staffed) public transport and investment in regional development that creates secure, well-paid work in all parts of the country so people can live and work closer to their parents if they wish to — which most people do. Unlike the Conservatives, Labour has plans to start work on all these fronts.

It should not be an excuse to insist that we can no longer afford to retire at a reasonable age and enjoy a decent income in retirement. Britain’s state pension is already measly compared with most of our neighbours — last year the maximum weekly state pension was £141, compared with £304 in France, £507 in Germany and £513 in Spain.

Yet Britain’s richest get richer every year. Ours remains a rich country but one in which wealth is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands and squirrelled away abroad rather than staying in the hands of the working people who create it.

A Tory future is one in which we work longer for lower pay while public services wither and we poison our environment. Yet given the immense productive power of the technological revolution taking place around us, we should instead be talking — as Labour and the TUC already are — about reducing our working week while raising pay and improving public services.

Only the greed of a few stands in the way of delivering that richer future for the majority. Our movement must be ready to take them on.

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