To fix the pensions crisis, we must first reduce poverty


Prof Elspeth Webb says raising the pension age will not address the problems created by health inequity and poverty among older people.

In Amelia Hill’s article (UK state pension age will soon need to rise to 71, say experts, 5 February), Les Mayhew of the International Longevity Centre is quoted as saying: “In the UK, state pension age would need to be 70 or 71 compared with 66 now … But if you bring preventable ill health into the equation, that would have to increase even more.” The significant word there is “preventable” – except no one is taking any notice of it. The article goes on: “By age 70, only 50% of adults in England and Wales are now disability-free and able to work.” Those who cannot are overwhelmingly poor.

The 2020 Marmot report on health inequity tells us that, on average, healthy life expectancy at birth is 12 years longer for those from the least deprived local authorities. I heard Michael Marmot present his first review, in 2010; even then he warned that increasing the pension age would not address the pension problem because of the high rates of disability in older people who had spent their lives in poverty.

We should end low pay and poor working conditions; reduce child poverty; introduce progressive taxation; set limits on the ratio between the highest and lowest paid; and provide adequate welfare safety nets. But these solutions are at complete odds with the hegemony of free-market, neoliberal economic policies. Just as most Americans cannot imagine a world without guns, it seems we cannot imagine one without unregulated capitalism. Both are eminently possible.

Prof Elspeth Webb (retired)
Penarth, South Wales

I work in the construction industry and cannot effectively retire until I am 67. I will be 64 in May and I could really do with retiring right now. Although my trade, electrician/electrical engineer, is less onerous than, say, being a brickie or plumber, it’s still pretty physical. At the end of an average day, my joints hurt and I feel the fatigue. It punishes the mind as well – mental health issues are high in my trade.

A staged set of ages for retirement would be beneficial. Folk who work in nice offices could quite easily carry on until 70-plus, while those of us who spend most winter months in part-built, unheated shells of buildings, or outdoors, would be much less of a drain on the NHS.

Ged Whitney
Sale, Greater Manchester

It seems unsustainable to always have this cliff-edge of retirement as the only way to deal with increasing life expectancy. At what point is it no longer reasonable to ask somebody to work full time? What we need is a right to work reduced hours, particularly as you approach retirement age. Why not have a system that allows people to demand the reasonable change to their contracts when they reach, say, 60 or even 55. It could be called the “partial retirement age”, and it means that your employer must accommodate your reasonable request to work reduced hours. It would be much more reasonable to expect people to not receive a pension until 71 or even older if they are entitled to reducing their workload, otherwise the existing model will become about working people until they break, which as well as being unfair and immoral, is also not in the economic interests of the country.

Nick Watson
Swanmore, Hampshire

At least you have medical coverage in the UK. This American is still working at 75, as a caregiver for a disabled adult, and doesn’t expect to be able to quit any time soon, primarily for the sake of the excellent union-funded health insurance.

Alison Loris
Bremerton, Washington, US


Posted by: Branwell Ford