Recommendation The SPA should better reflect the longer life expectancies that we now enjoy and be used to support the fiscal balance of the nation. The SPA in the UK is set to rise to 66 by 2020 (Pensions Act 2011), to 67 between 2026 and 2028 (State Pension Act 2014) and to 68 between 2044 and 2046 (State Pension Act 2007). We propose accelerating the SPA increase to 70 by 2028 and then 75 by 2035.
The statement above in the report Ageing Confidently – Supporting an ageing workforce, released in August by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), is slightly misleading. A SPA of 68 is pencilled to be phased in between 2037 and 2039. Further legislation will not be introduced until after another SPA review is completed, which, by coincidence, won’t happen until after the next election is due.
The CSJ is not a think tank that regularly makes the headlines, but it does have a high-profile chairman – Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative leader and former Secretary of State for Work & Pensions. During that tenure he pushed through some of the SPA increases outlined above. With this in mind, the statement by the CSJ could be interpreted as kite-flying on behalf of the Conservative government, just as the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) plays a similar role for the Labour Party.
The CSJ’s argument for raising SPA with such haste is financially driven. The report notes that at present there are 28.2 pensioners for every 100 people of working age, but by 2050 this is projected to increase to 48 per 100 – almost one pensioner for each two working age members of the population. As the state pension system is funded on a pay-as-you-go basis, that jump has serious consequences even before the impact of rising healthcare costs is considered. Raising SPA to 75 by 2035 would keep the ratio at between 20 and 25 per 100.
Such a steep rise in SPA would be politically problematic as the ongoing protests and resulting court cases about increases in women’s SPA prove. However, the CSJ’s point about whether the current SPAs will continue to be affordable isn’t going away. If nothing else, it’s a reminder that supplementing the state pension with private provision is a surer path to a reliable retirement income.
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