Pensions - Articles - Labours proposal for reduced pension age for tough jobs

The Labour Party’s 2019 manifesto proposed, in the context of a discussion of rising state pension ages, “…to review retirement ages for physically arduous and stressful occupations, including shift workers, in the public and private sectors”. This policy is a recognition that general improvements in health and longevity have not been shared by all and that increased state pension ages may present particular challenges for those whose health may prevent them from working longer.

 But whilst this policy is well-intentioned, Royal London Policy Director Steve Webb has highlighted the severe practical challenges in putting it into practice. A number of issues would need to be addressed including:

 - Existing National Insurance records do not record the type of job that an individual undertook. It would therefore be very difficult to apply this policy for those currently approaching pension age. If records were started today, whole generations who had undertaken heavy manual work in the past could miss out on this concession.

 - Looking at current employment would be unfair. Someone could have spent many years doing a demanding job and have now moved to something less demanding closer to retirement. If those who have done arduous jobs are meant to benefit, it would be wrong to exclude those who have now switched to lighter work.

 - Looking at the nature of the past employer would be unfair. Not everyone working in the same workplace has the same type of job. For example, someone might have worked in an administrative role at a coal mine and presumably should not be allowed early access to their state pension as a result.

 - Dividing lines between different jobs would be difficult to draw and there would no doubt be many disputes and appeals. Trying to define a ‘stressful’ job in particular would be difficult, and this could presumably bring in many ‘white collar’ roles as well as more physical jobs.

 The recent review of state pension ages by Sir John Cridland considered the idea of differential pension ages in some detail but concluded that retaining a single age was the most practical approach.

 It may however be that there are other ways of supporting those who cannot work up to state pension age. Many occupational pension schemes already have provision for ill health early retirement and the social security system for people of working age could have more generous rules for those who are below pension age but cannot be expected to work on. The advantage of this approach is that it would not be necessary to hold data on work histories or decide which jobs were or were not ‘stressful’. It would instead focus on people’s current ability to work.

 Commenting, Steve Webb, Director of Policy at Royal London said: ‘The Labour Party’s goal of doing more for those who have had tough working lives is understandable and well-meaning. But the idea of having a different state pension age for those who have worked in stressful occupations is completely impractical. No official records exist of what jobs people did in the past, and it would be incredibly difficult to draw a line between jobs which were stressful and arduous and those which were not. A better approach would be to do more for those who today are unable to work up to state pension age, regardless of what jobs they have done in the past. The gap between working age benefits and pension age benefits is huge, and a future government should concentrate on addressing this issue’.

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