Taking pensions later is not the solution

By Ros Altmann, July 28, 2010

The new government has been unveiling its plans for pension reform, saying it wants to "reinvigorate retirement".

It has announced a "triple guarantee" for the Basic State Pension to rise in line with prices, earnings or 2.5 per cent, whichever is highest. A better state pension is long overdue but, as people are living longer, the government says it is only affordable if paid from a later age.

So men's pension age will be increased to 66 in 2016, ten years earlier than planned. All men now in their 50s will thus have to wait an extra year for their state pension.

Women's pension age is also increasing, from 60 to 65 or even 66 by 2020. And pension ages will keep rising further in future. To increase pension coverage, the government plans to automatically enrol workers into workplace pension schemes. But contributions will be very low and many may opt out. It will also abolish the requirement to buy an annuity by age 75 - but this will only apply to the wealthiest savers with pensions worth over about £200,000.

Will these proposals sort out our pensions crisis? I don't think so.

Higher state pensions in exchange for later pension ages will not help if people have no work. Many 65-year-olds want to keep working and without much private pension, they need to. But they have little time left to save, and ageism in the workplace means they cannot find jobs.

The proposed reforms do not sound like "reinvigorating retirement" to me. We really need to redefine retirement. Retirement should be a process, not an event, gradually cutting down, not suddenly stopping work altogether. For those who want to work longer, working part-time and perhaps retraining offers a better lifestyle: a few days off work, rather than retiring completely and spending 20 or 30 years with very little money. Those who cannot work because of illness are already looked after by the benefits system and that would continue, but today, a majority of people are not "old" at 60 or 65.

We are living longer, healthier lives and work is generally less physically demanding - that is great news - but retirement attitudes have not kept pace. There is a whole phase of part-time work - "bonus years" - in your 60s and 70s up for grabs. Utilising the talents of older workers who still have so much to contribute could benefit everyone. Of course saving more is important, but savings alone cannot provide enough income for most people for ever-increasing retirements. Longer working lives are inevitable, and part-time work for older people really could reinvigorate retirement.

Ros Altmann is a former government pensions adviser

Last updated: 2:47pm, July 28 2010