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WMN opinion: Living longer means more time at the coalface

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: December 06, 2013

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When conversation around the dinner table turns to pensions, you can guarantee two things. One, it's time to leave, and two you are definitely in your forties.

Yesterday the forty-somethings among us were told they will have to wait until 68 until they can receive a state pension, while those in their thirties may have to keep working until they are 70.

Delayed retirement dates will help save around £400 billion from the national bill for pensions.

Reaction was mixed, though some union leaders were quick to go on the attack, including TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady, who said today's young workers were being told "they must work until they drop".

This type of reaction ignores the fact that people are now living longer and healthier lives.

The Government said that future changes in the pension age will be based on the principle that workers should expect to spend about one-third of their adult lives, on average, in retirement, and that the formula should ensure that the country is able to offer "decent but affordable" pensions to people in their old age while maintaining "fairness across the generations".

This is a long way from the state of affairs when David Lloyd George introduced the first state pension nearly 105 years ago.

Then, the pension was worth around 25p and could be claimed at the age of 70. Unfortunately life expectancy then was barely 50, and only one in four people made it to pensionable age.

Over the last 100 years, average life expectancy at 65 has almost doubled, rising by just over ten years for both men and women.

In 1952, a man reaching state pension age spent around 21% of his adult life in receipt of state pension. This had risen to roughly 24% by 1980, 30% by 2000 and 32% by 2010.

If this is the answer to keeping a decent state pension affordable and equitable it seems relatively simple compared with the other cost challenges which are mounting as a result of our ageing population.

Ask any senior health service executive today about the state of the NHS and they will tell you off the record it is breaking if not already broken. Local authorities too are looking down the barrel of increasing adult social care demands and shrinking budgets.

In that context it is hard to argue against adults spending more of their healthier, longer lives at work.

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