If like me you’re between 39 and 47 years old then the recent government announcement that you will have to work 18 months longer before you can retire will have angered and depressed you. Yet again as the government has moved the goalposts for workers. An increase in the retirement age to 68 was due to apply to people born after April 1978. The government now says the new standard of 68 will be introduced in 2039, which will affect those born between April 1971 and April 1978.
This is business as usual — making working-class people pay for the bosses crisis and it will affect six million workers. The current pension age is 63 for women and 65 for men. Women’s pension age is gradually increasing to 65 by 2018; from 2019 it will increase for both men and women, reaching 66 by 2020 and 67 between 2026 and 2028.
Labour is promising to leave the state pension age at 66 while looking again at the evidence. This new attack comes on back of the increase women’s pension age first proposed by a Tory government in 1995 and then subsequently increased faster after 2011 with little or no notice. Many women born in the 1950s had their retirement age increased by up to six years but with little chance to plan for that change.
A significant campaign led by WASPI (Women Against State Pension Inequality) is still fighting the government. After 2011 the coalition government not only proposed increasing the retirement age but also made cuts to public sector pensions. Pension schemes were changed to become “career average” schemes — making workers pay more, work longer and get less on retirement. After November 2011 there were days of strikes and protest by two million public sector workers across, local government, schools and education, health service and civll service. Despite some minor concessions the proposals went through, although some union leaders chose to hail this as success.
The disputes mainly ended with workers still paying more, working longer and getting less on retirement. Years of pay freezes in the public sector have meant that not only has pay not kept up with inflation, but also pension contributions have fallen. In some working-class areas of Scotland, north west and north east England average male mortality is close to 68 meaning the prospect of many more working-class people dying while they are still in work and before even being able to claim their pension is very real. A minority Tory government can and should be held to account on this proposal. A vigorous campaign by workers for £10 an hour minimum wage and no pension age increases could beat the Tories.
Unions need to prepare for serious battles around pay, and pensions, as a basis for rebuilding the labour movement and bringing down this government.