Cost of living: Plan to increase state pension sparks backlash - 'Can’t justify going faster'

British Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt talks to a television crew outside the BBC headquarters in London, Britain November 18, 2022. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
A former government work and pensions minister has said the government may see rising the state pension age sooner as 'easy money' for the Treasury. (Getty Images)

A former government pensions minister has criticised the government's reported plans to bring forward the date of an increase in the state pension age while life expectancy is stagnating.

The government are understood to be considering increasing the state pension age to 68, 11 years earlier than planned, according to the Sun.

The pension age is currently set to rise to 67 in six years, and then to 68 by 2046. However, the new plans would bring the second increase forward to 2039.

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Steve Webb, former pensions minister under the coalition government and partner at LCP Consultancy, said raising the state pension age can't be justified at a time when life expectancy is no longer increasing.

"I guess the big argument against is that since the last review, life expectancy has stalled," Webb told Yahoo News UK.

"After a century of improvements in life expectancy - and this isn't a COVID thing, this is happening pre COVID - all those kinds of improvements from people not smoking, improving medical care, people not doing heavy manual jobs, all that stuff that's driven things forward for 100 years, has just ground to a halt.

"So my view would be you can't justify going faster."

Life expectancy at birth for males and females, UK, between 1980 to 1982 and 2018 to 2020. (House of Lords library, 2023)

According to the most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), UK life expectancy at birth was 79 years for males and 82.9 years for females between 2018 and 2020.

Life expectancy has stagnated in the last 10 years after decades of rises.

Webb also said that raising the state pension age earlier is an easy and "attractive" way for the Treasury to raise billions.

The state pension makes up a significant amount of government spending, making up around 42% of the UK's welfare budget and costing the Treasury more than £100bn per year.

"Obviously, if you're the Treasury, you're thinking this is easy money, because it's 10 or 15 years away," said Webb.

Read more: French government to press ahead with pension reform despite revolt

"It's billions of pounds that you won't have to spend, it's a lot of money.

"So, it's attractive to the Treasury because it's far enough down the tracks that people won't quite register what you've done."

The government's move has also been criticised by the UK's leading older person charity, Age UK.

According to the Sun the charity's director, Caroline Abrahams, said increasing the state pension age earlier has "no justification".

“There is no justification for raising the state pension age at the moment, especially as those who will lose out most are those unable to work due to ill health and caring responsibilities, as well as anyone who becomes unemployed in mid-life then finds it impossible to get another job," said Abrahams.

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