A month ago, Boris Johnson became Prime Minister and put together a terrifyingly right-wing cabinet. The ideological vultures began to circle.
For decades, think tanks have attempted to shape government policy. Margaret Thatcher was notoriously wedded to the free-market ideas of the Institute of Economic Affairs. More recent Conservative governments have been influenced by the misleadingly named Centre for Social Justice (CSJ).
Iain Duncan Smith set up the CSJ in 2004 after his stint as Leader of the Conservative Party. The think tank claims to want ‘to put social justice at the heart of British politics and make policy recommendations to tackle the root causes of poverty’. The CSJ believes this is possible by reducing our economic dependence on the state.
Just before Duncan Smith became Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the CSJ published an upbeat-sounding report called Dynamic Benefits: Towards welfare that works, which introduced what it called the ‘Universal Credits scheme’. This informed the catastrophic introduction of Universal Credit. Many families in South Thanet have been made homeless as a result of delayed payments, and the majority of claimants are worse off than they were under the previous system.
On Saturday 17 August 2019, the CSJ published the cheerily titled Ageing Confidently: Supporting an ageing workforce. This report recommends that the state pension age be raised to 70 by 2028 and to 75 by 2035. If the government adopted this plan, it would be disastrous for South Thanet.
In Cliftonville West, South Thanet’s poorest ward, men at the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum can expect to live to 69.6. Under these plans, by 2028 these men would die six months before receiving their state pension. The average overall life expectancy in Cliftonville West is 74.5. If these plans were fully implemented, our poorest residents would die six months before they were due to receive their pension. The situation is even worse in Margate Central in North Thanet, where average life expectancy is just 72.7.
Ros (now Baroness) Altmann, who was Minister for Work and Pensions under Duncan Smith, has described the proposals as ‘chilling and immoral’. The Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, has condemned the idea of expecting people to ‘work until they drop’. We have seen the devastating impact of raising the state pension age on women born in the 1950s. The same dire mistake must not be repeated in the rest of the population.
The Labour Party will always be on the side of pensioners and help ensure security and dignity for older people in retirement. Labour will reject any Conservative proposal to extend the state pension age beyond 66, and we will increase the state pension to keep pace with earnings or inflation, whichever is higher. Voters must bear this in mind at the next General Election.