Raising the pension age will be a public health disaster

Steve Griffiths argues that raising the retirement age will harm more than just the nation’s finances - it will also harm the nation’s health.

 

Steve Griffiths is a campaigner against the vilification and impoverishment of people who are unable to work due to sickness or disability

George Osborne has warned us that the costs of providing decent state pensions are going to become more and more unaffordable unless we take further action. And we’ve got to do it in response to rising life expectancy. So the state pension will be set to come in at 67.

Looking at the evidence, one begins to wonder whether Osborne  has understood ‘the response to rising life expectancy’ as meaning that life expectancy must be reduced.

We heard many of the strikers last month lament that they just can’t work that long – another 40 years for a 27-year-old, say, physiotherapist working for the NHS.

It’s a perception that is borne out by research. Work through the sixties is just not viable for a high proportion of the population.

The Marmot Review (pdf) found:

People in poorer areas not only die sooner, but they will also spend more of their shorter lives with a disability… even excluding the poorest five percent and the richest five percent, the gap in life expectancy between low and high income is six years, and in disability-free life expectancy thirteen years.

This is in the context of a mean disability-free life expectancy in the UK in 2005/7 of 62.5 years in men, and 63.7 in women. If that is the mean, very many people will become disabled much earlier.

The tail-off in the health benefit of work is already pronounced through the sixties (if, of course, the jobs exist in the first place). Add to that the health effects of the socio-economic hierarchy in work. The report endlessly quoted by Tories and New Labour as saying that ‘all work is good for you’ is instructive on that.

While work is ‘generally’ good for you, it says:

… in terms of promoting health and wellbeing, the characteristics that distinguish ‘good’ jobs and ‘good’ workplaces might include: safety; fair pay; social gradients in health; job security; personal fulfilment and development; investing in human capital; accommodating, supportive and non-discriminatory (work); control / autonomy; job satisfaction; good communications.

Being forced to work through the sixties will create a new and powerful multiplier of that health inequality.

We can expect a rapid escalation of the achievement of the Thatcher government, as Acheson’s ‘Inequalities in Health’ report found at the dawn of the New Labour administration:

… in the early 1970s, the mortality rate among men of working age was almost twice as high for those in class V (unskilled) as for those in class I (professional). By the early 1990s, it was almost three times higher.

Alongside escalating inequality in life expectancy, it is instructive to consider the increase in incapacity benefit claims over the same period: people didn’t  just drop off their perches without getting ill, leaving incapacity benefit to a growing body of malingerers. One would expect the same kind of escalation in the next two decades.

But hang on – the government boast that they are reducing access to Incapacity Benefit’s successor, ESA. Jobseeker’s allowance is increasingly crammed with people in poor health. The role of doctors as a gateway to incapacity benefits is all but eliminated, and there are plans afoot to elbow doctors out of even short-term decisions on unfitness for work and bring in the hard nuts from Atos.

More poor health, less financial support, equals still more poor health. The strong statistical link (pdf) in recent years between high levels of incapacity benefit claims and high levels of emergency hospital admissions has been established. The steep rise in cost to the NHS will be unstoppable, as will be the suffering.

We’ll see how far the compliance of a subdued and misinformed population can be taken. But there is little doubt that raising the pension age to 67 will be seen to be a spectacularly false economy.

See also:

Hutton repeats his big fat lie on public sector pensionsAlex Hern, November 4th 2011

Hutton should read his pensions report again before leaping to Cameron’s rescueMichael Burke, September 16th 2011

Rising inequality is making social and political conflict more likelyDuncan Exley, June 29th 2011

Moving the goalposts on pensions is unfair and unjustRachel Reeves MP, June 20th 2011

Public split on pensions reformShamik Das, June 20th 2011

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