Labour is, of course, wholly committed to gender equality. So why then is it proposing to borrow £58 billion to perpetuate a blatant form of discrimination: the gap in retirement ages between men and women?
There is, of course, a straightforward answer to this: on Friday’s Question Time special, Boris Johnson was asked if he would compensate the so called ‘Waspi’ women who feel they have been ill-treated by having their retirement age raised from 60 to 65, in line with men, and said that regretfully he didn’t have the money to do this. Overnight, Labour sniffed an opportunity: why not announce a compensation package and scoop up those Waspi votes?
The result is that on top of the extra £83 billion a year of costed (or supposedly costed) spending commitments in Labour’s manifesto it has just taken on a one-off £58 billion bill, for which it has made no provision. It seems the bill will be lumped in with the billions which Labour plans to borrow in order to renationalise utility companies, build 100,000 council homes a year and so on.
If – as would be inevitable – this borrowing splurge forced up interest rates it would push down the price of government bonds and devastate the value of private pensions. I wouldn’t, therefore, assume that someone like Theresa May, who under Labour’s compensation scheme would be in line for a payout of £22,000, would see a net benefit from a Labour government. More likely, she and her husband’s investments – like those of millions of other Britons – would be savaged.
But that aside, what is the justification, other than for reasons of raw political advantage, for Labour’s last-minute, back-of-a-fag-packet policy? There are injustices relating to women and the state pension – where women find themselves receiving less than a full pension after taking career breaks to bring up children and so on – but equalisation of the pension age is not one of them. The change was clearly announced by the Major government in the 1990s, when, as I remember, it led the news bulletins. The change was phased in over a long period – as are further changes which raise the state pension age beyond 65. We are now being asked by the Waspi women to believe that their retirement plans have been thrown into disarray because they have only now found out about the change. Sorry, but if you are claiming to have worked out detailed retirement plans, why didn’t that planning consist of checking the age you were due to retire?
State pensions are unaffordable in their current format, thanks to increasing longevity. We are all going to have to work for longer in future. I was born only a decade after many of these Waspi women, but already my pension age has been lifted from 65 to 67. People a little younger than me have already been warned that they will not be able to take their state pension until they are 68, and it is highly likely that people now in their 20s will have to work into their 70s before they can draw a state pension. To bail out a group of women aggrieved that they have been unable to retire at 60 is an indulgence, whose cost will be borne by younger people. It is a prime example of intergenerational unfairness, which Jeremy Corbyn’s promise to tackle drew so many young voters to him in the 2017 election. Sorry, but if you are one of those younger voters, Corbyn has ratted on you big time.