HC Deb 18 June 1974 vol 875 cc182-4
2. Mr. Gwilym Roberts

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what would be the estimated cost of enabling men to retire on full pension at 64, 63, 62, 61 and 60 years; and if she will examine the desirability of gradually reducing the pensionable age of men to bring it into line with that of women.

The Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Mr. Brian O'Malley)

Depending on the extent to which men retired at the lower pensionable age, the annual cost would range from £220 million for a reduction in their pensionable age to 64 to £1,220 million for a reduction to the age of 60. I shall publish fuller details in the OFFICIAL REPORT. As to the second part of the Question, I would refer my hon. Friend to the answers I gave him on 7th May.—[Vol. 873, c. 194–5].

Mr. Roberts

Does my hon. Friend accept that I am the first to acknowledge the financial problems involved in a proposition of this sort, but that I have now received about 2,000 letters on this issue? Will he at least, at this stage, make a gesture which will be welcomed by thousands of working people and trade unionists by accepting the principle of a movement downwards of some kind, or by introducing some concept of flexibility?

Mr. O'Malley

I recognise the desire of men to retire earlier than they do at present. However, as I said to my hon. Friend on 7th May, it is no use condemning men to retire at 60 if that means an enormous cut in their household incomes, as would be the case at present. Secondly, at a time when the pensioner population is increasing rapidly, this would be an additional substantial burden on the work force of the country. Finally, we have to consider this matter alongside other competing priorities.

Mr. Fell

Quite apart from all the matters referred to by the hon. Gentleman, surely there is the further one that until civilisation reaches the point where people know what to do with their leisure—which they certainly do not at the moment—it is dreadful to suggest the earlier retirement of men in good health, because it simply means condemning them to an earlier death.

Mr. O'Malley

It is clear that there are many men, especially among those working in heavy manual trades and industry, who would like the opportunity to retire earlier than the age of 65. However, all these matters must take their place alongside other competing priorities. Already we have 8 million retirement pensioners, large numbers of whom have to rely on supplementary benefit, so low is the level of pensions.

Dr. Winstanley

Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that there is a substantial body of informed opinion, including some in his Department, to the effect that retirement should not be sudden, short and sharp, but a gradual process? Does he further recognise that some of his policies, like the earnings rule, discourage people from retiring gradually in that way?

Mr. O'Malley

I am aware of the views and the professional advice to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. Indeed, the general proposition that there should be phased retirement is attractive. It is clearly a matter that any Government must consider in assessing pensions priorities and the allocation of available financial resources.

Following is the information:

Estimated* cost of reducing minimum pensionable age for men
To age £ million a year
64 220
63 450
62 690
61 950
60 1,220
* (1) Assuming that the present pattern of retirement for men up to five years older than 65 were to be repeated for men up to five years older than the new minimum pensionable age; and
(2) using the new pension rates of £10 for a single person and £16 for a married couple.