§ 4. Mr. Skinner
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what is his most recent estimate of the number of working men over 60 years of age.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Mr. Stanley Orme)
In 1974, the latest date for which a figure is available, about 1½ million men aged 60 or over worked to a sufficient extent for national insurance contributions to be paid in respect of them.
§ Mr. Skinner
That is just a few more than those on the dole. Does my right hon. Friend accept that there are four good Socialist reasons for introducing retirement at 60 years of age for all? Does he not agree that those are, first, equality with women; second, that many professional and salaried classes already retire at 60; third, that it costs £72 million a week to pay for unemployment benefit and all the related matters affecting those on the dole; and, fourth, that in relation to many industrial countries, especially those in the Common Market, a little harmonisation in this direction would not be a bad thing?
§ Mr. Orme
I accept what my hon. Friend says about the Socialist reasons for moving towards this target. The Government do not object to moving towards this target. What prevents us from doing so at present is the cost. I think that my hon. Friend knows that the cost would be over £1,000 million, net, at present.
§ Sir John Hall
Does the Minister agree that the proportion of the population that is working, as compared with the rest, including those who are still at school and those who have retired, is diminishing and will continue to diminish? Therefore, does this not place increasing burdens on the working population, and is there not a case for increasing rather than decreasing the retirement age—especially of women, who live longer than men anyhow?
§ Mr. Orme
I would not like to join argument with the hon. Gentleman on the last point. However, on the first point, the ratio is reducing. It was 5:1. It is now 3½,:1. It would go well below 3:1 if the retirement age were reduced to 60. However, the Government stilt believe that in a modern industrial society we ought to be able to sustain people and provide decent pensions. That is what we are working towards.
§ Mr. Clemitson
On the last point, is it not true that over the next 10 years there will be about 1,600,000 more people in the working age range than there are now? However, to return to the point about employment among the over-sixties, is it not true that at the last count there were about 130,000 unemployed in the 60-plus age range? In order that we may make a reasonable assessment of the possibility of earlier retirement, so as to deal with this problem, would it not be possible to publish some of the estimates of gross and net cost, on which the Department has obviously been working?