HC Deb 25 May 1976 vol 912 cc244-6
1. Mr. Gwilym Roberts

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what are the latest figures available for the percentage of men who are drawing their pension at 65, 66, 67, 68, 69 and 70 years of age; and how these compare with the corresponding percentages 10 years ago and 20 years ago.

The Under-Secretary of State for Social Services (Mr. Eric Deakins)

I will, with permission, circulate the available information in the Official Report.

The figures show that the percentages of men in these age groups drawing their pensions have risen substantially over the last 20 years.

Mr. Roberts

Does my hon. Friend therefore accept that, in general, men are tending to retire earlier? That being so, does he agree that, even if the cost of reducing the pensionable age for men to 60 at the moment is prohibitive, there is an urgent need for the Government to give a 10-year commitment, or a commitment over a somewhat shorter period, that the age will be reduced in this way? That would mean that the cost would be minimal. Therefore, may I appeal to my hon. Friend to give a date—

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is enough to ask the Minister.

Mr. Deakins

I agree with my hon. Friend's first supplementary question. There is a tendency towards earlier retirement on the part of men, and as a Government we are certainly not opposed in principle to the idea of a common minimum pension age between men and women. However, the cost in present circumstances—

Mr. Roberts

What about a date in the future?

Mr. Deakins

The cost in present circumstances rules this out in the foreseeable future. We cannot at one and the same time both improve the position of existing pensioners and afford the cost of lowering the retirement age for men.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

Are the Government still determined to try to reverse the parliamentary defeat inflicted on them on the earnings rule for those retirement pensioners who stay in work? If they are, when can we expect legislation to be brought before the House?

Mr. Deakins

As the hon. Gentleman and the House will know, an announcement was made earlier this year about the Government's intention to introduce legislation on this matter, and it should be introduced in the next Session.

Mr. Greville Janner

My hon. Friend has said that it is the cost that prevents the Government from lowering the retirement age of men from 65 to 60. Will he say how much he estimates would be saved by not having to pay unemployment benefit and, in his Department, social security benefits to the men who find work and will no longer be on unemployment benefit, because they are filling jobs vacated by the men allowed to retire?

Mr. Deakins

It is not possible to say, because we do not know what is the pattern of retirement for men between 60 and 65, nor, indeed, would we know what take-up there would be of the younger unemployed to replace the older men who would have retired earlier. This is very much a matter of speculation and estimation. I believe that any guesstimate that I gave would be completely inadequate.

Mr. Marten

Presumably, in view of the Sex Discrimination Act, if the pension retirement age were raised to 62½ for women and reduced to 62½ for men, there would be no extra cost. Is that right?

Mr. Deakins

I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman and the House, but although it might seem that there would be no extra cost, we have worked out such figures as we can purely on the basis of national insurance contributions, supplementary benefits, and the national insurance scheme generally, and we find that there would indeed be a net cost.

Mr. George Rodgers

Would it not be true to say that the figures available demonstrate that last year, at least, about £262 million was spent by the Government in redundancy payments, sickness payments and unemployment payments for the age groups between 60 and 64? Would that not represent a substantial contribution towards lowering the age as indicated?

Mr. Deakins

We have done the sums that we can. The sums mentioned by my hon. Friend are an element in the calculation, but however we do the calculations they will work out as a massive net cost on the total economy of this country.

Following is the information:

Age 1955* 1965 1975
65 47.6 68.4 78.5
66 73.3 85.6
67 78.2 87.9
68 81.5 90.4
69 87.3 94.0
70 99.3 99.5
* The numbers of the male population in individual age bands are not available for 1955.
† No figure available.