HC Deb 11 November 1982 vol 31 cc666-8
Q3. Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

asked the Prime Minister if she will make it the policy of Her Majesty's Government to equalise the retirement age of men and women.

The Prime Minister

No, Sir, although a common pension age, coupled with effective and worthwhile provision for flexible retirement, is one of our long-term objectives.

Mr. Bennett

Is it not rather puzzling that many women who are forced to retire at the age of 60 would like to continue working, while at the same time many men who are forced to go on working until the age of 65 would like to be able to retire earlier? Is it not high time that there was a flexible retirement policy that allowed people to retire at a time that suited them and which suited the type of work that they were doing?

The Prime Minister

The national insurance scheme was very much designed with some flexibility in mind. As the hon. Gentleman knows, 60 is the minimum age at which a women can retire on full retirement pension, but assuming that her employer continues that work, she is free to carry on until the age of 65, thereby gaining extra benefit for each extra year of service. A women's pension becomes automatic at the age of 65. The same is true for a man, except that the relevant ages are 65 and 70. Exactly that flexibility is built into the system.

Mr. Forman

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many Conservative Members would support the idea of greater flexibility in retirement? In that context, will she lend her full support to the job release scheme and see whether it can be expanded?

The Prime Minister

As my hon. Friend knows, the job release scheme was designed for men over 60 who have been on the unemployment list for more than a year and have been drawing supplementary benefit. They can become permanently retired. It is an excellent scheme and many people take advantage of it. We constantly consider whether there is any way of expanding it, but we have no proposals to make at present.

Mr. Alfred Morris

Why are the Government still refusing to publish the Think Tank report on the future of the Welfare State? As the British people paid for it, why are they not allowed to read it and make a judgment on it? What is there to hide?

The Prime Minister

There is no report. A paper put forward some proposals on further work. That paper was not discussed, and the Think Tank is not doing that further work. In any event, the advice offered by the Think Tank is advice within Government and is not automatically published under any Government.

Mr. Lawrence

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, had the Government accepted the Opposition's advice and tied the pension to the pensioners' price index instead of to the RPI, the pension would now be 3 or 4 per cent. lower?

The Prime Minister

That is true. Had the increase in pensions from November 1978 to date been made in accordance with the pensioners' price index, the pension would be 3 or 4 per cent. below what it is.

Mr. Rooker

What would the level of pensions be now if the law on prices and earnings as it existed in 1979 were in operation? Does the Prime Minister agree that people deserve a decent pension when they retire, irrespective of their age? Does she believe that her prospects of getting a clawback Bill through the House in 1983 have improved since 1981, when the Government did the same thing, the Bill was opposed by only one Conservative Member and was approved of by those on the Conservative Benches, who now say that she should not do this again?

The Prime Minister

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has forgotten that during the first year of the present Government we had to make up for the 1.9 to 2 per cent. undershoot by the Labour Government. The Conservative Government succeeded in making it up in the first year. Since then we have agreed to price-protect the pension. The hon. Gentleman and the House must remember that the burden falls not on those who ask for more, but on the working population. The retirement pension is a straightforward transfer between the incomes of the working population and the incomes of pensioners. Already the national insurance contribution of the employee is 9 per cent. and that of the employer is 10.45 per cent., and the reserve in the national insurance fund is going down. We must consider those who draw benefits from the national insurance fund and the level of contributions that are paid by the working population.

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