George Osborne’s proposals on raising the state pension age have helped bring the longevity issue into sharper focus this week, and not before time. An interesting feature of the general reaction to Mr Osborne’s comments is the relative equanimity with which the idea has been greeted – even The Guardian approved.
The state pension age has remained unchanged (at 65 for men and, at the moment, 60 for women) since the 1940′s. Given that average life expectancy has been increasing by some two years every decade since then, it seems ludicrous that pension ages have failed to keep track. Even allowing for some quite extreme regional variations (figures from Punter Southall show male life expectancy is nearly 84 in Kensington and Chelsea, but only 70 in Glasgow), neither the demographics nor the economics add up.
Clearly, and regardless of who wins next year’s election, this will have to change. Post-war UK births peaked at just over one million in 1964. Put another way, more Britons are celebrating their 45th birthday this year than any other age. As a member of that particular cohort, I have to say you’d be hard pressed to find a finer, more upstanding body of men and women. But if all of us retire in 2029, our creaking pension system – already severely stretched – could be brought to its arthritic knees.
So maybe the best way to look at this is, as Hamish Mcrae wrote in yesterday’s Independent, to embrace the fact that we are an ageing society, and recognise that "countries that adapt well to ageing, which is happening to every society in the developed world, will become richer, healthier, better balanced and in all probability happier communities than those that fail to tackle an inevitable and indeed welcome feature of this century."