Friday 9 February 2007

Tackling Pensioner Poverty

The Government's Pensions Bill will be returning to the House of Commons in the next month.

I have tabled amendments to the bill to restore the link between pensions and earnings, to uprate the basic state pension to the Pension Credit level, and to make the proposed rises in the state retirement age contingent upon increased life expectancy among the poorest.

In the early 1980s, Thatcher abolished the link between earnings and pensions. As a result, pensioners have lost out on around £50 per week. The current state pension is £84 – the lowest in western Europe. The Pension Credit takes this to £114 via the means-test, but by the Government's own figures up to 1.6m pensioners do not receive their entitlement. That's why we must restore the earnings link and increase the basic state pension.

The proposal to raise the state retirement age to 66, 67 and 68 is supposed to reflect increased longevity. While average life expectancy has risen, in some of the poorest areas it is still under 70. I have tabled an amendment so that the state retirement age can only rise to 66 in 2024 if average male life expectancy for the poorest 10% of the population has reached 76, and 77 for the rise to 67 in 2034, and 78 for 2044.

I am not prepared to accept a rise in the state retirement age that would mean 24 months of retirement before death for the poorest people. This amendment would encourage the Government to tackle health and other social inequalities.

I am calling on all MPs from all political parties to support my amendments to the Pensions Bill. I will be campaigning with local and national pensioner organisations to restore the link between pensions and earnings and ensure that there is a just pensions system for today's pensioners and those in the future.

Restoring the link is easily affordable and I am appealing to the Chancellor of the Exchequer not to block my amendments. In 1997, the Labour manifesto said, "We believe that all pensioners should share fairly in the increasing prosperity of the nation". Ten years on, I am tabling amendments to make sure this happens.

Meanwhile the Royal Mail (majority owned by the Government) has announced it will end its final salary pension scheme. If I was a postal worker today I would feel completely betrayed by the Government. Under the terms of the Warwick agreement, we gave the unions clear undertakings that public sector pension schemes would be protected.

At a time when Royal Mail is making an annual profit of £355 million, and awarded its Chief Executive with a £2.2 million bonus in 2005 in addition to his regular millionaire's salary, it is a disgrace that they are treating their own workforce with such contempt. I am calling upon the Government now to step in at once and facilitate meaningful discussions with the union to ensure that the final salary pension scheme for postal workers is properly preserved for both present and future employees.