Are state pensions political playthings?


A social media debate has broken out on twitter , prompted by this post from LBC

The debate  focusses on the Government’s well-flagged intention to link the state pension age to the replacement ratio of younger to older people, rather than the third of our adult lives rule of thumb (see below) – the story was “broken” in the Sun

The story is linked to Liz Truss through a statement made to Sky News.

“You’re asking me to speculate about all kinds of decisions that haven’t yet been made.”

She added: “We are facing a very difficult international situation, a slowing global economy, so yes I will do what it takes to fix those issues.”

Supporting evidence is supplied by Steve Webb and LibDem pensions spokesperson Wendy Chamberlain who claims that “Liz Truss has completely lost the plot on this“.

In my view, the decision to push back the state pension age was taken some time ago and the appointment of Lucy Neville-Rolfe, now Cabinet Secretary, to deliver the news, broke any pretence that the decision was “independent“. The decision is “politically correct” as the Treasury needs to bank the gains to help restore market confidence, but it is grounded in good economics.

The arguments for and against


There have been two turning points in trends in life expectancy in England in the past decade. From 2011 increases in life expectancy slowed after decades of steady improvement, prompting much debate about the causes. Then in 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic was a more significant turning point, causing a sharp fall in life expectancy, the magnitude of which has not been seen since World War II. – the Kings Fund

This is the argument pursued by LCP and Partner Steve Webb, who stick with the rule that we we should be in retirement a third of our adult lives. So with a life expectancy of 90 with work from ages  21-67 and retirement 67-90  you very roughly get today’s numbers.

To keep “boomers” to this rule we would want the state pension age to come down rather than go up and that this is based on fairness to those due to retire at 67 from 2035 – it might even mean reducing the state pension age for those like me, due to reach state pension age between now and 2035.


The economic argument for pushing back the state pension age is based on two things

    1. the reduction in the working population due to lower immigration (Brexit linked)
    2. the decreased fertility of a group of women whose children will need to support boomers.

There may be a political argument along the lines of “if you want lower taxes and uprated benefits – you are going to have to work longer and harder“, which plays to the current growth narrative. But Truss and others can argue that this is coincidental and not the main driver.

Is this a news story?

The review of the state pension age is not a news story. It’s ben well flagged and reported on this blog and elsewhere many times. That Baroness Rolfe might report before the end of this year would be news. This may mean that there is an urgency in getting the bad news out there that was not there prior to recent political events.

David Robbins reminds us that things are already moving fast.

But this is only news at the margin, the impact of any decision will not be for at least a decade hence, no one seriously doubts that the SPA will move backwards sooner.

What would be news is if the SPA changes before 2035 and – more importantly – if we have it decided that we can’t afford the triple lock. The change to SPA is unlikely to be brought forward but the triple lock looks more fragile with every tick up in the long dated gilt rate.


About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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2 Responses to Are state pensions political playthings?

  1. Richard Chilton says:

    It would be interesting to see the effects of increasing the state pension age. Some people are already using the pension freedoms to “span the gap” between packing up work and claiming their state pension. To them, it looks like a good move for tax purposes. No more National Insurance to pay and also often no Income Tax in this period, if it is done carefully.

  2. Peter Beattie says:

    If it is a problem of ‘how many’ are in the working population, people should have ‘a choice’. Not all want to stop work at their NRD. There are those who need to stop work due to medical conditions, physical exhaustive jobs or other responsibilities or caring for families that they do not get paid for. We should not be expected to be .’nannied by government’ to tell us when to retire – that is a personal decision that should be left with our citizens. Government are not known for their generosity to those in later years and they are treated as ‘milk cows’ when they think they are ‘protecting the tax payer’. How can we be a ‘rich country’ if we are the worst pension providers in Europe? Nobody is ‘rich’ if they are ‘in debt’ as presently we are.

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