Honoured to be asked to take on this very important job. https://t.co/a89GlNqlPc
— Guy Opperman (@GuyOpperman) November 7, 2022
As minister of State for employment, Guy Opperman has some immediate challenges. He inherits some of the highest employment figures we have had in this country since the second world war, economists call the labour market “tight” which means it is hard to find workers to fill many jobs.
And yet at the same time, we suspect that some 900,000 people between 50 and 63 are currently outside the labour market and “unproductive”.
Getting the over 50s back into work is a thankless task. The simple point is that many had a choice and given the circumstances a few more than usual opted for not working. There probably are well over 10 million in this country aged 50-65 , but the real problem for people’s income appears to be in the period when they expected to get the state pension age and when they actually get it.
The employment minister needs to think about these years as his main priority. Firstly he needs to work out what has happened to what we can call the “Covid cohort”, these are People who had the option to decide whether or not to stop working or reduce working time during the Covid years – say March 2020 to March 2022 (though this may be a continuing problem).
Secondly he needs to look at those people in that age bracket who have chosen not to stop work but may follow the Covid cohort – without an intervention from Government.
Then he needs to work out those people close enough to their anticipated retirement age (say 12 to eighteen months) for whom any intervention will make little difference to them or the economy. These should be excluded from his thinking
Finally he needs to completely ignore the millions of people who have got adequate private pensions and do not need further support from the state.
So this is a complex task that needs the new minister to work across departments , liaising with Health and BEIS as well as with his junior minister for pensions – Laura Trott, who he may choose to mentor in her early months. And of course, any decision on intervention will have wider implications with the Treasury. Here the importance of having Mel Stride as Secretary of State, can’t be underestimated.
Beyond these demographic issues, Opperman will inherit local issues, not least, whether the large number of unprocessed immigrants on either side of the channel can be integrated into the UK labour market to do the jobs that lie vacant. The alternative is that they remain unprocessed and can neither work or properly claim benefits or they are sent back to wherever the Home office can patriate them.
These are dark times and we shouldn’t discount further waves of immigration not just as economic migrants (Albania and Africa) but as political refugees (Ukraine and wherever conflict breaks out next).
In all this , we need to be conscious that most people are not on their own but part of households, they have partners and whatever solution is found must work for the partner too.
Guy Opperman showed, in the later years of his time as Pensions Minister, he understood the dynamics of pension credit, but universal credit is a much bigger lifeline, or restricted or denied, a bigger stick.
Politically, the will to uprate both universal and pension credit will show the balance this Government wishes to apply between a hardcore right-wing approach (denial) and a liberal approach (a full inflation uplift). Guy Opperman will be required to implement whatever policy comes out of the Autumn Statement and he will need to stand closely beside his bosses, to ensure that whatever gets decided – gets done.