The government has been accused of “trying to fix” a review of the state pension age after appointing a Tory peer who previously backed faster increases in the retirement age, to prepare an independent report on the issue.
The claim comes from the Trades Union Congress as the government begins its six-yearly review of the state pension age (SPA), a controversial topic given uneven life expectancy across the UK.
As part of this process, the government appointed Lady Lucy Neville-Rolfe, a Tory peer, to prepare an independent report to inform the government’s thinking. The report is to take into account factors such as changes in life expectancy, intergenerational fairness, the difference in longevity between poor and rich, as well as the affordability and sustainability of the state pension.
The SPA is currently 66 but is set to begin gradually rising to 67 starting in four years, from 2026 to 2028. As part of the review, the government will weigh up whether to go ahead with a recommendation from 2017 to bring forward a rise in SPA to 68, seven years earlier than scheduled from 2037.
However, unions have questioned whether the report prepared by Neville-Rolfe can be “truly independent” given her previous views on the state pension age. In 2017, during a parliamentary debate on the first state pension age review, where a faster rise in SPA to 68 was recommended, Neville-Rolfe said there was “the need for a big shift in the interests of intergenerational fairness”.
“Why are the government not going faster, bringing these changes in more quickly and, perhaps, going up the age range?” she said.
The TUC, the UK’s largest union body covering 5.5mn workers, said any “truly independent” review was likely to recommend shelving planned state pension age increases.
“Life expectancy improvements have ground to a halt over the past decade, as Conservative governments’ austerity policies have hit the poor and low-earners hard,” said Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC.
“That’s why the government is trying to fix the review by rigging the terms of reference and appointing a Tory peer with a history of pushing for faster and steeper rises to lead it.
“This review needs to get to grips with the impact of inequality and growing gaps in life expectancy. Rubber stamping previous plans based on over-optimistic assumptions just won’t wash.”
Mike Clancy, general secretary of Prospect, the union, said given Neville-Rolfe was on record as wanting changes to the state pension to happen more quickly than currently planned, calling her review independent is “something of a stretch”.
“The public must have confidence in any state pension age review outcomes. It cannot simply be used as a blunt tool to erode the percentage of life spent in retirement.”
Neville-Rolfe told the FT her brief comments five years ago should be viewed in the wider context of the Lords debate of July 2017 and comments by other members.
“Anyone who looks at my record will see I am independently minded,” she said.
“I want as wide a range of people as possible to have the opportunity to contribute to my report. That is why last week I launched a call for evidence to gather crucial feedback from the public and stakeholders on what metrics should be considered when setting the age of entitlement to state pension age in future.”
The Department for Work and Pensions said Neville-Rolfe had been appointed in line with Cabinet Office guidance for this type of review.
“The independent report . . . forms just one element of the review and she is well placed to consider these issues, having been a trustee of the pension scheme of a FTSE 100 company for many years as well as having held a range of senior roles in both the private and public sectors,” said the DWP.