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Fury at ‘work till you drop’ plan

By Alan Jones

The Government has sparked anger from unions and pensioner groups after unveiling controversial plans to extend the pension age, with the possibility of people having to work until they are 70 before receiving the benefit.

Ministers were accused of making people “work until they drop” as well as attacking the poorest members of society.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said: “We need to recognise that to meet the challenge of providing an affordable, stable pensions system in a society with increasing life expectancy, people need to work longer.”

The Government put forward plans to scrap the default retirement age which allows employers to get rid of staff when they reach the age of 65.

The state pension age for men is set to rise from 65 to 66 from 2016 — nearly a decade earlier than the last Government was planning, while ministers also raised the possibility of extending the pension age to 70 and even older in the following decades to “reinvigorate retirement”.

Unions reacted with fury, accusing the Government of showing “class bias” just weeks after gaining power.

Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB, said: “To force someone who has done a lifetime of toil on building sites, farms or in factories to work until they are 66 is completely unacceptable.”

Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, said: “Raising the state pension age will hit the less well-off harder than the rich. Sixty-five-year-old men in Kensington and Chelsea can expect to live a further 23 years, while those in Glasgow only 14 years.

“The majority of 64-year-old men are already out of the labour market. Raising the state pension age will not help any of them stay in work. It will simply turn a generation of 65-year-olds from pensioners into the unemployed.”

Tony Woodley, joint leader of Unite, said: “Ordinary workers are going to have to stay at their jobs longer and have their retirement plans put on hold to help pay for the bailing-out of the bankers and the financial crisis made in the City.”

Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said: “The Government seem hard-wired into attacking the most vulnerable in society.

“Workers who have to rely on their state pension to make ends meet will have no option but to carry on for another year, whatever the cost to their health, but the better-off will be able to retire earlier. One rule for the rich, another for the poor.

“Many workers across the public and private sector do very physically demanding jobs where carrying on until 66 is not a safe or practical option.”

Business groups were more supportive. John Cridland, deputy director general of the CBI, said: “With people living longer than ever, we all need to save more for old age and find ways for people to extend their working lives.

“Removing the default retirement age and right to request working beyond 65 would cause problems for employers.”

Adam Marshall, director of policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “It is strange that the Government has pledged to reduce the burden of employment law while at the same time proposing to restrict businesses' ability to manage their workforce by abolishing the default retirement age (DRA).

“Business agrees that the DRA is too low and needs to rise. But if ministers want to make a positive change, they should either raise the DRA in line with the state pension age or offer employers a dismissal route that helps business manage their workforce.”

National Pensioners Convention general secretary Dot Gibson said: “There can be no doubt that the wealthier you are, the longer you live, so raising the retirement age is a direct attack on the very poorest in our society.

“There is a myth that we are all living healthier lives for longer and little evidence that there are jobs around for everyone. This policy isn't about choice, it's about cutting costs and making the poorest pay the highest price.”

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