Merryn's Blog

Nicola Sturgeon’s silly ideas on the state pension age

The SNP should concentrate on raising Scottish life expectancy rather than looking to lower the retirement age, says Merryn Somerset Webb.

Nicola Sturgeon should worry aboutraising Scots' life expectancy, rather than the retirement age

According to Nicola Sturgeon, life just isn't fair. You'll know this by now the SNP's campaigning pretty much always centres on something not being fair. But this week's campaign against unfairness is silly even by the party's normal standards. It is all about the state pension.

Sturgeon claims that as Scots have a shorter life span than the English, they will "lose out" when the pension age across the UK rises (to 67 between 2034 and 2036). That's because they will be alive for fewer years post-pension age than non-Scots (2.1 years in the case of men and 1.8 years in the case of women). In order to prevent this, Sturgeon is campaigning for the rise in the pension age to be stopped and, says The Times, has suggested that "a future Westminster government might even have to exempt Scotland from the changes".

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Right. Let's start by assuming that Sturgeon is right that the fact that Scots on average live for slightly fewer years than the British as a whole, and so get fewer state pension payments than everyone else, just isn't fair. If so, I am not sure she is campaigning for the right thing wouldn't it be more fair just to insist that the state pension age in Scotland is always to be the appropriate amount lower for Scots than for everyone else so 2.1/1.8 years at the moment?

But, that point made, it would seem logical for her to argue for a smaller group of super-disadvantaged people to get their share of other taxpayers' money even earlier. What of the Glaswegians? The average man there dies at 75. Surely the retirement age in Glasgow should therefore be six years earlier than that of someone living in England?

You can take this further. As Tom McPhail of Hargreaves Lansdown points out, "once you deviate from the idea of a universal state pension" where do you stop? After all, annuities are already priced down to individual postcode level. So why not state pensions too?

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"The residents of East Dunbartonshire havemore in common with the inhabitants of Dorset" (one of the highest life expectancy regions in the country) under this logic both areas should surely be denied their state pensions until they hit at least 70.

Or perhaps, as one FT reader put it, we should all have a personalised state pension age based on our own health and life expectancy. Or perhaps, as another suggested, if the Scots are to get earlier state pensions as they live for fewer years, they should also get less NHS funding (as they live for fewer years).

It all gets a bit silly doesn't it? Perhaps the Scottish government would do better to spend more time thinking about why it is that Glaswegians live such relatively short lives (and so drag down the average life expectancy in Scotland) than on trying to up the Scottish share of the welfare take to compensate for it.


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