The Eternal Workforce

“Austerity should not be a death sentence. Every person should be able to retire with the benefits they’ve earned and dignity they deserve.” – Fuad Alakbarov

(This blog post previously appeared in Common Weal’s weekly newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter here.)

Last week, while everyone else was watching a septuagenarian finally start the job he was born to do, some stats were released by the ONS that revealed that he is not alone in the “grey workforce”. An increasing number of older people in the UK are entering, re-entering or remaining within the workforce. It paints a picture of the older workforce that reveals underlying weaknesses and vulnerabilities in the UK economy.


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Protecting Pensioners

“You’re mugging old ladies every bit as much if you pinch their pension fund” – Ben Elton

(This blog post previously appeared in Common Weal’s weekly newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter here.)

Last year, Bill Johnston and I published our book All of Our Futures – an exploration of ageism in Scotland, how it causes inappropriate policies regarding age and ageing and what Scotland could do instead to create a country that we can all safely, securely and proudly grow older in. In one of the chapters we discuss how an independent Scotland could improve policies around pensions.

This is one of the topics of great interest to everyone on all sides of the constitutional campaign but it’s also a topic that few attempt to tackle in any great detail. However the team here at Common Weal recently realised that while this chapter of the book represents our most up to date thinking on an independent Scotland’s policies towards pensions, we don’t actually have a dedicated Policy Paper on the topic beyond some higher level aspects such as in our 2017 paper on Social Security or discussions around debt and asset transfers found in our book How to Start a New Country or my paper for the Scottish Independence Convention, Parting Ways. This newsletter article will go some way to redressing this but it can only remain a short summary of what is laid out in much greater detail in the book. One thing in particular to bear in mind when discussing pensions is that there are two aspects of them which must be handled differently if not quite entirely separately. The state pension and private pensions.


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We Need To Talk About: The Growth Commission Report

If this is a discussion document – It’s time to start discussing it.

The Growth Commission’s long-awaited report is finally out and will surely take some time to fully digest. It has been described as a discussion document and a starting point for the revitalised case for independence; not the final word on SNP policy or national trajectory.

In many ways, the report covers ground now very familiar to campaigners in the independence debate. We’re all now quite familiar with the deep and systemic flaws of the UK’s economic system especially its regional inequality which, quite frankly, is embarrassing when compared to neighbouring countries in Europe.


(Source: Eurostat)

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Personalising Pension Politics

“I am deeply concerned that if we do not fund healthcare and social care adequately people will lead much worse lives” – Sir Michael Marmot, commenting on his latest life expectancy report.

Yesterday, the Marmot Life Indicators report was published which showed that there has been a dramatic fall in the rate of increase of life expectancy in England. In fact, it has stalled completely.

For most of the last decade and a half, a baby born in one year could expect to live about 4 months longer than a child born the previous year. This rate had also been increasing through that period though the trend was broken in 2010.


2010 was also the year that the Tories came to power and started implementing their Austerity program. Now, yes, correlation isn’t causation but this isn’t the first time that a health or wellbeing indicator has been linked to Tory policy. Just a few months ago, a report was published which blamed Austerity for the premature deaths of 30,000 people in England and Wales in 2015 alone.

And whilst these studies are limited to England or England and Wales the causes of the so-called “Glasgow Effect” are now well known and have been linked to similar policies of deprivation and deliberate political attack.

But what was the UK Government’s response to yesterday’s report? Today they accelerated the rate of increase in the state pension age such that if you are currently aged 39-47 you will now need to work till you are 68.

This means that if you live in the most deprived areas of the UK, such as Blackpool or Glasgow you can expect your retirement to last just 6 years, whereas someone from a rich borough of Kensington – where average life expectancy is 84 – could expect almost a decade longer than that.

The Marmot report also highlighted something which isn’t talked about enough within this topic. The issue of healthy life expectancy. Our average person in Blackpool might live to 74 but they can only expect to reach 57 with a fair degree of health.



(Click either chart to embiggen in a new tab)

Welcome to Tory Britain in the 21st Century. Where you’re not just expected to work till you drop. You’re expected to pick yourself up again and continue working for another decade beyond that. And don’t you dare try to claim disability or we’ll put you through so many hoops and tests and stress and pain that it stands a good chance of actually killing you.

There’s no wonder that the UK has now been called out by the United Nations for its appalling treatment of the most vulnerable amongst us.

Now I’m not amongst the particular cohort of folk affected by this pension change but it’s starting to become very personal to me. It’s very much starting to feel like my parent’s generation will be the last in the UK who will be allowed to meaningfully retire – and given that my mother is a WASPI woman, this is a particularly depressing point.

I no longer expect to receive a state pension from the UK. Even if I do manage to age fast enough to catch up to the state pension I fully expect that by the time I get there the next phase of cuts will have meant that the formerly universal pension will be means-tested. If I happen to own more than £X in savings and assets…tough. No pension for me.

So I’m going to need a new plan to ensure that what retirement I eventually get is endurable. If the current work climate continues, it’s unlikely that I’ll be able to build up anything like the private pension that previous generations were able to claim so I can’t even rely on the private sector to bail me out.

The way things are going I’m going to have to do something a little more drastic. It looks like I need to win myself an independent Scotland, rebuild the entire welfare system from scratch and replace the byzantine labyrinth of means-tested “benefits” with a Universal Basic Income. pressure then…

This is where the independence campaign is becoming more personal. It’s rapidly getting to the point that folk may support independence not just because it’s desirable nor even just because it would be personally beneficial. It is approaching the stage where independence is becoming essential just to maintain a decent standard of living.

I’ve already heard from people in the campaign who now must win independence for various reasons. One so that they can escape the UK’s appalling immigration system and bring their fiancé to Scotland. Another so that they can ensure that they won’t be treated as a second class settled resident due to them being a non-UK EU citizen.

I think this could be the seed of a hundred stories waiting to be told. If you’re someone who is in a similar situation who now not just wants but actually needs independence for some reason, I’d like you to get in touch. Just email me through my contact page here. I’d like to offer some space to get these stories out there.

(Anonymity will, of course, be maintained unless you specifically tell me to publish your name)

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