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Scottish independence: Clash over retirement age

Ministers have accused the SNP of trying to win votes with unfunded promises. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Ministers have accused the SNP of trying to win votes with unfunded promises. Picture: Ian Georgeson

  • by SCOTT MACNAB
 

The prospect of Scots enjoying a lower retirement age after independence has been branded an “elusive bribe” and a referendum “campaign weapon”.

Opposition parties say that NHS and social services are being cut under the SNP government, with dire life expectancy levels in many areas of modern Scotland labelled “Dickensian”.

But Scotland’s problems stem from the Westminster system, say the Nationalists, which they “wish to replace”.

Shona Robison, the SNP government’s cabinet secretary for pensioners’ rights, says Scots lose out by an average of £10,000 in state pension entitlement due to lower life expectancy levels.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has indicated an independent Scotland may not have to implement the retirement age of 67 which is being introduced by the coalition government. It has been estimated such a move in Scotland would cost £550 million annually.

But this came under fire from MSPs at Holyrood yesterday who accused the SNP of peddling “unfunded” promises to win votes.

Tory deputy leader Jackson Carlaw said the prospect of reducing the pension age in Scotland had never been raised until the referendum.

“It has only popped into the public lexicon because we have a referendum in prospect and they see it as something they can dangle before the electorate in some elusively bribery way,” he said.

“Most people understand if we are going to have a much higher and larger and wider base of people surviving in old age, we need a sustainable financial footing in which to place that.

“That does require the pension age to be reviewed.”

Scotland’s ageing population is set to increase at a higher rate than the rest of the UK in the coming decades. As the working population shrinks by comparison, questions have been raised over the affordability of state pensions.

The Scottish Government recently published research showing that people with identical state pension entitlement would receive substantially less over a lifetime in Scotland than in the rest of the UK, because of lower average life expectancies.

A 65-year-old woman entitled to a total pension of £160 per week could expect to get around £11,000 less in Scotland and a man £10,000 less.

Ms Robison said: “If we compare my own city of Dundee, men there receive on average £18,000 less than the wealthiest parts of the UK, while women receive £15,000 less.

“The differences are stark across Scotland. It is very clear from all this work that the UK state pension age is not based on Scottish circumstances – it’s unfair to Scots who are not receiving a fair reward for a lifetime’s work.

“The UK plan to speed up the increase of the state pension age to 67 by eight years from the original timetable set out by the previous Labour government will only make this situation worse.

“That’s why the Scottish Government has committed to setting up an independent commission to consider the state pension age. The commission will consider fairness, life expectancy, affordability and equality issues in the round and reach a decision that genuinely suits Scotland’s circumstances.”

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Jim Hume attacked the Scottish Government over its approach to lower life expectancy levels in its report.

“People are dying earlier in Scotland and instead of coming up with solutions for how we can help people live longer, healthier lives, ministers hit the calculator to work out how much pension they will miss out on,” Mr Hume said.

“It’s a pretty bleak aspiration to simply lower the pension age, rather than tackle our health inequalities.”

He said this was being used as a “campaign weapon to promote independence”.

Mr Hume said only three-quarters of Glaswegian boys born today will see their 65th birthday, according to official estimates.

“This is an echo from Dickensian times that has no place in a modern Scotland,” he added.

Labour’s Rhoda Grant said the SNP government is implementing cuts across a range of services. “It is the elderly and disabled that face the postcode lottery of services,” she said.

But the National Institute of Economic and Social Research found that the cost of the state pension would be lower in Scotland because of the “bad reason” of the country’s lower life expectancy, former SNP transport minister Stewart Stevenson said.

Scotland’s challenges “do not stem from this parliament with no control over the macroeconomics of our economy, no control over the substantial majority of the taxation or expenditure that affects our citizens”, he said.

“It stems from a system which we wish to replace.”

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