Today the Scottish Government published ‘Pensions in an independent Scotland’, a paper setting out its position on a range of pensions issues as they relate to the prospect of Scottish independence. Doug Anthoney responds.
With less than a year to go until the referendum on independence, it’s good that debate has opened on the prospects for pensions. However it’s worth bearing in mind that pensions are not a core constitutional matter and so, even if Scotland votes ‘yes,’ the Scottish Government’s proposals are dependent on them securing a majority in the next Scottish Parliamentary elections. And they could equally be implemented by the current, or a future, Westminster Government.
That said; we welcome the SNP’s commitment to continuity, with regard to both the introduction of a single tier state pension, and maintenance of the ‘triple lock’ guarantee that uprates the state pension automatically in line with the higher of inflation, average earnings or 2.5%. And the proposals to extend the triple lock to Guarantee Credit element of Pension Credit, and to set the State Pension at £160 per week (compared to £158.90 in the same year), are also welcome. While pensioner poverty in Scotland has fallen substantially in recent years, there are still 120,000 pensioners in poverty, and pensioner households are more vulnerable to fuel poverty.
The proposal for an Independent Commission on the State Pension age, to be set up within the first two years of independence, is a useful one. While increasing State Pension Age in line with rising life expectancies is reasonable in principle, we agree that it will prove unfair in practice if account is not taken of differences in life expectancy, and healthy life expectancy. Health inequalities in Scotland are not only stark but growing. A boy born in the poorest tenth of areas can expect to live 14 years less than one born in the least deprived tenth. And between 2005 and 2010 healthy life expectancy in Scotland fell for both men and women, whereas in England overall it went up.
So, there’s much to debate on pensions, but keep the discussion open whether Scotland votes yes, or no, in September 2014.
Scotland’s changing demography and its impact on public policy areas, devolved and reserved, will be debated on 3rd October at a Productive Ageing Summit in Edinburgh.