Some weeks ago Age UK submitted evidence to the Treasury ahead of the Budget, outlining our key Budget priorities for later life. While we’ve had some good news today, the Chancellor’s response – or silence – in other areas left our ‘wish list’ largely unfulfilled.
The highlight today for Age UK was the hint that the Government will introduce a simple flat-rate state pension of around £140 a week. This will be great news for those who receive it – we’ve been calling for a simpler, better single State Pension for many years. But as always, the devil is in the detail. We didn’t hear today when this pension is going to be implemented, and we know from the Chancellor’s statement that it won’t apply to those currently in receipt of State Pension. With 1.8 million older people living in poverty in the UK today, we believe that more needs to be done to tackle pensioner poverty now.
Future increases to the State Pension Age past 66 will now to be determined by an automatic process, according to today’s Budget statement. While we accept that the State Pension Age will have to increase periodically to take account of welcome increases in life expectancy, simplistic indexation is not the answer. In particular, it’s essential that any increase isn’t based solely on average life expectancy, as health inequalities mean that life expectancy varies wildly across the UK. Any new uprating must also take into account the impact changes will have on the poorest, those out of work and those with health problems or disabilities.
After spending years campaigning for an end to age discrimination, it was disheartening today to see the postponement of new age equality provisions for small businesses. We’ve been promised that this will not include the ending of the Default Retirement Age, which will begin to be phased out from April, but it will water down the banning of age discrimination in the provision of goods and services. Age equality makes economic sense, and older consumers’ spending will be key in reducing the deficit, so we would have liked to see more Government support to help small businesses adapt to the changes, rather than abandoning them.
Finally, there were areas where the Budget said nothing, where action was urgently needed. We already know that adult social care is going to be badly hit from April, as we hear news of local government cuts. We asked the Chancellor to channel any extra money he could find to top up support for care users who are among the most dependent in society. Yet while there was a little extra for other favoured projects – money for councils to fill potholes among them – there was nothing to see off the looming crisis in care.