David Prosser: Hutton's cradle to the grave curse

John Hutton, Secretary of State at the Department for Work and Pensions, seems like a very reasonable chap. This week he told us that while the Government knew raising the State Pension Age to 68 might not be popular - it will next week introduce a bill doing just that - the cost of not doing so would be an extra 4p on income tax.

Anyway, Hutton points out, a higher pension age isn't as unfair as one might think. After all, the current system was set up shortly after the Second World War, when people did not expect to live for decades once they had retired.

This week, by contrast, the Office for National Statistics announced that life expectancy in the UK has reached a record high. A boy born today can expect to live for 76.6 years while the average girl will survive until the age of 81, according to the ONS.

If people are now able to look forward to 10 or 15 years of retirement - rather than the three to five years that was typical in the Fifties and Sixties - surely it's not unreasonable to ask them to work an extra three years before claiming their Basic State Pension?

There is, however, a catch to which Hutton has not fessed up. The ONS figures give average life expectancies for the country as a whole, but they also include a regional breakdown. This reveals that people living in less wealthy areas are likely to die at a younger age than those who have more money.

So, for example, the residents of Kensington & Chelsea in London currently have the UK's highest life expectancies - 82.2 years for a boy born today. This compares with just 72.5 years for a boy born in Manchester, the area of the country where life expectancies are currently lowest.

Moreover, the gap between life expectancies in richer and poorer areas is getting wider. In 1997, the shortfall between Manchester and Kensington & Chelsea was less than eight years. Today it is 9.7 years.

In other words, these figures mean that poorer people living in less wealthy areas are being required to give up a much more significant chunk of their retirement years than the rich. In Manchester, for example, today's typical boy will receive the basic state pension for just 4.5 years, compared to 14.2 years for the lad from Kensington & Chelsea.

Is it really fair that someone should expect to receive three times' as much state pension as someone else, simply by virtue of having been lucky enough to be born to the right family in the right place? And should we really be pretending that raising the State Pension Age by three years means everyone will be taking their share of the burden of higher retirement costs, when some people will clearly be hit much harder than others?

It seems to me the answer to both questions is a pretty clear no. For John Hutton, however, these issues aren't up for discussion. He's too busy playing the reasonable man presenting us all with some tough but sensible choices.

The latest con merchants gearing up for Christmas are internet fraudsters cashing in on the fact that at this time of year, many people increase their donations to charity.

The Charities Commission has published a warning about an email scam doing the rounds claiming that the recipients have won half-a-million pounds. The email claims the competition has been run in conjunction with the British Red Cross and Action Against Hunger UK - two bona fide charities that know nothing about the emails.

Naturally, to claim your prize - non-existent, of course - you'll need to hand over a sizeable sum of money. Don't be distracted by the charitable element of the emails - press delete if one lands in your in-box.

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