David Prosser: Work for longer? If only we could

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The Independent Online

Most people's reaction to suggestions they might have to work longer is one of horror - and fury. The Trades Union Congress has already threatened industrial action over proposals to raise the age at which public sector workers can begin claiming their occupational pension benefits.

But Brown and Blunkett deserve a fair hearing. The fundamental issue underlying all the panic over pensions in recent years is that people are living longer. In 1942, when the publication of the Beveridge Report paved the way for the introduction of the welfare state as we know it, a man reaching his 65th birthday could, on average, expect to live for a further 10 or so years. Today, the figure is almost 17 years and by 2030 it will rise to 20 years.

In other words, people retiring today can expect to be claiming their state pension for at least a third longer than their parents. Yet they won't have paid any more in income tax or National Insurance contributions to finance this hugely improved deal. In the context of this dramatic improvement in life expectancy, asking people to work for two extra years seems less unreasonable.

However, there is one major problem with raising the state retirement age. Telling people that they can't retire until 67 is all very well, but if they can't find work it's a purely theoretical issue. Unemployment amongst the over-55s is higher than for any other age group - raising the state retirement age may just mean many people claiming unemployment benefit for longer.

One reason why joblessness becomes such an issue as you get older is that Britain has a shocking lack of age discrimination laws. Tell someone you don't want to employ them because they are black or gay and you will quite rightly be in hot water. Refuse to give someone a job because they are too old and they have no legal right to protest.

This Government has repeatedly pledged to act on age discrimination, yet time and again it has not kept its promises. The problem is that while the Department for Work and Pensions needs this legislation, the Department for Trade and Industry, which is charged with implementing it, doesn't want to upset employers.

So if you're lucky enough to get a visit from Brown and Blunkett over the next few months, ask one of them to get his mobile phone out and call up Alan Johnson, who runs the DTI. If they can't persuade him to protect older workers from age discrimination, they shouldn't expect people to countenance retiring later.

* * * Don't assume the Government's decision to delay the revaluation of 22 million properties in England for Council Tax will save you money. Although bills in 2007 won't now be based on this year's property prices, a revaluation is inevitable.

Many people fear revaluation will mean they pay more, because house price inflation has recently been so rampant. But if Council Tax bands - as well as property valuations - are raised in line with house price growth, your bill won't rise unexpectedly unless your home has increased in value by more than is typical.

However, until the Government says how it plans to conduct the revaluation exercise, we can't be sure of the effects. This week's delay will prolong that uncertainty.

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